Archive for May, 2011

Advantages of Free Weights Over Machines

Many people, when they are looking to lift weights, go to a gym and use the weight-lifting machine. This is not the most efficient means to your goal or use of time.

Let’s use a bicep curl as an example.

Today is an upper body day, so as part of your routine, you go to the bicep curl machine, sit down, adjust the settings to the one nearest to your size, hook your arms over the pad, and curl. The machine is designed to target and isolate the biceps.

Disadvantages?

  • you’re sitting down: most of us already sit all day
  • when you use your biceps in real life, you are rarely (never?) sitting down with the bicep isolated: it’s not a natural position
  • it is completely stable: again, this is not natural
  • the only calorie expenditure is from the muscles you’re using
  • the only muscle you’re using is bicep: you need to do separate sets of exercises for every muscle you want to train
  • the only place you can do these is in a gym with this piece of equipment

If you pick up a pair of dumbbells and do a standing bicep curl, this eliminates many of those disadvantages:

  • you’re not sitting
  • the biceps aren’t isolated
  • it’s an unstable exercise
  • calorie expenditure is increased, since you are now standing and providing stability
  • you can do them anywhere you can find or take a pair of dumbbells

But with dumbbells, you can take things one step further. Forget about upper body days and lower body days. Lift weights three non-consecutive days per week and do full-body. The same bicep curl can be done

  • in the “down” position of a walking lunge
  • in the “down” position of a wall squat with a ball
  • in the “down” position of a wall sit
  • together with a hamstring curl

Now you’re working much more of your body, you’re making your time at the gym more efficient time-wise, you’re burning more calories by incorporating more muscles, you’re working on stability as well as strength. You’re doing exercises you can do in your living room, your back yard, a hotel room, a camp ground, a rest stop on the freeway, etc. If you’d rather spend money on some small equipment rather than a gym membership, you don’t even need to go to the gym to get this done.

Because exercises with free weights are less stable, you do need to be more mindful of your motions. Having a partner with you or a large mirror available (so you can be your own partner) helps a lot until what you see and what you feel are the same. (“Of course they’re the same!” No, often, they are not.)

If you have been working on machines for a while and know what weight you typically use, you might see a decrease when you transition to dumbbells. It’s not because you got weaker — the machine just isn’t helping you any more. (Machines with cables and pulleys especially like to help.)

Last — there are frequently a small herd of fairly muscular guys in the dumbbell area of the gym, which intimidates many folks out of going and working in that area. You could ignore them (they really don’t care about you, unless you’re in the way), or you could go in, grab a couple of weights, go use them somewhere else, then return them.

Are you on board? Give the free weights a try and let me know how it goes…

Other People’s Handiwork

While high school graduations are not the epitome of a fun evening, I was glad to be able to go to my nephew’s graduation on Thursday and then to a celebratory dinner last night. It’s nice to have family who enjoy being together, have a good time, and appreciate each other. My in-laws are good people and I’m glad to be part of their family 🙂 (And the graduation wasn’t bad at all!)

Food for Thought Thursday – Stress in our Society from Growing Healthy Sprouts: Do you wear being busy and stressed as a badge of honor?

N(O) S(CALE) V(ICTORY)! from MizFit Online: She doesn’t weigh herself at home. Not a path I would likely take, at least right now, but it’s an interesting one to consider.

“I could never do that!” part 2 from Disease Proof: You’d change your lifestyle if a debilitating illness forced you to. Why wait?

The Truth About Extreme Couponing from DIY Natural: The first point is the one that has stopped me from being a “coupon-er.” I do use them whenever I have them, and I’ll sometimes go a little out of my to use one, but it’s definitely not a lifestyle here. What about you?

Meatless Meals (I Wish) My Mother Made

The Big Man and I do a good portion of our weekly shopping at Trader Joe’s. In the back of the store, there’s a little counter where they always have someone making samples of some foodstuff. A few weeks ago, they had these delicious little flatbread creations that I wanted to try to recreate, but I had no occasion to. Game night last weekend gave me the perfect excuse to try my hand at it.

They had a little machine — a toaster oven, maybe? — that they were preparing the flatbreads in. Since I’m not sure what it was or how exactly they used it (at what temp, for how long, etc.), I just made something up.

