Fit and healthy middle age woman in leggings and a tank top doing a plank exercise to develop core strength

The Fourth Element of Fitness: Neuromuscular Exercise

Most exercise programs focus on the three most common elements of fitness: strength, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility. However, a separate focus on each of these elements means you’ll overlook what training and exercise is all about: Allowing you to move better. Better could mean moving more, or being able to do specific activities, or moving in a way that is safe and will keep you pain-free.

The fourth important element is neuromuscular training. It is this type of exercise that helps maintain your movement ability and good physical function. It builds on your existing strength, endurance, and flexibility to develop coordination between muscle, joints, and the brain. For every movement you want to make, your brain will take in information from your five senses and from the thousands of tiny nerve endings all over the body, and then tells the nervous system when and how to activate various muscles to create that movement.

Sometimes this is straightforward – simpler movements like drinking from a glass take less coordination. More complex movements are highly coordinated. For example, many of us take walking for granted, but think about a child learning to walk: You have to move lots of body parts at once in a very specific manner to maintain your balance and body position and move forward.

This muscle-joint-nervous system coordination allows you to complete physical movements like walking and maintains agility and reflexes, as well as balance and body positioning. In exercise science, we refer to this as Functional Training, as it supports your ability to carry out tasks and activities of daily life. If you’re an athlete, that can mean specific skills training in your sport. If you don’t play sports, neuromuscular control is what allows you to catch yourself if you trip, or drive a car or ride a bike.

To maintain good movement, you do need strength, cardio endurance, and flexibility – but these elements along don’t guarantee lifelong good movement. You can maintain good neuromuscular control if you challenge yourself with exercises that mimic the movements that you use in everyday life, like standing up from a low seat, walking up steps or a hill, or changing your walking speed while you’re on the move. Training balance and good posture is also important, but you don’t need to do any sort of crazy exercises to do this. In fact, this training can be as simple as standing on one food while you’re brushing your teeth, or remembering to sit up straight when you are at your computer. Even simply remembering to think about your body as you move can be immensely helpful!

 

Need help developing your functional fitness and movement quality? HealthFit Coaching is mobile, offering in-home personal training and exercise physiology and making everyday fitness easy to achieve. Contact HealthFit now to take your first step!


Fit healthy middle age man swimming in an outdoor pool in Brisbane

What Are The Most Common Types Of Exercise?

Depending on your workout or the type of physical activity you do, you can gain muscle strength, cardiovascular and aerobic endurance, improve your flexibility and joint health, or help maintain other components of good physical function like balance and coordination. The most common components of exercise programs are resistance training, cardio or aerobic exercise, and flexibility. Since they all provide different benefits, it’s essential to include a balance of these different types:

Resistance training (also known as strength training or weight training): Resistance exercises are those that train your body to produce force against some sort of resistance, whether that is your own body weight, resistance bands, traditional dumbbells and barbells, or a multitude of other training equipment.

Moving against resistance stimulates your muscles to develop size, optimal length and muscle tone, and contraction ability, as well as the coordination to be able to complete daily tasks with ease. These characteristics can promote good posture, reducing the risk of injury and poor health, improve body composition (the ratio of body fat to lean body tissue), enhance movement abilities, and generally boost self-confidence and self-esteem.

Resistance training can be further broken down into training programs that are focused on developing maximal muscular strength and power, muscle size, or muscle endurance. For most people with non-athletic goals, development of muscle size will provide the greatest all-around benefit for lifelong muscle health. It’s important to consider that the training benefits are directly related to the amount of work you put in – regardless of the training focus, if you aren’t training with enough effort, no benefit will be seen.

Cardiovascular training (also known as aerobic training or endurance training): This is exercise or activity that is made up of repeated, often rhythmic movements that use the large muscle groups of the arms and legs. These types of exercise usually don’t require much or any special training or practice, and are often done for an extended period of time – though “extended” is all relative. (If you’re just starting out with aerobic exercise, extended might only mean five minutes.) Some of the most common examples include walking and running, cycling, and swimming, though many other activities also fall into this category.

