Simple Yoga Moves for Morning and Evening

Nothing beats the energy of a group class coupled with the instruction of a knowledgeable teacher–but attending a daily yoga class is out of the question for most. However, just by investing a short block of time in the morning or evening, you’ll find that fitting in a short practice that will provide you with many of yoga’s benefits is easier than you think.

[If you are new to yoga, click on the highlighted links for a quick video/photo reference]

Morning Yoga. Focus on invigorating postures that increase circulation and support healthy posture and movement. Sun salutations are a classic series of flowing movements that will nourish your mind while building core strength and healthy positioning of the knees and feet. Including two rounds of both the classic A-series and B-series will strengthen your core and upper body, as well as the supporting muscles of your knees and feet. Follow this with a balancing posture (such as Tree Pose or Dancers Pose) to improve concentration and foot health. Finish with a chest/heart opening asana (such as Camel Pose or Bridge) to reinforce healthy posture and energy. This practice can also be a wonderful way to warm up for your favorite cardiovascular or strength training activity.

Evening Yoga. Taking a little time for yourself before bedcan reduce the stress from your day, improve connection with your friends and family, and prepare you for sleep. It can also make you more mindful about the evening habits that we often fall into at the end of a long day. It’s also a perfect way to finish your evening workout. You can start this practice with slower paced sun salutations or begin a more restorative practice by coming into Child’s Pose or Cat and Cow postures, which are especially helpful if you experience soreness in your low back. Hip openers, (such as Pigeon Pose) will counter the constriction of remaining seated at work during your day, as will a gentle counter pose/back bend like Upward Plank Pose. Finish your quick evening practice with a generous dose of forward folding  to support quieting of the mind and a more restful sleep. Seated Forward Bend is a great option.

Just 5-10 minutes in the morning or evening can support strength, body awareness, flexibility, and the balanced mindset that are some of the benefits of a yoga practice. If you find yourself with a little extra time, you can combine or build on the postures above using Yoga Journal’s practice builder or the resources at MyYogaonline. The most important step is giving yourself the time to notice what your body and mind need most and providing that with a few directed postures.

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

Five Ways to Improve Your Elliptical Training Sessions

HZ14_LIFESTYLE_female-andes-7i-elliptical_living-room loresYou already know that your elliptical trainer strengthens your cardiovascular system without stressing your joints. What you may not know is that there are a lot of ways you can use your elliptical to strengthen your body and train for other activities. Here are 5 ways you can improve your elliptical training sessions:

1. Take your hands off the machine. Challenge your balance and strengthen your core by taking your hands off of the handles and using your arms to enhance your effort. Engage your core by drawing your belly in and keeping the top of your shoulders relaxed. This produces a functional movement that improves your balance and power in functional activities and athletic pursuits.

2. Strengthen your upper body. If your elliptical has arm handle to strengthen your upper body, regularly include these in your workouts. Drive with your arms during your recovery periods, while your legs are preparing for their next effort.

3. Add backwards movements. Elliptical trainers offer the unique option of backwards movement. This equalizes muscle imbalances that develop from emphasizing forward movements in other activities, while strengthening the hamstrings and glutes.

4. Strengthen your lower bodyIncrease your resistance and keep your weight in your heels to target your glutes and quadriceps in much the same way that squats target these areas during strength training. You can use this approach in both forward and backwards movements to hit these muscles differently and add a challenge for your hamstrings.

5. Add Sprints. Increase your speed during high effort intervals. This increases your cardiovascular challenge and provides a cross training activity that will improve your speed in other activities.

Just a few training variations will help you continue to see results and reach your personal goals.

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

 

Ask an Expert: Incorporating Exercise into a Busy Schedule

Q: I always seem to find an excuse not to exercise. What are some easy exercises I can do to incorporate fitness into my busy schedule? — Sherry

Great question – and one that almost everyone can relate to. The big thing to remember is that scrimping on time doesn’t mean sacrificing quality in your workouts. Research shows that 10 minutes of exercise is enough to improve strength, endurance and flexibility. You can even use these 10 minute sessions throughout your day to add up to a full 30 minutes or more! The key is to include exercises that address all three areas of fitness: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. Here are a few suggestions:

  • It’s easy to squeeze in a little extra cardio using your home fitness equipment while watching television or waiting for the water to boil while you’re cooking dinner. If you find yourself having an extra few minutes to spare, include intervals after a 3-5 minute warm-up to really get your heart pumping.
  • Bodyweight exercises, such as squats and lunges for the lower body and push-ups, planks, and chair dips for the upper body will hit all of the major muscle groups and don’t require extra time to prepare your equipment.  You can work up to 20 reps of each and add additional circuits as time permits or set a stopwatch on your phone and complete as many reps as you can within 60-90 seconds (depending on your schedule), then move to the next exercise in a circuit style.
  • Yoga Sun Salutations are also a great way to finish or end your day and address all three components of fitness. You can add in a few postures targeting the hips, shoulders, and low back to help you sleep, or  balancing postures, such as tree pose and Dancer’s Pose to ground you and improve your concentration as you head  into your day.

