Use your Home Fitness Equipment for a Better Diet

If you’ve been sticking to your elliptical and treadmill workouts this winter, recent research has some good news for you.  Check out this link for an article on some of the benefits of winter workouts.  Keeping active during the winter can stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (i.e. the winter blues) during the shortest days of the year, which results in you and your body being in a healthier place this spring.  This article shares even more good news…

“Getting active this time of year can help in unexpected ways. It shifts your body to instinctively make wiser food choices while also raising your mood and energy level,” says Jonathan Erhman of the Clinical Weight Management program at Henry Ford Health System’s Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit.

“There’s evidence that people who become routine exercisers change their diet just naturally. They tend to eat healthier, and it’s not always a conscious decision. It seems to come from just being active.”

For more on the benefits of combining exercise and diet, check out this link.  A controlled study of people who lost weight through diet alone and those who lost weight through diet and exercise demonstrated the beneficial effects of exercising while losing weight.  Those who exercised while dieting improved their overall fitness and the functioning of their internal organs, even though both groups dropped weight.  In this study, exercise “was the deciding factor in whether an individual improved his or her blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular fitness.”

Weigh in:  Did you keep up your workouts this winter using your treadmill, elliptical, or recumbent bike?  If so, how are you feeling with spring around the corner?

Be Your Own Personal Trainer to Get Big Results from your Home Fitness Equipment

You know that getting the most from your home fitness equipment takes more than just jumping onto your elliptical or treadmill for the same workout each day, but deciding what to do next can be overwhelming.  Working with a personal trainer is helpful to keep things challenging or to learn proper technique, but most of us can get great results at home just by putting a little extra thought into our training.   Try a few of these tips to get the kind of results you’d expect from paying big bucks to work with a personal trainer. 

Goal Setting  Working with a personal trainer brings structure and focus to your workouts.  You can get this advantage when using your fitness equipment at home by deciding on your major goals (frequently weight loss or performance improvement) and breaking them down into weekly and monthly goals.  Once you know what you’re hoping to achieve each week, you can structure your workouts accordingly.  For more on planning your workouts, check out my previous blog on Periodization here.  

Accountability  Knowing that you will have to check in each week and having someone hold you accountable for completing your workouts is a huge benefit to working with a personal trainer.  You can recreate this accountability with a little planning and using your natural supports.  A workout buddy or an online forum may be a natural fit for you. Choose your partner carefully and make sure they’re as committed as you are.  I’ve seen workout partners derail each others efforts by giving each other an excuse to head for happy hour or lunch rather than hitting the scheduled workout.  You can also try beginning a personal journal and reward system to keep track of your performance. 

Diet  Cardio is important but don’t overlook the effect of diet on hitting your fitness goals.  Current research is proving what we knew all along…that weight loss happens most effectively when we combine diet and exercise.  If you’re not keeping track of your diet, you may unconsciously be consuming enough calories to undo the good of your workouts. Counting calories and food journaling are effective, but can be time consuming.  You can also try taking a month to break some of the habits that are keeping you from hitting your ideal weight.  Good targets include dropping sugar, alcohol, and second (or oversized) helpings from your diet.  Hitting these common culprits will keep you from making up for your increased caloric output with hidden calories.

Hit the Weights  In addition to burning more calories and adding definition to your form, strength training makes your cardio workouts more effective.  By increasing your range of motion, power, and stability, strength training will let you work out harder with a lower risk of injury.  Try alternating every four to six weeks between body weight exercises (such as push-ups and squats) to improve your range of motion and stability and those using free weights, such as dumbbells, to improve your strength. 

Weigh In:  What have you done to get more out of your home fitness equipment?  What tools and techniques have helped you to reach your goals?

Get the Most from Your Home Fitness Equipment and Stick to Your Resolutions

If you cleaned up your fitness routine with the New Year, the end of January is a critical time.  Your work should be paying off with a few pounds lost or gains in strength and performance, but you’re also facing the challenge of maintaining your motivation each week.  What’s going to keep you sticking to your resolutions this coming year?