Cardio exercise helps your heart to beat more efficiently, in turn using less energy to move oxygen and nutrients, and keeps the blood vessels healthy and able to respond to the demands that movement can place on your body. This decreases wear and tear on the heart and the blood vessels, lowering the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular conditions, as well as the risk of sudden conditions like a heart attack.

Flexibility or Stretching and Joint Mobility Training:  These exercises have two specific but closely related training goals. Flexibility exercises are designed to promote optimal length in the soft tissues surrounding a joint or a series of joint, which will allow the joint to move freely within its available range of motion. Flexibility training targets the muscles and connective tissues around the joint. Joint mobility refers to the ability of the joint itself to move freely. Joints can become stiff with lack of movement, which can stiffen the connective tissues within the joint, or can lose movement ability when the flexibility of surrounding muscles and connective tissues decrease. In order for a joint to be mobile, the soft tissues surrounding it must be flexible, and in order for the soft tissues to develop or maintain flexibility, the joint must be able to move freely. Both of these components are important in maintaining good posture and movement ability – key components to an active, pain-free lifestyle with low injury risk.

Flexibility can be developed by traditional static stretching exercises, which involves moving to the point of moderate stretch and holding that stretch for at least 30 seconds (the minimal amount of time required to create a lasting change in flexibility). Dynamic stretching is a better option for joint mobility training, as it’s performed by moving into a stretching position, holding it for a few seconds, and then backing off. By combining this stretch with a greater degree of joint movement, you can develop and maintain optimal joint mobility. Spending time on both static and dynamic stretching will give you the best results.

Resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility are the three most commonly discussed components of a balanced exercise program. But there is another component that is often overlooked, yet is perhaps the most important component of exercise and activity, especially when it comes to maintaining good functional movement throughout your entire life. Be sure to check out our upcoming post on Neuromuscular training at the end of the week!

 

Looking for the best in-home personal training and exercise physiology program? Look no further. HealthFit coaching provides exercise programs that are real-life ready – flexible enough to work with your lifestyle without sacrificing your health and fitness goals. Take the first step to lifelong health and fitness – Contact HealthFit Now.


What’s the difference between exercise, physical activity, and movement?

All refer to different ways of using your body. The differences lie primarily in intent, intensity, and duration, but other elements also impact what category your activity might fall into. And don’t worry about not working hard enough – it’s all good for you!

Movement

The broadest category of, well, body movement. For our purposes, movement means using your body in an irregular, spontaneous manner, often to complete a specific task. Movements may use all of your muscles or joints, or just some of them, depending on the action you are working to complete. We consider movement as the brief, one-off activities that move us through our daily lives.

Examples: Walking from your parked car into the office or the supermarket, making the bed, bending over to pick a pen up off the ground, knitting

Physical Activity

For our purposes, physical activity is movement that is sustained for more than a few minutes and that mildly or moderately increases your heart rate and energy expenditure, and is often a planned effort. Like the “movement” category, physical activity may use some or all of your muscles and joints, depending on what you’re doing.

Examples: Doing yardwork, gardening, walking the dog, doing housework

Exercise

Planned, sustained physical activity usually consisting of repetitive movements. All exercise is physical activity, but not all physical activity is exercise. How can you tell one from the other? Exercise is done with the specific goal of improving your health or fitness. It’s also usually done at a higher intensity – that is, it’s a little (or a lot) more physically challenging!  There are many subcategories of exercise, like resistance training or endurance training, each of which can impact different elements of health and fitness.

Examples: Going for a brisk walk or a run, doing a strength training workout, going to a yoga or group fitness class

While exercise is done specifically to get healthy or improve fitness, physical activity can also benefit your body. If you feel like jumping into regular workouts is a big ask for you right now, please remember that it’s ok to start slow! Physical activity can have huge benefits for your body, especially if you aren’t especially active when you start out. It’s generally accepted that the health benefits of both physical activity and exercise occur in proportion to the amount of activity – every little bit of physical activity can add benefit! In fact, research has shown that you can achieve health and fitness improvements with sessions of physical activity or exercise can be as short as five to ten minutes, though the level of benefit will depend greatly on your base level of fitness and the total amount of physical activity or exercise you get in a day.

But even if you’re fit and healthy, five to ten minutes of some sort of activity is still good for you. It’s often easier to find five or ten minutes a few times a day than time for a whole workout. Where do you find yours?