One of the biggest challenges to any exercise program is fitting it in, so include reminders in your schedule or set an alarm on your phone or computer as you make these fitness breaks a part of your routine. Before long, you’ll be seeing big fitness gains from your “no time” workouts.

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

Benefits of a Recumbent Bike

HorizonRecumbentBikeWhether you’re a committed athlete looking for a no-impact form of cross-training, or you need a simple way to get started on your fitness goals, there are a lot of reasons to choose a recumbent bike. Here are just a few of the benefits:

Comfort. The recumbent bike offers a natural seated position that makes your workout easier on your neck, shoulders, knees, and low back. This is a big advantage if you know that these areas are injury prone, or if you plan on watching television or reading while you work out. The low-to-the-ground design of these bikes simplifies getting on and off the machine. This comfort continues throughout the workout, since recumbent bikes feature large comfortable seats that won’t leave you experiencing the saddle soreness that can come with other types of cycling.

No Impact Cross Training. If you’re looking for a way to cross train without increasing your risk of impact related injuries, the recumbent bike is a great choice. You can use the many pre-programmed settings to vary your speed and resistance levels to optimize your cardiovascular challenge, while sparing your feet and knees from pounding on your active recovery days. The seated position of the recumbent bike also brings your glutes into the equation, improving both your power and your posture on your next run.

Motivation. Using the many features on the console of your recumbent bike can help to keep you motivated to stick to your training plan. Many feature integrated music that can keep your energy high, heart rate monitors that allow you to customize your effort levels and pre-set programs that take the guess work out of designing your workout. If you’re looking to keep your energy and motivation high, you’ll want to seek out some of these benefits when researching your options for a recumbent bike. With a comfortable ride and motivating music and settings, you can work-out longer and harder, getting you to your fitness goals.

While recumbent bikes have a lot of advantages, they aren’t for everyone. The movement is different from an upright cycle, so if you’re looking to complement your road races with some indoor training, you might want to look into a bike that fits with that. Additionally, these bikes can sometimes take up a bit more floor space than upright  models, so consider the dimensions of your room before purchasing.  Lastly, make sure you’re pushing yourself at the right level to meet your goals. The calorie burn for cycling on a recumbent bike is actually similar to other forms of cardiovascular exercise, but you do need to keep the resistance and speed high enough to challenge your fitness.

View the exercise bike buying guide for more helpful tips.

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

Interval Workout Basics

Interval Workout BasicsInterval training is one of the most effective ways to get fitter and burn more calories. The concept is simple and works for any piece of home fitness equipment. Constantly varying the intensity and anticipating your next recovery or push makes these workouts fly by. Increasing post workout demands for recovery, burns calories even after your training session ends. If you’d like to break out from preprogrammed settings and create your own customized workout, here are a few basic ways to include intervals in your workout routine.

Hills/Resistance: Whether you’re running or walking on your treadmill or elliptical, you can increase the incline to up the intensity without increasing the impact on your joints. Increasing resistance also works well for indoor cycles, mimicking the challenges of outdoor terrain. Increase your incline for one to two minutes, followed by recovery periods of approximately two minutes. This simple workout will get your heart pounding and improve your core strength while also training your quads and glutes to meet the demands of your summer activities.

Speed: Using your home fitness equipment for steady cardio sessions results in training your slow twitch (i.e. endurance) potential. Adding speed to train your fast twitch muscle fibers has a lot of benefits, including power for short periods of demanding exercise (like moving furniture or a round of summer softball) and increased calorie burn to maintain these metabolically hungry muscle fibers. You can build in brief periods of sprinting on your treadmill, elliptical or indoor bike to give you some of the benefits of a speed workout, without the wear and tear on your joints.

Heart Rate: With Polar Heart Rate monitors integrated into consoles of treadmills, ellipticals and exercise bikes, this is a remarkably easy way to gauge the intensity of your workouts. Design your own intervals on the fly by using speed and resistance to increase your effort, bringing your heart rate to at least 85% of your maximum. Alternate these pushes with recovery periods, returning your heart rate to below 70% of your maximum. Using heart rate rather than time ensures that your body is fully recovering during the easier periods of your workout and that you are pushing sufficiently during the hard periods, making your workouts more effective and keeping you strong to the finish.