Overcome Obstacles:  Having fitness equipment at home is a huge advantage in sticking to your workouts, but there will still be days you find yourself struggling to stick to the plan.  Think over the last few weeks.  When you’ve succeeded in meeting your fitness and eating goals, what went right on those days?  Developing solutions to potential obstacles can pay off in a big way by helping you identify and solve your fitness foes.  Small investments, like lining up help with childcare or dinner preparation a few days a week or remembering to pack your clothes and seek out the hotel elliptical and treadmill during business travel can make a big difference in sticking to your fitness plan in the long haul.

Reward Yourself:  Think about your specific goal.  If consistently using your home fitness equipment is your goal, keep track of the workouts you’ve completed in a desk calendar and reward yourself regularly (try every 6-12 workouts).  Rewarding yourself for losing a set number of pounds or meeting performance goals every three to four weeks can work for weight loss or performance enhancing training programs.  A good reward is something you enjoy, but that feels like a splurge…a massage, a gift card for your favorite store, or a night on the town with friends or your significant other are all great ways to celebrate your achievements and keep you on track.

Change it Up:  If you started a new routine at the beginning of the year, start planning where you’re going next.  We’ve all heard that our body tends to plateau after 4-6 weeks of the same training program, so it’s important to keep changing things up.  As you end your first training cycle of the year, it’s time to plan for your late winter/early spring training routine.  For some ideas on how to plan, check out our previous article on periodization here

Weigh In:  Good luck on making 2011 your fittest year yet.  We’d love to hear more from you.  Have you stuck to your healthy intentions for 2011?  What are your challenges and what’s keeping you on track?

Staying out of the Gym in January? Reasons for Hitting Your Workouts at Home

When it comes to sticking to (or starting) your exercise routine, using your home exercise equipment is the most convenient workout available.  You don’t have to pack a bag, travel to the health club, or share your shower with a roomful of strangers.  Here are a few other reasons you might choose to stay away from the gym this January.

Crowded Facilities  With the New Year comes lots of new faces.  January is the biggest month of the year for gym membership sales.  While most of these folks will be AWOL  by the end of February, health clubs will be working at or near their capacity during peak times throughout the winter.  This means that you can end up waiting for a machine, dealing with time limits that prevent you from getting a full workout, and sharing equipment with the sneezing, sweating guy next to you.

On Display  While a select few seem to enjoy the feeling of being watched while they workout, when you’re in the middle of the gym floor, it’s easy to feel self conscious.  No one likes learning to operate a new machine in front of everyone else there, especially when those people are keeping track of whether you’ve exceeded the 30 minute limit.  There’s also the coordination of learning your best stride on an elliptical or treadmill (admit it, we’ve all tripped over our own feet on that moving belt).

Germs  While we try to keep it under control, it’s no secret that “health” clubs are petri dishes for the germs and viruses that circulate during cold and flu season.  Sweaty machines and towels, damp locker room floors, and drafty entries are just a few of the ways that germs get passed around.

Etiquette  Too much cologne, body odor, or the smell of the burrito your neighbor had for lunch can really detract from your workout.  Another favorite is the neighbor who sprays the equipment and treats everyone in the vicinity to a disinfecting shower.  A friend of mine also shared a story about an unusual request that he not clean his equipment since the next user enjoyed the sweat on the machine…ummm…okay.

Weigh in:  Do you have a funny, embarrassing, or distasteful health club story that motivates you to use your home gym?  We’d love to hear it!

Head Outside This Winter and Get the Most from your Fitness Equipment

By investing in your Horizon fitness equipment, you’ve taken a huge step towards making your workouts convenient and comfortable.  Have you thought adding in some outdoor winter workouts to keep the fun in your fitness routine this winter?  While short days and chilly temps can make an outdoor workout seem daunting at this time of year, getting outside can be a great complement to your day to day routine.  Outdoor workouts can give you a big lift psychologically, make the winter seem livable, and give you a leg up on your spring training.  So what are the keys to making outdoor workouts possible?

Dress for it!  There is no bad weather, only bad clothes. Take advantage of the post-Christmas sales to set yourself up, if you don’t already have the layers you need to hit the trails.  For aerobic winter sports (think snow shoeing, running, or cross country skiing), layers are key.  Generally you’ll need to be prepared for up to three layers on your upper body and two on your lower body.  Next to your skin, you want a synthetic layer that will wick moisture.  A thick pair of running tights and a tech top will do here.  Add a wind breaker on top (preferably one with ventilation).  If you’re out in the snow or the temps are under 15 or 20 degrees (depending on your comfort level), you’ll want to add a similar layer on the bottom.  In very cold temps (low teens and single digits), add a third layer to insulate on top (think fleece and wear it under your wind breaker).  Remember to wear a hat or head band and light weight gloves.  Though not essential, additional nice-to-have items include a lightweight pair of wool socks and a neck gater to cut down on drafts.   