Fit and healthy middle age woman doing a snatch barbell exercise for stretch and power training

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Strength Training Workout

We’ve previously written about the physical benefits of strength training. Make sure you get the most from your strength training program and every single workout by following these guidelines:

Warm Up Right – While five minutes on a treadmill and some stretching is better than no warm-up, using a dynamic mobility warmup is a much better use of your time. Dynamic mobility, or dynamic stretching, combines easy movement to warm the tissues with greater ranges of motion, better preparing the muscles and joints for the movements that are included in your training program.

Choose the right resistance – Pick a weight or resistance level that allows you to do your target number of reps with good technique, and that’s challenging enough that you think you could have done maybe one or two more

Give your body a solid foundation to work from – Your body can create movement, or it can create movement well. To get the most out of every exercise, you want your joints and big muscles to have the support of your small stabilizer muscles. Keep yourself at your strongest by:

  • Keep your core tight: Brace your tummy and lower abdominals – that is, squeeze them tight without pulling them in. One way to automatically create this activation is by pretending someone is going to punch you in the stomach. Your reaction will automatically tighten the right muscles.
  • Keep your pelvic floor on: Ever needed to pee, with no restroom nearby? That squeeze is activating your pelvic floor, and is exactly what you want to be doing throughout all movements, though you shouldn’t need to keep it 100% “on”. A gentle squeeze is enough to provide support. Note that it can be difficult to maintain this activation throughout movements, so if you find that you lose the squeeze, reset and turn it back on when you get to a comfortable stopping point in the movement.
  • Keep your shoulder blades squeezed: This doesn’t mean pulling your shoulder blades together as hard as you can. A gentle squeeze towards the spine and slightly down is all you need.
  • Keep your chin tucked: The idea of this movement is to help maintain a neutral spine from top to bottom. Many people jut their chins forward when they are working hard, which creates misalignment throughout the spine and torso. Keep your chin tucked slightly by drawing your head back, like you are trying to touch the back of it towards a wall behind you. This should also be gentle. If you feel tension through the front of your neck, you’re trying too hard.

Stay controlled – Keep your movements slow enough to maintain control, especially if using external resistance (anything other than your bodyweight). This will keep you safe, and will allow all the right muscles to activate at the right times, maximizing the benefit

Pay attention to your body – One of the best ways to maximize progress is to think about the muscles that are working while you do an exercise. Paying attention to how they feel as you complete the movement can create stronger muscle contractions, and can also help keep you safe, as you’ll more likely be aware of something that might not be working or feeling great.

Follow the number one rule: No pain. If something hurts – and not the muscular burn of 1000 reps – stop doing it and take the steps to figure out why. It might be as simple as adjusting your positioning or resistance, or you may need to refine your exercise technique in order to create less stress on your body. If you find a specific exercise or type of movement consistently causes pain, it should be checked out by a physiotherapist/physical therapist, or an orthopedic doctor. Your GP or primary care doc is unlike to have as much insight into what might be causing the problem, though you may need to start with them if you need a referral.

HealthFit Coaching offers health coaching, nutrition advice, and in-home personal training and exercise physiology in Brisbane, Australia. Ready to take the first step towards feeling great? Contact us now!

Fit and healthy lean woman in a crop top standing at a barbell rack at a gym

What does strength training do for your body?

Strength training – also called weight training or resistance training – is the type of exercise that increases muscle size, strength, and power. Strength training workouts normally consist of multiple sets of up to 15-20 reps of the same exercise, broken up by periods of rest.

Big changes

Strength training is a fundamental component of a balanced exercise plan, and is crucial to maintaining good physical health as you age, since it can counterbalance the physical decline of our bodies that begins in our mid-30s. For maximal health and fitness benefits, use a strength training program targeting all the major muscles of the body. Many (but not all) strength training benefits are specific and localized to the muscles performing the movement, such as:

