The best thing to do on a day off from working out (or a rest day) is active rest, also called active recovery. There are a number of ways to do this, but the general idea is that you do some sort of movement or activity. It should be a much lower intensity than your normal exercise.
Why keep moving?
Low intensity, easy movement or activity on a non-workout day is a great way to physical recovery. Moving your body will actively stretch your muscles, especially if you move in ways that aren’t part of your normal exercise routine or daily activities.
Muscle contraction also increases circulation to the working muscles. Increased blood flow helps your muscle recover by bringing oxygen and metabolite molecules like proteins that help the cells repair and rebuild. Increased blood flow also helps replenish energy stores. It might seem counterintuitive to work your muscles in order to help them recover, but it helps. The key is to do it gently so you get the benefits without overtaxing the muscle again.
How to do active recovery
Any movement is good for active recovery! You can gauge low intensity exercise with the talk test, keeping your movement easy enough that you could sing if you wanted to. I also like activities have you moving differently than you normally do, because this gives you some extra active stretch. You could try
Going for a hike or a bushwalk
Playing with the kids or grandkids on a playground
Going for an easy swim (try some backstroke or breast stroke) or water walking
And of course, getting out and going for a walk is a great option, and possibly the most simple way to actively recover from a workout day. Doing something you enjoy is an important part of any exercise routine, including the recovery aspects, so don’t be limited by the list above. Anything that gets you moving will work, and you’ll feel so much better for it.
It is absolutely ok to change doctors! Even if you’ve been seeing the same person for years.
For most people, their primary health care provider (usually called a GP or PCP) is their strongest connection to the wider healthcare system. This person is entrusted to help you stay healthy, and to get better when you don’t. You should trust them to have your back, and if you can’t say with absolute certainty that your doctor will help you make the right choice for you, it might be time to consider a new one.
Most of my clients who are unhappy with their doctors tell me that:
They don’t feel listened to
The appointment is too short to cover their needs
They can’t ask questions (either due to time, or because the doctor is unapproachable)
They don’t understand their health care plan, or that they don’t even know what the plan is and are just doing what they are told!
The doctor is dismissive, talks down to them, or otherwise indifferent
If you feel like this about your GP or PCP at all, it’s probably time to start looking for a new one. Even at the best of times, health care is complex and full of educated guesswork. If you don’t have full trust in your doctor, you’re less likely to share the details of your health, less likely to follow through on treatment, and have a lower overall quality of life. And that’s if you actually are willing to go!
What to look for in a doctor
Like dating, it can take some time and a few tries to find the right person, but it’s worth it. Ultimately, you want someone that you can work with as part of a team. They know the medicine side of things, but you are the expert in your body, and that should be taken into account. Look for a doctor who:
Listens well and remembers you
Offers you different treatment options
Can explain why they recommend something, or how a treatment or prescription works in a way that you can understand
Makes you feel comfortable (or as comfortable as possible)
Is a nice person!
There are great doctors out there. I wouldn’t trade mine for the world, but I only got to her after seeing seven other people. That was over a decade ago and I’m still so happy with my treatment. The good ones are out there!
As a side note: None of this is to say primary care doctors are bad. As healthcare becomes increasingly more a business and less a calling – or, really, as smaller practices are bought out by multinational companies – general practitioners are often shoved towards acting in the best interest of the business, and not necessarily of their patients. Shorter appointments and rushed interactions are hallmarks of this pressure. Your health should come first though – so if you aren’t happy, change!
The best at-home exercise equipment for general strength and fitness goals? You want pieces that are small, versatile, and easy to use. These are also great for crosstraining, or doing a quick workout at home to supplement your gym days. Here’s what I recommend for my clients:
My top pick: TRX suspension trainer (or another brand, or gymnastics rings).
Suspension trainers are versatile, easily portable, and adjustable for all levels of strength and fitness. They are a full gym all by themselves and the one thing I take when I travel.
Use anywhere: They can be attached to any variety of solid surfaces by lopping and securing. Most brands also come with their own door anchor. Short story, you can use it just about anywhere inside or outside.