Warm up!  Warming up inside can make getting out the door a lot easier.  Some tricks you might try include throwing your clothes in the dryer for a few minutes, taking a hot shower (just wait until afterwards to soak your head), or doing some brief cardio on your exercise equipment.  The key is to warm up enough to barely begin sweating.  Too much and you’ll get chilled when you head outside. 

Go for it!  Even the roughest winter has a few nice days.  Take advantage of the few times that the weather and your schedule allow you to get outside to soak up some daylight and fresh air.  Keep your routine flexible enough to have a back up plan, then head out the door when opportunity presents itself. 

Weigh in:  We’d love to hear what keeps you going during the winter months, both on and outside of your fitness equipment.

Use Your Horizon Fitness Equipment to Keep your Winter Workouts Strong

Finding yourself wondering how to stay motivated this winter?  We all know the challenges that make it easy to get derailed…shorter days, busy holiday schedules and colder weather make cuddling up on the couch so much more tempting than that evening run you told yourself you’d stick to.  By adding home fitness equipment to your arsenal, you’ve already found a way to beat the weather and work with your schedule.  Try adding a few of these motivational tricks to your winter routine, and you’ll find yourself ahead of the pack this spring.

Play the mind game.  Working out makes you feel like…working out.  Succeeding at sticking to your workouts is its own motivating factor.  We all want to be that committed exerciser, keeping our workouts strong year round.  Use this to your advantage the next time you feel like skipping your workout.  Think about the self satisfied feeling you’ll have while wrapping presents or baking cookies after your morning run.  Consider how much more enjoyable that Christmas dinner will be when you aren’t feeling guilty about letting yourself go over the holidays.  Schedule your workouts and look ahead to where you’ll be at the end of the winter.  One more way to win the mind game?  Whenever possible, schedule your workouts for the morning.  Morning exercisers are the most likely to stick with their workouts over time.  When your workout is the first thing on your plate in the morning, it’s harder for other things to get in the way. 

Head for the Light.  Even if it’s temporary, move your fitness equipment in front of a window to take advantage of daylight during your morning workouts.  Exercising in daylight during the shorter days of winter lifts our moods (and our motivation).  Again, if possible, schedule your workout for the morning so you can take advantage of the mood lifter before you head into your day.

Dress the part.  New clothes and gear make us feel good, or at least guilty if we don’t use them.  If you haven’t already put new workout clothes or a fitness related treat (perhaps a heart rate monitor?) on your Christmas list, now’s the time to add them.  If your loved ones don’t take the hint, take advantage of the post Christmas sales to treat yourself after the holidays. 

Keep it Entertaining. Nothing on TV?  Many models of fitness equipment integrate a docking station for your iPod, making it easy to download audio books to keep your mind busy during your workouts.  You can also access audio books for free from most libraries, giving you a low cost option to keep the winter blahs out of your workouts. Several of Horizon’s treadmills, ellipticals and bikes are either iPod/MP3 compatible or even Made for iPod®, allowing you to dock, charge and control your iPod directly from the console.

Get outside.  Even during the coldest months, there are usually a few nice days (believe me, I live in Wisconsin!).  Keep your workouts flexible enough to take advantage of a mild Saturday to head out for a winter run or snow shoeing.  Enjoying the beauty of winter can make the season seem less oppressive and even (gasp!) enjoyable.  Find an excuse to complement your day to day fitness routine with a chance to hit the great outdoors.

Periodization. Targeted Training Using your Fitness Equipment

If you find yourself doing the same workouts week after week, it’s time to give some thought to your fitness program.  Adapted from weightlifting, Periodization is a way of organizing your training goals to promote identifiable gains within a specific period of time.  As a competitive athlete, your goal may be to peak for a certain race or event.  As a recreational fitness enthusiast, you can focus on improvements in your performance, such as faster times or increased intensity; or personal improvements, such as weight loss or body measurements.  

