7 Ways to Maximize Every Workout

images5UGGPMAROne of my favorite sayings is to work smarter not harder. When you take the time and effort to lift weights, you want to get the maximum benefit from your efforts. We’re always being told what we should be doing at the gym: go faster, harder, slower; use a medicine ball; buy a band; free weights; body weight! But more important are the things we shouldn’t do during a workout. I am a little obsessive about form, and I see some crazy stuff going on in the gym each day. When is the last time you paid close attention to your weight lifting form?

So that you don’t cheat yourself out of an optimal workout—here are some common mistakes and solutions.

MISTAKE 1 : Skipping the warm-up. If you are lifting significant weight and you don’t warm up, it will be harder for you to lift because your muscles won’t be ready. You will also increase your chance of injury.

Solution: Do a general warm up before you start lifting, by using a cardio machine at a moderate level for at least four or five minutes. Then do a specific warm up for each of the exercises, starting with about 10 reps of 25% of the weight you intend to lift, and then moving to 50%, before you do your real workout. So, for example, if you are going to do 10 80-pound squats, start by doing 10 squats using just your body weight, and then 10 more squats using just the bar. Then go to your workout (three sets of 8 to 12 reps).

MISTAKE 2 : Stopping short. Not exercising through a full range of motion is a common mistake, especially when doing biceps curls. Many people stop the exercise before they’ve extended their arm all the way down. This means they are only strengthening the upper part of the biceps instead of fully developing the muscle.

Solution: Each exercise should be done in a slow, controlled manner through the complete range, with emphasis on the completely contracted position. Full-range of motion movements contract and strengthen the muscle you’re working and stretch the opposing muscle (in the case of the biceps curl, the triceps). Note: Do not confuse full range of motion with hyper extension—when you use more than the full range of motion, which can cause joint injury. Hang your arms by your side and relax them. This is your range of motion for the biceps curl; anything more and you’re hyper extending. Unfortunately it’s easy to go too far if you aren’t careful. You are in danger of hyper extension any time you use any type of free weight. That’s why it’s so important that your movement is controlled, and you use the correct amount of weight.

MISTAKE 3: Holding your breath during a lift. It’s easy to forget to breathe. My trainer had to remind me constantly to breath. Lifting weights causes your blood pressure to increase temporarily; holding your breath makes it soar even more, and then suddenly drop. Such a dramatic fluctuation in your blood pressure can make you pass out.

Solution: It’s important to develop a breathing pattern while you’re lifting. Some people inhale at the beginning of a repetition and expire at the end, others inhale on the upstroke and exhale on the down stroke. It doesn’t matter which you do. The point is to take a breath with each repetition to make sure you’re not holding your breath.

 MISTAKE 4 : Lifting hips off the seat or bench when doing exercises. For example  when doing a bench press. When you lift your hips you change the angle of your shoulders as you lift the bar, so you are using only your lower pectoral muscles instead of the entire pectoral muscle. Your feet are also contributing to the movement, so you’re not working as hard. More importantly, this also puts more of a strain on the spine which can lead to injury.

Solution: One simple way to prevent this is to place your legs on the bench with your knees bent and your feet down. How does this stop you from making that arch? If you are tempted to push with your feet, you’ll find very quickly that you’ll lose your balance and fall.

MISTAKE 5 : Straining the neck when doing crunches. Straining the neck is a very common mistake with crunches, because people place their hands behind their neck and then yank their arms to bring their head up rather than using their abs.

Solution: Do not do the crunch with your hand behind your back. Instead, cross your arms in front of your chest and hold your torso, neck and head in strict alignment. Your back will elevate to the lumbar spine region, which is exactly what you want. Lifting your torso (and not just your shoulders) off the floor will give you a lower abdomen workout as well. You can also vary this by adding oblique twists.

MISTAKE 6 : Rocking hips and pelvis while doing biceps curls. If you’re moving your pelvis back and forth during biceps curls, you are using the momentum to help you thrust the dumbbell upward, rather than isolating the muscle and using it to lift the weight. You aren’t getting an effective workout, and you can also throw out your lower back from the back and forth motion.

Solution: To make sure you perform the motion allowing only the biceps to contribute to moving the bar, try the exercise seated, with your legs spread, and rest your right elbow against the inside of your right leg. Then do the same on the left side. Another option is to use a preacher bench, or to stand up against a wall with your butt and back firm against the wall. You should have a 25-degree hip angle, with your legs straight.