    • Strength training builds and maintains muscle mass. Muscle mass (the amount of muscle you have) allows you to produce good quality movement with ease, and can help minimize risk of overuse injury and promote good posture. Low levels of muscle, or imbalances in muscle mass from left to right, or front to back, can lead to poor movement abilities and painful joints. Your overall muscle mass is also one of the most important factors in long-term health. It’s easy to not think about old age when it’s a long time away, but your level of muscle mass can greatly impact the quality of your later years, again due to its influence on movement ability, balance, and posture.
    • Strength training builds and maintains muscle strength and neurological connections. The connection between muscle size and strength is strong. The contraction force of a muscle is limited by its overall size, so muscles that are relatively small will also be relatively weak. This can limit how well your body responds to the physical demands of everyday life – things like carrying bags of groceries, picking up the kids or grandkids, or climbing a set of stairs all rely on muscular strength. Strength training also helps maintain a strong neurological signal from your brain to your muscles, so that when they are needed, they’ll produce strong contractions and support good quality movement. In fact, weak muscles and poor muscle activation are some key reasons for common musculoskeletal conditions like chronic lower back pain, knee pain, and even some types of headaches.
    • Strength training can improve the visual appearance of muscle. Even if your main goal is to improve your health and physical fitness, it’s definitely nice to like how you look. Strength training exercises are an excellent way of achieving a toned muscular appearance (if that’s what you’re after). If you use a muscle frequently – whether during daily activities or frequent strength training – your nervous system prepares your muscles to work more efficiently by maintaining a very low level contraction in frequently used muscles. This shortens the time and activation needed to fully contract the muscle, and creates the look of “toned” muscles.
    • Strength training helps prevent or stop progression of osteoporosis. Each muscle and bone is covered by a fine layer of connective tissue, helping each piece of your body connect to the others. The tension and pull of muscle contraction, and the impact forces of some exercises, stimulate the bone to either increase bone density or decrease bone mineral loss, which occurs as a natural part of aging.
Hidden changes

Benefits that are localized to the working muscles also have a flow-on effect, providing an element of benefit and protection for the entire body:

  • Strength training improves body composition. Muscle mass requires energy to maintain, so more muscle will increase your resting energy expenditure. This means your body will need to use more of its fuel stores simply to exist. Provided you are taking in the same amount and quality of food and drink, strength training will shift your body composition so that your body fat percentage will decrease while your muscle mass increases.
  • Strength training can decrease risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. This benefits stem from improvements in the way your body releases and uses stored fat and carbohydrates.
    • Long-term insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, or diabetes risks and severity can be decreased via strength training. As working muscles require more energy, the muscles become more efficient at responding to insulin levels and absorbing and using blood glucose (what you may know as blood sugar). Physical exercise and muscle contraction can also have an immediate, short-term effect on blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.
    • High cholesterol and triglycerides levels can also be decreased via strength training. Just as working muscles become more efficient at insulin response and blood glucose use, muscles also become more efficient in using cholesterol and triglycerides for fuel. This includes and enhanced use of muscular fat stores, and an increase in use of whole body fat stores. Also of benefit, strength training has been shown to increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which help clear excess fats from the bloodstream.
    • Blood pressure can be improved via strength training too. It is thought that the positive impact comes from maintaining the health of blood vessels in your arms and legs. Blood vessels are naturally elastic and all exercise helps them maintain this characteristic, meaning they are better able to respond to changes in pressure and blood flow that occur with exercise or stress. Blood pressure decreases from strength training are small, but often significant enough to decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. And strength training can be safe even if you have higher levels of blood pressure, provided exercises are performed under control and with steady breathing.

    Including some type of strength training in your exercise program or daily movement is immensely helpful in maintaining good health and quality of life, no matter your age or current health status. Different sets, reps, and exercise choices can significantly impact the results you get from your training program; speak with a professional qualified in strength coaching or exercise physiology to maximize benefit. Programs can be safely done at gyms or as an in-home workout, and you can use all sorts of exercises ranging from bodyweight to resistance bands to free weights. Give it a try – your body will thank you!

