Day: February 21, 2016

Building the Core to Get More: 7 Tips for Awesome Abdominal Training

Core Muscle Exercise

 

There’s a lot of talk in the world of fitness about building core strength because it’s been shown to enhance performance during other exercises, such as running and biking. Medical professionals and sports trainers also recommend building core strength to lessen chronic pain and prevent injuries.

Some mistakenly believe that core strength refers only to the stomach area, and limit their core exercises to sit-ups, crunches and other classic abdominal strength-builders. But the core actually includes the upper abdominals, side (oblique) muscles and a deep lower layer of midsection muscle called the transverse abdominus, as well as the muscles down the back, hips, glutes and thighs.

In short: if the muscles help to stabilize the spine, they’re core muscles, and if you can strengthen them, they might help you perform better athletically, improve your posture and reduce back pain.

Below are 7 tips for building abdominal and core muscles for maximum strength and agility.

 

1. Brace Yourself—

When performing any exercise to build the core, pulling your navel area inward as close to the spine as you can while still breathing comfortably is an excellent way to make sure you’re focusing on the correct muscle group.

By engaging the transverse abdominus, you’ll make sure this extremely powerful sheet of stomach muscle keeps the spine properly aligned and protected.

 

2. Stabilizing Force—

When traditional ab exercises like crunches and sit-ups are performed on an exercise ball, surrounding muscles are forced to work out along with the abs to keep the body stable. This can especially strengthen the sides of the body, creating a leaner line and stronger back.

Doing squats with an exercise ball between yourself and the wall, ball push-ups, and doing sit-ups on the ball are all examples of stability-based exercises.

A half of an exercise ball on a flat surface (called a BOSU), can be a great core builder when free weights are lifted while standing on it. If a trainer or friend can toss a medicine ball back and forth with you while you balance on a BOSU, this also works well.

 

3. Pilates, Please—

With slow, controlled movements that are all about maintaining stability, rather than reps, Pilates is an excellent core strengthener.

Remember to maintain proper form and hold Pilates poses as long as possible for maximum core benefits.

 

4. Plank You Very Much—

The plank is a popular core exercise because the body is aligned, the entire spine and surrounding muscles are engaged, and if you don’t want to collapse, the core muscles are all you have between you and the floor.

To plank, simply place elbows, lower arms and toes on the floor while holding the rest of the body up in a straight line for as long as you can, working up to a minute or longer eventually.

Side planks are the same exercise turned sideways, and really strengthen the oblique muscles. When doing any type of plank, remember to breathe and don’t overly tighten and strain the neck muscles.

 

5. Meet the Medicine Ball—

Incorporating medicine ball-lifting exercises into your workout can create core progress, especially those that make the body move from side to side, or stretch upward.

Because you’re balancing a heavy ball as you work out, you’re introducing the core-strengthening element of instability when the muscles have to work harder to hang on.

Throwing a ball at a wall and catching it on the bounce-back is also a fun way to achieve the abs of steel you’re seeking.

 

6. Get Glute-iful—

The glute muscles do more than provide us with a cushioned surface on which to sit; they also play a large role in core strength, making it just as important to work the lower body as the middle.

A popular core-building move for the gluteus and thigh muscles is the bridge exercise. This can be done by lying on the back with bent knees and raising the body up off the floor while contracting the glutes, being careful not to strain the lower back.

Go slowly and pull the navel into the spine to include the inner abs during a bridge exercise, holding each repetition for as long as you can.

 

7. Work the Weights—

While all of the weight machines don’t necessarily work the core muscles, strengthening all of the big muscles of the body can give you an edge by making it easier to build the core.

When the surrounding muscles are strong enough to support the rest of the body, it’s easier to work on the less-developed central muscles, and less likely to cause injury.

 

If you decide to focus on building your core, be sure to proceed slowly, as many of the exercises to build these particular muscles can injure those with weakness in the center of the body. Use the tips above with low weight until you learn the proper forms, and build up to the super strong core you’ve always wanted.

