You 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Testosterone, testosterone, testosterone! Start taking anabolic hormones, eat more oysters, and sacrifice a goat to the gods of manliness!
Just kidding…Testosterone has buried itself deep into contemporary culture as the number one determinant of manhood, and while yes, it is an important hormone for male health, let’s not get carried away. Testosterone declines as men age, the level of which is totally dependent on how healthy one’s lifestyle is. Like our previous article on female hormone changes after the age of 40, hormone changes are natural and can be mild to the point of being inconsequential if you treat your body right. First, let’s take a look to what men experience as they pass 40:
Decline in muscle mass
Higher likelihood of depression
Higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and prostate cancer.
Reduced sexual potency
All of these symptoms can be attributed to lower T levels and proportionately higher cortisol or estrogen levels. However, let’s dispel one of the bigger testosterone myths, and that is unless you’re above the age of 65, aging has little effect on T production. Factors such as obesity, heart disease and glucose intolerance are what really impact testosterone levels negatively, but it’s because men are more likely to experience these diseases later in life that testosterone on average decreases with age. T production is also directly correlated with body weight since extra adipose tissue (fat) can produce estrogen itself.
The rise of so-called “diseases of affluence” like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, etc. in the past few decades has dramatically affected serum testosterone levels across society as a whole. 50 year-old men only a few generations ago had higher testosterone levels than 50 year-old men do today. So what can you do to avoid this fate? Testosterone replacement therapy is valid option, but supplementing with hormones will make your body dependent on them. Should you ever need to stop taking hormones the side-effects can be nightmarish, including depression, insomnia, impotence, gynecomastia, (male breasts) etc.
When you take synthetic testosterone, your body naturally increases estrogen levels to maintain a hormonal balance. When you stop taking synthetic testosterone there is a considerable lapse before your body starts naturally producing it again. If you prefer to avoid all of this together, you can simply
- Protein such as fish, free-range chicken, turkey, and grass-fed beef
- Healthy fats, (avocado, coconut oil, almonds, and grass-fed butter)
- Lots of veggies, particularly cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.
- Moderate to easy exercise 4-5 times a week
- High-intensity exercises like sprinting or compound lifting (squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc.) 1-2 times a week.
- Sleep…a lot:
- Testosterone is physically released during REM sleep so if you don’t rest you lose.
- Growth Hormone (GH) is also produced when you sleep and (same with testosterone)can be increased by sleeping in a cold environment. (Around 68 F degrees in your bedroom)
- Vitamin D positively correlates with testosterone in men, meaning more vitamin D in your system = more testosterone.
- Zinc supplementation can also improve testosterone levels but only to a degree. Low zinc typically correlates with low testosterone, however regular supplementation will not necessarily boost your T levels above normal.
Another factor is cortisol levels (the stress hormone). As people age their cortisol levels increase, making it harder to effectively deal with stress. Cortisol is also negatively correlated with testosterone as it reduces and antagonizes free testosterone in the body. Elevated cortisol levels have even been shown to inhibit erections! The easiest ways to avoid excess cortisol is to exercise (but do not over-train), get plenty of sleep, have plenty of sex, and learn how to meditate.
The human body is adaptive, and just because you spent the last 10 years eating cheeseburgers and chugging beers does not mean you’re a lost cause. Aging can be rewarding if you take the time to let it be. Eat, sleep, exercise right, and you won’t have to worry about sexual dysfunction, gynecomastia, or beer-belly syndrome.