    For more detailed information, read these…
    Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics.
    Lira, F. S., Yamashita, A. S., Uchida, M. C., Zanchi, N. E., Gualano, B., Martins, E., . . . Seelaender, M. (2010). Low and moderate, rather than high intensity strength exercise induces benefit regarding plasma lipid profile. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, 2(1), 31. doi:10.1186/1758-5996-2-31
    Mann, S., Beedie, C., & Jimenez, A. (2013). Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations. Sports Medicine, 44(2), 211-221. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0110-5
    Nikander, R., Sievänen, H., Heinonen, A., Daly, R. M., Uusi-Rasi, K., & Kannus, P. (2010). Targeted exercise against osteoporosis: A systematic review and meta-analysis for optimising bone strength throughout life. BMC Medicine, 8(1). doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-47
    Sillanpää, E., Laaksonen, D. E., Häkkinen, A., Karavirta, L., Jensen, B., Kraemer, W. J., . . . Häkkinen, K. (2009). Body composition, fitness, and metabolic health during strength and endurance training and their combination in middle-aged and older women. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 106(2), 285-296. doi:10.1007/s00421-009-1013-x
    If you are Brisbane based and would like to start strength training in-home with personalized guidance and accountability, HealthFit can help! Contact us now to take your first step towards better health and fitness.

stressed out man looking out window with serious expression wondering what to do

More On Exercise For Stress Management

Do you remember your last big job interview or exam? How did you feel?

Ugh, stress.

Whether it comes from your job, family demands, a bank balance or an overcrowded calendar, stress is a fact of life. We’ve all experienced the impact of stress on a day, week, month – or even longer. I’m sure I’m not along in wanting to have less of it, but for better or worse, stress is actually an important part of life. A stress-causing incident (a stressor) has a quantifiable physical impact, creating changes to circulating levels of hormones that help prepare the body for fight-or-flight.

The fight or flight response can be used to your advantage. Short-term and/or moderate levels of beneficial stress (eustress) can help improve motivation, sharpen focus, and boost memory and recall – exactly what you need for big presentations or school exams. Physically, eustress can help improve physical performance and endurance; the zebra running from the lion is definitely experiencing heightened stress levels! Biochemical reactions that occur as part of the physical stress response can even dull or block pain levels in some situations. And the right amount of ongoing physical stress in the form of physical activity or exercise is actually what stimulates improved levels of strength and fitness.

Of course, too much stress can also be hard on the body. While we primarily think of stress as a mental or emotional difficulty, stress levels that are very high or remain high over an extended period of time also has a physical cost.

One of the primary stress responses is an increased release of epinephrine (also called adrenaline) and cortisol. High epinephrine levels can lead to feelings of anxiety. In the short term, this can help you get stuff done, thereby ridding yourself of some of your stressors. Over time though… You probably don’t need me to tell you that long-term anxiety isn’t healthy! Excessive cortisol and adrenaline can also have a negative impact on your immune system, making you more susceptible to minor illnesses like the common cold. Increased levels of epinephrine, cortisol, and other stress hormones can also lead to headaches, eating pattern and digestive issues, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions, depression, insomnia, and fatigue. There is also growing evidence that high levels of stress and related physical responses can lead to increased cancer risks.

Stress is a pervasive problem. According to the American Psychological Association, the majority of American are living with at least moderate to high stress levels, and a 2014 study by the Australian Psychological Society found that about one in four Australians are living with distress.

Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, exercise can help. Isolation or avoidance are two common reactions to high stress levels. (I know that when I’m stressed, I want to get away from everyone and everything until I can get a handle on things.)  These reactions aren’t particularly helpful, but getting moving is!

Almost every type of exercise has been shown by decades of research to decrease short and long-term stress levels. Even if you’re not feeling it, going through the motions can be a distraction from your stressors, and can help decrease muscle tension and cortisol release. In turn, this can lead to decreased feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger, as well as physical changes like decreased heart rate and blood pressure. It’s possible that the amount of exercise you do can impact how significant these effects are. Some studies have shown more exercise leads to greater stress reductions, while others have shown that neither the amount, frequency, or intensity change how much stress is decreased. So walking the dog may be just as beneficial as a tough run or weights session.

The take-home message: It’s not worth getting stressed about how much, how hard, or how often you get moving – just get going! Any sort of movement will serve as the above mentioned distraction, and boost positive feelings of well-being. Take a moment and consider what kind of movement, physical activity, or exercise makes you feel better. It doesn’t have to be gym-based, or any sort of organized sport, just something that you enjoy at least a little!