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Safe Strength Training for Kids: 5 Tips to Make It Helpful, Not Hurtful

Young Boy Strength Training (2)

 

Most doctors generally agree that heavy-weight strength training and power lifting are not safe activities until after puberty, as they can damage growth plates in young bones, as well as harming joints and tendons.

But lifting light free weights, using resistance bands, and other forms of strength training have been shown to be highly beneficial for kids when properly performed. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has deemed strength training for children to be safe after age 7 as long as children use light weights and get medical clearance from a doctor first. (Source: WebMD.)

In addition to helping kids maintain a healthy weight to avoid issues like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, carefully guided light resistance exercises can increase muscle strength, protect kids from sports injuries, improve balance, athletic performance and coordination. Many parents also notice a boost in self-esteem and increase in positive body image as kids begin to feel stronger and fitter.

If you’re considering strength training as a form of healthy exercise for your child, there are specific guidelines and rules to follow to ensure their well-being. Below are 5 tips from pediatricians and child fitness experts to help anyone develop a safe and effective strength training routine for kids.

 

1. Warm Up and Stretch—

It’s as important for kids to warm up before pushing muscles as it is for adults, so be sure children get aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, biking, jumping rope or doing jumping jacks before lifting weights.

Stretching the muscles before strength training can prevent injury, and yoga poses or floor extensions can also be great for limbering up muscles and tendons.

 

2. Keep the Weights Light—

Until kids have gone through puberty, they are physically unable to pack on muscle like grown-ups, so don’t push them to lift overly heavy weights.

If the child can’t perform at least 12-15 repetitions of a weight-bearing exercise, it’s too heavy and can damage growth plates in the bones, making it crucial to keep weights light and repetitions high.

Sit-ups, push-ups and resistance tubing/elastic bands are all safe after age 7, so don’t forget that there are other strength-building options besides free weights.

 

3. Set Realistic Expectations—

Children are especially known for seeking instant gratification, so in order to avoid disappointment later, be careful not to give your child unrealistic expectations about what strength training can do for them.

Make it clear that they will not be able to achieve the muscles they see on movie superheroes, but they will be able to become stronger and more powerful.

Letting kids know that strength training may enable them to perform better in athletic activities such as sports is a reasonable potential outcome to give as well.

 

4. Proper Form is King—

As with adult weightlifting, it’s better to do 5 reps of an exercise with correct form than 15 reps the wrong way. Weight and resistance create potential for injury when strength training is done incorrectly, making it especially important to work out the right way when a child is involved.

If you are not already trained to do all exercises properly, research your regimen or consider hiring a personal trainer to guide you and your child until you both learn how to safely and effectively perform every movement.

Once you’ve achieved proper form in all exercises, it’s still important to supervise your child’s weightlifting activities to prevent “overconfidence injuries” caused by kids pushing themselves to lift too much.

 

5. Rest for Growing Bones—

Adult bones need frequent strength training and weight resistance to increase bone mineral density, but kids don’t require this, nor is it good for them.

Because the bones, joints and tendons used in strength training are still growing, it’s generally recommended that children participate in weight-bearing and resistance exercises no more than 3 times a week, with a day off between each session to heal.

It’s also important to have a cooling down session, light aerobic exercise, or stretching post-workout. This can prevent the muscles from tightening up or cramping, and help work lactic acid out of them for a pain-free next day.

 

Starting a child on the path to fitness early with an exercise program can instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime, and working out along with them sets a good example while providing excellent parent/child bonding time. If you’d like to include your child in your current workout, or start an exercise plan together, get the go-ahead from your child’s pediatrician, use the tips above, and get started today.

Stop the Stresses! 5 Types of Exercise to Soothe the Soul

Hatha_Yoga,_Halasana,_Zhengzhou,_China (2)

 

Stress is an unavoidable fact of life for most people—with jobs, children, financial issues, or even the commute to work sometimes able to bring everything to a fever pitch of anxiety and frustration.

