Bulk up or tone down?

As a fitness pro with over 20 years in the business, I have noticed more women wanting to get “strong,” as opposed to strictly having a weight-loss goal. I think there’s been increased visibility of muscular women in popular culture–people frequently cited Michelle Obama’s “guns” as attractive. There’s also an increased awareness that being muscular is healthy, and that adding muscle won’t cause you to “bulk up” unless you follow very specific (and potentially unhealthy) nutritional and exercise plans. Rather than bulky, most people who build muscle through resistance exercise become more “toned” looking.

The best way to put on more muscle is to use resistance exercise. I tend to favor body weight exercises such as TRX bands, push ups, pull ups, etc. The best way to make sure you get the results you want is to work with a pro who can monitor your form and technique and push you a little farther out of your comfort zone while making sure that you don’t hurt yourself.

Stretching Strategies


I have over twenty years of experience in fitness, and my opinion is that you should only stretch muscles that are too tight, shortened from too much flexion, or otherwise imbalanced.

You should get a functional movement assessment from a fitness professional to determine which muscles are short and tight. Those muscles are the ones you should stretch before and after exercise. You can stretch them every day, and once a day is enough. Hold your stretches for 10 to 20 seconds.

When you stretch, you allow your joints to move in orthopedic ranges of motion. It’s important to increase your range of motion and be flexible because you are constantly needing to “load and explode” muscles in different positions. Just getting out of a chair or sofa can be hard if you have tight legs. If you are an athlete, it’s even more important to be flexible. For example, if you’re a golfer and you have tight shoulders and hips, you’ll never have an efficient backswing.

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Thinking outside the gym

Some of my favorite equipment

Some of my favorite equipment

I’ve been a fitness pro for over 20 years, and for most of that time I’ve been helping people find ways to move their bodies without chaining them to gym machines. In my opinion, machines can be harmful in the long run, because they don’t allow motion in all three dimensions, and they don’t require the body to recruit all of the muscles you would normally use to balance yourself in space. This can lead to muscle imbalances and eventually injury.

For cardio, I recommend walking–it’s low impact, it gets you outside, and it can make you mentally healthier as well as physically healthier. I prefer it to running, because running is very hard on the body, and eventually every serious runner experiences some kind of acute or chronic injury from the constant impact.

When it comes to strength training, bodyweight exercises are the best. One exception is traditional sit ups and crunches. By avoiding sit ups, you’re less likely to hurt your back, and you will recruit your whole core and not just the frontal abs. So what are some good core exercises?

Rotating while holding light weight–a medicine ball if you have it, or a laundry basket or tote bag with books in it if you need to improvise. Watch some videos to make sure you have proper form. Don’t rotate to the point of pain.

You can also perform plank exercises that work your core without the strenuous bending and flexing of sit ups.

For leg exercises, you can’t beat squats and lunges. Make sure you’re doing different kinds of these exercises that make you extend in all directions–side to side and front to back.

For your arms, you can do push ups and pull ups–be creative with the angles! You don’t have to do the traditional style–for pushups that can even be hard on your wrists. Try leaning forward and pushing up off a wall, or leaning backward and pulling yourself up with a suspension band or rope. Arm circles are also excellent for your upper arms.

Get creative, but be careful, and listen to your body.


Functional Professional Development

Those of you who know me know that I’m always trying to stay up to date on the latest fitness research and techniques.  I do a lot of reading, watching, and listening to absorb what’s out there, but nothing beats learning in person.  That’s why I went to the Functional Fitness training summit in Providence, RI from June 22nd to the 25th.  I got to meet and learn from a lot of wonderful teachers, and I picked up a lot of new knowledge.

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I also got to meet some of my professional heroes, like Greg Rose, of the Titleist Performance Institute:


It’s always great to work with a large group of fellow professionals who are serious about helping people get active and healthy.  The energy is incredible, and it inspired me to bring some of that energy back to my clients:


I’m committed to constant improvement because I’m committed to being the best at what I do.

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Resistance Bands: My secret weapon

I’ve been using resistance bands for 20 years, and they are some of my favorite workout gear.  Bands started out in physical therapy, but trainers and athletes saw the benefits of bands when not in rehab. There are advantages of using resistance bands over weights: bands have a variable level of resistance through the range of motion, unlike weights, which are constant.  Bands are safe to use in ways that weights aren’t always–you can use a fast or slow motion when working with bands, and you can create resistance in any direction and in multiple dimensions.  They’re also much more portable and less expensive than weights.  For an example of great ways to use resistance bands, check out my video on YouTube below!

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Fit after 50

My best advice for people over fifty (which I would extend to most people who are not competitive athletes) is to respect the limits of your body.  High-impact exercises and heavy weight lifting are very stressful on your body and you should try to minimize them if possible–especially as you age.

In my practice, I focus on functional fitness, which means that I use mostly body weight exercises and exercises that work in three dimensions–using resistance bands, medicine balls, kettlebells, and other free-range-of-motion exercises.  These exercises are especially useful for people for whom stability and balance is a priority.  These exercises can help prevent injury more than one-dimensional (machine) exercises can.

As you get older, you should also allow yourself more rest days.  Working out is great, but you have to spend some time “working in”, by which I mean doing yoga, meditation, tai chi, qigong, and other forms of activity that are designed to restore energy, rather than expend it.  These activities will help your body and mind stay healthy well after 50.