Muscle and Joint Health In Three Steps

Ready to start an exercise or physical activity program? Already active or working out? These three steps will keep your body happy and healthy, minimizing aches, pains and injury risk.

You probably know: Regular movement is really important to maintaining lifelong health. Keeping your body injury- and pain-free is really important to being able to keep moving.

Increasing daily movement can come at the end of a rehab program, or you may (correctly) see it as a way to get rid of ongoing sore spots. It may be your path to improving your health, or feeling even better than you do right now. These three DIY steps focus primarily on loosening and lengthening your muscles and connective tissues – leading to decreased joint stress – and then getting your muscles strong and fit. Following these three steps will keep your muscles and joints working efficiently and minimize the stiffness and pain that can prevent good quality movement. Improved movement ability directly leads to better health and quality of life.

Step 1: Loosen

Muscles that are overly tight (aka hypertonic) don’t work efficiently. Excessive muscle tension can decrease how quickly a muscle can contract and how much force it can contract with. Since the speed and force of contraction are what creates movement and supports your body, this is less than optimal (plus, tight muscles don’t generally feel good).

Many circumstances can lead to excessive muscle tension. Muscles can spasm and hold tension to protect a sore or injured area, or tension can build from long term movement compensations that result from an injury or tissue damage. Tension can also be caused by posture and occupational or lifestyle demands.

“Loosen” is step one because it has the greatest impact on the other two steps. A muscle with optimal tension and with minimal adhesions – what we commonly think of as “knots” – will be able to stretch and strengthen better.

Different “loosening” techniques include hands-on techniques like deep tissue massage, remedial, or sports massage therapy, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy, as well as self-massage techniques using a foam roller, trigger point ball, The Stick, and other similar tools. You can also help manage muscle tension by staying hydrated, using a heat pack or hot water bottle on tight muscles, and ensuring a diet high in magnesium.

Step 2: Lengthen

Muscles that are too short can lead to poor joint alignment and repetitive strain or overuse injuries. For most people, stretching after doing soft tissue work will give you the best results, as adhesions and tight areas don’t stretch well (and can potentially cause the tissues around them to overstretch). Appropriate stretching will keep joints moving freely and easily, and can also help prevent tension buildup caused by poor postures and movement patterns that shorten and stress muscles.

One caveat to the Lengthen step: If you are hypermobile (i.e. double jointed), stretching may actually aggravate muscles and joints. In hypermobility conditions, the tissues surrounding a joint are longer and looser than optimal, giving the joint very high degrees of movement (aka joint laxity). As this can predispose to injury, and your body’s #1 goal is to not get hurt, ever, the reaction to this laxity is to create more tension in the tissues around the joint. This can leave you feeling like you need to stretch, but that’s actually the opposite of what your body needs. If you are hypermobile, skip this step and do more self-massage (or go and good a good remedial or deep tissue massage) to decrease muscle tension. The strength work in step three will help further build joint integrity.

There are many ways that you can stretch, like traditional static stretching, or partner variations like assisted or PNF stretching. Regardless of how you do it, hold your stretches for a very minimum of 30 seconds, as it takes at least that long for the tissues to lengthen to a beneficial degree. And don’t bounce! It’s a recipe for disaster.

Step 3: Strengthen

The first two steps are all about getting the muscles ready. Now it’s time to get going! The right strength program identifies any areas of strength or activation imbalance, and will selectively target them build on the movement quality you’ve already achieved with the Loosen and Lengthen steps. For maximum benefit, get some advice from a movement professional who will help you determine your weakest links. This information will allow you to build a strong foundation, further decreasing any injury risks and making any ongoing physical activity or exercise much more effective.

Strength programs come in many, many forms. The best programs are created based on both your physical needs and the types of movement you enjoy, and may include components of body-weight exercises, band-resisted exericses, yoga, pilates, and traditional strength training.

How much work you do in each of these stages will depend on your starting point (current movement quality, activity levels, injury and health history, and the like). The art of creating the best program for YOU means understanding what your body needs in order to handle the activities you love, and then simply working through the steps.

While including all of these components is becoming more widely used in strength and fitness programming, there are many people and places that still miss a step or two. If you have questions about how these steps apply to you, leave a comment here or jump on our Facebook page – we’re happy to talk specifics!


