Preventing Injury – Exercising with Proper Form

If you have read any of the other exercise related posts from this website, you will likely recall that I mention doing whatever exercise it is you are doing with proper form. The reasons for this are to prevent injury, to get the most out of the exercise, and to achieve what the exercise is designed to achieve.

Proper form is not always an easy task. It can be frustratingly difficult to perform an exercise or activity and monitor your own form for potential flaws. For this reason I recommend tackling this problem with a friend.

If you are new to exercise in general or are learning a new sport/activity, I recommend that you get the help of a professional trainer. They will be familiar with the proper form of an exercise, will monitor your form, and provide corrective feedback.

If you do not have a lot of money to spend on a trainer, it is ok. You can just get them for a session or two. Once you know the proper form, you can teach this to a friend who can monitor you on occasion to make sure you haven’t fallen back into old habits. The money you spend on a few training sessions will be much less than the money you spend on trying to fix an injury, plus you will not have to deal with the frustration of being injured. Trust me.

Another important point to consider is the potential imbalance in your body. I am talking about two things here. First, it is not unusual at all for one side of our bodies to be stronger than the other. One side may also be more or less flexible than the other. Also, our basic core muscles may also be weak. This causes instability. This instability can lead to poor form or our form being broken very easily. This leads to injury. Injury sucks.

Now just because a person may be out of balance in some way does not mean they cannot perform well. It is entirely possible to find athletes that are serious competitors in their respective sports but are out of balance when tested.

So how does one find out if one is unbalanced in the aforementioned ways you ask? I will start by telling you that the best information I have found on the subject contained in one place is from Timothy Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Body. There is a plethora of good information contained in this book, so I would encourage you to purchase it. Since it is a reference book, I would recommend buying a hard copy. I find reference books, especially ones you tend to flip through a lot (as you will with the previously mentioned book), to be easier than electronic copies. That is just me though.

I will mention a few things from The Four Hour Body regarding imbalances and how to test for them. If you have the money, you can see a professional for an evaluation. Information on how to find these types of professional is available in the book it appears I am selling (I am not in fact selling this book though. It just happens to be good and the author deserves my endorsement). You can also look up the accompanying blog on the internet. I am not sure if the information is there, but it is worth a try.

Ferriss also provides a link to a video that will show you how to do a test on yourself for imbalances. That video can be found on YouTube at the following link (self movement screening how-to video).This video will show you exactly what to do explained in a clear and concise manner. It does not tell you exactly how to correct any imbalances found. As previously mentioned though, you can find that info in Ferriss’ book. I bet you could find some info on it from a simple Google search too.

If you do find that you have any imbalances, take the time to correct them. Ferriss points out a few examples of NFL teams that have used these testing and corrective techniques. They have made a significant difference in overall team injuries compared with teams not using the same techniques.

Also, I would encourage you to think about your form when doing exercises and sporting activities. Even if you have been doing something for years and are quite good at it, you may benefit from an analysis and possible improvement in your form.

I am drummer and have spent a great deal of time playing aggressive music that is very physically demanding behind the drum kit. Several years ago I took the time to experiment with my form and it caused me to rearrange and reconfigure the way my drum kit was set up. This was after 15 years of playing at a high level. It is truly never too late to learn.

Sharing the TRX Suspension Trainer

As far as bodyweight exercise tools go, I am a big fan of the TRX suspension trainer. I have been using it for nearly a year at this point and am completely satisfied with the product. Since moving back to America I have noticed the presence of the TRX trainer in many gyms. The gyms I have seen the TRX in have all been non-corporate affairs, but then again I haven’t made it to any large corporate gyms.

The presence of the TRX suspension trainer in a variety of gyms reinforces my positive feelings towards the product. Of course this is a great thing for the makers of the TRX and exactly what you want to happen with products of almost every type. But this is not a business or marketing discussion. If you are wondering what the TRX is, you can find in depth information on it at the TRX suspension trainer review portion of The Ultimate Health Source.