To start putting Periodization into practice, think about looking at your training plan beyond a week at a time (referred to as a microcycle).  The next step is to think about your annual plan (called a macrocycle) and consider where you would like to be at certain times in the next year.  You might consider performance events, such as a 5K or triathalon, or personal goals such as losing a certain amount of weight by the end of the year.  You should also look at external events that might affect your training, such as vacations, holidays, or job related deadlines.  A good program can work with those factors to keep you on track.  Once you’ve got a handle on the big picture, it’s time to start looking at your month to month goals (called mesocycles).  Typically these intervals of training range from 2-6 weeks, with a month being the most common.  The shorter period of time is useful for intense goals, such as peaking for a key race or two, or possibly intense dieting that would not be maintained long term.  If you know you have a break coming up (such as from vacation or travel), you might find it useful to complete a mesocycle of 6 weeks in order to earn the break you know is coming up.

Mesocycles address short term performance goals, such as improving running form through the use of strides and drills, increasing your base mileage or endurance, and, finally, to improve performance through the use of interval and power training.  Choosing to focus on one aspect of your training during each mesocycle organizes your training plan, helps you avoid exhaustion and overtraining, and allows you to see small measurable gains each month that will help to keep you motivated toward your annual goals.  Very intense mesocycles or key competitions should be followed by transition periods of light or no training before beginning the process of preparation and peaking again.  Planned transition periods allow the body and mind to recover and may be as short as a week or two for competitive athletes or up to three months for recreational enthusiasts in their off-season.

Your Horizon Fitness Equipment comes equipped with many features that complement a periodized approach to training.  Personalized settings can be used to keep track of your progress.  The interval setting on your machine is a great way to add intensity to your workouts during peak performance mesocycles.  Mileage, distance, and speed indicators also provide you with measurable results as you focus on building your base and improving over time.   For an overview of Periodization, check out this link.  I also found this one useful for triathletes and recreational competitors.  

We’d love to hear from you.  Have you used your fitness equipment to reach both short and long term training goals?  What are your personal fitness goals in the coming year? And don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook and drop us a line with any questions or comments.

Myth Busters! Common Nutritional Myths that May be Derailing Your Fitness Efforts

Making the right nutritional choices gets more confusing every year (“are carbs good or bad?”).  While it’s easy to find recommendations for the “average” person, few of us really fit that mold.  Working towards weight loss, training goals, or performance gains all put different demands on the body and cause our nutritional needs to vary significantly.  Here are a few common myths and some help sorting out whether they apply to you.

Myth #1:  Carbs are bad.  Along with fat and protein, carbs are one of the major nutrients of the human diet.  Carbs are essential to fuel the basic functioning of your brain and muscles.  If you pull them out of your diet entirely, your body will find ways to create them from the other nutrients you provide (or by breaking down your muscle tissue).  While you are likely to lose weight, your performance will suffer and you will have difficulty maintaining this approach to nutrition in the long term.  The skinny:  Think in terms of giving your body a balance of nutrients at the right time.  Carbs are important at times surrounding exercise in order to fuel workouts and recover sufficiently.  At all other times, your best bet is to balance moderate amounts of healthy carbs with adequate protein and fat. 

Myth #2: Carbs are good.  This is another myth we take to the extreme, especially when focusing on low fat diets.  Low fat does not equal a license to indulge in nutritionally deficient carbohydrates with complete abandon.  Carbs are a part of a balanced diet, but need to be eaten in moderation with adequate protein and fat.  The skinny:  Use carbs to fuel your performance by eating a higher carbohydrate meal or snack prior to your workouts and during your recovery.  When you’re not eating carbs specifically for your workouts, focus on whole grains, fruits and vegetables in combined with protein and fat to meet your nutritional needs.

Myth #3:  Cutting out caffeine is a good way to jumpstart your fitness efforts.   While you may be tempted to clean house of your perceived bad habits as you start your new diet and fitness program, recent research shows that caffeine consumption can take the edge off of your workout and aid in reducing post exercise soreness.   The skinny:  When starting a new training or weight loss program, there’s no reason to ditch the morning joe.

