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Sleep and Recovery–ZZZs Please!

This week, TargitFit is pleased to bring you an informative health and fitness article by Kevin Graham:

Modern elite athletes are aware that physical conditioning and diet/nutrition are crucial for achieving their optimal fitness performance. More often than not, however, individuals will overlook an equally important training aid: their sleep. In the past, we previously discussed 7 tips for better sleep. Wonder why is sleep so important for active people?

Five Components of Athletic Readiness:

  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Mental Preparation
  • Conditioning
  • Sleep

Five Impacts Sleep has on Athletic Performance:

  1. Improved Reaction Times
  2. Increased Endurance (short & long-term)
  3. Stronger Accuracy / Improved Timing and Reaction
  4. Fewer Mental / Human Errors (increased motivation, memory, focus)
  5. Reduced Chance of Injury

3 Ways to Increase Sleep Quality:

1–Establish and Revisit Familiar Routines:

Stretching, meditation, and yoga are active ways to relax the muscles as well as your mind. The fitness app Apptiv offers guided audio sessions that are easily followed on a phone from your bedside. Before turning in, always consider ways to physically and mentally unwind. Combatting a busy or wandering mind can be the recipe for better and longer sleep. Regularity around bedtime routines makes falling asleep feel more habitual rather than forced. For some people, it could be activities like reading or watching television while others prefer tea and a warm bath.

2–Supportive Sleeping Essentials:

Well-known statistics show that we spend ⅓ of our lives asleep. Unfortunately, we often spend far too many years on over-worn and overused mattresses. The design and technology behind innovative foam mattresses provide sleepers with zoned levels of support through thoughtful foam layering. Softer foam under your shoulders and firmer foam support under your hips/core helps to achieve balance and proper spinal alignment while you sleep. Along with support, a foam mattress is designed with materials that promote breathability which stay cooler at night. A cool yet comfortable temperature is an important part of being able to enter deeper stages of sleep and achieve the best quality of rest to take on tomorrow’s workout!

3–Optimal Sleep Temperature:

In general, the recommended bedroom temperature range is between 60 – 67 degrees Fahrenheit. To fall asleep, our body temperature decreases to initiate deeper sleep cycles. A thermostat set too high or too low can hinder one’s ability to get to get the restorative rest needed.

For more information on rest and recovery check out this savvy guide below:

Casper_sleeplikeachampion

Kevin Graham is a freelance writer from New York. He is a mindful individual who enjoys running as much as he loves relaxing. Kevin is focused on finding the ultimate balance in his day to day lifestyle.

Muscle-Making Minerals

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Minerals are just as essential to building strong, healthy muscles as vitamins are.

Last week we discussed the importance of taking a quality multivitamin/mineral supplement for bodybuilders, and we listed the top vitamins for building a rock-hard, chiseled physique. While supplements you take should provide all vitamins and minerals for complete nutrition and good health, just as with vitamins, some minerals are more important than others for muscle building. This week we’ll explore these muscle-making minerals.

Metabolize with Manganese

Image by fdecomite

Manganese is a double-duty mineral, one that not only helps build muscles by metabolizing amino acids but also helps construct bones to support those muscles. Most quality vitamin and mineral supplements include manganese, but you can get it through your diet, too, when you eat whole grains, nuts, and legumes.

Iodine for Muscle Function

Shrimp and other seafood are good sources of dietary iodine.

There’s not a lot of iodine in foods though it can be found in seafood and, of course, iodized salt. It’s an essential mineral, though, one that affects muscle function and is important for thyroid performance which can affect your metabolism and ability to build muscle.

Double Down With Iron

A nice, lean steak along with a serving of steamed or raw spinach is a tasty way to get iron for building muscle.

Iron helps build muscles in two ways. First, it helps oxygenate muscle cells for growth and performance via the blood. Second, iron is a component in chemical reactions that help your body make amino acids and hormones, both big parts of muscle building. You can supplement it or focus on eating iron-rich foods such as red meat, eggs, and green veggies.

Potassium and Sodium

Potassium doesn’t taste as salty as sodium, and it balances out sodium’s effects on blood pressure.