While removing toxic people and situations from one’s life is obviously the best way to eliminate stressors, this isn’t always an option, and that’s where exercise can help. Establishing a regular workout routine is one of the most effective medication-free ways to reduce tension, while building up the body and mind to handle future upsets.

When we exercise, we lower levels of stress hormones known for causing weight gain and nervousness, and we increase the positive mood-enhancing brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. The endorphins released by regular exercise serve as a natural anti-anxiety elixir that can calm and relax us in times of distress.

Below are 5 of the best ways to use exercise to soothe the soul:

 

1. Aerobically Unwind—

One of the best ways to work off nervous energy and clear the mind is with aerobic exercises such as running, biking, elliptical training, speed walking, or any form of physical activity that requires endurance and repetition.

Something about repeated movements is comforting to us, like the constant beat of a heart. The brain also releases mood-lifting endorphins during prolonged exercise, and lowers stress hormones, creating a naturally sedating effect.

If you’re new to aerobic exercise, start slow with walking and move up to jogging, or try out all the aerobic machines at your gym until you find your favorite.

 

2. Mellow Out—

If your emotional stress seems primarily anxiety-based, a mild and quiet exercise practice like yoga or Pilates might be the perfect way to stretch out tight muscles and get yourself back in balance.

Pilates focuses on core muscles, balance, and a slow building of overall stability, while yoga is known for increasing flexibility with an emphasis on inner peace and breathing exercises.

If you think this type of gentle and strengthening workout might be a good way to de-stress your mind and body, try taking classes for both types of exercise to see if you like one style better—or maybe you’ll love them both.

 

3. Fight Your Demons—

If you feel like anger is a constant issue or recurring reaction to stress in your daily life, you might consider one of the many types of martial arts training programs to work out your aggression in a controlled environment.

Many people find it empowering to learn self-defense techniques, especially if their anger is coming from a place of helplessness, and kicking a hanging bag, punching a speed bag, or learning the sport of boxing can be a great way to release pent-up resentment.

If this sounds like it might be beneficial for your particular situation, find a martial arts dojo or a gym that features boxing training, and ask for a free class to try it out. Most reputable businesses will give you a trial lesson before you sign up.

 

4. Lift the Stress Away—

Strength training and other forms of resistance exercise like weightlifting can really help purge the stress from the body, muscle by straining muscle. This type of exercise can be especially helpful for those with anxiety disorders or ADHD because it efficiently burns off nervous energy while creating mood-lifting neurochemicals.

Working out the body with weight machines, free weights, or exercise bands can take tension from a bad day at work away with each push or pull, leaving exhaustion-induced relief in its place.

Also, much like aerobic exercise, the structure of a weightlifting routine can have a pacifying effect as you count repetitions and fall into a comfortingly familiar workout rhythm.

If you think strength training might help you relax, consider joining a gym, and be sure to have an employee or personal trainer walk you through proper form before you use the equipment.

 

5. Mentally Exercise—

The positive physical and psychological effects of meditation have been proven in multiple studies, and many people swear by this stress-reducing technique.

Meditation has a reputation for being a mystical, spiritual practice requiring years of training, but in reality, anyone willing to create an atmosphere conducive to relaxation can meditate.

If you’d like to see if meditation makes you feel mellow, find a time during which you will be alone without interruptions, lie down in a dark, quiet place, and try to let your mind go blank for as long as possible. Some find that visualizing a color or repeating a word helps block out other thoughts.

It may take a while, but many meditation enthusiasts dedicate 30-60 minutes a day to this mindful endeavor, with excellent results.

 

In addition to slowing the aging process and making people healthier, exercise can give us the physical release and necessary brain chemicals to cope with the hectic demands of life. If you’re feeling anxious, frustrated, or angry, consider trying one of the exercises listed above to stop worrying and start working the stress out of your system.

After School Specials: Super Snack Ideas for Healthy, Happy Kids

Little Girl Healthy Snack (2)

 

When kids get home from school, they’re a few hours past lunch time, hungry and needing a snack to tide them over until dinner. But chips, crackers and other simple carbohydrates can be a waste of calories that could have instead provided growing children with the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy and strong.