Do (almost) anything: Depending on attachment, can do almost every type of strength exercise. It has options for hip and knee dominant leg exercises. For upper body exercise, you can push and pull horizontally, and pull vertically. It also has some great anti-movement core options. The only thing it doesn’t easily provide is upper body push options.
Completely adjustable: It’s easy to modify almost any exercise to make it easier or harder. For most exercises, it’s as simple as stepping forward or backward.
Big bang for buck: Move slowly and pay attention and suspension trainers give you a big strength boost. They work both your stabilisers and in the big muscles that provide power for your movement. This means you’re better able to control your own body weight. In turn, this means you’re at lower risk of injury from overuse or traumatic event.
In second place: Superbands
Superbands are those giant rubber bands that have been popular for several years now, but still widely under-used. Like suspension trainers, they are highly versatile and easily portable. They do some things a suspension trainer can’t, but have their own limitations.
Use anywhere: There are a few different ways of securing the bands for use, which can create more or less resistance. You can also stand on them to secure them. These are not generally sold with a door anchor, which would increase the versatility.
Do (almost) anything: Again, your exercise options depend on how you’ve secured the band. With a little creativity, you can add resistance to almost every type of movement. Remember that you need a secure attachment point you can loop the band around.
Adjustable resistance: Changing the level of stretch on the band will change how much resistance the band provides. It’s literally the same as pulling on a rubber band either a little or a lot.
Good substitute resistance: Superbands can replace cables in many exercises. Just be careful to control the whole movement. It can also sub for dumbbells and barbells in some instances.
Great for eccentric exercise: The “stretchiness” of the band means that there’s a strong pull on the negative, or “lowering”, part of the movement. Working slowly to control your movement back to the start position creates a strong eccentric contraction. (Eccentric means the muscle is lengthening under load.) This exercise is especially useful for people with cardiovascular or respiratory issues, since it can prompt strength gains with lower stress on the cardiorespiratory system.
Well, I don’t really have a third – or I have lots of them. I like anything that is adjustable, like an adjustable dumbbell set, since it can change as you do. I also like things that can be used in many ways. For example, a kettlebell that can often be substituted for a dumbbell. When I set up a client with a “home gym” that neatly tucks into a drawer when done, I want just a few things. The suspension trainer and the bands are my must-haves for strength building. Recommendations for at-home cardio are here and here.
Every muscle building exercise is helpful for fat loss… overall. Unfortunately, there’s no way to dictate what part of your body loses fat.
BUT! Strength training can still have a big impact on your fat loss or weight loss. Here’s why:
Back in 1992, research was done to determine the metabolic rate of different tissues in the body (1). The results confirm the old gym -and-weight-loss saying, “muscle burns more calories than fat”. In science terms, it is more metabolically active – almost three times as much. The original findings still stand, telling us that:
Each kg of muscle burns 13 calories per day
Each kg of fat burns 4.5 calories per day
(One kg = 2.2 pounds, for anyone on the imperial system.)
There has been additional research based on the 1992 findings, which has confirmed the above findings (this is how we know that the previous results didn’t just happen by chance). This additional research has also shown that the above figures don’t vary much, regardless of age, sex, or overall bodyweight (2).
By confirming that muscle is indeed more metabolically active than fat – that it burns more calories than fat does, simply by existing – we can be confident that adding any amount of muscle anywhere will aid in fat loss.
Fat storage and loss happens without any conscious control. We don’t get a say in where our bodies store fat. We also can’t control which fat stores might get used first. So as much as you might want to “spot reduce” or “spot tone” to decrease the fat storage in a specific area… We just can’t (without liposuction). If you’re burning fat through diet and exercise, that fat is going to burn off from all over your body, not just here or there.
Consistent strength training will generally increase your muscle mass, especially if you are training in the rep ranges that stimulate hypertrophy (muscle growth). So chest building exercises will support your fat loss, especially if done at high volume – at least three sets of 8-12 reps.
If you are training for building size, I’d also consider not just focusing on your chest. For both fat loss and weight loss reasons, as well as symmetry and aesthetic considerations, you’ll benefit from training all major muscles. The large muscles on the back of the body often get less attention, but working your traps, lats, glute, and hamstrings can have a huge impact on your overall size and muscle mass. Balanced front-to-back and left-to-right training can also decrease risk of overuse injury – because injury is one of the sure-fire ways to put all that fat right back on.
