The Importance of Stretching
Feb03

The Importance of Stretching

blog-image-topfitness-2You know how important exercise is to leading a healthy lifestyle. You probably do cardio at least a few times a week and hopefully work on building strength and muscle, as well. One aspect of exercise that often gets forgotten is stretching. Stretching is crucial to a well-rounded workout plan. In fact, it’s just as important as strength and cardio are to your routine. Here are the benefits of stretching regularly.

Better Posture

If you’ve been working on building a strong core and shoulders, you should be able to stand up nice and tall. However, if your muscles are too tight, it could be causing you to hunch over. In addition to strength, keeping yourself limber will lead to better posture.  

Makes Workouts More Accessible

If you want to perfect your pistol squat but can’t get low enough to do it, it might not be a strength issue. Increased flexibility will make it easier for you to achieve those difficult moves. When your hips and hamstrings are loose, you are able to get even lower in those squats. More flexibility and rotation in your shoulders will make arm and chest exercises easier. 

Lowers Risk of Injury

Tight muscles are much more likely to pull, strain or tear than loose ones. Stretching helps increase your range of motion so you can do more. You won’t have to worry as much about tearing your hamstring or straining your shoulder during a tough strength workout when you know your muscles are flexible enough to stretch out and bounce back.

Less Low Back Pain

Lower back pain is a common complaint amongst adults, especially those who sit at desks all day. You can build your core muscle, but if those muscles are tight, there’s only so much a strength workout can do for you. When your hamstrings, glutes and hips are tight, it puts excess pressure on your lumbar spine to keep your body properly aligned, leading to pain. Stretching will help loosen those muscles and distribute the weight more evenly.

Keeps Knees Healthy

Many adults develop knee problems as they age, and a lot of it has to do with the pressure that we put on them every day. Short, tight and weak hamstrings create big imbalances in your legs and force your knees to do more work. Building lower body strength will definitely help, but you need to stretch those muscles out, too. Limber hamstrings and a flexible IT band will support your knees when you’re running and squatting.

Clears Your Mind

Stretching helps release tension in your body, but it also helps ease tension in your mind. Just 10-15 minutes a day of active stretching can calm your mind and give you a mental break. A class like yoga is designed to use stretches and flexibility exercises to help you clear your mind.

You don’t have to become an expert yogi to reap the rewards. You’ll see improvements simply by stretching after your other workouts. Still, if you can, you should try to do one long stretching session once a week, somewhere between 45 and 60 minutes. Whether it’s a yoga class, pilates video or just your own flexibility work, making time to stretch deeply every week will make your workouts much better.

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How to Avoid Failing Your Fitness Resolutions
Jan30

How to Avoid Failing Your Fitness Resolutions

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Statistically the third week of January is when most people ‘fall off the wagon’ on their New Year’s resolutions and fail in their fitness goals.

For a couple of weeks you might have been dedicated and disciplined; hitting the gym before work and strictly eating a healthy diet. After a couple of weeks, you will naturally start to crave foods you are missing, as the initial surge of motivation starts to deplete. The gym becomes less and less appealing.

What do you need to do to keep it up? To stick with your healthy lifestyle for more than 2 or 3 weeks, and finally make this the year that it sticks and you achieve your goals?

The first thing we must do is define what failure is and isn’t.

What is Failure?

Failure is not eating one meal that isn’t on your diet plan, or missing one gym session. We have to move away from the thinking that anything other than 100% perfection is a failure.

You’re a human being, life happens and you are never going to get everything right, every time. Expecting to do so, and using that as your measure of success is simply setting you up to fall. You will never be able to meet those expectations.

The only time you fail is when you give up trying. A bad day doesn’t mean you failed. Slipping backwards a little in your progress doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Only when you quit trying and admit defeat, have you failed.

Setting Expectations

You need to set expectations that you have a chance to meet. If you’re aiming too high – for perfection – you’re never going to attain that.

You must allow yourself a little bit of flexibility and freedom on your plan, for when life gets in the way. If you’re realistic with yourself, you know that you’re not going to never eat foods you like again. You know you’re not going to go to the gym every single day for the rest of your life.

The aim is for progress, not perfection. Every week, every month, you move forwards. Averaged out over a week, you should be sticking with your plan the majority of the time, and that will ensure you make consistent progress forwards.