The end product was quite tasty. Definitely adding it to the “good for company or potlucks” list!

Flatbread with goat cheese and strawberries

ingredients

directions

Let the cheese sit out for a few minutes to warm slightly; it is easier to spread when it’s closer to room temperature. (It was roughly cream cheese consistency.)

Bake the flatbreads at 350 degrees for a few minutes on each side, or toast them lightly. (While these are better on warmed, slightly crisp flatbreads, they’re good on straight-from-the-package flatbreads as well.)

While the flatbreads are baking, thinly slice the strawberries.

Spread a layer of cheese (thickness to your liking) on each flatbread.

Cover with a layer of sliced strawberries.

If you’re sharing, cut each into slices. I found 6 to work well for their size.

This Week In Pregnancy: Week 18

18 weeks! Almost half way…

This week, I started to be able to feel kicking. Pretty wild! Pretty much feels like a finger poke, but from the inside. I only feel it if it happens while I’m laying really still.

Let’s see… This week is also the first time I had someone rub my belly unsolicited and without asking.

Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night has returned. Could be because of body stuff. Could also just be that I’m drinking more because the weather has warmed up and I need more. Either way, potty breaks are back.

The Big Man and I found a birthing center and midwife that we both really like. It will definitely cost more than birthing in a hospital, but I think it will be worth it. (Hopefully I’ll not start in the center and transfer to a hospital. That would be sad medically and financially.) We go tomorrow to fill out paperwork and pay the nice people. I’m very excited that we found this place 🙂 I hope it is as fabulous as I think it will be!

So not too much but some of the stuff that happened this week was pretty exciting! What’s in store next week?!

 

Pictures for Lower Body Stretching

Here are pics to go with the stretches from yesterday’s post. Text is copy/pasted. There are a few more details I thought of as I looked at the pictures, so I’ve added those in as well, in blue. (After much gnashing of teeth, I got the pictures to line up more or less how I wanted them. I hope they show up on other computers the way I see them on mine…)

To stretch your quads: Using something stable for balance if needed, grab your right ankle behind you and pull your heel towards your butt. Keep your knees together. Be mindful to pull in to your butt and not towards your hip. You can tweak your knee if you pull out to the side.

Modified quad stretch: If, for whatever reason, you are not able to grab your ankle behind you, you can either hook your foot on a chair or other lower-than-your-butt object, or you can kneel with your shins on the floor and sit back towards your heels until you feel a stretch. (This would be stretching both legs at once.) If you can’t sit all the way onto your heels, that’s OK! You just need to feel the fronts of your thighs stretching.

To stretch your hamstrings: Stand or sit with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Reach towards your toes. Repeat with a reach towards the right, and another towards the left. (Each of those counts as one stretch and should be held for 20 to 30 seconds.) I prefer this stretch from a seated position. This also stretches your lower back; keeping your feet apart relieves some of the low back pressure while still allowing a stretch.

Hamstrings are great to stretch with a resistance band, if you have one. Hook the band over your right foot. Lay on your back on the floor. Keeping your left leg flat on the floor, lift your straight right leg until you feel the stretch. The band allows a “partner-assisted stretch” without a partner (or the dangers that being stretched by a partner can bring) and also allows for your weight to be off the leg.

Note about stretching leg muscles in particular: Whenever possible, you don’t want the muscle that you are stretching to be bearing weight. When a muscle is supporting weight, it is contracting (shortening), which is the complete opposite of what we’re trying to do when we stretch. Taking the weight off of the muscle will give you a better stretch.

  

To stretch your calves: Facing a wall or other tall, sturdy object, stand with your feet hips-width apart. Take half a step forwards with your right foot and a fairly large step backwards with your left foot. Keep your left leg straight and bend your right knee. Lean forwards, leaning on the wall with your hands or forearms, and keep as much weight as possible on your right foot. This stretches the left calf. Keep your left heel on the ground.

You’re expecting me to tell you to switch legs after 20 to 30 seconds — but not yet! There’s another muscle in your calf that is tight on most people. After you stretch as directed above, move back to neutral position, then turn your left foot in towards your center line. Following the same steps as above, lean forwards and stretch. This time, you should feel the stretch more down the outside of your calf. Then switch legs :)

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To stretch your butt: lay on the ground with your feet flat on the floor, knees up. Cross your right ankle just above your left knee. Grabbing the back of your left leg, pull the left leg towards your trunk. Both feet will be off the ground.