Want to learn more?
Elia, M. Organ and tissue contribution to metabolic rate. In: Kinney, JM.; Tucker, HN., editors. Energy Metabolism: Tissue Determinants and Cellular Corollaries. Raven Press; New York: 1992. p. 61-80.
Müller MJ, Wang Z, Heymsfield SB, Schautz B, Bosy-Westphal A. Advances in the understanding of specific metabolic rates of major organs and tissues in humans. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013 Sep;16(5):501-8. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328363bdf9. PMID: 23924948.
“Cardio is boring.” It’s one of the most common complaints I hear as a coach. And I get it – by definition, cardio is a movement or series of movements that, when done repeatedly, gets your heart rate up. That’s great for some people. For others, doing the same thing again and again can be boring. But it doesn’t have to be. If you’re looking for something slightly more entertaining to get your cardio hit, consider:
Doing something new
Doing something new requires you to use your brain, especially if the movement is more on the complex side and you actually have to think about what you’re doing. This means that you’ll be thinking about HOW to do the thing, and not the cardio aspect itself. While you’re working to figure things out, you aren’t going to be bored. The caveat is that this new activity that you’ve chosen shouldn’t be TOO hard. If you’re getting frustrated with it (hello skipping ropes double dutch style), knock it down a notch. You’ll get more out of it if you have to think, but not too hard. These variations on standard or traditional “cardio” options will keep your brain more engaged than the standard cardio options:
Swimming a new stroke
Mountain biking, BMX, or other off-road options
Ocean swimming, if you live near open water
Canoeing or kayaking
Doing something that isn’t “exercise”
Whether you are playing on a jungle gym, climbing a tree or jumping on a trampoline, lots of the things we did as kids will give you the cardio workout without the “workout”. As you bounce, swing, and climb around, you use almost all of your big muscles. The more muscle you use, the more your heart has to distribute oxygen and nutrients. Heart rate goes up, cardio training effect is achieved, fun is had – wins all around.
Trampoline park session
Doing something social
Finding a social sport or recreational league can be a great way to tick the “cardio” box without enduring hours of boring work on the treadmill (or whatever your idea of boring cardio is). And these days, there are so many rec sports leagues to choose from. You can form your own team with a group of friends, increasing the enjoyment factor. And if your friends aren’t into it, these days most rec leagues can connect you with a team that needs players. Look for a local indoor sports centre or google recreational sport near me and see what options come up for you.
One last thing to note: Some of the options listed might seem…. crazy. But most clubs will offer a “Come And Try” day, or introductory sessions to give you a taste before you commit. Starting new things as an adult can be daunting, but there is actually a lot of support available. Give it a try and you might even have some fun – the workout is just a byproduct.
PS – For Brisbane locals, here are some good spots to get started:
It’s time to think of massage as more than just a luxury.
Massage therapy has a positive impact on almost every area of health, either directly or indirectly. I see remedial massage clients almost every day, and it’s been roughly three years since I had a client who didn’t actually need treatment. It’s rare enough that I remember him exactly.
Most of us will get some benefit from massage. It directly impacts our neuromuscular and musculoskeletal systems, and can have an indirect impact on overall physical and mental health. The most noticeable benefit is decreased pain and discomfort, either overall or in a specific area of the body. Researchers aren’t 100% certain about how massage decreases pain, but believe that it works through thegate control theory of pain. Basically, this theory says that you can override one nervous system signal, like pain, with another signal, like the pressure from massage.
So how does decreasing pain help? Of course, no one likes to be in pain, but less pain also leads to…
Decreased joint pain is one of the major benefits of massage. Joint pain often stems from poor joint alignment, which creates stress on certain areas of the joint. Massage therapy can improve joint alignment by decreasing tension in the muscle and soft tissues. When these tissues are tight or short, they can actually drag the joint out of alignment, creating perfect conditions for joint stress. Tensio in the muscle itself can also cause pain, either locally or as referred pain. Both muscle and joit pain make movement less pleasant, which often leads to avoiding exercise or oter physical actvity. And it’s pretty well established that less exercise means greater disease risk.