The Golden Rule of Exercise

Ever heard the saying “no pain, no gain”?

I bet you have. And when it comes to exercise, I’m here to tell you, this is a big fat lie. While it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference, different “pain” feelings can mean very different things for your body.

Unfortunately, when it comes to exercise, pain has long been considered a part of the experience. Sore knees, aching backs, bum shoulders that catch, stab, or just don’t move very well anymore… The idea was that if things weren’t hurting, you weren’t working hard enough. Apply this to a different situation: Would you put your hand on a hot stove to make sure you were cooking well enough? Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? You can actually have a far more effective workout when you aren’t hurting, because you will be able to continue to exercise on your regular schedule, and not limp around for three days. So our Golden Rule: No Pain (or, If it hurts, don’t do it).

Feelings of intense exercise should occur in areas powering movement, mainly muscles and/or lungs.

But exercise isn’t always pleasant, and can be downright uncomfortable, especially as intensity increases. The physical sensations that come with intense exercise or physical activity – burning muscles, bursting lungs or shortened breath, or a stitch in the side – are not particularly pleasant at the time. But the “pain” of working hard during exercise should not last. When you stop and rest, these feelings should subside, leaving you pain-free, or at worst, somewhat fatigued. In the days following an intense workout, you may also feel stiff and sore through the muscles, a short-term state known as Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.

Any aches and pains arising during or after exercise that are different than these should be brought up with your doctor or an exercise physiologist ASAP to make sure you stay safe and injury-free. Some of the most common feelings that should prompt this discussing (during or after a workout): joint pain, back pain, pain in areas that may not be related to a workout – anything that seems unusual, really. These are often indicators of tissue damage. Further, if you have a history of injury, or a chronic health condition, you may experience slightly-to-very different feelings during exercise or physical activity than someone who is assumed healthy. If this is the case, definitely talk to your doctor or an exercise physiologist about how to get exercise safely and what to look out for.

Feelings of injury or damage are often felt in joints, and can last for days after activity.

It’s important to distinguish between these two types of pain, because the “pain” of appropriate and/or intense exercise can actually prevent the pain that coincides with tissue damage and long-term aches, pains, and injury by conditioning the body to be better able to respond to physical stress. Next time you’re moving and something isn’t feeling great, take a moment and consider what kind of whether you’re feeling the burn of hard work, or whether you might actually be doing some damage, and then apply the Golden Rule as needed.

In order to move well and stay healthy and injury free, you have to get and stay pain free. Continuing to exercise when you feel pain will likely increase that pain, may create further tissue damage, and make it more difficult to exercise or get through your normal daily activities. In the long run this will be detrimental to your overall health and fitness, mental health, and ability to make progress. All of this makes exercising when you’re in pain a bad idea! So when in doubt, seek help. Better to have an extra appointment and stay safe and feel good, than push through pain until something breaks.


Three Steps to Feeling Great

Movement is one of the four key areas of health used in the HealthFit approach, and a great tool to improve your health and feel better – our end goal! To help you achieve it, we provide a three-step framework that takes the seemingly overwhelming process of increasing fitness and strength, and turns it into something a little challenging, but totally achievable. Whether you are investing in yourself with Health Coaching for healthy lifestyle choices, or succeeding with an In-Home Exercise Program, your coach will work with you to develop the details while guiding you forward through the process of building more movement into your life. It’s as easy as one, two, three…

Step One: Get Moving
Think about all the muscles and joints you have in your body – it’s built to move! Just 100 years ago, life had many more physical demands. These days, while we don’t have to worry about planting the garden in order to get dinner on the table, now we also don’t get the exercise that goes along with that.

You and your coach will work as a team to figure out what kind of movement you can fit into your lifestyle – easily and enjoyably, and taking into account your interests and abilities. This may mean joining a gym or taking an exercise class, but it also can be as simple as taking the dog out for a daily walk. There’s no single “best” way to get moving.

It’s important that you stay safe and pain-free (always, but especially at the beginning). That means easing into it to get your body accustomed to additional movement, and making sure you feel good before, during, and after. It’s also important that you have a movement plan you enjoy. Life has a tendency to throw curve balls, and exercise is often one of the first things to stop when the going gets stressful.