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Appreciate the pics! It was a little uncomfortable for me to post them with my swelling preggo body…

“I feel great when I run, then I hurt later.”

Nichol is on vacation and will be back with you next week. In the mean time, I have a ton of info for you today that I will follow up with pictures tomorrow.

One of my Facebook friends, who recently started the Couch to 5K program, posted on my wall:

“I am doing fine during the runs… it is afterwards that the pain comes… I don’t think I know how to stretch properly… any suggestions?”

The answer in my head was a bit long, so I posted that I would send her a message soon.

Then another friend commented:

“If you can include me on the suggestions I’d appreciate it…I always seem to have crazy pain every time I attempt running or even brisk walking, in my shins mostly and ankles. 😦 Makes me stop and give up. :(”

So I decided to make it a blog post and share it with everyone.

For sake of this post, we’re going to assume that all of the bones and muscles are there, are connected properly, and are not torn or broken. I can’t help you with those sorts of issues.

The Foam Roll Is Your Friend

The biggest help to me when I’ve had pain from exercising was to use a foam roll. I have written two guest posts on other blogs about foam rolling (same content). Instead of rehashing that all here, check out my post (and perhaps what they’re writing about!) one or both of their blogs: fit36 and MizFitOnline. Two very different blogs, but I enjoy both of them.

Foam rolls are available in several different lengths; one and three feet are the most common lengths. If you are especially uncoordinated, the longer ones will be easier to manipulate. I use the one-foot roll frequently to demonstrate; it is really only a bit of a pain for rolling the piriformis. The rest of the exercises, the length of the roll doesn’t matter. That said, if you have a desk job, laying up the longer foam roll vertically and letting your shoulders/arms hang backwards helps to stretch and counteract the hunch that most desk workers have.

If you already know how to foam roll but aren’t a convert yet, do it more often! I use the foam roll before every exercise session. I used to use it after every session as well, but I admit, I’ve gotten lazy. At this point, I’d also like to get in the habit of just using it every day (or at least most days); my IT bands and calves could use the extra lovin’. Yours probably could, too.

That will give you the most help with pain.

How And When Should I Stretch?

Before you exercise, stretching isn’t really necessary, but warming up is critical. When you warm up, you are preparing your muscles for what you’re about to ask them to do. You are also priming your heart and lungs for the extra work they’re going to do.

Any gentle movement that mimics the movement you will be doing works well. For running, that could be brisk walking or jogging up and down one or a flight of steps. (On a curb, for example, one foot up, other foot up, first foot down, other foot down, repeat; slowly increase speed. Half way through, switch the lead foot.) If you’re in a gym, using the stair climber or the elliptical will also work.

Warming up should last five to ten minutes.

When you are finished with your run (or whatever exercise you are doing), add a few minutes on to the end to cool down. Walking works beautifully. You don’t want to just stop cold — it’s not good for your body (especially your heart). Keep moving until your heart rate comes down.

Once you have cooled down, stretch everything! (I’ll be more specific in a moment.) Most of us don’t stretch regularly. Flexibility is important and is given very little press. Legs, torso, arms/shoulders — do it all! If you don’t have time for that, be sure to stretch your quads, hamstrings, calves, butt, shoulders. (Be aware of your shoulders when you run. You are probably holding them up.)

Here are some basic leg stretches. As I mentioned here, you should stretch only until you feel the muscle stretching — not to some arbitrary point that you believe you need to get to. Also, hold each stretch 20 to 30 seconds. By that point, the stretchy feeling should have lessened or gone away completely. After that time is elapsed, you could move a little bit farther into the stretch, or change positions and stretch something else.

To stretch your quads: Using something stable for balance if needed, grab your right ankle behind you and pull your heel towards your butt. Be mindful to pull in to your butt and not towards your hip. You can tweak your knee if you pull out to the side.

Modified quad stretch: If, for whatever reason, you are not able to grab your ankle behind you, you can either hook your foot on a chair or other lower-than-your-butt object, or you can kneel with your shins on the floor and sit back towards your heels until you feel a stretch. (This would be stretching both legs at once.)