So what’s the solution? Healthy snacks, of course. By feeding kids the right foods after school, you can make sure that every calorie counts; and when snacks are properly prepared, even the pickiest little one will eat fruits and vegetables instead of empty starches.

Below are some creative ways to make good nutrition tasty and appealing so kids will snack on real food instead of junk.

 

1. Freeze the Fruit—

Dieting women have known for years that frozen grapes make a refreshing, low-fat replacement for ice cream, but any fruit can be frozen if your children like cold treats.

Mangoes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, bananas and peaches can all be frozen to create a healthy snack that tastes great with a dollop of Greek yogurt for added protein.

If you have a high-power blender, frozen bananas can be turned into a treat with a surprisingly similar texture to soft serve ice cream, with peanut butter, cocoa powder, assorted fruits or other natural flavors added if desired.

 

2. Prep the Veggies—

Often, we have the celery, carrot sticks, fresh broccoli and cauliflower sitting in the refrigerator drawer, waiting to be used, but we forget to prepare it in time for snacks.

Rather than waiting until you have hungry children clamoring at your feet, cut up fresh vegetables during the day and place them in a sealed container with a bit of cold water to retain moisture.

When kids get home from school, instead of grabbing salty, processed nibbles, you can give freshly sliced vegetables with ranch dip or hummus to snack on.

 

3. Find the Fruit Bowl—

This seems like an obvious, classic way to promote healthful eating, and many of us grew up with a bowl of fruit on the table for quick snacking.

But our world has become much more convenience-minded in the last few decades, making many reach for chips, crackers and other processed junk foods instead of that good old apple we used to enjoy.

To get back into this great habit, buy apples, oranges, nectarines, peaches, bananas and other kid-friendly foods, wash and dry so they’re ready to eat, and keep the bowl within constant reach of little hands.

Children don’t get to control much in their lives, and being given the option to grab something from the fruit bowl whenever they want will make them happy. And if they lose their appetite for dinner because they had too much fruit… is that really a bad thing?

 

4. Mix It Up—

Kids love variety and choices, and a really healthy, fun way to give them this is with homemade trail mixes in individual servings they can grab and go, making your life easier.

Use sandwich bags to blend assorted nuts, dried fruits (without added sugar) like raisins, cranberries, blueberries and banana chips or apple rings. Some grocery stores now carry dried blueberries, mango, papaya and even dried kiwi, so get creative.

If you have a picky child, allowing them to help make multiple bags of their own special blend of trail mix can also encourage them to want to eat their creations.

 

5. Smoothie Sailing—

A great way to get fruits and vegetables into kids without a fuss is by making icy smoothies in the blender that taste like a shake, but are actually nutritious.

By adding dairy milk, almond milk, or yogurt, you’ll give children valuable calcium needed for growing bones.

Mild vegetables like carrots and spinach can also be juiced for fruit smoothies to increase the vitamin content as long as berries, oranges or apples are added to sweeten it up.

 

6. English Pizzas—

English muffin halves make adorable mini-pizzas when toasted and covered with marinara sauce, and kids love the novelty of having their very own pizza to top with shredded cheese and vegetables.

Have the vegetable toppings diced before kids get home so they’ll be ready to go, and muffins pre-toasted. All kids will have to do is spread the sauce, add the cheese and veggies, and let a grown-up microwave or bake pizzas in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

Use whole grain muffins to increase the fiber and nutritional content of this fresh, fun treat.

 

Snack time doesn’t have to be junk food time: it can actually be a great way to get fruits, vegetables and other nutritious fare into kids’ diets in a completely delicious way. Use the after-school snack tips above, or find other innovative ideas to replace empty calories with wholesome, healthful and enjoyable foods your kids will love.