Myth #4: Most Americans gets too much proteinWhile “average” Americans get more protein than they need for their sedentary lifestyle, those of us working on losing weight or training hard need to emphasize protein in your diet.  Higher protein consumption during weight loss helps to preserve muscle tissue and increase satiety, allowing you to feel full on less.  It also aids in muscular recovery, allowing you to build muscle and train harder.  How much do you need?  Between 1 gram and 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (that’s your weight in pounds divided by 2.2) will cover you if you’re on a fat loss or muscle building program.  Go to the lower end of that if you’re not lifting, the upper end if you are.  If you’re a hard cardio trainer, you fall somewhere in the middle.  Another myth?  Protein is protein.  The truth is proteins are not created equal.  Our bodies absorb protein from animal products better than vegetable proteins based on soy.  The good news for vegetarians (though not vegans)?  The most absorbable protein comes from milk (i.e. whey or casein).  If you’re shopping for powder or bars, stick to the milk based products.  The skinny:  If you’re reading this, you probably need to up your protein.  Try to include a little protein to balance out each meal and snack.

Myth #5: Dairy is fatteningWith an ideal ratio of carbohydrates to protein, few things make for a better post-workout snack than a tall glass of milk.  Research shows that dieters who consume high quantities of dairy products (3-4 servings per day) tend to have better results.  The skinny:  If you’re not getting your dairy, you’re missing out.  Try to include at least three servings of dairy in your diet throughout the day.

Myth #6: To boost your weight loss, eat small meals throughout the day.  Here’s another myth that gets taken to extremes.  While spreading out your calories to avoid binging is a good idea, dieters who are restricting themselves to 1500 calories or less may find that it’s difficult to feel like they’re ever getting a square meal if they divide those calories up into four to six small “meals”.  The skinny:  Plan for three solid meals during your day to avoid feeling deprived and to ensure you’re receiving enough nutrition.  Beyond that, build in a healthy snack (including both carbs and protein) at a time of day you typically feel a slump or when you need a bit of energy surrounding your workout.  If your calorie intake is high enough to allow for another snack or two, go for it.

Weigh in!  What are your nutritional goals?  Are there diet related changes that have helped you to progress towards them?

The Perfect Fit: Find the Exercise Equipment You Need Without Paying for Features You Won’t Use

Finding the perfect match when it comes to your exercise equipment is a tricky balancing act.  Assuming you’ve already decided which type of cardio equipment you want (for more on deciding between a treadmill, elliptical, or recumbent bike check out last month’s Get Fit blog), how do you sort out the bells and whistles without paying for features you’ll never use?  Here are a few of the features that are commonly offered; some may help in deciding whether they’re something you need to include in your next piece of fitness equipment.

Heart Rate Monitor  Whether you’re new to exercising or training for your next triathalon, you’ll find a heart rate monitor to be useful in meeting your training goals.  Hand sensors tend to be a limited in their reliability, but for the minimal investment of a heart rate chest strap, you can receive an objective play by play of the level of intensity of your workout.  This will allow you to tailor your workouts to meet your goals on a given day.

Training Space versus Storage Capacity  If you’re investing in a treadmill, this is worth giving some thought to.  Do you really need the larger mat size offered by some models or would you rather your treadmill fit quietly into the corner of your bedroom?  A larger mat size (typically greater than 17 x 49 inches) will more comfortably accommodate a very tall jogger or someone who plans to use their treadmill for running (especially if you’re a tall runner).  If you’re 5′ 8″ or shorter or plan on using your treadmill primarily for walking, you’ll probably find that a smaller mat will meet your needs just fine.  A treadmill with a smaller mat size is often easier to store and will take up less floor space even when unfolded, which might be a perk if you lack a dedicated space for a home gym.  If you’re not sure, try giving this a trial run in your local sporting goods store to see how the different mat sizes measure up to your needs.

Motor Size  Smaller people looking for a walking workout really don’t need to pay for a larger motor size.  A larger motor (typically over 1.5-2.0 continuous duty horse power) is going to be most useful for someone who plans on using their treadmill for running (i.e. more than a slow jog or walking), especially if that person is a “heavier” runner (i.e. over 180 pounds).  Think about your needs.  If you’re a larger person or if you plan on using your treadmill primarily for running, it’s worth investing in a larger motor size.  If you really plan on using your treadmill for walking and you weigh less than 180 pounds, a motor capacity of 1.0-1.5 HP is likely to be sufficient for your needs.  If you’re on the fence and can afford it, this one is probably worth paying a little extra for the larger motor.  You want your treadmill to last for a long time and you never know when you or your (larger) significant other might decide to take up running and give your treadmill a try.