MISTAKE 7 : Being wimpy with weights. If a weight is so heavy that you have to jerk, bounce or swing to get it to the top of the movement, it’s too heavy. But on the other hand, if you can do 20 or 30 reps your resistance is to light, and you are wasting your time. You’re not getting enough resistance training to increase muscular endurance or muscle size.

Solution: The setting should be chosen so that your muscle fatigues by the last repetition on the number you choose to do. For example, if you do sets of 12 reps, the 11th and 12th rep should be a struggle, after which you need to rest 1-3 minutes before you can do another set of 12. This takes a little playing around to determine the initial weight. When you are able to do 15 reps at that weight, it’s time to increase the weight.

5 Signs You Need a Shakeup to Your Shapeup

SONY DSCWhen it comes to exercise, it’s always good to mix it up a bit, but there are also times when your exercise routine may be ready for a more major overhaul. Because exercise is a personal thing, and your workout results (and problems) can only be recognized by you, here are a few things to be on the lookout for to determine if you need a shakeup in your shapeup. No matter if you’re a novice to physical fitness or an expert, here are 5 signs that you need to switch up your exercise regime ASAP! –

  1.  If you’re working out and eating properly, you should be seeing results. If you aren’t seeing anything noticeable in the mirror, or if your clothing sizes haven’t changed (or gotten tighter), it’s likely that you need a new exercise routine. With the right routine, you should be able to watch your body transform, even if it is only a little bit. Inches should be coming off and you should start to see more tone to your body.
  2. If in the beginning you wanted to lose weight and improve your endurance, so you did a lot of cardio exercises, such as running on the treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, etc. However, now that you’ve lost weight and built-up your endurance, you want to focus more on gaining muscle, which requires lifting weights. When your fitness goals change, your workout routine should change with them.
  3. Exercising releases hormones within the brain that are supposed to induce a happier mood. If you’re unhappy with your exercise routine, you rush through your exercises, you cannot wait to get out of the gym, or you find yourself losing focus when you work out, you may be bored. A boring workout is never a good one, and it only makes sense to change it. Being unhappy with your workouts means that you aren’t doing exercises that make you feel good. You should be enthused (okay if ‘enthused’ doesn’t quite describe you, let’s just say you shouldn’t dread your workout), and by the end of it all you should be happy with the physical activity that you do.
  4. You could do your workout routine with your eyes closed. You don’t sweat nearly as much as you used to. You don’t have to put forth a lot of effort to complete your workout. When your workout becomes a walk in the park instead of a challenge, it’s definitely time to change things around. You want your workouts to challenge you and to cause you to push yourself to the limit. If you are going to take the time to exercise, you might as well make it count.
  5. Since the day you’ve started working out until now, you’re been doing the same exact exercise. Even though you’re comfortable with this routine, it’s always helpful to switch up your routine at least every couple of weeks. Doing the same workout for months at a time could not only lead to boredom, but your body get used to the workout and you may find that your exercises are now completely and ineffective.

Just a Little Bit of Something

 

When it comes to exercise, something is always better than nothing especially on those busy days. If you intended to get up early and exercise, but it didn’t happen, just be sure to do something before you go to bed that night. It will energize you mentally knowing that you did something even though your day was crazy. And of course it will energize you physically.

 

So exercise when you can throughout the day.  If you missed your morning workout and you know you won’t have time in the evening, fit in some type of exercise or movement every chance get. A few of my faves…

 

  1. Park as far away from the door as possible whether it be the mall, your office, the grocery store, or wherever you might be.
  2. Use your lunch break to go for a walk, climb up and down the stairs, or even do some calf raises or wall push-ups in the bathroom stall.  Get creative!
  3. If you set your mind around exercising when you can, you’ll find yourself doing butt squeezes in the grocery store and leg lifts when making dinner.

 

Exercising before bed is also a great time to fit in a mini-workout because bedtime tends to be routine. Don’t worry a little exercise before bed will NOT make it difficult to fall asleep. These exercises can be whatever you want them to be. 50 crunches while watching TV, 30 squats when brushing your teeth, 10 push-ups while swishing mouthwash. Don’t let a day go by without doing something. Even if it is just a little bit of something. 

