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.

Ask an Expert: Barefoot Running

Is the barefoot running trend over–or are there real benefits to minimalist running? – Kevin

It’s been an interesting few decades in the running shoe industry. We started with a lower heel-to-toe drop (the difference between the height of the heel versus the toe in a shoe) in the 1970s where you could pretty much feel the ground as you ran over it. As time passed and running became more mainstream, running shoe drops grew beefier and beefier, adding more cushion with every stride. Remember the Nike Shox?  I do, they rivaled my high heels on a Saturday night!

When the best-selling book Born to Run was published, it changed the running shoe conversation by highlighting the benefits of running barefoot as well as running with less under foot. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it as it’s as entertaining as it is educational and definitely defines the biomechanics of running in a way that would make anyone want to shed their shoes and head out for a run.

The truth is, we are made to walk and run barefoot, and doing so provides proprioceptive benefits (muscle sense) with the land that we move across. A perfect example of this is when a young child learns to walk and stabilize. Many times they are barefoot and they can feel the ground they are trying to move across. When you add shoes to the mix, they almost have to relearn how to walk because it reduces the body’s connection to the ground and rather than their body stabilizing, the shoes do more of the work along the way.

(Authors note: The same is true for my dog Bear! When I put those cute little winter mittens on all four of his paws, it took him weeks to learn to walk normally in them because he couldn’t feel the ground underfoot.)

Does that mean we should all donate our running shoes and run barefoot? No.  It simply means, that if we wanted to invest the time to evolve back to living barefoot – we could. When I raced in Fiji, there was a native that helped us across a raging river and through a cut bamboo field. His feet looked liked shoes–large and wide–and moved without even as much as a scrape on his feet through the field.

My point: our feet are well protected and well supported–almost to a fault. The running shoe industry is righting itself now with a more balanced approach to shoes. They went from pushing shoes that looked like sandals to minimalist shoes that had a little extra protection to now, what I believe is a hybrid, between the beefier models and the minimalist (what Goldilocks would deem “just right”).

Although barefoot running was a craze, it led to a greater understanding of shoe technology and biomechanics. It is also fair to say that if the shoe works for you, don’t mess with it. I’ve heard from so many runners that went from running without issues to changing to barefoot or less shoe overnight to find Achilles and calf issues a month later.

It’s important to note that if you want to run in less shoe, you will need to allow time to adapt to running in less shoe and in some cases on a lower to the ground stride. When women wear high heels, all the muscles, tendons and joints have to adapt and shorten (tighten) to move safely. Over time, our body’s response is often tight, short calf muscles and Achilles. Like a higher drop running shoe, if you go from high to low to quickly, you’re putting 2-3 times your body weight with every stride putting the tight, short muscles under great pressure.

The key is to train your body just as you would for a marathon: a gradually progressive program that includes strengthening your feet, ankles and core, investing time simply wearing “less shoe” and including range of motion and flexibility exercises for your feet and ankles. Yoga is an effective way to do this because all of the exercises are done without shoes. If you’re like me, at first this led to cramping of the toes and feet, but over time, my feet adapted and allowed me to walk barefoot around the house without issue and eventually wear less shoe under foot.

The benefits of running in less shoe are a greater sense of the ground underfoot, better stabilization from within, improved balance and range of motion and form that encourages landing in the mid-foot, which can help reduce impact forces up the body as you land.

Finally, sometimes we can get so caught up in the details that we miss the truth. Many runners can make the transition safely to wearing a shoe that has less support and cushion and with a lower drop. But for many, it could mean the difference between running healthfully and not running at all due to pain.  It’s always best to be mindful of what works for you – and then go with it.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

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.

 

Join the Sofa to 5K Challenge

Have you ever wanted to run a 5K race? Well now is your chance! In just 10 short weeks, Coach Jenny will have you up and running — and well on your way to completing your first 5K.

The easy-to-follow, 10-week Sofa-to-5K training program begins Monday, September 15, 2014 and ends with running a community 5K by Sunday, November 30, 2014.

When you sign up, you will receive weekly email updates from Coach Jenny during your training, including workouts and helpful tips to completing your first 5K. We also invite you to join the Horizon Fitness Sofa-to-5K Challenge Facebook group for even more exclusive help from Coach Jenny, including real-time answers to your questions.

Once you complete your race, visit the Sofa to 5K Challenge Facebook page to upload your race photo and story of how the Challenge changed you and you will be entered to win a Horizon Fitness treadmill, elliptical or exercise bike . All participants will also receive a custom Sofa to 5K t-shirt!

First things first: sign up by visiting the Sofa to 5K website. You’ll also find a welcome video by Coach Jenny, a sample training plan and the official contest rules. Also don’t forget to sign up for the challenge group - a great way to find support and motivation during the program. Join us here.