Massage therapy can also prevent injury from happening, provided you get regular treatment while you are still feeling good. In fact, most therapists recommend regular (but not necessarily frequent) treatment to help keep the soft tissues pliable and responsive. Your brain gets very good at relaxing the muscles with regular treatment. If your soft tissue is already in good shape, a massage every one to two months will usually be enough to keep your muscles happy.
Better cardiovascular and metabolic health
In addition to getting and keeping you moving better, massage can benefit your cardiovascular and metabolic health in a couple of ways. First, by decreasing muscle and joint pain, you’re better able to move. Any amount of movement or exercise has been repeatedly shown to decrease cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk and increase longevity. Massage can also help the long-term cardiovascular system, with regular treatment shown to decrease blood pressure and heart rate.
Improved rates of healing
Injuries cause pain, physical and mental stress increases, and can take a while to fully heal. Massage can help speed the process of returning to normal. The movement of the soft tissues increases circulation. This is a big help to the physical process as it can bring additional oxygen and nutrients to the healing tissues. Massage also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – the part responsible for calming you down – which decreases both stress and pain hormones and enhancing immune function.
There are many other benefits that come from regular massage therapy. The most important one – even though it isn’t peer-reviewed – is that at the end, you feel really good! You don’t need a scientist to tell you that’s a benefit!
Short answer: Yes, you can still lift weights if you have tennis elbow – provided you do so in a way that is pain-free.
I’ll provide some options for how to lift weights with tennis elbow towards the end (jump to that section here). Before we get there, I want to give you some insight into what happens when you have tennis elbow.
What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow shows up as a small area of pain on the outside of the elbow that gets worse with movement and improves with rest. When it’s severe, even holding a cup of coffee can be painful. The proper name for this condition is lateral epicondylitis, which is 1000% why everyone calls it tennis elbow.
It’s a repetitive strain or overuse injury characterized by changes to the cellular makeup of the common extensor tendon, leading to degeneration. This tendon connects some forearm extensors to the outside edge of the bottom of the humerus (the long bone in the upper arm). Tennis elbow is a type of tendinopathy.
When there is a sudden change in how you use the muscles attached to the tendon, the tendon itself becomes stressed. Tendons have a relatively low blood supply and use only a small amount of oxygen, which makes them able to withstand extended use, but also means that they take a long time to heal.
Despite the name, tennis is not the usual cause of tennis elbow – it only causes about 10% of cases. Any activity that involves repetitive gripping or wrist extension (pulling the back of the hand towards the forearm) or twisting, especially if loaded, can trigger the strain. Muscle weakness in the shoulder and arm can make it more likely to happen, as can smoking and obesity, likely due to their inflammatory actions. Other things that can trigger it:
Poor grip when playing racket sports
Recreational activities like gardening, crafts, and playing a musical instrument
Painting, using a hammer or screwdriver
Repetitive movements for two hours a day or more
Lifting heavy objects, especially with an extended wrist
Wrist positions that can be aggravating include wrist extension and radial deviation of wrist (where the thumb moves sideways towards the forearm).
Radial deviation of the wrist
How to lift weights with tennis elbow
The biggest change to lifting weights with tennis elbow is how you hold the weight. Here are some options for changing your grip when lifting weight to avoid stressing your forearm flexors. You won’t be able to substitute these alternate grip into every exercise, but it will give you more options than simply not lifting weights at all.
No-grip weight lifting technique for front barbell position can be used instead of a high or low bar position on the back of the shoulders.
No-grip weight lifting technique for plate weight. This can be used instead of dumbbells at the sides, or in lieu of a goblet squat.
Once you’re pain free and advancing through your rehab, keep your risk of tennis elbow at lower risk by using a neutral grip. This still can be aggravating if you haven’t advanced far enough into your rehab yet. Check with the clinician you’re working with to see when you can start exercises that require gripping.
