The Latest From Top Fitness

Desk Stretches to Keep You Flexible

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desk-stretches

When you’re stuck sitting at a desk all day, it’s easy to get lazy and complacent. Plus, it’s not great for your muscles. It shortens your hamstrings and makes your hips and glutes tight, which can lead to lower back pain. When you do get to the gym, you’re working to undo eight-plus hours of sitting, instead of focusing on working out and building muscle. Here are some stretches and exercises you can do at your desk to stay limber. It may feel awkward at first, but your body will thank you.

Stand Up

This is definitely the easiest one. To lessen the effects of sitting, spend some time standing up. Keep your feet hip width apart, engage your abs and keep your shoulders pulled back. Standing burns more calories than sitting and keeps your muscles flexible. You could even get a standing desk that raises your computer monitor to eye level.

Shoulder Stretch

This is an easy one you can do while sitting. Bring one arm across your chest, and hold your forearm or tricep to keep it in place while you stretch. Be sure not to grab your elbow, since it could cause injury. Hold for ten seconds and repeat with your other arm.

Tricep Stretch

Bring your arm up behind your head, bending your elbow. It’s like you’re trying to reach between your shoulder blades. Place your other hand on your elbow and gently stretch your upper arm.

Chest Stretch

This is best done standing up. Clasp your hands behind your back with your elbows straight, interlacing your fingers. Reach your hands down toward the floor to stretch your chest. If you have the space, you can lean over and lift your arms as far toward your head as you can for an extra shoulder stretch.

Toe Touch

You can do this standing up or sitting in a chair. To do the standing stretch, stand with feet hip distance apart, and reach down toward your toes. Try keeping you back flat for as long as you can for an added hamstring stretch. Sitting in your chair, straighten your legs out in front of you. Reach over with a flat back to touch your toes.

Side Stretch

Sitting upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, raise one arm into the air. Reach to the opposite side over your head while elongating the other side of your body. Prop your elbow on your thigh for support.

Neck Stretch

With your head facing forward, put your hand on top of your head and gently pull your head to one side to stretch your neck. You can reach the other hand down if you need more of a stretch. Repeat on the other side. Afterwards, slowly roll your head in a circle in one direction, then the other.

Knee-Pump Hip & Glute Stretch

Sitting upright in your chair, place one ankle on top of the opposite knee. Push down on your knee while slowly exhaling to stretch your knee, IT band and glutes. 

Is Crossfit Right For You?

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crossfit

 

Crossfit has been gaining popularity around the world for the last few years. It seems that new boxes, or Crossfit gyms, are opening on almost every corner. Crossfit Games have become events to watch, and winners are getting a lot more recognition as serious athletes.

 

So what is Crossfit? We’ve addressed it here before. Crossfit is a fitness program that is specially designed to improve fitness and health. It focuses on a variety of movements at a high intensity. Movements can reflect exercises used in gymnastics, running, rowing, weightlifting and more. Crossfit workouts change daily with the Workout of the Day (WOD) from the gym. The constantly shifting style of Crossfit means your body never gets bored and never gets too accustomed to one particular workout style, so you can get stronger and fitter faster.

 

Crossfit touches on every aspect of working out—cardio, endurance, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination and balance. Anyone from a total novice to an elite athlete can benefit from doing Crossfit. Still, it’s a tough and intense workout that might not be quite right for you. Here are some things to consider to determine if Crossfit is right for you.

 

Workout Environment

Some people absolutely thrive in a group class environment. Having a teacher to guide them and lots of other people around them encourages them to do more and push themselves. That’s great! Others, however, prefer to work out alone. They’d rather go on a long solo run or swim laps for an hour than force themselves to get pumped to be in a room full of sweaty people. If you love group workouts, then Crossfit might be for you. It’s a collaborative atmosphere with everyone cheering each other on. Many people find their fellow Crossfitters become some of their closest friends. If not, it’s probably best to skip the box.

 

Your Competitiveness Levels

This goes along with the group vs. solo workout concept. If you’re highly competitive, then Crossfit could be a great way for you to push yourself further. You’ll see everyone else working out and their results, making you want to reach your goals, too. If you think fitness goals are personal and prefer to keep them to yourself, then a workout where achievements are highly publicized isn’t for you.

 

Your Goals

Crossfit won’t get you to be good at any one specific thing, unless what you’re looking to be good at is Crossfit. It is great for improving your overall fitness levels. Because it focuses on so many different aspects of fitness, it’s a great full-body workout. If you want to train for something specific, like a 5K race or triathlon, Crossfit may help improve your fitness, but it won’t help you reach those kinds of goals.