Step Two: Move Better
The Move Better step helps your body move easily. The stiffness, weakness, and aches and pains that we associate with aging have more to do with years of postural stress and lack of movement than getting older. Move Better is not learning a new way to move. Rather, it allows your body to remember how to move well, and lets you rebuild the ability to do it.

You and your coach will come up with a plan to help you loosen tight parts and lengthen short parts to decrease physical stress, and strengthen the whole body to help you more easily meet the physical demands of daily life. This will allow you to achieve and maintain better posture and greater flexibility, and stay pain free and decrease injury risk. As well as kicking those achy joints to the curb, adding Move Better to Get Moving can result in positive changes to health markers like blood glucose levels or high cholesterol or triglycerides. Much of this work can be done in your own home and on your own timeframe, and doesn’t require a major time commitment to create a major change.

Step Three: Move More
For many people, taking steps to Get Moving and Move Better will be enough to get them to the level of health and fitness that makes them happy. But if you want to build on feeling better, Move More is the next step. You can get stronger, fitter, leaner, more flexible, or train for a specific goal or event.

Move More often does mean having a more detailed plan for exercise or physical activity, but that still doesn’t mean a daily commitment to an hours-long gym workout. To continue your progress, you will work with your coach to find smart, realistic ways to further increase the amount of movement, exercise, or physical activity in your everyday life. Your program will follow the same rules: keep you safe and pain-free, fit into your lifestyle, and be effective.

At each step, the focus is on finding what works for you. You’ll be guided through this process with the freedom to call the shots or follow directions as much as you like. You’ll have the full support of your coach to pursue better health and fitness in whatever way makes you most comfortable, and have someone to celebrate with when you hit the marks. Our goal for every client: Healthy, fit, happy.


The Right Way To Breathe During Exercise

In my ten-plus years of training and coaching, I’ve often been asked about the right way to breathe when you’re exercising. Good news, team!  It’s a simple, easy answer:

Breathe naturally.

With most exercise, there is no additional benefit to inhaling or exhaling at a certain point with the movement, or breathing in or out through the nose or mouth. The very best way to breathe when you’re working out is to stop thinking about it and just let your body do its thing. Your body is finely tuned to match breath with its need for oxygen, and assuming good health and clear airways, it’ll do a great job with no conscious effort from you.

However, there are two major exceptions to the “just do what comes naturally” rule:

If you’re dealing with asthma, COPD, or other respiratory conditions, the rule basically still applies: Don’t over-think your breathing patterns. Instead, make sure you prepare for a workout by using any prescription inhalers (or anything else you’ve been prescribed) at the appropriate times. And take it slow to start, both on a workout-by-workout basis, and when beginning to add more exercise to your weekly routines. Much of the shortness of breath that comes with exercising with a respiratory condition can come from poor general fitness as well as any impact a condition might have on your respiratory condition. Keep workouts to a low intensity and short duration to begin with, and be mindful of how environmental conditions can impact your breathing (hot and humid or cold weather are two common triggers for disturbed breathing). I’m always advising my clients that the goal is “Challenging but Achievable” Take it easy as you get used to a new workout, and build your fitness levels from there.

If you have respiratory or cardiovascular conditions (including and especially high blood pressure) it’s important to avoid holding your breath during exercise. This can be a tough: When you challenge your bodies, holding your breath is a natural response, especially when doing resistance training or heavy/high intensity work. This breath holding action is technically called a Valsalva’s Maneuver, in which you close your throat and contract your diaphragm and abdominal muscles. This action essentially “squeezes” your lungs. Since you aren’t exhaling, this leads to a large, rapid increase in blood pressure, and you may feel light-headed or faint. Large, rapid increases in blood pressure aren’t much good for cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, and passing out is no good in general. So do your body a favor and make a conscious effort to breathe continuously throughout your workout. This is where you may see some recommendations to inhale during the “easy” part of a movement and exhale through the “hard” part, which is a totally ok way to approach it. In the long run, pay attention to what your body does naturally, and if needed, find a breathing pattern you are comfortable with. You and your body will make more progress, more safely. And isn’t that the point?