Your muscles won’t perform optimally without these two minerals. Both potassium and sodium work to balance the fluids in your body, and are a required for muscle contractions. Though you might worry about sodium raising your blood pressure, Harvard Health says that potassium counteracts it and lowers blood pressure. When you sweat during your workout, you’re losing sodium according to IDEA Health and Fitness. Extremely high doses of either mineral can be dangerous, however, so don’t overdo them. Although most comprehensive supplements will provide some potassium, you won’t find any that include sodium. You can typically get that from your diet or even by shaking some salt over your dinner. Plenty of foods already contain potassium, though, including milk, fruits, meat, grains, and legumes.

A Triple-Threat for Your Foundation

Calcium is good for more than building strong bones–it also helps build muscle by facilitating muscle function and helping with hormone secretion.

Building a strong foundation to support your bodybuilder physique is important, and that is why, along with vitamins and minerals for building muscles, we are also listing ones that support your bones. Fluoride, calcium, and phosphorous are the top three minerals for building strong bones though they do have something to offer your muscles, too. Phosphorous plays a part in converting food into energy and helps transport nutrients in and out of your cells. And if you thought calcium was all about teeth and bones, think again. Calcium is necessary for muscle contractions and helps with hormone secretion, both of which are necessary for building muscle.

Magic Bullet?

ZMA

ZMA is a precise ratio of specific minerals and vitamin B that promotes muscle building in multiple ways.

If you haven’t heard of ZMA before now, pull up a chair. It is a precise combination of two minerals, zinc and magnesium, and our old friend from last week, vitamin B6. On their own, each does its part to keep you healthy and help build muscles but when the three are combined in a particular ratio, they create a super-supplement that has been reported to increase testosterone and IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor-1) which both result in increased strength and muscle mass, plus it improves sleep for enhanced recovery, according to ExRx.net. It’s true that there isn’t a ton of research on the supplement, but what’s out there is favorable. Even though your go-to multivitamin/mineral likely provides zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6, remember that a specific ratio of the three is needed to see results. Because ZMA is relatively inexpensive as supplements go and because no toxicity has been reported from taking ZMA, it wouldn’t hurt to add it to your supplementation regimen when building muscle and losing fat is the goal.

Vital Viteys

It takes more than dedication and a challenging workout to build a muscular physique.

Competitive bodybuilders typically have their own store of nutritional supplements formulated especially for helping them build a lean, muscular physique. If you are barely starting out with a goal of competing–or even if you just want to build muscle without a competition end-goal–you probably prepared a budget for all the protein, creatine, nitrous oxide, and other supps you see the pros peddling in the muscle mags. As you’re filling up your shopping cart, though, don’t forget to toss in a quality vitamin/mineral supplement. Yeah, they’re essential for basic health but vitamins are even more vital when you’re putting your body through a workout demanding enough to build muscle, plus they play a part in developing muscle, too. 

The B’s Have It

Foods rich in B vitamins build healthy tissue, including muscle. Image by Vitamina Verde

Vitamins in the B family are important for cell construction, making them ultra-useful for anyone wanting to build muscle. Thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin–their friends call them B1, B2, and B3–have the specific job of turning food into energy earmarked for building healthy tissue including muscle. Vitamin B5 helps your body produce steroid hormones that use proteins to naturally increase muscle mass, and Vitamin B12 breaks down aminos and fatty acids to construct new cells. IDEA Health and Fitness Association says that your need for vitamins B2 and B6 can double when you exercise, so bodybuilders definitely need more than just a balanced diet to get sufficient B’s. 

Retinoids

Vitamin A helps build strong bones to support muscle mass, and it keeps muscle tissue healthy.
Image by Elisha Nelson/Flickr

You know them as the active forms of vitamin A, an essential vitamin for a healthy body, and that includes bodybuilders. According to Harvard Health, vitamin A plays a significant part in building strong bones so you have a strong frame that can hold increased muscle mass. Additionally, vitamin A also helps keep muscle and other tissues healthy. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D can help improve athletic performance to get you off that plateau.

Vitamin D has long been associated with healthy bones, so it’s another nutrient that will help build a strong frame. However, D is also responsible for helping to multiply and grow fast-twitch muscle fibers. It might also be what you need to get off a plateau. According to IDEA, vitamin D has been shown to improve athletic performance, plus it can help with exercise-related inflammation. 