 

Importance of Credentials

There are lots of great Crossfit gyms and instructors out there, but like anything that rapidly gains popularity, there are some less than stellar ones, too. There aren’t really many credentials the owners of Crossfit gyms have to have. It’s fairly easy to get a personal training certificate online if you’re willing to pay for it. With such strenuous, high-powered exercises, it’s important to know what you’re doing. If you have a solid fitness background and know proper form and technique, you’ll be fine locating a quality gym. If not, be wary of people jumping on the bandwagon to make a quick buck.

Choosing the Right Gym for You

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Gym

Finding a new gym can be difficult and intimidating, especially if you’re not super experienced. There are a lot of things to consider. Here, we’ve broken down some of the most important aspects to help you find a gym that’s right for you.

Price

This is probably one of the most important aspects when picking a gym. You don’t want to completely break the bank on a fitness center with top-of-the-line equipment and an abundance of amenities, especially if you’re not going to use it all. Decide how much you can reasonably pay each month for a quality gym. Understand that some centers will be dirt cheap, but they still might not be a great deal. It’s worth paying a slightly higher price for a clean, well-stocked gym.

Location

The location of the gym is right there after price on the level of importance. If you have to go too far out of your way to get to the gym each day, chances are you won’t go often. Look for facilities that are near your house, office or on a route you take daily. When you’re driving by your gym every day, it’s hard to make excuses not to stop in for a quick workout.

Size

The size of the gym is important. Some people like large gyms with lots of other people and movement. They like the social aspect and may like making friends at the gym. Others want a small, quiet facility where they can go and work out in peace. Figure out what you want and need in a workout space.

You’ll also need to look at the physical size of the space. If this is a gym in a large, urban area that could attract a lot of people, be wary if it’s too small. That could lead to long wait times for machines and equipment.

Equipment

Like the size of the gym, the amount of equipment it has matters. Are there enough machines to support the number of people there? Will there be long wait times for your favorite pieces of equipment? You don’t want to waste too much time at the gym waiting in lines. You’ll also want to make sure that the equipment is quality and up-to-date. Old machines can be dangerous, as can cheaply made ones.

Offerings

Some people want their gym to offer more than just a few cardio machines and some weights. If you like taking group classes or want a personal trainer, look into what each gym offers. If classes are available, do they cost extra? Do you have to use one of the gym’s trainers, or can you bring someone else in to work with you? Choose the gym with the best selection of options for you.

Amenities

This is probably the least important part of choosing a new gym, but amenities can make or break you gym experience. A nice locker room, clean showers and space to safely store your things are crucial. Some gyms also have lap pools, hot tubs, saunas and smoothie bars. Many are starting to have spaces for childcare. Look for the amenities that you would use and that would make working out regularly easier and more appealing to you.

Many gyms allow you to use their facility for free for a day or even a week to try to convince you to join. Take full advantage of those offers and really try to figure out which one is the best fit. Plus, you’ll get a few weeks of gym access with no cost!

Best Winter Workouts

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Winter

The summer gets the reputation as the best time for outdoor workouts, there are great exercises you can do outside in the wintertime.

Ice Skating

Pull out those skates and go for a spin! Even a leisurely skate can burn up to 250 calories an hour, so there’s no need for professional speed. Bring the whole family and make a fun day activity out of it. You could also join an ice hockey league with your office or local recreation center. You won’t even feel guilty about the hot chocolate you’ll drink after.

Skiing

This is a popular wintertime activity for people around the country. Even those who don’t live anywhere near snowy mountains often take a trip to hit the slopes. You can get a great workout just doing some moderate downhill skiing. You could also take on a bigger endeavor with uphill cross-country skiing, which can burn up to 1,000 calories an hour.

Snowboarding

If you’re sick of skiing or just want a break from the crowds, try snowboarding. Instead of facing forward on two skis, you ride a board down the mountain like a surfer. It requires a different type of balance and a lot of core and leg strength.

Snowball Fight

It’s not exactly a sport or workout, but a classic snowball fight can burn a few calories. Making snowballs, throwing them at your opponents, and building forts all take a lot of energy. Plus, you’ll be ducking and dodging incoming snowballs.

Shoveling Snow

It’s not exercise, and it’s not exactly fun, but shoveling show is actually torches calories and is a great upper body workout. It can burn up to 300 calories, and you’ll feel it in your arms, chest and shoulders the next day.

If you just can’t bear to face the cold, then winter is the perfect time to try some new indoor workouts.