Changing Your Self-Image

One of the reasons we struggle with setting realistic and sustainable aims is because we do not believe we can do it, before we even start.

If that is our belief at the beginning, we will set ourselves up to fail; to prove ourselves right. It lets us feel better about giving up, burying the feelings of wanting to change back into the back of our mind, and going about our normal lives, content that we tried to change.

To actually succeed, you need to change your self-image. You need to believe that you can become a fit person, slim person, or whatever it is you’re aiming for. That means setting targets that are realistic for you to achieve.

If you have 40lbs to lose, you’re not going to do it in 2 weeks. You should plan to lose 2-4lbs in that timeframe and no more. You’ve got to look at it from the perspective of the progress you have made thus far, not how far you still have left to go.

If you’re viewing it as “I’ve been trying so hard for 2 week, but I STILL have 38lbs to lose…” then you are going to kill your motivation. It took months, years or maybe even decades to get to where you are now. You have to be realistic about how long it is going to take to change that.

Not just because it takes time for your body to change, but because it is hard for you to change deeply embedded habits.

If you’ve never eaten healthy food; always picked up junk food on the go, and slumped down on the sofa to watch Netflix; it will take time to change those patterns. You will slip backwards sometimes. There will be days where you slump down with a box of fried chicken, instead of hitting the gym.

There is simply no way you can change how you act that significantly in an instant. It takes time and you will not achieve it every single day on the journey.

Progress, Not Perfection

Your aim should be to get to the gym just twice per week, instead of heading for the Netflix binge. To eat a healthy breakfast every day for a week – not to never eat junk food again.

It might not sound like a lot, but it is more than you were doing before. That is progress. That is moving in the right direction. After these things start to become habit, then you can add more things in – eat a healthy lunch, go to the gym 3 or 4 times per week.

You don’t have to start off with the ‘perfect’ routine. You just need to start doing a little bit more than you were doing before. Then you can build from there and add things in as you achieve them. Increase in small, manageable chunks, rather than giant leaps that are unsustainable.

Often when we set resolutions, we get too excited. We don’t look at making long-term sustainable changes. We have a wave of motivation and try to change everything on January 1st. It might work for a couple of weeks, but it is unlikely to work for much longer.

I urge you to re-assess your intentions, even if things are still going well for you right now. Are you going to be able to stick with this for ever? How will you feel when things go wrong?

You know that something will happen – work will get busy, you’ll get sick, something that puts a spanner in your routine and throws you off track. Will you be able to deal with that? Do you have a contingency plan? Will you be able to get back on track as soon as possible?

You should aim to enjoy the process of changing your body. To not feel deprivation or guilt. If you crave foods, work them into your diet in a way that is controllable and healthy, rather than depriving yourself until the point that you binge, feel guilty about it, and beat yourself up.

Sometimes moving slower will take you to your destination faster than trying to rush. A sustainable plan that you enjoy is always going to beat the ‘perfect’ plan that is overly strict and makes you miserable. 

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Setting and Keeping Health and Fitness Goals in 2017
Dec30

Setting and Keeping Health and Fitness Goals in 2017

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The New Year is right around the corner, and you may be starting to think about what kinds of goals and resolutions you want to set for 2017. It’s a common practice, but most people end up giving up on their resolutions at some point in the year, often as soon as February. It is possible to stick to health and fitness goals. Here are some tips for setting and keeping your New Year’s resolutions.

Set Attainable Goals

You’re much more likely to keep your resolutions if the goals you set are within your reach. They should still be a stretch, but should be something you can reasonably accomplish. Running a marathon by June when you’ve never even run a mile isn’t a reasonable or attainable goal. For example, running a 5K race is a great goal for a beginning runner.

Be Specific

“Get in shape,” “lose weight” and “eat healthy” are great goals to have, but difficult to stick to because they’re so vague. It’s hard to see the results because they aren’t specific enough. When setting goals, be really specific so you have a way to measure your success. For example, instead of eat healthier, try eating three vegetables a day or only eating sweets once a week. Instead of saying you want to get in shape, set a goal to lose ten pounds or work out five days a week.

Create Mini Goals

A year is a long time to wait to see results. By setting mini goals throughout the year, you’ll have a quantifiable way to measure your results and see how far you’ve come. If you want to run a 10K race by the end of the year, maybe you set mini goals to run a mile without stopping by March, run a 5K over the summer and do a 10K before Christmas.