C and E: the Borderline Vites

Getting more than the RDA of C can have negative effects for athletes. Image by Colin Dunn/Flickr

As vitamins that protect your cells from damage, it’s only reasonable to assume you would want to increase your antioxidant intake if you’re putting your body through a demanding workout to build muscle. However, your body will only store so much vitamin E and C. Once they top out, the excess will just get dumped. Additionally, high blood levels of these vitamins can cause oxidative stress, and large doses of vitamin C can even result in kidney stones. Yet, on the other hand, a deficiency in vitamin C can hinder athletic performance. ExRx.net acknowledges that there’s a fine line when it comes to antioxidants and advises that, until research conclusively shows that athletes need an increased RDA of antioxidants, bodybuilders should not exceed the moderate doses recommended for everyone.  

If you are eating a healthy, balanced diet–like all bodybuilders should be–and taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement, you should be getting all the nutrients you need to help build that chiseled, rock-hard physique you want. Oh, and what about the minerals? The list of essential minerals for bodybuilders is actually longer than the list of vitamins, so stay tuned…

 

 

Eccentric Workouts Increase Muscular Strength

Muscular strength helps you lift a variety of objects, whether heavy or light.

Muscular strength is essential for everyone. No guy wants to be a weakling and playing the dainty damsel is so over for women. FitDay lists muscular strength as #1 in the 5 components of physical fitness. Strong muscles enable your body to meet the demands you place on it every day, including making it possible for you to stand, walk, and lift objects of varying weight. Additionally, a study published in the Journals of Gerontology found that low muscle strength is linked to mortality.

Whether you want to go all-out and build Superman strength, or just increase your muscular strength to increase longevity and ensure you don’t need help opening a pickle jar, the key is all in how you train. Obviously you will need to participate in resistance training to challenge your muscles and increase strength. The experts say eccentric training is the way to go.

Join the Resistance

bench press

Whatever equipment you use, almost any exercise can be done eccentrically by resisting gravity to control the negative part of the move.

Eccentric actions are ones that slow movement down. When you train with eccentric resistance, you can do pretty much any exercise, but you will concentrate on controlling the negative part of the move by slowing it down. Because you will overload your muscles and rely less on gravity during each exercise, you will probably experience more soreness in the day or two after working out. That makes it all the more important to allow enough time for recovery between eccentric workouts. Give each muscle group at least 72 hours before hitting it again. A two day on, one day off regimen works well with eccentric exercise. As an example, you could split your workouts like this:

  • Day 1: back and biceps
  • Day 2: chest, shoulders, triceps
  • Day 3: off
  • Day 4: legs and abs
  • Day 5: start the cycle over with back and biceps
  • Day 6: off

Working through this routine gives you every third day off which allows your muscle groups a full three-day rest after each workout.

Exercising Eccentric-ly

With lat pulldowns, control the bar as it raises up after you pull it down to your shoulders.
Image by LookBetterNaked/Flickr

So, how can you turn any exercise you do into an eccentric one to increase muscular strength? You do it by resisting gravity to slow down the movement during the negative part of the exercise. For example, when you perform push-ups, take your time lowering your body to the ground, then press up quickly in an explosive move. If you are bench pressing, the control part comes when you are lowering the bar to your chest. Take as long as you can to do it, 15 seconds or more. Once the bar touches your chest, immediately press it back up and do another rep.

Eccentric Precautions

Warm up before your eccentric workout by jumping rope or jogging in place. A few dynamic stretches will help prepare your muscles, too.

 

You should always consult your physician when you start an exercise program or make any major changes to one, and especially if you are recovering from an injury. The ACSM points out that eccentric exercises could worsen joint pain for people with arthritis and other joint issues. Don’t be surprised if you hit failure after fewer reps when you start with eccentric exercises. Warm-ups are always recommended, but especially vital when participating in eccentric-focused resistance training. Also, you should always strive to maintain proper form, but not doing so during eccentric exercise presents a greater possibility of injury.

Cuckoo For Coconut Oil

If this post leads you to believe that we’re jumping on the coconut oil bandwagon, that’s only partially true. Sure, you’ve probably seen countless articles, blog posts and emails that all herald coconut oil as a “miracle” or “super” food. We were actually going to write a post on the subject long ago. However, when doing the research, the information at the time seemed to be conflicting. None of the authoritative references we like to cite came down conclusively on coconut oil’s side. At best, most of them cautiously conceded to a few benefits, but overall still recommended avoiding coconut oil or at least including it sparingly in your diet.