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Stretches you can do while watching TV

For each of these stretches, do them on both sides, hold them for five to ten seconds, and don’t go past the point of pain.


This stretch loosens your neck and chest muscles.


This releases tension in your wrist and elbow, helping mitigate repetitive stress associated with computer and phone use.


This stretches out your thighs, and if you keep your shoulders pressed against the floor it can also help with posture.


This stretches your spine and chest.


This stretches and strengthens your spine, legs, and chest.


This opens up your chest and pelvis, which is good for your posture.


This is a kind of modified cobra pose that limbers up your core and spine.


This increases coordination and stretches out your spine and upper arms.

You all know I don’t advocate a sedentary lifestyle, but if you must “Netflix and chill”, you should take advantage of the downtime to keep your blood flowing and gain some strength and flexibility!

Is a Mid-day workout a good idea?

I was recently asked if a mid-day workout would be a good idea. The short answer is that you should work out whenever you can, but here are some reasons why a workout over the lunch hour can be especially beneficial:

A workout during lunch will motivate you to choose healthy organic meals since you can’t work out with a stomach full of greasy, bad food. (You can, but you’ll be miserable.) Secondly, it will increase endorphins which will make you more productive and happy at work. After sitting all morning at your desk it’s good to do standing exercises to recruit the muscles that have been sleeping while you’ve been sitting down. If you do rhythmic exercises such as walking, it will balance your hormones, blood sugar levels, and mind.

If you make time to exercise during your work lunch hour, it will show your manager that you have a strong, self-motivated work ethic and you’re always trying to stay one step ahead, both at work and in health.


Another note:
Many of you are long-time corrective exercise clients. I love that aspect of my job, and I’m going to continue giving it 110%, but I’m also trying to expand my business to target clients who are specifically interested in fitness for golf. Be sure to let your friends know that I’m available for that. I’m going to be launching a new companion website to offer online training for golf fitness, and I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

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Exercise with a group for extra motivation

One of the best ways to get yourself motivated to exercise is to do it on a regular basis with friends. Not only does it make working out more enjoyable, but it also adds an element of commitment that’s easier to keep when you know someone is expecting you to show up.

Group exercise can be a great thing. It can even bring a community together to make it healthier. For example, one of my clients is a physician, and he is involved in a weekly event called “Walk with a Doc”. It’s an opportunity for people to get together and get some exercise, and also an informal way to share your medical concerns and get some basic advice on a healthy lifestyle.

I read about another great example just recently. Researchers did a study where they gave pedometers to 70 women in a community and asked them to walk at least 150 minutes per week for 10 weeks. In the middle of the study, at week 5, the researchers offered a raffle challenge to increase the women’s steps by 10% for the remainder of the 10 weeks. The women ended up walking significantly more during the second half of the study. An element of competition certainly doesn’t hurt a group exercise program.

So get together, stay motivated, and enjoy your exercise! You will live better and longer if you do.

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Too Busy to Work Out?

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day–unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.”
-Zen Proverb

“If you want something to get done, give it to a busy person.”
-Common Saying.

“I’m too busy to work out.” I hear this a lot–more than any other excuse, in fact. A lot of people would work out, so they say, if they had more time. Let’s unpack the statement “I’m too busy to work out.” Okay, so there are a certain number of things you have to do to keep your job, keep your family together and happy, and meet your most basic needs. Now, is there anything else that you do? Anything that isn’t absolutely necessary to keep your life together? Then what you mean when I say “I’m too busy to exercise” is “There are things I do with my discretionary time that are higher priorities than exercising.” You might watch TV, play video games, read the news, talk on the phone, whatever.

Are you okay with that notion, that being healthy is just not as high a priority as those other things? Then be my guest and do those things instead. Otherwise, if you want to make your health a priority, then MAKE YOUR HEALTH A PRIORITY.

“But Jeff, there’s more to it than that…” I know, sometimes it seems like there isn’t enough time in a block to get your exercise in. In that case, you might need to re-think your idea of how much time it takes to exercise. You don’t have to break a sweat, and you can get in some meaningful exercise in ten to twenty minutes. Some of my past newsletters have great ideas for short, energy-boosting workouts in them.

Another thing you can do with ten to twenty minutes? Work IN. In my life I make a distinction between working out–expending energy to get physically stronger–and working in–generating energy to get mentally stronger with activities like meditation and tai chi.

You can also find ways to make longer blocks of time when you can exercise. Every day before I get out of bed, I assess my day and my schedule. Sometimes things can be moved around to create longer blocks of time. Sometimes they can’t, but then I fall back on my short workout strategies.

Another thing that I do to increase the number of long blocks of time I have to exercise is to go to bed very early and get up very early. Most people get up just in time to get the kids to school and make it to work on time, and then stay up later. This leaves a lot of time in the day after work, which also happens to be the time of day when you are most drained and least able to act according to your priorities. By shifting my day around, I end up having more time where I am active and alert that I can devote to keeping myself healthy.

You will find that the more you take the opportunities in your day to work out (or work in) the easier it will be to find more of those opportunities. You will get more energy back out of fitness than you will spend getting fit.

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