Write Them Down

There’s something about physically writing down a goal that makes it a little easier to accomplish. You can put into words exactly what you want to do, and create a plan for how you’re going to do it. Getting specific and setting mini goals will help with that plan. You should also post your goals in a prominent place so that you see them all the time. That will help you stay motivated to keep going.

Find Your Motives

When it comes to health and fitness goals, it’s not enough to just want to do something. Consider what your motives are. If you just want to look good, that’s often not enough of a reason for most people to stick to a strict diet and exercise regimen. Figure out the deeper reason—you want to feel better about yourself, have more energy or live a long time for your kids and family. Maybe you want to be able to take a dream hiking vacation or play with your grandkids. Figure out your motive and let it be the driving force throughout the year.

Reward Yourself

While you should definitely reward yourself when you reach your big goal, you should give yourself small rewards throughout the year, too. If you finish that 5K race in the summer, treat yourself to a new pair of running shoes. It doesn’t have to be fitness related—you can see a movie, go to a spa or take a weekend vacation.

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How to Build Your Own Home Gym
Dec23

How to Build Your Own Home Gym

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It’s a fitness enthusiast’s dream to have their own home gym full of fancy equipment, and maybe even a personal trainer who comes right to your house. No more membership fees, driving through traffic, waiting in line for machines or dealing with obnoxious and rude gym-goers (you know the type). Thankfully you don’t need to spend a fortune or have a mansion to create a quality home gym. Here are some basics you’ll need to get your home gym started.

Mats

You don’t want to work out on a hard floor. Get some mats that you can put down while you’re exercising. You can spring for fancy or thick gym mats, but a couple of yoga mats will work fine, too. Plus, you can roll them up and stash them.

Hand Weights

Hand weights ranging from about 5 to 25 lbs. are probably good for most average fitness enthusiasts, though you can certainly adjust to your needs. Have at least three different weights for different exercises, since you may have to use heavier or lighter weights depending on your strength. 

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are perfect for strength training and don’t take up a lot of space. You can use them to work your arms, chest, back, glutes and thighs. They’re also great to take with you if you’re traveling.

Stability Ball

Though these take up a little more space than the other items on this list so far, they’re worth it. A stability ball can help you work your core in a variety of ways. Plus they’ll make basic sit ups a lot harder. You can also use them to strengthen your glutes, back and hamstrings.

Jump Rope

While we would all love to be able to fit a treadmill or stationary bike in our homes, it’s not realistic for most people. Jumping rope is a great cardiovascular exercise that requires very little time or space. Just ten minutes of jumping can burn up to 200 calories while strengthening your arms, legs and core. Get a weighted rope for added difficulty.

Pull Up Bar

A pull up bar can be used for so much more than those standard, gym class pull ups. You can work your biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest, back and abs using one bar. There are plenty of ones you can buy that hang easily over a door, or you could even build one yourself.

Stopwatch or Timer

Since you won’t have the ease of the clocks or timers at the gym, you’ll want to make sure you have a way to keep track of how long you’re doing each exercise. This is especially important if you’re doing interval training (which is perfect for home gyms).

Electronics

If you want to get fancy, adding electronics to your home gym will make it a lot more fun. Playing music while you’re exercising keeps you motivated, and since you’re at home you don’t even need headphones. If you like to do workout DVDs, putting a TV and DVD player in the room will make it a lot easier since your equipment is already there.

Of course, you can always select the best equipment for your own personal needs and preferences, and even expand if you have the money and space. We have tons of equipment reviews right here on our site form experts who have tried hundreds of different machines and equipment.

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6 Ways to Stay Injury Free In The Gym
Dec16

6 Ways to Stay Injury Free In The Gym

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The first rule of effective training is to not hurt yourself. If you’re injured, you’ll be forced to have time out of the gym. Your results will stagnate and people usually become frustrated.

Fitness is a long game, and you want to ensure you stay in the game for a long time. Great bodies are built by consistently putting in the work over months and years. Staying healthy is an important part of that.

In this post, we will look at several things you should and shouldn’t do, to make sure you stay healthy and can continue to train for a long time to come.

The best part is, most of these strategies will benefit your training in the short term too. Leading to better results, increased strength gains and athleticism; as well as staying injury free.