Likely at the heart of the hesitation to promote coconut oil is people’s tendency to go overboard with health recommendations. If a study comes out that seems to show that high protein diets are good for you, everyone starts shunning the other food groups and fills their plates with all the meat they can eat. (Keto, anyone?) Then, when a study is published a few months later negates the findings of the first study, all of a sudden everyone is off meat and back on the vegetable and grains train.

Lately, though, we’ve come across credible references that indicate that coconut oil lovers are right. Including coconut oil in your diet can benefit you on many levels.

Naturally Saturated is OK

Virgin organic coconut oil is good for you and can strengthen immunity, brain, liver and lung function and can enhance your metabolism.

Coconut oil gets shoved into a gray area mostly because it’s a saturated fat. When trying to keep the task of sorting through fats simple, we’ve been taught that saturated fats are evil and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good. Sorry, though, it isn’t that simple. It’s when fat is manipulated in the lab to give it a longer shelf life that it becomes unhealthy. The process is called hydrogenation, and it can turn even an innocent unsaturated vegetable oil into an unwholesome, saturated trans fat. It’s the trans fats that you should really watch out for.

In fact, natural saturated fat is not only OK but a necessity for health. Two respected doctors who specialize in the field of obesity outlined for the readers of Four Hour Work Week seven reasons to eat more saturated fat, including stronger bones, improved brain, liver and lung health, stronger immunity, enhanced metabolism and, most surprising, lowered cardiovascular risks. According to Doctors Michael and Mary Dan Eades, saturated fat lowers lipoprotein (a) levels that are associated with heart disease risk.

It’s the Lauric Acid

Yes, coconut oil has more saturate fat than butter, but it’s a natural unhydrogenated fat that your body needs.

An element that plays a big part in letting coconut oil off the hook is lauric acid. Around half of coconut oil’s saturated fat content — which is almost 50 percent more than the saturated fat content of butter — is from the rare natural fat that gives coconut oil its legendary status. According to Dr.Mercola, when your body uses lauric acid, it becomes monolaurin, a powerful bacteria, virus and even parasite slayer. Monolaurin has been shown to demolish pathogenic bacteria, herpes, HIV, measles and flu viruses and can also rid the body of giardia parasites.

That’s No Typo — We Said “Weight Loss”

Studies have shown that supplementing coconut oil helps take fat off your middle, and does it without increasing cholesterol.

This is one of those cases where “too good to be true” isn’t. If you’ve read that coconut oil can help you lose weight, you read right. A study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information concluded that supplementing coconut oil in the diet promotes abdominal weight reduction. That could be because coconut oil is a medium-chain fatty acid by over half. The Pennington Biomedical Research Center says that “MCFAs” stimulate metabolism to increase fat burning and reduce abdominal fat. They’re easy to digest and take the fast-track to your liver which converts MCFAs to energy for immediate use instead of converting them to fat for storage. That means that coconut oil not only encourages fat burning, but also won’t contribute to fat gain. Another interesting note in the study is that supplementing coconut oil did not cause an increase in lipids, as you might suspect it would. That’s good news on the cholesterol front.

Overall Beauty Treatment

Coconut oil is a terrific skin moisturizer, cuticle softener, and overall beauty treatment.

Including coconut oil in your diet can improve your body from the inside out because it boosts your immune system, encourages cell regeneration, and facilitates fat burning. However, you can also benefit from using it topically. Health Ambition lists a whole slew of beauty uses for coconut oil including using it as a

  • hair conditioner
  • skin moisturizer
  • lip balm
  • cuticle softener
  • eye cream
  • shaving cream
  • makeup remover

You can even make a moisturizing exfoliating scrub by mixing equal parts of coconut oil with sea salt or sugar.

Make Moderation Your Mantra

Adding a moderate amount coconut oil to your diet will do you good.

Just as with anything in life, using coconut oil in moderation is the key. Don’t clear your pantry of other healthy oils such as olive or safflower oil and begin using coconut oil exclusively. Don’t slather it on everything you eat from here on out. As Registered Dietician Kristin Kirkpatrick tells the Huffington Post, focus on portion control just as much as what is in those portions. If you keep “moderation” as your mantra, coconut oil can be a health-improving addition to your diet.

