Monday, January 30, 2012

Give Me Strength

Once I saw strength training as something only body builders would want to do. Now I know it’s as important to my health as brushing my teeth.  Just as I don’t want to develop rotten teeth and inflamed gums, I don’t want my bones to develop osteoporosis, my muscles to give way to flab and my ligaments to deteriorate. That hunched over senior with the brittle bones shuffling down the street with a walker once stood tall and likely would still if he/she had followed a strength regimen.

While most of us can get away with a hit or miss approach to exercise while we’re young and still stay relatively healthy, by middle age we’re faced with the ugly and painful reality of what lack of regular exercise will do to our bodies. Bloated bellies, strained backs and other signs of our mortality begin to accumulate. Meanwhile the more active among us seem to have drunk from the fountain of youth and maintain a youthful physique and general wellbeing.
Fortunately if we heed our wakeup call, whenever it comes, we can regain much of our youthful strength, flexibility and attractiveness. Getting our heart pumping with cardio workouts is important, but we’ve also got to build our strength.

Today I worked with a middle-age lady who did not know that we begin to lose muscle mass each year beginning as early as when we turn 25 to 30 years old. Our metabolism slows because of it. We also gradually lose our ability to lift as much. She also didn’t know that our bones become more brittle over time, especially for women after menopause, if we don’t strength train. While she takes calcium and other supplements she wasn’t aware that you need to work the bones for the calcium to be absorbed.

It did not surprise me that she did not know these things about strength training, because up until recent years I didn’t know them either. While fitness fans learn such fun facts early on Joe Six Pack and the rest of us typically are clueless. Fortunately I began learning the score after taking a “Healthy Lifestyle and Weight Loss” program several years ago.

After I showed my client how to use the weight machines and discussed the various benefits of strength training, she seemed determined to make weight training part of her regular fitness routine. Yeah!

When it comes to strength training, for best results work all your body’s major muscles and bones. Use the full range of weight machines vs. just a few and/or learn other ways of working your muscles including using your body weight, dumbbells and bands. The American Council of Exercise has a great
exercise library that includes video and written break downs of exercises for the entire body. Of course if you have health issues or are highly deconditioned, please check with your physician before starting an exercise program.

Monday, January 2, 2012

S.M.A.R.T Goals for the New Year

As the New Year begins it's great to look over fitness gains made in 2011, and create a plan for pursuing fitness in 2012. I like the ideas of setting S.M.A.R.T goals, as Paul J. Meyer popularized through his book Attitude is Everything. "S" is for "specific." "M" is for "measurable." "A" is for "attainable." "R" is for "Relevant." "T" is for "Timely." If you want to be S.M.A.R.T.E.R. also throw in "E" for "Evaluate" and "R" for "Re-evaluate" as goals need to be reviewed and revised over time.

Instead of setting the vague goal of getting in better shape during 2012, consider setting several S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals for incrementally improving your cardio health, muscle strength/endurance and flexibility. Also consider setting a goal for improving your balance, especially if you're over 50. And don't forget to consider how you'll fuel your training with nutritious foods such as lean proteins, whole grains, a variety of veggies/fruits, and healthy fats such as in olive oil, nuts and avocado.

Say you've been walking briskly for 30 minutes three to five times a week for awhile now and want to improve your cardio fitness level. You could decide to incrementally increase your walking to five to seven times a week for an hour within the next three months. (Remember you can split your cardio into multiple increments of at least 10 minutes each during the day if you need to and still get the benefit.) Another option (if your health allows) would be to graduately substitute 30 minutes of more vigorous cardio options such as a stair-stepper machine, running, spinning, and/or Zumba for walking three to five times a week over the next three months. You may opt to split your weekly schedule into two or three vigorous cardio workouts and two or three brisk walking sessions.

While I focused on walking one hour pretty much every day (after gradually building up to that activity level) while I was losing weight and getting back into shape, I now enjoy sometimes alternating brisk walking outdoors with Zumba and various cardio machines at the gym. This year I'll kick my cardio into higher gear with the goal of getting into the routine of four vigorous cardio workouts plus walking one to two times a week over the next three months.

To continue improving my muscle strength/endurance, flexibilty and balance I'll continue on the course I've set to strength train two to three times a week and take yoga classes at least twice a week. But since I've set a new goal of being able to do 15 push-ups in proper form within the next three months I'll be focusing kicking off my resistance training sessions with push-ups. I also want to be able to be able to balance on my right leg as long as I can balance on my left leg. That means extra work on my right leg. Three months from now I'll re-evaluate myself on push ups, balance, etc. and set some new goals.

Setting new goals, and thus changing/increasing my training techniques, intensity, frequency, time, etc., helps keeps me motivated to continue pursuing fitness. But what motivates me even more is the payoff in the way I look and feel. At 52 I'm stronger, faster, healthier and feel younger than I have in years. My sister, who has been working out of town and hasn't seen me in months, said when the family got together on Christmas Day: "I can't believe how great you look. Even your butt is higher."