I mention the fact that I have seen the TRX in various gyms because it offers my readers an opportunity. Many people like going to the gym for several good reasons. Among these reasons is the fact that going to the gym means getting down to business. Some just need to be in a workout environment to actually work out. I get that.

Other people like having access to a variety of gym equipment so they can change up their routines often and experiment with new equipment or unfamiliar equipment. The TRX suspension trainer may be one of those pieces of equipment that you can try out at your local gym.

Another good reason for attending a gym is the access to personal trainers. A qualified trainer that is worth anything will help familiarize you with the proper technique for each exercise you engage in. This certainly holds true for the TRX training tool. And for a tool with so many possibilities, it is a good idea to learn about them from a professional well versed in the tool.

It is for this reason that I love seeing the TRX in gyms. I have seen large groups working with the TRX as part of a boot camp style class. I have seen individuals working with personal trainers using the TRX, and I know many have been introduced to its benefits through its presence in gyms and health clubs.

This is wonderful and it makes me think that I should be introducing this tool to more of my friends and family. Of course I definitely take time to do that on this site, but I am sure I could do it more in my daily life. I am sure that the TRX users out there could do more of it too.

I am going to take a play from the gyms I have seen the TRX used in and start bringing the trainer to workouts with friends and the park where we often play games of Frisbee, workout in groups or participate in some other kind of recreational game.

This environment is a great way to introduce the TRX suspension trainer to others and let them try it out. I also like to warm up and stretch with the TRX, so I can do that before and after games too. I bet it will intrigue those who have not seen it before. Besides, I learned in preschool that we should share. Sharing feels good, so why not share an exercise tool that I believe in. If you are a TRX user, I think you should do the same.

For those of you that want more information on the TRX suspension trainer, please take a look at the TRX Reviews page I have put together. This in-depth analysis highlights the strong and weak points of the TRX and has a link to the maker’s website (which is very strong, by-the-way).

Warming up and Stretching Before Exercise

There are some common misconceptions about warming up and stretching before exercise. This is particularly so in regard to stretching. The experts are still arguing a bit about stretching before exercise, but it is safe to consider what the expert practitioners are doing these days.

I suppose this is actually quite easy to say. Most experts are saying to not stretch before doing a workout. Instead they advocate warming up somehow. How exactly, you ask? A light jog is always a good warm-up, and I find that about ten minutes (in decently warm weather) is good enough to get me going.

The experts are also saying that warming up the specific muscles you will be using in the sport or exercise you will be doing is a good idea. I agree. If you are going to play tennis, then warming up by easily hitting the ball back and forth with a partner for ten minutes or so is a good option.

I like to do what I call loosening up as opposed to stretching. After warming up, or during my warm up, I will do arm circles, squat and very lightly stretch or whatever. I find that this gets my blood flowing to my muscles. This is what you want. As I am getting older, I also find the tendons need attention and warming up. In fact, I think my tendons often take longer to get warm and stretchy.

Whatever it is you do to get ready for exercise or sport, the main idea here is to properly warm up. It will help you prevent injury and perform better at the beginning of you routine or game. Traditional stretching should be reserved for after your exercise session. Stretching before you exercise has been found to make you slower and weaker.

I would also like to note that when you are more active, you will likely notice that your warm-up time is less than when you are not in as good of shape. I guess that is just another reason to stay and/or get into great shape!

Why Shouldn’t You Stretch Before a Workout?

The experts say that stretching your cold muscles is like stretching a rubber band that is way too cold. As a rubber band warms up, it becomes more stretchable. You muscles are the same way. Also, static stretching is like extending a rubber band to its limit. When you do this and then workout, you increase your chances of pulling a muscle.

Traditional stretches can also cause your muscles to tighten as opposed to relaxing. You definitely do not want to start a difficult workout session by tightening your muscles.

So stretching after a workout or at the end of the day is fine. Static stretching can help you become more flexible. Stretching after a workout helps your muscles workout that impending soreness. Before you stretch after that workout though, be sure to get a proper cool down in. Especially during intense exercise, your muscles will recover better if you take at least 15 minutes to cool down by walking or doing some other light activity. Then you can stretch. After that you can eat. And finally you can get on with your life. Oh, a shower may be a good idea too!