The Most Beneficial Part of Coconut Oil

If you’re thinking of taking coconut oil as a supplement, you might consider using MCT oil instead. As Cognitune explains, MCT oils are the specific parts of coconut oil that are the most beneficial. You can find out more about this amazing elixir and how it’s level of purity takes coconut oil supplementation up a notch in their video:

Summer Heat is No Excuse to Ditch Your Workout

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Summer’s rising heat is no excuse to ditch your workout — it can actually help improve your fitness level and performance.

There are a lot of reasons workouts and health club memberships suffer in the summertime. The nice weather beckons and the last thing you want to do is go to the gym and push yourself through a workout. The heat can be a deterrent, too. Whether it’s a dry heat or a muggy one, high temperatures tend to drain your energy and your resolve. The excuse of “it’s just too hot to workout” isn’t a legitimate one, though.

A study done at the University of Oregon and published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that training in heat improved athletic performance. In fact, heat training proved to be better than high altitude training for reaching superior fitness levels. How hot was it? 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with 30 percent humidity. (!) That’s some pretty encouraging data, but don’t go off half-cocked and throw yourself into a full-blown super-heated workout just yet. Exercising in heat does put extra stress on your body and can cause serious health issues if you don’t do it right. Go into your hot summer workout informed and prepared and you’ll stay healthy and in shape well into the cooler fall weather, and improve your performance and fitness level in the bargain.

Heated Concerns

If you don’t know how to work out in the heat properly, you could wind up with a heat illness. According to the Mayo Clinic, even if your body temperature is normal, the hot environment around you can cause minor effects such as light-headedness and muscle cramping or more serious consequences including heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Take the precautions listed in the next section, but whenever you workout, whether in your “normal” environment or the heat, watch out for signs such as

Workout smart in the heat. If you get a headache or experience any other symptoms of heat illness, stop exercising and cool your body temperature immediately.

  • weakness and fatigue
  • headache
  • nausea
  • muscle cramps
  • excessive sweating
  • increased heart rate
  • blurry vision
  • confusion
  • low blood pressure, dizziness
  • irritability

If any of these symptoms occur, stop your workout, drink some water and work on lowering your body temperature. Fan yourself, remove extra layers of clothing, spritz your body with water, even wrap yourself in wet towels or apply ice packs.

The “Do’s” to Hot Workouts

Drink water or a sports drink every 15 minutes when you’re exercising in the heat.

Ease yourself into exercising in the heat, working out for a shorter period of time at first or working out with less intensity until you’re acclimated to exercising in elevated temperatures. Also, it’s not advisable to workout in temperatures that are much higher than 100˚ F. Prepare yourself before you jump into working out in the heat. Health and fitness professionals offer vital tips such as wearing lightweight wicking clothing, taking a cool shower before your workout, and drinking plenty of water. In fact, you should hydrate throughout the day, not just during your workout, and to drink a sports drink while exercising. Whether you opt for the sports drink or water, though, be sure you take in at least 4 and up to 8 ounces every 15 minutes while working out.

Re-Motivate

Summer heat shouldn’t be an excuse to stop working out. Instead, it’s the ideal justification for changing up your workout. Web MD recommends adjusting your workout based on your surroundings, whether you’re on vacation or spending the summer at home. For example, swimming in a lake provides an effective full-body workout including cardio, and you’ll stay cool while doing it. Pole walking in the mountains is another terrific way to work your whole body as well as your cardiovascular system. And does anyone really need to point out that beaches facilitate great workouts like snorkeling or beach volleyball? No matter where you are, though, simple activities such as a bike ride provide beneficial exercise and, even if there’s just a gentle breeze, biking through the moving air will feel cooling.

TargitFit class.2

Whether you take a class, hit the cardio equipment, or lift weights, the climate-controlled environment at the gym is cooler than summer outdoor temperatures.

Those are all excellent ideas for outdoor exercise but don’t give up on the gym just because it’s summer. If staying cool is your main goal instead of trying a hot workout, the gym is the logical place to be because most health clubs have cooling systems or are air conditioned. You’ll still want to dress appropriately and drink ample fluids, but the climate controlled environment will be a bit more comfortable than the triple-digit temperatures outside. Plus you won’t be back at square one with your fitness level and workouts when autumn comes.