Warm Up

I know I am not the first person to tell you that you should warm up before working out. You’ve heard it a million times before. However, it is still the most overlooked part of training for many people.

A proper warm up is probably the single most important thing you can do to protect your body from injury. If you think you don’t have time to complete a warm up, you don’t have time to train at all. If you’re really pushed, you are better off doing a good warm up and cutting the actual workout shorter. Simply keep rest periods short and make the warm up intense.

A warm up should be specific to what you are going to do. Jogging on a treadmill is a pointless warm up for the bench press. A better warmup would be some mobility work for the shoulders, then some bodyweight pull ups and press ups.

This will target the muscles you are going to be using, and get blood flowing to the right part of the body.

After this, do some of the exercise you are going to do – bench press, in this case – with a lighter weight. Practise the movement to get your ‘groove’. The purpose of the warm up is not only to get the muscles working, but also to wake the nervous system up and practise the technique you are going to use. This is especially important if you’re doing a heavy workout. 

Hydrate

Hydration is probably not something you would normally associate with injury prevention, but it is actually very important.

If you think of water as lubricant for your joints, you can see how being dehydrated can leave you open to the risk of injury.

In combination with a good warm up, proper hydration will help get the joints moving, blood flowing and have you prepared to workout. 

Don’t do maxes all the time

We all like to know how strong we are and test how much we can lift. It’s often an important bench mark and, let’s face it, it’s fun.

However, lifting your max is not an effective way of training. It is a test of your strength, but does not especially develop strength. You should be training at sub-maximal weights and using increasing volume to achieve strength increase.

Testing your max is opening yourself up for potential injury, meanwhile, working at sub-max weights is safer and will build more muscle tissue, further protecting you from injury in the future.

I’m not saying you can never max, but it should be used as a test perhaps ever 3-4 months. Not a weekly challenge. There’s no point testing your max all the time, you will be taking time and energy that could be used developing strength.

Mobilize

Keeping the body mobile is an important part of injury prevention. We are most susceptible to injury when we are stiff, lack range of motion and cannot control our body.

The purpose of mobility work is to increase both our range of motion, and our control. This means we always have some range of motion spare if we need it. We are in most danger of injury at the very extreme of our motion. The more we have to work with, the safer we will be.

Mobility work might seem boring, but it is the platform that we must build our bodies, to ensure a long and healthy training life. It’s the equivalent of eating your vegetables. Sure, you’d prefer to eat cake, but you know that veggies are what your health is built on. A diet of solely cake will quickly end badly.

Perfect technique

You want to be focusing on using perfect technique at all times. This means you are always in control of your body.

There is more to an effective training session than just moving weights from A to B. Think of every exercise as a skill that you are practising and perfecting.

Sometimes we are better off easing back, using less weight or doing less reps, to maintain good technique. Forcing our body to go beyond where we have control and can maintain good technique is asking for an injury to happen.

Using perfect technique will lead to better strength gains anyway, so cheating is not only opening you up to injury potential, but also short changing your results. There is absolutely a time to push the boat and try to lift new weights, but 99% of the time, focus on using perfect technique first, and worry about the weight second.

Get the most out of a weight before going up

The most obvious way of progressing is to add more weight to the bar, right?

For a while, this works. When you begin training, you get stronger very quickly and can consistently add more weight. However, that doesn’t last forever and you soon come to the point where progress slows down.

At this point, you want to focus on milking as much out of a weight as possible. By this I mean making it harder for yourself. Using slower tempo, less momentum, pausing and adding reps are all ways to make the same weight harder.

Progressing like this might not look as impressive on paper, but it is safer and more effective in the long term. Mastering a lighter weight will do more for your progress than jumping to a weight that you cannot perform with perfect technique.

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4 Truths About Fitness You Don’t Want to Hear
Dec16

4 Truths About Fitness You Don’t Want to Hear

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We all wish getting in shape was easy, simple and fun at every stage.

Unfortunately, that is unlikely to be the case. We’re going to look at 4 truths about fitness that people do not want to hear – but need to.

You need to know the reality of the situation, to know what you are trying to do and what it’s going to take. This empowers you. It gives you control of your situation.

Control to direct the outcomes of your life.

Hiding away from reality might feel better at the time, but it is sabotaging your long term happiness.