Back It Up! 6 Exercises to Build Back Strength and Prevent Injury

Cobra Pose (2)

 

It has been estimated that nearly 80% of Americans will suffer from back pain or injury in their lifetimes, making the building of core strength and back muscles an especially important part of any exercise regimen.

Many people who experience back injuries mistakenly think exercise will cause harm, but most physical therapy for strained backs involves limiting bed rest and gently working the muscles to slowly build them up. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons now endorses 10-30 minutes of exercise during the early stages of back pain as helpful for recovery. (Source: Healthline.com.)

If you have back muscle issues, have experienced a back injury, or would like to prevent yourself from ever having to deal with this painful and debilitating problem, there are many workouts fitness experts and physical therapists recommend to help.

Below are 6 types of exercises to build back strength and prevent injury:

 

1. Leg Raises—

Because abdominal and other core muscles support the back, exercises that strengthen the middle of the body are extremely helpful for those with back pain.

To do a leg raise, lie on the floor with legs out straight, lift one leg slowly in a controlled manner, and hold it for at least 10 seconds. Count to 5 as you lower it to prevent a muscle-pulling sudden movement, and repeat with the other leg.

This exercise can also be done while lying on the stomach and raising legs up behind you, while being careful not to lift too high as this can strain the lower back.

 

2. Pelvic Tilts—

This is a classic exercise used by physical therapists to strengthen back muscles without exacerbating the injury, but it can be used to prevent injury as well.

To do a pelvic tilt, lie on the floor on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Flatten the stomach muscles into the spine and press the lower back down against the floor for 5-10 seconds.

Repeat this exercise until you feel strong enough to lift the pelvis off the floor while still tightening and engaging abdominal muscles for added core strengthening.

If you can eventually raise the entire body up and grab your heels with your hands, this is called bridge pose in yoga, and is well known for its back-strengthening effects.

 

3. Use an Exercise Ball—

If your back is not currently injured and can handle not being supported while you sit, an exercise ball is a great way to introduce core-building instability into your workouts, or even into your daily life if you use a ball for seating at work or home.

Sitting on an exercise ball while lifting light free weights is a great way to make the core stronger while working the upper body.

Doing squats with the ball rolling up and down between yourself and the wall can also strengthen back-protecting thigh and gluteus muscles.

 

4. Start Stretching—

Incorporating a stretching routine into your daily plan is a great idea for everyone, but especially for those with back weakness.

There are many yoga exercises that increase back flexibility, and the more limber the back is, the less likely it is to become injured.

The cobra pose involves lying on the stomach and raising the upper body with the arms straightened to stretch the back while legs remain on the floor.

Another excellent yoga stretch for the back are reclining twists, with legs bent at the knee together, and moved from one side of the body to the other while lying flat on the back.

 

5. Sit-Ups and Leg-Ups—

Exercises that work the abdominal muscles by partially raising the body while supporting the neck are helpful for back injury prevention, such as partial sit-ups like crunches.

Bending legs together at the knee and reverse crunching the lower body up while you lie flat on your back can also work the core muscles while allowing the upper back to rest.

Raising one knee to the chest at a time while turning slightly during leg and ab crunches can also help involve the oblique/side abdominal muscles to create a brace to support the back.

 

6. Allover Exercise—

Gentle cardio like walking, swimming and recumbent biking are great for keeping the body flexible and moving to prevent the stiffening that can lead to back injury.

Yoga and Pilates aren’t known for their cardiovascular benefits, but they keep the body limber and strong while eliminating the tension that can lead to tight and strained muscles.

Regular exercise can also promote weight loss which helps the back because extra pounds give the body more to carry around, straining all of the muscles.

 

Abdominal exercises and other core builders like hip, back and stability-based moves can increase the flexibility and strength of the back to prevent injury while giving you excellent posture and keeping you in great shape. Use some of the helpful back strength-building exercises above to make sure your back stays powerful and permanently pain-free.

Winter Workout Woes? Just Say No! 7 Tips to Stay Warm and Fit

Winter Runner (2).jpg

 

In addition to reducing motivation, extremely cold winter weather can make walking, running, cycling and other forms of outdoor exercise downright dangerous.