Too Much Pain for Gain

You don’t have to give up on your workout to avoid shoulder pain.

It’s tough to maintain enthusiasm for working out when you’re in pain–specifically if the workout is weightlifting. Shoulder pain, for example, is a common complaint among weightlifters, bodybuilders, and powerlifters. It usually develops as a repetitive motion injury after years of lifting heavy and, often, using improper technique. That’s not to say that people who have been lifting for years who experience shoulder pain don’t know what they’re doing. It’s just that they may not be aware that there are alternative ways to structure their workouts that will result in less wear and tear on their shoulder joints.

On Bench Pressing


How much ya bench? by Shakey74

“Howmuchyabench?” is a phrase frequently heard everywhere from weight rooms to bar rooms. Bench presses are the most common chest exercise, and one of the most common resistance exercises in general. While the bench press is effective for building chest muscles, it’s also rough on your shoulder joints. Unless you experience shoulder pain while bench pressing, you don’t have to completely give up that essential chest exercise. However, you should know that there are other exercises you can perform that won’t aggravate your shoulders like the bench press does.

Incorporate more pushups and less bench presses on chest day for less shoulder pain.

Muscle and Fitness says that you should start doing more push-ups than bench presses, even advising that you entirely switch out one for the other. If your shoulder pain isn’t chronic, it’s not necessary to give up pressing, but do incorporate more push-ups and cut back on the bench. Also, it’s easy to get in a pushing rut when you’re trying to build chest muscles, but you can avoid shoulder pain by building your back muscles so that they balance your physique. When you ignore your back and focus too much on working the chest, your pecs will pull your shoulders forward. Your arms will also tend to turn in, and the entire posture will set you up for shoulder pain. The solution is to add more heavy pulling exercises, such as weighted rows, to your workout routine. Also, never underestimate the valuable effects of proper form when doing any exercise.

The Lateral Raise Dilemma

lateral raise

Using bands to do lateral raises offers better resistance that is easy on your joints.

Lateral raises are another exercise that notoriously cause shoulder pain to flare up. In the December 2015 issue of Muscle and Fitness1, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Sean Hyson explains that your posture during this exercise is everything when it comes to avoiding shoulder pain. If you were taught to stand perfectly upright while performing lateral raises, you were set up for impinging your shoulder joints. Hyson recommends hinging your body at the hips so that you’re bending forward slightly. Remember to keep your elbows bent a little, raise the weights no higher than shoulder level, and maintain control as you lower them. Alternatively, using resistance band equipment such as the TargitFit Trainer to do lateral raises won’t put as much pressure on your shoulder joints and will provide linear variable resistance to maximize your workout.

The Core of the Problem

Building strength in your rotator cuffs will stabilize your shoulders and reduce chances of pain and injury. Image by Beth Scupham/Flickr

According to Bodybuilding.com, weak rotator cuffs are the biggest issue with shoulder pain and injuries. You have to admit, you don’t often (if ever) work in a rotator cuff day amid your weekly workout schedule. You don’t have to dedicate an entire day to them, but including a few exercises once a week to work the four small muscles that stabilize your shoulders will pay off in less shoulder pain and increased strength for other upper body exercises. After doing some doorway stretches to stretch and prepare your chest and the backs of your shoulders, perform three sets of 10 reps each of exercises such as

Naturally, you don’t want to do your rotator cuff exercises on the same day or the day before you work chest and shoulders, so schedule at least 48 hours in between to allow your rotator cuffs to recover.

 

1Sean Hyson, CSCS, “Pain-Free Shoulders,” Muscle & Fitness, December, 2015, 58

 

The Stretching Debate

05311801Ever since junior high school PE class, the importance of stretching before exercise has been drilled into our heads. Some instructors say it’s to warm-up your muscles and get blood flowing while others say it’s to improve muscle elasticity and range of motion, and some will tell you stretching does both for the ultimate goal of avoiding injury. If you’ve gone through life adhering to the pre-workout stretching rule, you probably feel that it’s served you well. In general, stretching does increase blood flow and elongate the muscles. However, research has sparked a debate over when you should stretch and what types of stretches you should perform.