Ask an Expert: Running vs. Cycling

Q: Does riding my stationary bike for one hour at a medium level have the same cardio benefits as jogging for 4 miles at 12-minute miles? I’m looking for lower-impact ways to get my training in.  -Natalie

 A: Yes and no. Cycling offers the same benefits as running in that it improves your cardiovascular system. More specifically, your heart strengthens and is able to pump more blood at a lower heart rate as it gets stronger with exercise. As your fitness improves, your body is able to deliver larger quantities of oxygen to the muscles. This is the case for all forms of cardiovascular exercise, which is great because you can mix up your modes and keep things fresh and motivating. If you were looking at the standpoint of overall cardiovascular fitness, both are excellent choices.

Where they differ is in the movement. Cycling is a great form of exercise because it is low impact and isolates your lower body, which makes it an effective activity for those that are starting an exercise routine or suffer from muscle or joint pain. On the other hand, running uses every muscle in your body, making it a total body exercise, which can mean burning more calories per session.

It gets a little tricky when you start comparing paces on both activities. For instance, a 12-minute pace on a “feel good” day could be in the easy to moderate zone of effort, while another day it could be at a hard effort. Pace isn’t the best way to compare the two activities, but your effort level is.

When comparing the two, it’s easier to do so by the effort level versus comparing your running pace (12-minute miles) against your cycling effort (moderate). Instead, compare a moderate running effort to a moderate cycling effort.

The general rule of thumb is there is a 1:3 run-to-bike ratio, meaning one mile of running at a moderate effort equals three miles of cycling at that same effort level. Cycling 12 miles is the equivalent of running four miles, with both effort levels being the same in a very general sense for cardiovascular fitness.

In the end, cycling miles are cycling miles and running miles are running miles. They both offer great benefits and each offers unique benefits for fitness and well being.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

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.

Ask an Expert: When Should I Strength Train?

Horizon Fitness Indoor CycleI know I should incorporate more strength training into my exercise routine.  Is it better to do it before or after my cardio activity? -Stacey

You’re right, it is important to include strength training into your regular exercise routine.  It will aid in balancing the strength and mobility in your muscles and joints, improve metabolism by increasing active lean muscle tissue and even help improve your cardiovascular performance.  That being said, here are three answers to your question.

When you perform strength exercises, the goal is to break down the muscle tissue by repeating the exercise until you’ve reached momentary muscular failure.  That sounds scary, but all it really means is that your muscles get activated and then fatigued by the repetitive resistance of the exercise.  That breaking down of the muscles is what encourages growth and development through rest.

Performing the strength exercises before the cardio activity will allow you to perform the strengthening exercises on fresh muscles as you won’t be tired from the cardio activity.  This is especially important if you’re new to strength training and learning how to perform each exercise.  However, it’s important to make sure your muscles are warmed up ahead of time, so you could include a short 5 minute cardio warm up, then strength train and follow with the rest of your cardio routine.

On the other hand, if your cardio is primary – say, if you’re training for a triathlon or running event and you need to get in a solid workout – then getting in the cardio workout first and then following up with the strength training will be a better option.

Finally, to toss in another option, you can weave it into your cardio and create what I call a “circus workout” – where you warm up on cardio, then hit a strength exercise or two, then 5 minute of cardio, then strength again, followed by cardio.  You’ll feel the excitement of being in the circus with all the movement! Plus, it’s fun and before you know it, you’ll be cooling down thinking… when can I do this again?

There are benefits to weaving in strength training into your cardio routine, the key is to try each of these to see what works best for you.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

Treating Exercise-Related Hypoglycemia

Did you know, according to diabetes experts, muscles are responsible for about 90 percent of the body’s use of glucose as fuel? Exercise also affects various hormones which have a direct impact on blood sugar levels. It’s not surprising then, that non-diabetic hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar) is common in frequent exercisers and athletes.

If you’ve ever worked out on an empty stomach, you’ve probably experienced the dizziness, muscle weakness and exhaustion of a blood-sugar crash. Understanding how your blood-sugar levels are controlled, and what you can do to prevent these crashes, can help you avoid these symptoms.

Understand how blood sugar works. The sugar called glucose, which is stored in the muscles and liver, is the primary fuel your muscles use during strenuous activities. As part of a careful balancing act, two hormones are released to try to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood, where it can be used readily.

Insulin is released into the blood by the pancreas when blood sugar levels are too high, where it bonds with specialized receptors on the cells. Insulin stimulates the cells at these receptors and tells them to absorb glucose. Once these cells respond to insulin, blood sugar levels drop. When blood sugar is too low, however, the pancreas releases glucagon instead. This hormone tells the liver to releases some of its stored glucose into the blood so that can be used as fuel.

Exercise puts much higher demands on your muscles, forcing them to utilize more fuel – in much the same way as making your car go faster, or pull a heavy load, will increase how much gas it burns. Overtraining can even cause a permanent shift in this balance by increasing insulin sensitivity, which will make it much more difficult for you to maintain a healthy blood sugar balance.