To stretch your hamstrings: Stand or sit with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Reach towards your toes. Repeat with a reach towards the right, and another towards the left. (Each of those counts as one stretch and should be held for 20 to 30 seconds.) I prefer this stretch from a seated position. This also stretches your lower back; keeping your feet apart relieves some of the low back pressure while still allowing a stretch.

Hamstrings are great to stretch with a resistance band, if you have one. Hook the band over your right foot. Lay on your back on the floor. Keeping your left leg flat on the floor, lift your straight right leg until you feel the stretch. The band allows a “partner-assisted stretch” without a partner (or the dangers that being stretched by a partner can bring) and also allows for your weight to be off the leg.

Note about stretching leg muscles in particular: Whenever possible, you don’t want the muscle that you are stretching to be bearing weight. When a muscle is supporting weight, it is contracting (shortening), which is the complete opposite of what we’re trying to do when we stretch. Taking the weight off of the muscle will give you a better stretch.

To stretch your calves: Facing a wall or other tall, sturdy object, stand with your feet hips-width apart. Take half a step forwards with your right foot and a fairly large step backwards with your left foot. Keep your left leg straight and bend your right knee. Lean forwards, leaning on the wall with your hands or forearms, and keep as much weight as possible on your right foot. This stretches the left calf. Keep your left heel on the ground.

You’re expecting me to tell you to switch legs after 20 to 30 seconds — but not yet! There’s another muscle in your calf that is tight on most people. After you stretch as directed above, move back to neutral position, then turn your left foot in towards your center line. Following the same steps as above, lean forwards and stretch. This time, you should feel the stretch more down the outside of your calf. Then switch legs 🙂

To stretch your butt: lay on the ground with your feet flat on the floor, knees up. Cross your right ankle just above your left knee. Grabbing the back of your left leg, pull the left leg towards your trunk. Both feet will be off the ground.

To stretch your shoulders: Keeping your right shoulder in a relaxed (down) position, cross your right arm in front of you at or near shoulder height. Pull it towards you with your left arm.

Pictures of the stretches and foam roll positions will go up tomorrow.

Your Knees Might Need A Bit Of Strengthening

When I had troubles with my knees, a combination of two things helped tremendously (and I haven’t had knee pain since). One, as you might have guessed by now, was foam rolling. If the muscles and such that attach to your knee are tight, they pull on your knee in a way that your knee was not designed to be pulled on, which over time causes knee pain.

The other is this little exercise, which hardly even feels like an exercise. Around the knee, there are a bunch of small, stabilizing muscles. The majority of work that we do strength training does not help these guys out, and they become disproportionately weak.

Lay on the floor, flat on your back. Put the foam roll directly under your right knee so that your leg is bent and your heel is on the floor. (You don’t need a foam roll for this. They just happen to be the perfect height and are both dense and round enough to work well and be comfortable.) Keeping your leg on the roll, straighten your leg, hold for a moment, then rest your heel back on the floor. Do 10 reps on each side three times.

Your Hips And Ankles Might Be Tight

Your hip and ankle joints might also be tight. Here are some tips to help loosen them up, in addition to all of the above. These can be added into warm-ups and cool-downs/stretching.

For your hips: 

Stand with your feet hip width apart with your hands on your hips. Keeping your feet still, sway your hips from side to side as far as you can comfortably move. Switch to forward and back.

From the same starting position, do circles, as if you were doing an exaggerated hula hoop. Be sure to change direction (clockwise, counter-clockwise).

Keeping one leg on the ground, move the other in circles (both directions).

For your ankles:

With your foot off the ground, draw imaginary circles in the air with your toes. Again, remember to change direction.

For a bit of time efficiency, I like to do ankle circles while doing the butt stretch listed above.

Foot Strike

Please make sure when you are running that you are landing midfoot. Landing on your heels is not good for your feet, ankles, knees, hips, or back.

Questions?

Eating While On Vacation

Nichol is on vacation. Amy is going on vacation. Summer is coming and many of us will be out of town, at least for a little while.

What can we do to keep some semblance of order in our diets?