The Research

In 2013, a study was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which revealed that certain types of stretches performed before or during exercise actually weakened muscles. That works against you when your goal is to increase strength by upping the amount you lift. It needs to be noted that the offending stretches were static stretches—ones in which you hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. It’s thought that elongating and relaxing the muscles hinders their ability to emit force, so you aren’t able to lift as much after static stretching. That’s not to say that you can’t increase strength if you do a few static stretches before you lift. The study simply showed a weakening of muscles that were statically stretched. That means you won’t gain as much strength as you possibly could otherwise.

Beneficial Stretches

So here’s the thing: it seems that dynamic stretches don’t affect muscle strength as static stretches do. In fact, a different study also published in the JSCR compared the two types of stretches and found that the dynamic ones actually increase muscle power and enhance performance. That’s better than good news for those who feel the need to stretch before a workout. It means you have options and the best one can help with those strength gains you’ve been chasing.

Just in case you’re not familiar with dynamic stretching, it’s the technique in which you move throughout the stretch rather than holding it. Some examples of dynamic stretches include:

  • high kicks
  • T-pushups
  • twisting lunges and hip stretches
  • high steps (aka: knees to chest)

In fact, there are a many dynamic stretches you could perform to prep your muscles for a strength-building workout. However, you only need about a 5-minute warm-up, so it’s not really necessary to spend the bulk of your time in the gym stretching. If you don’t already have a dynamic stretching routine of your own, borrow this effective dynamic warm-up from Anabolic Aliens:

Timing it Right

Super. You have permission to stretch before exercising, provided you perform dynamic stretches. To maximize strength gains, Muscle and Fitness recommends that, instead of going through a full-body routine, you focus on stretching the muscles you’ll be working out.

05311803What’s more, you don’t have to forego static stretching altogether. Bodybuilding.com advises that you perform them after you’ve worked out. They can act as a cool-down routine that will keep your muscles loose so they won’t cramp, can help decrease muscle soreness, and can increase range of motion according to TrainingPeaks.

It’s NEVER Too Late

Many people spend their younger years riding the awesome wave of an efficient metabolism. They can eat anything, count leisure activities such as golfing and walks in the park as exercise, and still fit into the clothes they wore in high school. For the vast majority, however, nature has a nasty wake up call in store. Once they hit a certain age, typically around 40 or 50, their metabolism slows down and they start experiencing weight gain and health problems. It’s at that point people typically look back with regret and wish that they’d gotten into fitness when they were younger. Ah, but now it’s too late. Right?

If you have been hiding behind your age as a reason to avoid exercise, that excuse is no longer valid. There are a number of “elderly” people who are in amazing shape, and who are living proof that it’s never too late.

Women 60 (and Older!) Are the New 20

Ruby Carter-Pikes is in her 70s and in good enough shape to take top honors in fitness competitions.
Image by Bodybuilding and Beyond/YouTube

Every fitness, bikini, and bodybuilding competition has a Masters class. It’s the division in which people 40, 45, or 50 and older (depending on the competition) compete. The idea is that a 50-year-old shouldn’t be expected to compete against a 25-year-old, but in 2012, Ruby Carter-Pikes held her own in a fitness competition at age 64, beating out all but one person for the overall title, according to NBC Los Angeles. Then, in 2014 Ruby took first place in the Masters at age 67.

 

Older than some grandmas, Ernestine Shepherd is the world’s oldest bodybuilder.
Image by Tangra IYI News/YouTube

 

 

She isn’t the only older lady who is showing up the young ‘uns, either. Ernestine Shepherd is over 80, and she holds the Guinness World Record for being the oldest female bodybuilder. Here is one of the most inspiring parts of Ernie’s story: she didn’t start her road to fitness until she was 56. That’s some potent motivation for women of any age who wish they could look and feel better.

Older Men Got it Goin’ On

Now in his 60’s, Lou Ferrigno is in as good a shape as ever–maybe even better! Image by Gabbot/Flickr

Lou Ferrigno stays busy in the entertainment world, but his high profile would be hard to miss under any circumstances. Because the former bodybuilder still looks so dang great, you have to take a second to do the math, but he is over 60 and still as fit as ever. Ferrigno attributes his amazing physique to working out for over an hour six days a week, but that is under ideal circumstances. Lou told Men’s Fitness that he was only able to work out one day a week during the time he spent filming Celebrity Apprentice. Yet he succeeded in maintaining his fitness level during that time by making the most of that one day and eating healthy every day, even taking his own meals to the set.