Making Chores Exercise

I have just started training for a half marathon race in October. While looking at my training schedule on Polar’s website (they make heart rate monitors and have a great educational and training section with personal calendar), I was reminded of the recovery workout.

The recovery workout is when you do some light exercise keeping your heart rate in the 55% to 65% of your max range. This type of workout helps your body recover faster than a total rest day. For running purposes, it also helps get your body used to the pounding of running.

These are nice relaxing workouts for me. After my workout though I went to was my car at one of those do-it-yourself car washes, and I was thinking, as I rushed to wash and save money, that this was actually a great little recovery session. I wished I was still wearing my heart rate monitor so I could have tracked what my heart rate actually was.

Either way, I know keeping your heart rate elevated by doing these types of activities is good for you. It is a bit similar to an easy or moderate hike. Having the heart rate elevated just enough (usually 50% to 69% of your maximum heart rate) is great for building endurance. If you are into to training you will understand that the ‘long run’ workout is typically done like this.

This got me thinking about something I did years ago when I first got my heart rate monitor. I used to have a place that I could play drums 24 hours a day. It was great. I played a lot. I am talking for 4 to 8 hours a day. During that time, I developed a routine that lasted over an hour to better my drumming skills. This routine involved a lot of double bass drum playing. I thought it would be cool to take that routine and make it a workout. So I did.

By changing how fast I was playing, I was able to control the intensity and my heart rate. On recovery days I could do a good recovery workout and on more intense days I could jack my heart rate up by playing faster. It worked out really well and was a very effective use of time.

Today I was thinking of doing the same thing but with household chores. I have seen some stuff targeted at housewives about how to do this. I’m not really interested in the same thing. I will take my exercise. But what I am interested in is getting some house work finished while keeping my heart rate up. There are two purposes that this works for me. I can do this as a recovery workout that fully takes care of the daily workout, or I can do it as a post workout recovery. After a hard training session, it is always good to keep your body moving for at least 15 minutes or so. This helps clear the lactic acid from your muscles and gradually brings down your heart rate. Failing to cool down properly will lead to more muscle soreness and a longer recovery time.

So that is really it. If you are interested in doing this light workout household chore thing, I would recommend getting a heart rate monitor. It can be hard to estimate where your heart rate is at without one. You definitely want to measure your heart rate so you know if you are working too hard or not hard enough. You will figure out what kind of chores to do. Trust me.

Alcohol, Exercise and You

This post is going to be about alcohol and exercise. It is not about drinking alcohol and then exercising, although there are races and such where you stop at bars every mile or so. That sounds like fun, but is something you should only do once in a great while if you have performance goals.

I am writing this post because I like to drink. I particularly like beer. Good beer. Craft beer. American craft beer, Belgian beer, French sours, you know, the finer things in life. The problem with beer is 1) it is totally not on the slow-carb or paleo diet, which I adhere to quite a bit. 2) Good beer tends to be higher in alcohol than your typical watered down, mass marketed American lager. This means you need to be careful with how much you drink.

I enjoy a good beer almost every day. I should switch to red wine, which is slow-carb and paleo friendly, but I just can’t give up on the fact that I can drink the finest beers in the world for really cheap. We’re talking $5 or so for a 12 oz glass. I don’t find the same consistent value with wine. I also don’t make enough money yet to be able to afford good wine all the time. Someday I will. Someday soon.

So if you like to drink like me, how can you be sure to minimize the alcohol’s effects on your training? I have a few things you can try. I should mention that not drinking regularly is the best option. But for me and many others, that is not way we enjoy life. And life is to be enjoyed.

Alcohol dehydrates. Be conscious of this. Once you are dehydrated, it takes six to eight hours to get yourself back to normal. I recommend drinking a cup of water (8oz) for each drink you consume. This is based on the fact that one drink is equal to one 1 oz. shot of 80 proof liquor; one 5 oz. glass of wine; or one 12 oz. beer that is approximately 5 to 6% alcohol. Add a bit more water for those strong ales and IPAs. If you are drinking before bed and exercise early in the morning, you need to be especially careful about this dehydration thing. It is really better to not drink the day before if you have a day of heavy training coming up.