Try a New Class

If you’ve been dying to get into that pilates-yoga fusion, SoulCycle or kickboxing class, now is the perfect time to try it. You won’t feel guilty about not being outside enjoying the weather, and you’ll still get a great workout. Plus, so many people let their exercise routines slip this time of year, so there may be open spaces in a normally packed class.

Do A Home Video

Home workout videos have come a long way. You don’t need to don your leotard and leg warmers anymore. If you’re snowed in or just have zero motivation to leave the house, give a workout video a shot. You can buy a DVD, or rent or download any number of videos. Try yoga, kickboxing, Zumba and more from the comfort of your home. You won’t even have to be nervous about looking silly in front of strangers. If you don’t want to commit to buying a video, YouTube has plenty of great ones you can follow along with.

Do a TV Workout

Make sitting in front of the TV a productive workout time. You can do different sets of exercises, like squats and push ups, during commercial breaks. You can even make watching your favorite shows into a workout game. Look up the drinking game to your favorite show, but instead of taking a drink when certain things happen, do a set of exercises instead!

Massage to Improve Athletic Performance

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Massage

Most people think of massage as a “luxury item” or as a form of spa pampering, but massage from a qualified sports massage therapist can have a significant impact on your athletic performance, as well as help you recover from injury so you can get back to your fitness routine faster. Massage has the ability to impact just about every part of your anatomy. Here are a few reasons to incorporate massage into your fitness and healthcare regimen.

Improved Circulation

The manual pressure of massage causes blood vessels to dilate, which improves and promotes circulation, causing the muscular waste byproducts of exercise to be carried away for processing, and new freshly oxygenated blood to enter the tissues to speed recovery.  Massage and self myofascial release (foam rolling) have been shown to improve vascular function, enabling your body to more efficiently utilize nutrients and transport energy throughout the body via the circulatory system.

Increased Flexibility

It’s well known that an active stretching routine can improve flexibility over time, and massage can have the same results as the act of massaging tissues is in effect, a passive stretch.  Massage can help you break through some types of flexibility road blocks by breaking up scar tissue and fascial adhesions that you may not be able to address on your own through stretching.

Reduced Injuries

Regular massage therapy has been shown to reduce the potential for injuries by improving muscular elasticity and ensuring proper circulation. If an injury does occur, massage can reduce recovery time by speeding healing and minimizing scar tissue formation in the affected area, as well as promoting immune system function to encourage overall resilience.

Enhanced Nerve Function

Tight muscles or inflamed fascia from intense workouts can cause nerves to become impinged and prevent proper nerve function and signaling. When a tight muscle pinches a nerve it can cause pain, tingling, numbness, muscular weakness and eventually muscular atrophy. Though there are many examples of fitness induced nerve impingement, overuse of the pecs in bench pressing and/or push-ups is a common example. Tight and overworked pecs can impinge the brachial nerve, causing pain and/or loss of function in the forearm and hand that an athlete might not trace back to an impingement higher on the nerve within the chest. Massage can effectively loosen the affected muscles and restore proper nerve function.

Promotes Psychological Well-Being

Coaches often talk about the “head game” in athletics, and how to improve your mental toughness or best your opponent with intimidation. All of those athletic head games can take a tole on anyone, and leading to stress and anxiety.  According to the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, “Tactical maneuvering in cycling or an ability to focus on a task (e.g., gymnastics or golf) can also affect performance. Therefore, the psychological effect provided to an athlete by an experience such as massage may be of importance in a non-physiological manner.”  An opportunity to relax, by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels while reducing cortisol can improve focus and mental performance, which may be just what you need to improve your game.

Less Sick Time

High levels of stress, be they from intense workouts and competition or just life in general can result in more time spent sick.  Chronic inflammation has also been shown to be associated with a variety of illnesses.  Massage helps to reduce both stress and inflammation, but it also benefits the immune system in other ways.  Research shows that “regular massage not only helps alleviate stress, but can naturally increase the immune system’s cytotoxic capacity (the activity level of the body’s natural “killer cells”) and decrease the number of T-cells, which improves the body’s immune functioning overall.”  A study funded by the National Institute for Health found that massage boosted a patients immune response/strength both during and after the session.

Enhanced Energy Metabolism

New research shows that massage can impact the energy metabolism of cells through encouraging the production of mitochondria (energy producing units in the cell.  “On the cellular level massage reduces inflammation and promotes the growth of new mitochondria in skeletal muscle.”  Not only does massage feel good while you’re receiving it, but it’s helping your muscles function better on a cellular level over the long term.