Yes, our bodies benefit by burning extra calories while trying to maintain our temperature when it’s chilly, but without the proper precautions, this positive can quickly become a negative in the form of hypothermia—or even frostbite.

Luckily for those who want to stay in great shape year-round, there are many things everyone can do to keep our bodies warm while staying fit.

Below are 7 tips to help outdoor exercisers stay in the training groove, no matter what the weather report might say.

 

1. Utilize the Dryer—

Before you head out into the cold, icy world, put all of the pieces of clothing you’ll be wearing into your dryer for a few minutes to warm up on the highest synthetic fabric-safe setting, and put everything on right before you leave.

By dressing in pre-heated gear, you’ll warm your body to the core and stay comfortable for the first leg of your workout until your temperature rises naturally from the physical exertion.

 

2. Pre-Exercise Warm-Up—

A little preparation goes a long way, and if you have time to stretch, do yoga or Pilates, jump rope, sit-ups or any other form of exercise that can get your blood moving before you leave the house, it will help.

By pre-warming your body before you enter the frigid outdoors, you’ll be ready to deal with whatever weather comes your way, and be less likely to suffer from a stiff muscle or injury.

 

3. Love the Layers—

Layers of clothes made from athletic fabrics that wick the wetness away from the body are your best bet when exercising outside during cold weather. Cotton absorbs sweat really well, but this means it also holds moisture against your skin, which can make you extremely cold.

Synthetic fibers do a much better job of keeping sweat, snow and rain-related dampness away from the body, and layers work by holding warm air close to the body, so layer up with the right clothes, and make sure the outer layer is waterproof.

 

4. Water for Warmth—

Even if there’s snow on the ground, extremely cold air can be dry and very hard on the skin, making it just as important to stay properly hydrated in the winter as when the summer sun is beating down on you.

Moisturize skin before outdoor winter exercise to create a barrier between yourself and dehydration-via-evaporation, and don’t forget to use sunscreen, as snow can reflect the sun’s rays to amplify sunburn risk.

 

5. A Flexible Schedule—

If you normally run, bike or work out outdoors in the morning, consider waiting until the later part of the day when it’s warmed up a bit before leaving the house.

Watch the weather report every day to accurately gauge temperature, note wind chill factor, decide how many layers of clothing to wear, and figure out what the best time of day will be to head out.

Most of the time the warmest part of the day will occur during the afternoon, but occasionally a cold front will sneak in later in the day and mess up your plans, so stay informed.

 

6. Adjust Your Exercise—

Extremely hot or cold weather is much harder on the body than the temperate, controlled climate of a gym; so when exercising outside, you’ll need to adjust for this additional physical stress.

Until you get used to working out in the freezing air, cut your usual routine in half and slowly build back up to what you’d normally do in milder weather.

 

7. Listen to Your Body—

If you’re hurting anywhere you’re exposed to the cold, don’t ignore the pain or discomfort if it doesn’t go away once you’ve had adequate time to warm up.

Frostbite can present as a stinging sensation as well as numbness, so if you feel either, head home immediately and slowly allow body temperature to rise.

If you have asthma or other respiratory issues that are triggered by the cold, ask your doctor before exercising in extreme weather. There may be medications that can help, and protective face wear to lessen the shock of icy air in the lungs.

 

8. Face Wind First—

Plan your route to head into the wind on the way out so it will be at your back on the way home.

Facing the wind always sounds unpleasant, but would you rather be moving directly into cold winter blasts while you’re dry at the beginning of a workout, or once you’re sweaty in the final stretch, making moisture feel freezing?

If walking or running, you can also break up your moments of facing into the wind/wind at your back by turning around and moving backwards for a few minutes, with the bonus of working new muscles as you alternate.

 

Exercising in the extreme cold is harder on the body, but it can be done safely with the proper clothing and careful planning. Use the helpful tips above to maintain your fitness program, even when the weather is trying to keep you indoors and out of shape.