One thing that we should all do is remember to keep our drinking in balance. Doctors and nutritionists say that women can enjoy one alcoholic beverage per day while men can enjoy two. I have been known to go over this number on occasion, but I do not do it often. I find that excessive drinking interferes with my fitness level. Everything in moderation, including moderation, is a good way to think about it.

If you have a seriously strenuous race or something like that, you should abstain from alcohol completely to maximize your training and event performance. In the meantime, drink in moderation and enjoy life.

(The information contained in this post and on this website are opinion. Before making any changes in your diet or exercise routine, please get the advice of your doctor. It is the smart thing to do.)

Creating a Well-Rounded Workout

Exercise is an essential part of staying healthy and happy. The type of exercise you engage in is largely due to what you like and what you can handle. Doing exercise that you like is beneficial for the body and mind and also helps ensure you will remain interested and motivated to keep exercise as a part of your daily life.

Once you are committed to having exercise as a part of your life you should evaluate your exercise routine and habits in order to find ways to enhance the benefits of all your hard work. Many people engage in the same type of exercise for years on end. Keeping up your exercise routine is great, but adding a bit of variety to it can give you a lot of benefits.

A well rounded exercise routine is vital for a person like me. I like to engage in a variety of sports and activities. I run a lot, do bodyweight exercises, hike, do yoga, climb, swim, cycle, and at certain times, lift weights. In addition to this though, I am always coming up on opportunities to do a bunch of other sports. It could be surfing, playing softball, football or skateboarding. Whatever it is, I want to be in good enough physical shape to engage in the sport or activity reasonably well and for the required amount of time. I really want to be badass at everything, but that doesn’t always workout.

Because I want to do all the stuff and then some mentioned in the above paragraph, I am sure to add variety into my exercise routine. If I only ran for my exercise I would be neglecting my upper body. That would not be great for playing softball, football or punching rabid badgers in an effort to fend off their advances. It would also mean that my body was not balanced. I like to keep balance in my life.

The easiest variety I add into my exercise routine is stretching. I make sure to stretch in different ways after exercising and usually before bed (or just later into the evening). I also add ‘range of motion’ activities into my workouts. Bear crawls, crab walks, burpees, mountain climbers and old school calestetics are just of few of the things I do.

I add the range of motion exercises to simulate that ‘being a kid’ experience. When you were a child you did all sorts of silly things that included a lot of weird movements. As we grow up and play less, we don’ always engage in those movements anymore. In top of that, our bodies stiffen up as we age. In order to counteract this, I do a lot of range of motion activities.

So if you find yourself only engaging in one type of exercise, try and change it up a bit. Runners don’t need to run all the time: try walking, running backwards, or jumping on your hands (maybe not that last one) to add some variety. If you just love running so much, you can always add a few exercises at the beginning or end of your run. Add a few bear crawls in or do jumping jacks. You get the idea. If you like bodyweight exercises like I do, you could check out the TRX suspension trainer review that I have done to see if this fitness anywhere tool is right for you. Add variety to your workout so your body is in better shape. It can also help prevent injuries and keep you from getting board. Have fun!

Hiking as Exercise

Hiking is a wonderful activity and exercise that people of all ages can enjoy. There are many proven physical and mental benefits to hiking. Getting away from the congestion of the city and into a natural environment is a proven stress reducer.

Hiking at a decent pace increases your heart rate and provides a low impact endurance workout. Those that follow the paleo diet or a paleo lifestyle love hiking. They point to the fact that ancient man did a ton of hiking in everyday life. This type of exercise created the base of fitness that enabled man to survive and eventually flourish over tens of thousands of years.

Let us look at a few different kinds of hiking that mostly relate to the intensity and length of the hike. Beyond the leisurely hike with family, this will give you an idea of what kind of hiking will best fit into your exercise routine.