Road Trip

The easiest way to make a road trip healthier (and less expensive!) is to pack a meal and snacks. We drive to southern California a fair amount because The Big Man has several siblings there. We know ahead of time that we’re going to stop just this side of the border to get gas (much cheaper in AZ than CA) and to eat lunch or dinner. If we have that meal with us in the car, we have complete control over what’s available. And because snacks are cheaper at the grocery store at home than at the convenience mart on the interstate, we’ll pack a few snacks as well.

Sometimes we’re good about this on the way back as well — stocking up for the return trip before we leave — but often we stop at what’s available or eat a meal before leaving and just power through until we get home.

A note about snacks in the car: it is really easy to eat too much in the car. You’re completely sedentary. Eating gives you something to do. Try to make your snacking habits the same on a long car ride as they would be on a normal day. If you’re a grazer, graze in the car. But if you’re a three-meals-a-day kind of person, don’t take a lot of snacks in the car. You know you’ll eat them…

Plane Trip

Actually, there aren’t really differences between a road trip and a plane trip. Food at the airport is expensive and healthy fare is hard to come by. Food on the plane is so-so. You can take food with you. As far as I know, the only restriction is on liquids — you’ll need empty water containers when you pass through security. (I believe there are exceptions to the liquids rule — including infant formula and drinks connected to medical conditions — but I don’t know them well.)

Even if you have a short flight, between the time you leave your house, arrive at the airport, wait for your flight, and execute the flight, there is a meal in there somewhere. Pack it. Bring it with you. Pack snacks.

A note about packing snacks in general: Since this post is about eating healthily while on a trip, keep that theme in mind when you are buying snacks. There are many fruits and veggies that make excellent snacks to pack. Nuts and trail mix do well, too. Cookies and candy are easy to pack, but they defeat the purpose of the exercise…

Hotel Stay

Does the hotel you’re staying at provide breakfast? What is served? I have stayed at some places that have fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal (instant, but oatmeal none-the-less). I have stayed at some places where breakfast was muffins and coffee.

If your hotel includes a good breakfast spread, then you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, don’t despair! Hit up a local grocery store and stock up on a few breakfast items. If your room has a fridge, you have a ton of options. If not, options are more limited. If you know ahead of time that you’re going to buy cold cereals for breakfast, see if you can sneak a little bowl and spoon into your luggage. Otherwise, you’ll need to find or buy them when you get there, which could be a pain.

What’s your itinerary look like? Are you going to be back at the hotel around lunch time? If so, the same advice applies: stock up on lunch foods. Again, you have many more options if you have a fridge in your room.

(Also, if you can take advantage of the hotel breakfast and/or have breakfast and lunch in your room, you will save a lot of money on eating out.)

Snacks follow the same guidelines as previous sections: buy ’em at a food store and bring ’em with you. If you packed snacks from home in reusable containers, then you can use those containers for the duration of your trip with replacement snacks.

Restaurant Meals

Of course, you’re not likely to prepare all of your own meals while on a trip, especially dinners. The guidelines are similar to eating out when you’re not on vacation:

  • skip appetizers, desserts, and drinks
  • steer clear of fried entrees
  • look for vegetables, especially if they’re raw (as in a salad) or steamed and not in sauce
  • split a meal with a dining partner
But I’m on Vacation!

All that being said, there’s a little voice in most of us that says, “I’m on vacation! I deserve it!”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with veering off of your usual path while on vacation. Do keep a few things in mind:

  • Weight goes on a lot faster than it comes off. Next week, when your pants are snug and you need to lose five pounds (or five more pounds…), will all of the excess still be worth it?
  • Splitting treats with others will help you to eat less.
  • How many “treats” can you have in one day before it’s a habit and not a treat?
  • If you’re eating more (whether in the restaurant or during the course of the day), stick with water to drink.
  • Which of these things can I have any time and which are special to the vacation? It makes sense (to me) to get off the wagon for specialty foods, not so much for foods you can have any time.

Also, it depends on what your goals are and what are acceptable outcomes. Some people wear vacation weight gain as a badge of honor, indicative of how great their vacation was. Some people need to eat a lot of junk in order for vacation to be fun. How do you define yourself and your vacation? Is that something that you want to adjust?

How healthy is your diet now? How many sweets do you eat? How much fried or greasy food? If you eat very little sugary or fried/greasy food now and eat a lot (especially at one sitting), you are likely to upset your stomach.

Do you have any other tips on eating while on vacation?

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