 

 

Some type of exercise is ALWAYS better than nothing at all. 

 

Why Do My Muscles Shake When I Exercise?

Muscles may make the body move, but it’s the connective tissue (the layer of fluid filled tissue between the skin and the muscles) that receives the signal from the brain to cause the movement. So does the brain really want the muscle to shake, or is part of the message lost in translation?

The shaking that occurs toward the end of an exercise or workout can be a signal from the brain that the muscle is exhausted. It has been worked hard enough, and it may be time to stop. The shaking can happen more often when the muscle is worked harder than normal or doing a new exercise .

It is also possible that the message from the brain gets a little garbled on its way through the connective tissue, due to other factors like level of hydration and electrolyte balance, and the timing of the muscle movement can get a little out of whack.

When the fibers in the muscle get the initial call to action, they contract to cause the correct movement (also called muscle firing).   But not all fibers are created equal—there are fast twitch and slow twitch muscles .  Like the names suggest, slow twitch muscles have a slow reaction time to contract, and are generally used for activities such as walking, maintaining posture, and most daily activities, and therefore they don’t tire out too quickly.  Whereas fast twitch muscles have a quick contraction time, and are used for short bursts of activity like sprinting, jumping, and lifting weights. They can tire out much faster.

Muscle fibers don’t all fire, or contract at the same time. Some fibers are resting while others work to make the muscle move, and then they trade off. As the muscle is challenged more and more, this changeover can get a little ragged, and there is not enough contracting going on to keep the muscle steady and moving smoothly. It begins to shake.  When the shaking begins, the muscle may be close to exhaustion so stopping is inevitable.  But recognize that the muscle has been pushed to its limits, and it might be time to back off.

No matter how hard the workout, be sure to hydrate. If the connective tissue, which is like bubble wrap and fiber optics all rolled into one, gets dehydrated, the message for the muscle to fire doesn’t get delivered, and the firing sequence can get confused, causing the muscle to shake.  To help counteract shaking due to dehydration, be sure and restore fluids while working out.

Exercise Smart to Avoid Injury

I thought I had bowlers elbow from playing X-Box with Samantha, but after a few weeks, I thought  it may be a more serious injury. It can be very frustrating to have to halt your progress due to a strain, but you can definitely hurt yourself and cause pain if you aren’t paying attention to your body.

The idea behind smart exercising is to work out with intensity, but equally as important— avoid doing anything that will hinder the process of getting into shape. When you’re exercising, you will reach a point where your muscles begin to tire, and you feel like you should stop. This is where it gets a little tricky, and you really have to pay attention to what you are doing.

My advice to exercising smarter usually refers to intensity, and I recommend pushing yourself beyond that limit where you start to feel tired. However, it must be something you can realistically do by keeping the same form that you started with.

If you keep trying to do more and more repetitions by whatever means possible, like swinging the weights or using other muscles to “cheat”, you are not doing any of your muscles any good.

Building up muscle takes time, and your muscles are only capable of so much. That is why you exercise them, so that they become stronger. But you still must take care by paying attention. If you push farther than your muscles can go, then you will possibly strain, tear, or otherwise injure your muscles and body. If you hurt yourself while exercising, you may be out of commission for a while and not be able to make progress.

On another note, there is something called delayed onset muscle soreness. It is common after exercise to feel a little tenderness in your muscles. This is completely different from an injury. To read about DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) check out this link to an article I wrote all about it. http://fitchicktricks.com/why-do-muscles-get-sore-after-exercise/

Symptoms of DOMS:

1. The pain is generalized and usually a dull pain or tenderness .

2. It tends to arise symmetrically in the body .

3. It lasts a short time (24-48 hours) then goes away.

Symptoms of an injury:

1. The pain is localized in one area of your body. It can be a sharp pain when the muscle is moved in a certain way.

2. The pain lasts for 3 days or more.

So after a month of thinking that I had injured my bicep, I was not doing any upper body exercises involving my right arm. And it was not getting any better, so I finally went to the doctor, and come to find out, I have tennis elbow. Or in my case it is more accurately described as “mouse” elbow, as I am always on the computer writing about health and fitness.  The rest I was giving my arm was completely the wrong type of rest. But now I know how to work to get rid of my mouse elbow. Luckily it doesn’t include giving up the computer.

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