Keeping Balance. Research suggests that endurance training, as opposed to strength training, can be beneficial in preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia. While strength training uses carbohydrates like glucose for fuel, endurance training uses fat as the primary source of energy. This will prevent blood sugar levels from getting too low.

The most effective method for preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia though is by adjusting the timing and composition of your meals. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes, which will give you several types of sugar and dissolve more slowly in your system. Try to have a large, carbohydrate-heavy meal at least three hours before your workout so that you have plenty of stored glucose when you start your exercise.

Throughout the day, eat six small meals and snacks rather than the traditional three large daily meals. These meals and snacks should also be made mostly of complex carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid simple sugars like sodas and baked goods, since these will cause a spike in insulin — a response to the quick release of sugar — which will, in turn, cause your blood sugar to crash.

Drinks like coffee that contain large amounts of caffeine can also cause a crash when the stimulant effects of the drink wear off. The symptoms of this “caffeine crash” can be very similar to hypoglycemia.

Most importantly, consult your doctor. Hypoglycemia can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as diabetes, and it’s always a good idea to check-in before altering or starting any new diet or exercise program.

 

Sources
http://diabetes.about.com/od/whatisdiabetes/a/How-Insulin-Works-In-The-Body.htm
http://www.alfediam.org/media/pdf/RevueBrunD&M2-2001.pdf
http://www.drugs.com/cg/non-diabetic-hypoglycemia.html
http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html

Elliptical vs Treadmill


Walk into almost any gym or specialty fitness retailer and you will be confronted with row after row of treadmills and ellipticals. Although these machines are both classified as “cardiovascular equipment,” both have individual qualities that will suit some exercisers better than others.

Before purchasing a piece of equipment this fundamental to a balanced exercise program, it’s important to consider which would be best for your fitness level, workout style and budget.

Elliptical Machine Benefits

The elliptical features two pedals that move in a smooth, uninterrupted circular motion that allows for an impact-free workout. This can be invaluable for individuals with injuries or weaknesses in their knees, ankles, hips and lower back.

Additionally, two long handles extend upward from the base of the machine and place resistance on your upper body. This full-body workout means that you have the potential to burn significantly more calories per hour with an elliptical than if you were to use a treadmill or exercise bike.

There are some potential drawbacks to ellipticals. Because the structure of the elliptical machine controls and limits your range of motion, the movement may take some getting used to. The stride length is also built into the machine, although some allow for slight adjustments, and exercisers with shorter strides may find themselves hyper-extending their knees, which can be problematic over time.

Another factor to consider is that you set the pace on an elliptical (unlike a treadmill, which provides a motorized speed). This can sometimes make it challenging to maintain a constant speed, and if you aren’t highly self-motivated, it can be tempting to go easy.

Selecting an Elliptical

As with any piece of exercise equipment, it’s important to compare elliptical machines until you find one that perfectly fits your needs. Look for a durable machine that will be able to fully support the weight of all its users and has a heavy enough flywheel to offer a smooth, quiet workout. Quality ellipticals are designed to mimic your natural body posture and movement.

Benefits of Treadmills

Apart from the benefits associated with all forms of cardiovascular exercise, the key benefit of treadmills is accessibility. The running or walking motion required to use a treadmill is natural, comfortable and familiar.

Many home treadmills also fold up for easy storage. While running outside can be made difficult by terrain or weather, treadmills offer an even surface and the climate control of your home or gym.

Another advantage is that treadmills can have a built-in motivation factor. The belt speed and the incline will adjust automatically when you follow a program, reducing any tendencies to relax during a workout. Although you can stop or slow the machine at any time, the automated pace prevents you from easing up unintentionally.

The treadmill running surface is cushioned to reduce the stress on your joints from repeated impact, but this is still a concern for exercisers with a history of joint problems. Also, some people find treadmills repetitive, making them less likely to exercise as often as they should.

Finding the Perfect Treadmill

When shopping for a treadmill, look for a machine with a solid frame and a wide running belt. These features will allow you to use the machine comfortably without modifying your natural stride. The highest rated treadmills have larger motors that allow the belt to rotate smoothly and quietly.

Integrated support for media players is an additional feature that may help to alleviate some of the boredom experienced when running indoors. Features that allow you to track your progress through multiple workouts will also make your routine more enjoyable.

Which is Best for You?

If you already enjoy running outdoors but find that your cardio routine suffers because of the weather, a treadmill might be your best choice. People who suffer from joint pain, however, would likely benefit from using an elliptical. Also, if you have difficulty incorporating an upper body workout into your schedule, you may find that the elliptical helps you save time by including these muscles in your cardio.

Regardless of which machine you chose, you’ll want to select a quality model that will last you a long time and help you reach your fitness goals.

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.