A little sacrifice now will create the life that you want in the future.

Here’s the 4 truths about fitness you don’t want to hear, but need to embrace to successfully achieve the body you dream of.

1. It takes time

Rome was not built in a day, as they say.

While you can make significant changes to your body quickly, if you are fully committed and dedicated, the reality is that your body reflects your long term behaviour.

You don’t get fat in 2 weeks, and nor do you get in shape in 2 weeks.

If you’ve been eating fattening foods, not exercising, not sleeping properly and highly stressed for years or even decades, you cannot expect to undo all of that in days or weeks.

It will take at least months.

You will make some progress quickly, but to fully reverse, it is going to take time.

The way that you look, feel and perform is reflective of your long term behaviours. You need to make a long term commitment to eating right, exercising, sleeping and managing stress if you want to optimize your health and the way you look.

We all want fast results, and it is possible to see changes quickly – there is nothing wrong with that. Getting fast results is not the same as only being committed for the short term. If you can implement a plan that gets you quick results and sustain it then go ahead.

Results in the short term can act as positive reference and motivation to keep going. There is nothing as encouraging as seeing results.

2.  There’s no magic pill or routine

Most people would admit this when asked. You know that if your friend was asking for advice, you would tell them to put in the time, stick with it and do the work.

Yet, we still want to believe that we are different. We have an edge and that there is a program, supplement, food or routine out there that will give us fast and easy results for little effort.

The marketing of many supplements, and fad diets is responsible for this, where they promise the world when you take this magical (expensive) pill, powder or shake. The reality is these plans might give you some short term results, but it is not sustainable.

To really see changes, you must commit to doing the work over a long period of time.

Become a master of the basics and you will succeed. Do not fall into the trap of the latest fad diet/exercise/supplement, thinking that this is the key to achieving more.

Keep things simple, eat healthy, move and commit to it for an extended period of time if you want to see results.

It’s against human nature to do this – why would anyone want to work hard to achieve something slowly when we could get it quickly for little effort – this is what the scammy marketers prey on. In the real world, the tortoise always beats the hare. You just have to make that commitment and believe in the process.

3.  If you don’t find a way to enjoy it, you will likely fail

It’s much easier to believe in the process and commit over the long term if you enjoy what you are doing.

Sure, you can force yourself to do things you don’t like for a period of time, especially when you are highly motivated, but you cannot do this forever.

Now, if you are not someone who currently enjoys working out or eating healthy, it can seem impossible to find a way to enjoy it. It’s just not who you are, right?

People change, and given time, you will change.

They key is to be looking for ways to enjoy it. This comes a lot from the way you talk to yourself. If you focus on how much you hate doing it, your mind will never open to the possibility of enjoying it.

If you focus on the foods you are not eating, you will simply miss them more. If you focus on all of the tasty foods you are eating, you will find that you enjoy your diet a lot more.

The same goes for exercise. Find something that you enjoy doing. If you don’t like the gym, try playing tennis or rock climbing. Whatever you think you might enjoy.

Think about it, nobody has to force you to do something that you like doing. You don’t need to build up willpower and drag yourself out of the door. You want to do it.

4.  The thing you hate the most is what you most need to do

This is pretty much true across any area of your life. We all gravitate to our strengths and avoid our weaknesses. The human ego likes being good at things, and dislikes being bad at things. We will always feed our own bias and focus on the things we are already good at.

This might mean you’re a great endurance runner, but have no strength or muscle mass. The temptation is to keep running – stay in the field in which we excel – rather than be humbled in the weights room.

It might mean you love going to the gym, and enjoy working out, but hate watching what you eat. So you focus on training, doing more, working harder and completely neglect the diet.

In both of these cases, the thing that holds the biggest benefit is the thing you do not want to do.

Eeking out an extra 2% in what we are good at will not move the needle as much as improving from 0-20% on something we are bad at. Yet the latter is easier to achieve.

This doesn’t mean you have to live in misery doing things you hate 24/7.  Just take a step back and honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses. Make a commitment to work on tackling some of the weaknesses until they are no longer a weakness. Your overall results will skyrocket.

Conclusion

The truth can be a bitter pill to swallow, but the sooner we start looking objectively at reality, and stop wishing or hoping for an alternative, the sooner we start changing our lives. 

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