Tennis elbow treatment
If left untreated, tennis elbow will likely persist for many weeks or months, though it’s likely it will eventually resolve on its own within one to two years. Conservative treatment – that is, non-surgical treatment – can see this resolve within just a few months. From my experience, with consistent treatment it will slowly get better. And as with most conditions using conservative treatment, your best results will probably come from using a variety of treatment options. Of greatest importance:
Rest in the early stages (first few weeks after first appearance of pain) and avoid activities that make pain worse
Pain management, which can include
NSAIDS like ibuprofen (Neurofen, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or diclofenac (Voltaren)
Ice after activity
Physiotherapy/Physical therapy, which should include
Isometric and eccentric exercises, which have been shown to promote better tendon healing
Graded exercise is a must with tennis elbow rehab. In other words, there is a specific order in which rehab exercises need to be done to promote healing and prevent further injury. Get professional advice!
Massage or dry needling can help decrease the tension in the muscles attached to the tendon, which can decrease tendon stress. This is a pain-management activity rather than a strict resolution, but is still an important part of long-term recovery.
Treatment options that may or may not be useful (varies per person):
Ultrasound or cold laser treatments can help with pain management, but are unlikely to help long-term recovery.
Cortisone injections may provide short-term pain relief. However, there is a chance that it will make no difference to pain levels, and repeated injections may actually further weaken the tendon.
Platelet-rich plasma injections (PRP), which is an injection of your own blood into the tendon to promote healing.
Forearm compression bands, which place pressure on a point below the tendon, decreasing the stress on the tendon. These may not be useful for everyone, as the pressure may not be enough to relieve pain at the elbow.
Please remember, surgery is a last-resort treatment!
What to avoid
To prevent further strain and overuse of the forearm and elbow:
Avoid moving into the end range of motion with your wrist.
Take frequent breaks if you must do repetitive activities, including sustained gripping.
When lifting heavy items, keep your elbow slightly bent.
Use a two handed grip where possible, if lifting heavy items or using a forceful grip (e.g. tennis racket, golf club).
If a movement or exercises triggers your pain, stop doing it and speak to the clinician you’re working with about this.
If you’re asking about forming healthy habits, my guess is that you are probably less than happy with your current ones. Don’t stress! Most of have a least a couple of things we’d like to change, and we all can totally do it.
When it comes to getting healthy, it’s super normal to want to make a whole bunch of changes all at once. DON’T.
Since your brain is an energy-conserving machine, it likes habits. Your brain cells use a lot less energy to complete habitual activities; it’s essentially on autopilot. On the other hand, every new thing you do requires conscious thought (sometimes a lot of it) and that takes more fuel. It can also be emotionally uncomfortable. This is a double-whammy for your brain. You can make it easier by putting all that conscious thought into getting a single habit set in stone, instead of splitting your attention across a whole bunch of new things.
Be nice to yourself
Setting up a new habit is often a process of “two steps forward, one step back”. This is in part due to your brain’s desire to do the easiest, most energy-efficient things. But it’s also commonly due to life being unpredictable. Sometimes our best laid plans can fall by the wayside when we have to stay late at work or your kid gets sick, or any other number of life curveballs. When this happens, it’s important to be kind to yourself instead of beating yourself up for not sticking with things. You can start again, anytime. Each fresh start – really, each time you stick with your new habit – it will get more comfortable for your brain, and easier to come back to.
Is it this right for you?
If you’re struggling to consistently stick with a new activity, you might want to consider whether this activity is the right one for you at this point in life. Is this new habit going to take too much time? Do you enjoy it (versus feeling like you should do it)? Is it going to give you what you want? Questions like these are important to consider, though it’s also important to remember that there are no wrong answers. Be honest with yourself. And get comfortable knowing that sometimes new habits take some work. If you’re doing it for the right reasons, they’ll be worth it!
Motivation: We all struggle with it sometimes. And we’re getting better as asking for help, which is awesome! I saw this today on a facebook group post that I’m a part of:
Help me! I really, truly, absolutely want to lose weight. I feel like I’ve tried EVERYTHING! Even when I’ve paid for things, I do it for a week…. and lose motivation. Help! What has actually worked for you? I am desperate!
Lots of responses to this post talk about ww (formerly weight watchers), keto diet, things like that. The coolest thing though was almost every single person talking about losing weight as a product of making small, realistic changes they were able to stick with.