Just one session per week will let you gain the benefits of interval training. As you adapt, shoot for two to four sessions per week. It’s easy to over train, so keep a recovery day between interval sessions to avoid injury and exhaustion. Enjoy your next workout and the benefits of interval workouts in your training plan!


Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

Choosing the Right Fitness Equipment

HorizonEllipticalChoosing the right piece of home fitness equipment—whether that’s a treadmill, elliptical, or exercise bike—depends on what you wish to accomplish from your home training sessions. As you set up your training plan, here are a few things you might want to consider:

Treadmill: Providing a natural workout (as simple as heading out for a walk!), a home treadmill means that your fitness is not at the mercy of weather or daylight. Cushioned treadmills are also a bit easier on your joints compared to walking and running outdoors. You can use your treadmill as a back-up to your regular, outdoor sessions or schedule it into your training plan as an active recovery that takes advantage of the added cushioning and controlled environment. You can also push yourself by including challenging interval runs or hikes, adjusting the incline and speed to push your heart rate and your fitness. Many treadmills also fold, making them easy to move out of the way, a particular advantage if your home gym space doubles as a living area.

Ellipticals:  Elliptical trainers offer a simple, no impact movement, while continuing to burn serious calories and challenge your cardiovascular system. If you’re new to exercise, are concerned about the impact of running, or simply want to burn as many calories as possible while minimizing the wear and tear on your joints, an elliptical is a great option. Additionally, you have the option of strengthening the upper body at the same time, improving your posture. Ellipticals can also be used in a backwards pedaling motion –a benefit unique to this piece of equipment. This allows you to strengthen muscles on the back of your body, improving your ability to spike a volleyball or run downhill, while allowing the quads time to recover.

Indoor Bike:   Indoor cycles are also a great, no impact option for continuing to work out through or following injury or to mix in recovery workouts with a higher impact program. If you’re vulnerable in your low back and knees, you may especially appreciate the natural seated position of the recumbent bike. Recumbent bikes, however, can make it harder to get your heart rate up if you don’t make a conscious effort to overcome that through increasing the resistance and speed of your workout. All indoor bikes are a great option if you’re looking for a convenient, no-impact workout that you can use for cross-training or recovery if you can see yourself branching out into road races or triathlons.

Looking for more tips? Check out our buying guides for treadmills, ellipticals and exercise bikes for videos and what you should consider before making your purchase.

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

Ask an Expert: Healthy Roadtrip Snacks

Summer RoadtripI’m going to be traveling a lot with the family this summer. What are some healthy foods and snacks I can pack during our family road trips? – Jennifer

Whether it’s an afternoon at the beach or the All-American Road Trip, there’s nothing better than hitting the road for some summertime fun. While enjoying the local culinary offerings can be a big part of this experience, sometimes you’re just going to need a quick bite that doesn’t leave you and your family with a nutritional flat tire. Some of my favorite standbys that hold up to travel include cut veggies with hummus (Particularly peapods, carrot sticks and grape tomatoes), shelf stable milk and cereal, and dried fruit with nuts.

If you pack a cooler, pre-cut and washed fruit and yogurt topped with granola (pack the granola in a separate bag and mix when you’re ready to eat) or wraps using lettuce leaves or tortillas also travel really well. You can fill your wraps with your choice of meat, nut butter, or a high protein veggie salad. While they’re a little pricier and more processed, sometimes a grab-and-go protein bar or granola bar is your best option for portable nutrition that travels well.

Whatever you choose, pack plenty of water and top up your tank with a good mix of carbohydrates and protein so you and your family won’t crash and burn in the middle of your summer adventures.

Happy traveling!
Joli

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

Related: Easy Workouts While Traveling

A Crash Course on Cholesterol

Whether you have a family history of heart disease or are simply looking to take care of yourself for a lifetime, it’s smart to get a handle on your cholesterol status. The American Heart Association recommends regular screening of cholesterol blood levels for all adults over the age of 20, so if you don’t remember your most recent numbers, it’s probably time to give your doctor a call.

Although cholesterol is manufactured by the body and carries a strong hereditary component, the final numbers are also impacted by your choices in diet and lifestyle. If you’re working to get your numbers back into the healthy range, the biggest change comes from a combination of medication and exercise, meaning your home workouts can make a big difference for your heart health.

What do the numbers mean?

The American Heart Association recommends a fasting lipoprotein profile every five years for adults over 20. This quick blood test is going to provide a breakdown of your total cholesterol, HDL Cholesterol, LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides.