And it’s not just celebrities who can get and stay fit into their golden years. This past year, Brian Bingham placed first in the Masters over 50 division of the 2017 NPC Holiday Classic—and it was a full class competition against several other older, extremely muscular gentlemen.

So Here’s the Deal…

Agreed. Not everyone wants to be a bodybuilder, but that’s kind of the point. The handful of women and men listed here put a lot into maintaining competition-level fitness and physiques. Considering that one of them was able to do it working out just one day a week, think of how easily you could achieve your modest goal of losing a few pounds of fat or gaining some muscle mass. The key is to really, really want to do it. If your heart isn’t in it, you won’t succeed, and you’ll be back at square one making the same resolution again in January 2017.

You don’t have to becomde a bodybuilder. Run, lift weights, bike–doing the type of physical activity you enjoy will help you meet your weight loss and fitness goals.

If it’s not just talk and you truly do want to get fit, make one final resolution to do it…and then DO IT! You will see results with just a few minor adjustments to your schedule and your habits. Decide you will work out 3 – 4 days a week and then DO IT. Commit to making healthier food choices most of the time and then DO IT. Get more sleep. Drink more water and fewer sodas and, yes, even cut back on the alcohol. You don’t have to give up your favorite things if you can maintain enough control to enjoy them in moderation. Above all, be realistic and give yourself time to start seeing progress before you become frustrated and fall back into the old patterns that got you to where you are now. There really is no finish line. You will just keep getting better and better and next year you will be able to make a different kind of resolution because you will look and feel 250 percent better than you do now.

Is a Dr’s OK Necessary to Start Working Out?

It’s better to be safe than sorry, but not all people need to see a doctor before starting an exercise program.
Image by Vic/Flickr

Typically, weight loss and fitness advice is accompanied by the recommendation that you see a physician before starting a diet or exercise program, but that is mostly to cover the bases of the one doling out the advice. Though most people should be able to handle common exercises with no problem, no one wants to be responsible when the exception to the rule injures themselves. Still, because you may be an exception to the rule, it might be a good idea for you to see your GP before diving headlong into a diet or exercise program.

Sometimes It’s Not An Issue

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Most people should be able to participate in a good workout without worrying about health issues.

If you are in the habit of seeing your doctor annually, you probably don’t need to schedule an extra appointment before you start a fitness and weight loss program. This is especially true if your physicals over the past few years have been essentially normal with no indications that any serious health conditions had developed or might develop. If your blood pressure and blood tests are normal and, other than being a bit overweight or out of shape, you feel fine, you should be OK to start working out. You can always mention your new fitness regimen and discuss any questions with your doctor at your next visit.

Pay Attention to Red Flags

Dizzy spells or problems with balance are red flags that a doctor should weigh in on before you begin an exercise regimen.

Of course, if you know that you have a serious health condition, it’s best to consult a physician before participating in an activity that could aggravate it. Even though moderate physical activity can improve many health issues, your doctor will advise you on the best ways to get the most out of exercising without making your condition worse. The Mayo Clinic says that people with arthritis, asthma or other respiratory disease, diabetes, or heart or kidney disease should talk to their doctors before starting a weight loss or exercise program.

Sometimes, people experience symptoms of a serious disease but haven’t been diagnosed. Harvard Health advises that people who have problems with balance or who experience dizzy spells should see a doctor before starting an exercise program. Other symptoms that should not be ignored include pain in the neck, jaw, or chest during exercise, shortness of breath while exercising or even when at rest, rapid heartbeat, ankle swelling, or joint or lower leg pain. Also, if you take medications that make you dizzy or drowsy, talk to your physician about how your prescriptions may affect you physically if you start working out.

Still Not Sure?

If you’re still unsure about seeing a doctor before working out, spend a few minutes on the PAR-Q to see if it’s necessary for you.

If you aren’t sure whether or not to see your doctor before beginning a weight loss and exercise program, don’t feel bad. Many people have been conditioned to play it safe instead of taking a risk and being sorry later. Seeing the difficulty some people have when trying to decide between jumping into an exercise regimen or waiting until a doctor has given them the OK, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology developed the PAR-Q–the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire. It’s a handy little tool that can save some time and anxiety by helping you to conclusively determine whether a visit the doctor before starting a workout program is necessary.