The easy hike is often no more than a few miles on a relatively flat, well maintained trail. This is a great type of hike for a recovery day as your heart and muscles won’t be too stressed. Your heart rate will likely stay in the recovery zone with little or no thought. The easy hike is a great place to start for those new to hiking or those looking to build endurance. It is also a great place to start trail running.

The moderate hike is the most common type of hike to work into a training program. These hikes are usually no more than 4 hours and rarely reach upwards of 6 miles. They will involve more elevation gain and loss and may not always be on the most well maintained trails. The moderate hike will give your leg muscles a good workout and can get your heart pumping pretty well. While well maintained trails are always nice, a slightly more challenging trail helps build balance and coordination. If your balance is lacking, take care of rough sections of trail. An ankle injury is a giant pain out on the trail. If you have read the TRX suspension trainer review, you will know that the TRX can be easily transported during a hike and set up for a wilderness workout.

The strenuous hike is often a goal in itself for avid hikers. These are serious hikes that often take the hiker deep into wilderness areas. Preparation, in terms of food and water, first aid and conditioning, for these types of hikes is essential. The strenuous hike often takes those to rewarding places that few others get to experience. When choosing a strenuous hike for the first time, make sure that it is only slightly harder than the most difficult moderate hike you have completed. The strenuousness of a hike often does not really hit until the last few miles. Exhaustion can set in quickly, so it is important to gradually increase the length and difficulty of the hikes you choose.

The oldest exercise known to man still holds great physical rewards in today’s world. I would encourage you to explore the hiking you have available in your area. Prepare yourself beforehand and enjoy.

Skateboarding as Exercise

Skateboarding went from a fringe sport engaged in by a few in the 60s and 70s to a credible, but still edgy, sport by the end of the 1990s. While some may still not think of skateboarding as a sport, I can tell you that it is a fantastic exercise and a sport filled with dedicated (and sometimes mischievous) individuals that spend years perfecting their passion and pushing the sport to new levels.

I really enjoyed skateboarding as a kid and well into my twenties. Unfortunately for me, when I was a teenager, there were no skate parks near me. The skate park building boom, at least in California, did not come until I was just about twenty. But lucky for me it did come, and several great skate parks were built in my city and in neighboring cities. This is when I really discovered what great exercise skating was.

If you have a child interested in skateboarding, it is important to note just how intense of a sport it can be. If you are skating a pool, your legs are getting a tremendous workout along with your cardiovascular system. If you are on flat land practicing ollieing, your legs and core are getting a very powerful workout that relies on explosive power. The more explosive you can make your jump the higher you will go. If you are doing railslides, tailslides, boardslides or whatever, you are getting a phenomenal balancing workout.

Skateboarding is just an all around great workout. On top of that, it is a sport filled with camaraderie, friendship and creativity. Thinking of new tricks, new routines or just finding a great skate area takes a solid mind.

So if you have kids that are into skateboarding, you should be happy that they are active. Encourage them by taking them to skateparks and make sure they have the appropriate safety equipment.

Rollerblading is also another sport that can take advantage of skateparks and keep kids healthy and active. Rollerblades can also be used to play street hockey. Basically anything that encourages kids to get moving and thinking is great. Even if it is a sport you may not enjoy, don’t discourage your kids.

Finally, if you are an old skater, consider taking it up again. Riding around a bit at the skatepark during an off time is a great way to get your balance and breath back. You may also try riding a long board. They are great for cruising around streets because of their extra large wheels and larger deck.

Whatever you are doing for exercise do realize that skateboarding is a great workout and wonderful sport. Don’t be afraid to give it a try or to get your kids interested in it. Who knows, maybe they are the next Tony Hawk.

Exercising Outdoors – The Benefits of Getting Outside

Outside is lovely. As I write this it is about 75 degrees, there is a light breeze, the ocean is a deep blue and there is hardly a cloud in the sky. Summer is nice.  I have been very lucky to have spent almost the past twenty years of my life living and working in places that had pretty decent weather—and sometimes some of the best weather in the world.