Cushioning  Again, this applies to treadmills only.  A very shock absorbing treadmill will have a board thickness under the belt of at least one inch and a 2 ply belt.  This is worth shopping for if you’re looking for your treadmill to reduce the impact of your running workouts.  If you’re a walker or are using your treadmill only occasionally when weather or scheduling conflicts keep you from your usual asphalt based run, there’s no reason to pay extra for this feature.

Incline Settings  If you’re not looking to pick up the intensity by running, inclines are an unbeatable way to increase the demand of your workouts on treadmills and elliptical trainers.  An incline capacity of 10% is sufficient to challenge most users, although if you really think you’re likely to max out this feature, a 15% capacity will challenge even experienced hikers.

Calories Burned/Display Module  No doubt about it.  A high tech display module can be incredibly motivating.  By entering your weight, you can receive an estimate of the calories burned during your workout, your average pace and intensity, and the progress you’ve made.  While you may tend to downplay this feature when you’re test driving your equipment, most exercisers find this to be incredibly motivating when they’re working out on their own.  An upper end display module will be easy to read and will allow you to view multiple variables at a time (such as speed, distance, and calories burned).

Programming Options  A good piece of equipment will allow you to use pre-programmed settings to alter the intensity of your workout.  Look for (at a minimum), interval and aerobic settings.  For the beginning to intermediate exerciser, these tend to be the most useful programs.  For experienced, athletic individuals, customizable settings may also be a plus.  The “fat burning” workouts offered by most models are popular, but really offer limited benefit for most exercisers. 

Sound System  Many models of cardio equipment offer docking stations for MP-3′s, speakers, and headphone jacks, which can be a big plus.  Elliptical trainers and recumbent bikes tend to be very quiet due to the lower amounts of electricity required by these systems, but treadmills vary significantly in the level of noise they produce.  If you’re comfortable working out with an MP3 and headphones or will have access to a stereo or media system nearby, this may not be worth shopping for; however, if you’re going to be using your equipment in a more isolated area of your home, the benefit of music for your workouts is immeasurable.  If you choose not to look for this option, make sure that your equipment will be quiet enough to allow you to use a stereo or television nearby.

Fans/Cooling Systems Although these in-unit cooling systems don’t get a lot of attention in-store, users love them.  Unless you want to haul in a standing fan to sit in front of your equipment (and take up more floor space), this is worth looking for. 

Warranty  A good manufacturer will stand behind the frame and motor of the equipment you purchase.  A minimum of a one year warranty is pretty standard but you should be looking for longer warranties on the parts that take a beating, such as the motor on your treadmill. 

Weigh in! What features have you found to be the most useful on your cardio equipment?  How did these stack up to the things you noticed when you were shopping?

Burn Fat This Summer! Use your Fitness Equipment without the Pre-Workout Meal

Though you wouldn’t want to do it with every workout, skipping the pre-workout nutrition has been a common practice with runners and athletes for years in order to jumpstart our bodies’ fat burning mechanisms.  Recent research confirms this practice.  A comparison of cyclists showed that those who worked out, rested (but didn’t eat), and then worked out again burned a greater amount of fat during the second workout than those who fueled up in between.  The downside?  The performance of the starving cyclists suffered and the fat burned was primarily intra-muscular fat (the fat within the muscles, rather than right below the skin)…not exactly the most effective recipe for a beach ready body. If you want to give the practice a try (it MIGHT make a difference for you), once a week, use your fitness equipment in the evening, skip a post workout snack and in the morning have a 20 to 30 minute workout again before breakfast.  After you workout, have a good meal with a combination of carbohydrates and protein to re-build your muscles and re-load your carbohydrate stores.  This will ensure that the meal you take in after your workout goes to fueling your performance rather than being stored as fat.  Be sure to practice good fueling before the rest of your weekly workouts (think a light carbohydrate snack before your workout), if you want to keep seeing the cardiovascular and strength gains in your performance.