For the record, my response: Absolutely 100% on making small, sustainable changes. It’s the consistency – and patience! – that actually gets results. Think you want to eat more veggies? Add a half a cup to one meal a day… It’s the stuff like that that doesn’t make it overwhelming, but you can feel successful with. The body changes will come.
What’s missing? Motivation.
On reflection though, it’s interesting that none of the responses – mine included – addressed motivation. We often look for the “how” and the “what” – and for good reason. It’s actually the easiest part. It’s the “why” that makes us work. (Check out this video for an amazingly simple-but-deep-dive into the psychology of what-how-why.)
What would I reply to this post instead, now that I’ve thought about it? It would probably go something along the lines of…
Part one: Find one or two small changes that are easy to make and easy to stick with. This will give you something to focus on while you focus on part two. Part two: Get honest, if you haven’t already. Why do you want to lose weight? What will it mean for your life? What will losing weight give you the freedom to do, or to be? This bit takes time and some mental effort. That’s why I suggest starting with some small, sustainable changes in part one – to give you time to think, while still moving forward.
For example, I could ask myself “Why do I want to get back into great shape?”. Well, I miss being super super fit. Why do I miss that? I miss being strong and being able to run. Why do I miss those things? I miss being confident in myself and feeling like I could take on the world! I do ok right now, but that feeling was amazing.
To really distill your motivation, you can ask why as many times as you need to. And take your time. This kind of thinking doesn’t often result in clear answers right away. In fact, sometimes you might need to think on it for a few days before you reach an answer that really feels right. It’s worth taking the time though. Once you have an answer, you’re well on your way to staying motivated for life.
I was recently asked my opinion on the best at-home exercise equipment for cardio workouts.
Frankly, I have no great love for cardio machines in general. Unless you’re a hardcore “cardio” lover, I don’t think any single machine is worth purchasing – there are better things you can do with your time and money. (Admittedly, there is an element of personal taste here – I simply get bored using them!)
But you can do cardio at home. It’s a great option, you just don’t need special equipment! My favourite cardio workouts actually require zero equipment. That’s right, none. You see, your own body is a great tool for getting your heart rate up. It is the first and last cardio machine you’ll ever need, regardless of your fitness level. Even if you need to keep your workouts low-impact, your body is still one of the best tools around.
How Does Bodyweight Cardio Work?
A quick overview of aerobic exercise: Your muscles need oxygen to contract, relax, move you around, and otherwise function. So when you exercise in any way, you use more oxygen. Your lungs supply this, but it’s your cardiovascular system that actually transports oxygen molecules to your muscles. The more your muscles contact and move you around, the more oxygen they need. If you maintain movement for more than a few minutes, your body will respond by increasing your breath and heart rate. In other words, you’ll be doing cardio.
Since maintaining any movement for more than a few minutes will start to increase your heart rate, you’re not limited to the traditional “cardio” exercises. Of course, you can go running or go for a walk – those are great options that you can do from home. But if you don’t want to leave the house, there are other options, both high-impact and low-impact:
High Impact Bodyweight Exercises For Cardio
Any variation on jumps or hops will quickly get your heart rate up, giving you a cardio workout with no equipment needed. You’ll find many of these options in high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and they can definitely be hard. Some exercise options are:
Low Impact Bodyweight Exercises For Cardio
Lots of bodyweight strength or resistance training exercises can increase your heart rate into the “cardio” zone. You can tailor them to your own abilities and fitness levels, and modify to keep them pain free to get a good workout with minimal stress. Some great options are:
Prisoner squats to a bench or chair
Pushups, or incline pushups on a table or countertop to make it a little easier
Stair steps or step ups
Of course, any exercise can and will get your heart rate up and give you an aerobic workout, if you structure the workout well. If you want to combine the high- and low-impact options you can. I always recommend alternating exercises that are harder-easier-harder-easier, so that you can keep yourself moving as continuously as you can. And of course, this advice is general and you should always talk to your doctor if you are looking to start exercising for the first time. Lastly, if something hurts, skip it, try something else, and if needed, get yourself to a good physio or physical therapist!