It is easy to get outside when the weather is good, but most of us aren’t so lucky to be in a place where you actually want to be outside most of the year. No matter what the weather is like though, there are numerous physical and mental benefits to being outdoors.

We all hear about the high depression rates in notoriously gray cities such as Seattle (although their summers are sublime) and in regions that experience months of virtual darkness due to their location near the poles. This is proof that humans are happier when the outdoors, and particularly the sun, is a regular part of their lives.

Sunlight also provides us with vitamin D, which is not always the easiest to get in your diet especially if you avoid dairy. Spending at least 20 minutes a day in the sun is a good way to get your vitamin D (always keep sun block on your precious face though). Doing some exercise while you’re getting that sun takes care of two things at once!

Participating in outdoor sports or exercise sessions also has stress relieving aspects. Going full nature is even better. Studies have shown that walking in a fully natural setting as opposed to the city relieves stress. Unfortunately the outdoor walk in the city doesn’t relieve much stress, but it is still worthwhile.

For all you treadmill runners, it is a good idea to do at least one run a week on a real surface. The slight changes in the ground are good for your balance and muscle development. You can ramp this up by doing hilly runs outdoors and sprints in the park or at the beach.

Hiking is a spectacular activity that has some valuable cardiovascular benefits. If you keep up a good and consistent pace on even an easy hike, your heart rate will be in an endurance training zone. A few hours of that is a great endurance workout. I use these types of hikes to occasionally replace long runs when I am training for a high mileage race (half-marathon or marathon). Besides breaking up the monotonous running routine, it is just nice to be in nature. I have also found it to improve my training. I especially like it during a taper week as it rests my body more but my heart still gets a nice training session (which, in my experience improves my overall training).

So remember to get outdoors. It is summer for us in the northern hemisphere now. Even when it’s not summer, you should still make an effort to get outside. It can reduce stress and make you feel great.

Listening To Your Body – Exercise and Stress

It is too often these days that we find ourselves on autopilot. We go from one activity to the next or engage in multiple activities at once under the illusion of multi-tasking and fail to focus our attention on what is important. One of the most important things we should be focused on is our body and mind.

It is easy to ignore your own needs when you have to make money and take care of the family. Although those are only two things, they involve a lot of individual tasks that are time and energy intensive. Days go by. Weeks and months follow. The next thing you know it has been years and you are out of touch with yourself.

Stress manifests itself in a number of ways. It can come out in physical ailments, actual sickness such as ulcers, or in a general, shall we say weakening of the mind. Dealing with stress and listening to your body should be everyone’s number one priority.

If you do not listen to your mind and body, if you are not connected to your mind and body, how can you perform at a top level in whatever it is you do? You can’t. That is the simple answer.

So how do you start listening to your body and mind? There are some basic ways to do this. First, spend time alone every day. Stop and feel what you are thinking. Consciously think about how you are feeling. Try to focus on a particular body part. How do your shoulders feel? Are they tight, tense, relaxed? Take some deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. This is a yoga type breathing exercise and it is great for calming yourself. You can do this almost anywhere.

If you are really lacking time, you can do this exercise when you go to bed at night or when you wake up and are still lying in bed in the morning. Make some time, even if it is only a few minutes, every day to be by yourself and concentrate on how you are feeling. Once you know how you are really feeling, you can figure out if that is really how you want to feel. If it is not, you can change it.

Hopefully you are exercising almost every day. For an interesting bodyweight training tool, have a look at the TRX reviews page. If you are not exercising, stop being lame, see your doctor and start an exercise routine. While you are exercising, pay attention to your body; notice how your muscles feel. Focus on where it is uncomfortable. Think about why it is this way. See if you can figure out how to change it.

Remember to eat well. Try and fit more vegetables into your diet. Make it a rainbow of vegetables going onto your plate every day. It should be like a pride parade of vegetables in your shopping cart whenever you go to the market. If you need some recipes you can have a look at the paleo recipes review page.

Start paying attention to your body and mind throughout your normal day and while you are exercising. It will make a huge difference in identifying what is right and what is wrong and lead you to find solutions.