Overall, you’re looking for a total cholesterol level of less than 200. HDL (think “H” for Healthy) is the protective cholesterol. A number over 60 is good and under 40 is bad. LDL cholesterol (think “L” for low) is the bad cholesterol. Higher levels of this cholesterol are associated with higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Ideally you’d like this number to be under 100, though most people are glad to get under 130.

Triglycerides are the third component of your lipoprotein profile. High triglycerides (numbers over 160) are generally impacted by lifestyle factors, such as exercise, smoking, high levels of alcohol consumption and diet. Additionally, numbers over 150 seem to be associated with a greater risk for Metabolic Syndrome, a pre-cursor to diabetes and a risk factor for heart disease. For a more detailed discussion of what your cholesterol profile means, the American Heart Association offers a great resource.

Dietary Recommendations

Making a few smart dietary choices can lead to improvements in your cardiovascular health profile. Painless, but informed choices, include choosing Monounsaturated fats, also known as MUFAS, (i.e. olive oil, canola oil, or peanut oil) over Saturated Fats or Trans-fats (think animal fats, including those in dairy, or other vegetable fats that are solid at room temperature). Choosing MUFAs also seems to have a beneficial impact on blood sugar and insulin levels, which makes sense for all of us, whether we’re warding off our 3 p.m. slump or our family history of diabetes.

In addition to choosing our fats wisely, there are many other foods (check out this list from the Mayo Clinic) that can help improve cholesterol numbers, including: oatmeal, fish that are high in omega 3 fatty acids, walnuts and other nuts, and, possibly stanol/sterol fortified foods such as orange juice and cereal. If you want to try to use diet to improve your cholesterol numbers think about making a few smart substitutions by choosing oatmeal over your usual breakfast cereal, enjoying an ounce of nuts as a snack each day, and adding omega three loaded fish into your diet a few times each week.

Get Moving!

In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption, exercise is the biggest controllable factor impacting your cholesterol level. Although it’s important to work with your doctor in managing medication recommendations, adding in regular exercise reduces your overall cholesterol numbers and raises your HDL profile. Using your home fitness equipment regularly for 30 minutes on most days of the week, or completing more intense sessions for shorter periods of time is one thing you can do to bring your numbers into the healthy range (or keep them there). Recent research shows that exercise combined with statin medications lead to the greatest reduction in risk from a cardiovascular event (70 percent compared to 35 percent from medication alone!)

Medications

Although starting a medication for your cholesterol can be a little humbling, research and best practice are showing that treatment sooner rather than later is associated with a longer life for patients. If your total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides are higher than average, especially if lifestyle choices haven’t done the trick for you, your doctor will probably talk to you about medications.

If you’re researching your options, the FDA provides an overview of medications available to treat high cholesterol. Not every medication will work for every person, so make sure to keep the conversation open with your doctor. Also remember that your medication will be even more effective if you’re making heart healthy choices related to diet and exercise.

Weigh In: How important is your heart health in choosing your home workouts and day to day diet?

Are Your Home Fitness Habits Keeping Your Heart Healthy?

In recognition of American Heart Month, February is a great time to take a look at your health habits and give them a nudge in the heart healthy direction. According to the Center for Disease Control, Cardiovascular Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with one in every three deaths occurring due to heart disease or stroke. The good news is heart disease is largely considered to be a lifestyle disease, which means that prevention efforts can make a big difference. The Million Hearts Initiative, launched in September of 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services, is directed at preventing one million heart attacks and strokes over a five-year period through prevention efforts. Looking to help your lifestyle stack up? Here are a few resources and recommendations.

Learn the ABCS of Heart Health
If you have or are at risk for heart disease, the ABCS recommended by the CDC address the major risk factors for heart disease and help to prevent heart attacks and strokes. The ABCS include:

  • Aspirin for people at risk: Talk to your doctor about whether taking an Aspirin daily is right for you.
  • Blood Pressure Control: Get screened for high blood pressure and, if needed, begin effective treatment through lifestyle and/or medication.
  • Cholesterol Management: Include cholesterol screening in your yearly physical. Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol numbers, what they mean and whether cholesterol medication is right for you.
  • Smoking Cessation: If you need another reason for quitting, smoking puts your cardiovascular health at serious risk. If you smoke, talk to your doctor or seek support in quitting.

Choose a Diet that Supports Heart Health
Although the ABCS recommended by the CDC are an important part of preventing heart attacks and strokes for those who have or are at risk of heart disease, lifestyle is a vital part of preventing the onset of heart disease in the first place. A heart-healthy diet includes high amounts of fruits and vegetables and is low in trans-fat and sodium. If you’re looking for guidance, check out the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), a lifelong approach to healthy eating that emphasizes the reduction of dietary sodium and increases in nutrients that support heart health. The DASH diet was developed to help in lowering blood pressure and has also been shown to support weight loss, reduce insulin resistance and improve cardiovascular health.

Do Your Workouts Add Up?
You know that getting enough exercise is important to keeping your heart healthy, but two out of every three Americans aren’t getting enough. The benefits of exercise on your heart are both immediate and long term. A cardiovascular workout will lower your blood pressure as quickly as one hour post-workout. Benefits of regular exercise also include lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol profiles and a reduction in risk of Type II Diabetes. Do you find yourself wondering whether you’re doing the right workouts when you use your treadmill, elliptical, or recumbent bike? A heart healthy workout can include both strength training and the type of cardio training you do on your home fitness equipment. In fact, strength training is now recommended by the American Heart Association for its cardiovascular benefits.

Moderate exercise (a heart rate of about 60 percent of your maximum) supports heart health if you’re getting 30 minutes on most days of the week. More intense exercise (working at 70-90 percent of your maximum) accomplishes these results in less time. If intensity is your game, three 20-minute sessions per week will do it. To lose weight through your workouts, current recommendations are to try for 60-90 minutes of working out most days, though some activity is better than nothing and intense workouts are more likely to be effective in a shorter period of time. If you’re looking for help in planning your workouts, Sparkpeople offers a range of heart healthy workouts for beginners through athletes.

Weigh In: How important is your long term health when you plan your workouts at home

 

Equipment-Free Strength Training At Home

It’s no surprise that bodyweight strength training is one of the hottest trends in fitness today. A natural complement to workouts on your home fitness equipment, this approach to strength training uses your bodyweight as resistance, making for accessible workouts you can take anywhere. The level of difficulty can easily be adapted to your level of fitness with options for both the beginners and the fitness buff. In addition to building muscle, you’ll improve your core strength and range of movement, resulting in better function for your daily activities and improved form on your treadmill, recumbent bike, or elliptical. Ready to give strength training a try? Here are few tips to get you started.

Choosing your Exercises

When designing your home workout, choose a variety of exercises that target large muscle groups of your upper and lower body. Your routine should have some variation of a squat or wall-sit for the lower body, and both a pushing (for the chest) and a pulling (for the back) movement for the upper body. A simple routine for beginners might include a wall-sit, modified push-up and a cobra pose. You can use multiple exercises fatiguing the same body part to add an additional challenge and to lengthen your workout. You can also add simple props, such as an exercise ball or foam roller to further engage your core and challenge your stability. Although most bodyweight exercises will engage the core when performed correctly, you may also want to add in a set or two that specifically targets these areas, such as abdominal crunches or mountain climbers. For ideas on different types of exercises, you can find 50 Bodyweight Exercises through this link. For a beginner bodyweight circuit, this link has an excellent video to get beginners started.

Putting it into Practice

You can get benefits from strength training in as little as two workouts per week. However, in practice, I see much more dramatic changes in body composition and performance by adding in a third strength training workout each week. Give yourself at least one day between workouts to recover and expect a bit of post workout soreness on the day or two after your workout in the first few weeks. You can use traditional programs of counting reps, but I find that timing rather than counting your repetitions helps to keep the energy and intensity of your workout at an enjoyable and effective level. Start by spending 30-60 seconds on each exercise, rotating between upper and lower body movements. Keep your transitions short so you get the benefit of a cardiovascular challenge at the same time. As you gain fitness, work up to 90 seconds to two minutes at each station. You can start with one complete circuit of each exercise and build up to three circuits over time.

Fitting In with your Fitness Equipment

Unless you’re specifically training for an endurance event, there’s no point to slogging through hours of slow cardio on your treadmill or elliptical. You can gain serious fitness and push your body into burning fat, by keeping the intensity high and the duration short to moderate. Try using your fitness equipment to warm up for five to seven, followed by your strength training circuits, then finish with 10-15 minutes of intervals on your fitness equipment. Complete your workout with lower intensity cardio to cool down, followed by targeted stretching and/or foam rolling. This approach can be completed in 30-50 minutes and will give you a full body workout that includes strength, cardio and flexibility training. If you’d like to work out daily, you can alternate your strength training with additional workouts on your treadmill, recumbent bike, or elliptical. Use your home fitness equipment for a convenient warm-up on your strength training days and consider using your cardio workouts as recovery workouts between strength training by keeping the intensity and duration low to moderate. This is a great way to relieve the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness that frequently comes with strength training, as well as a way to enjoy the increased calorie burn, energy and health benefits of a daily workout.

Weigh In: How do you fit strength training in to your home fitness routine?