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Do Pushup Stands Really Work?

Take a look around the gym in any health club and you will see several different pieces of equipment that are all designed to work the same muscles. Pushups are just one example. First there were bars and stands devised for enhancing pushups. A more recent version is wedge-shaped and padded for comfort, but they aren’t much more effective than their predecessors. They do work but aren’t necessarily vital for performing pushups.

Purpose of the Stands

Team Next Level explains that, in general, pushup stands are used to improve the results you get by providing a deeper pushup than you’d get from performing them in the traditional manner. They give you a larger range of motion when you’re at the bottom of the exercise, enhancing the workout your pectorals get.

Using Pushup Stands

There are no tricks to using pushup stands–just make sure you use proper form to get the most benefits from the exercise and avoid injury.
Image via stroopsmma/flickr

The best pushup stands are lightweight and have a slip-resistant material on the bottom to keep them in place while you work out. The wedge-shaped ones are designed for comfort and to distribute your weight more evenly than if you were doing traditional pushups with your hands on the floor. To use pushup stands, place them just a little wider than shoulder-width apart on the floor in front of you. Get in a typical plank position facing the floor with your legs straight. Extend your arms and grasp a pushup stand in each hand. Keeping your back and legs straight and your gaze on the floor, bend your arms to lower your body down past the stands and to the floor. Straighten your arms out, pushing up to lift your body off the floor, and come back to the starting position.

For Wrist Pain

Not practicing proper form when doing pushups can result in wrist pain and possible injury.
Image via Injurymap/flickr

When you do a traditional pushup, your wrists not only bear most of your bodyweight, but they also bend in an unnatural angle if you don’t practice flawless form. Stands that don’t cause your wrists to bend as extremely as they do during normal pushups could allow you to do a more effective pushup while alleviating wrist pain. That’s because they distribute your weight more evenly, taking the pressure off your wrists and recruiting your entire forearm to pitch in and help support your weight.

Are They Necessary?

Instead of flat-palm pushups, try doing them on your knuckles for an added challenge and to avoid wrist pain. Image via that’s good money/YouTube

Specialized pushup stands may alleviate wrist pain and enhance your workout, but they aren’t vital for performing pushups. The wrist discomfort problem can be resolved without any accessories at all if you focus on keeping your weight on the outsides of your hands when they’re on the floor, according to HitchFit. Alternatively, Men’s Health advises doing pushups on your knuckles instead of with your palms flat on the ground. Make a fist with each hand and position them on the floor, knuckles to the ground and palms facing in. For those just starting out, a traditional pushup will challenge you enough, but if you’ve plateaued and feel like you want to take your workout up a notch, any pushup stand will increase your range of motion for a more demanding workout.

 

 

Fighting Cancer With Exercise

The more research that is done, the more we’re learning how seriously important exercise is for health. Serious as a heart attack? Yep, you’ve already heard how working out positively affects the cardiovascular system. However, new studies are prompting us to say serious as cancer, and the effects are extensive as well as extraordinary.

Reports are frequently published, each one touting the benefits of exercise in reducing the risk of one cancer or another. Fox News did us the favor of compiling a list of 13 cancers for which risk was reduced with exercise. Among them were the top three most common cancers: breast, colorectal, and bladder. Fox’s report focuses on working out to avoid developing cancer, but exercise has even shown to be beneficial for people who are already fighting the disease.

Exercising Cancer Patients

When the diagnosis is “cancer,” patients want to do whatever it takes to beat it. What treatments, medications, and protocols will give them the best prognosis for survival? One study showed that mice who spent increased time running saw up to 50 percent reduction in the size of cancerous tumors than mice who weren’t as active. The really good news is that doctors are finding that exercise combats cancer in humans, too. Dr. Lee Jones of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has long been including workouts as part of the prescription for cancer treatment, and his patients are seeing better survival and fewer instances of recurrence.

How Does Working Out Fight Cancer?

Dr. Marc Siegel, Professor of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, says that the emotional component to exercise is a huge benefit. No matter what level your health is at, exercising releases hormones that improve your mood and make you feel good which is a plus when you’re trying to recover from cancer. However, Dr. Siegel also points out that working out improves your immune system to help your body fight off the disease. Additionally, exercise regulates insulin, which causes tumors to grow. So, exercising helps fight cancer to by decreasing insulin and strengthening your immune system.

Adrenaline hormones, aka epinephrine, direct NK cells to tumor sites where they attack and kill cancer cells.

Yet, there is an even more specific component to exercising for cancer patients, and that is adrenaline. An article on Science Daily details how the surge of adrenaline that comes from a vigorous workout more effectively transports natural killer cells, known as NK cells. Plus, it doesn’t matter where the tumor is–liver, lungs, skin, or elsewhere–the adrenaline rush will recruit the NK cells and mobilize them to attack the cancerous cells wherever they are.

Exercising to Fight Cancer

TargitFit class.2

High Intensity Interval Training is practically tailor-made for fighting cancer–you get the adrenaline surge of cardio while benefitting from resistance training, all in the same workout.

Even if you’ve been fortunate enough never to have had cancer, you’re likely to know someone who has, so pretty much everyone knows how much radiation treatments and chemotherapy can take out of a person. It’s hard to imagine wanting to engage in a vigorous workout when you’re nauseated and fatigued from treatment. That’s why, though an intense workout is what has been found to be the most beneficial for fighting cancer, each patient has to plan their exercise around what they can do on any given day.

Some of the best exercises for cancer patients are aerobic exercise and strength training. The cardio provides that epinephrine surge that recruits NK cells, and the strength training helps maintain bone density and muscle mass that can suffer during cancer treatment. Combining cardio and strength workouts in High Intensity Interval-Training sessions with the TargitFit Trainer is an ideal way to get both at the same time. Balance exercises and stretching are useful, as well.

Everyone’s health and treatment are different, though, so each workout plan should be customized to the individual patient and approved by his or her doctor. Additionally, it’s important to pay attention to your body and be aware of how your treatments are affecting you. On days when you’re completely fatigued, it’s better to give yourself a break and take a rest day. On the other hand, if the fatigue is light to moderate, you’ll likely feel better after a workout. When you can manage it, even light exercise is better than no exercise at all.

Addition to, Not Replacement for, Cancer Treatment

Talk to your doctor about including exercise as part of a cancer treatment plan.

When doctors learn about this type of research, many of them rush to emphasize that exercise isn’t a substitute for treating cancer. While it’s true you shouldn’t put yourself at risk by foregoing all treatments to spend all your time and energy at the gym, it’s also true that you should do everything you can to improve your chances of recovery and survival. That means not only undergoing chemotherapy or other prescribed medical treatment, but also modifying your diet to include healthier foods, and definitely working out. When it comes to cancer, your life depends on it.

Indulge to Improve Your Health

Last week’s blog post provided you with reasons not to avoid some things you may have come to consider guilty pleasures. With permission to drink leaded coffee and nosh on dark chocolate, we boldly but jokingly announced that this week’s post would address the benefits of alcoholic beverages … but then we thought, “Why not?” After just a little bit of research turned up tons of reasons to raise a glass, it was no longer a joke. You might be abstaining for health reasons and, if it’s by doctor’s orders then, please, do stay on the wagon. However, if there are no medical issues involved, then getting off the wagon could improve your health.

No More Tears Over Beer

If you crave one of these bad boys after a workout, drink up! It will replenish your system and rehydrate it, too.

Beer’s reputation for being a bottleful of empty calories isn’t entirely deserved. It’s actually more nutritious than you’ve been told. Not only does it contain protein and vitamin B but it’s also a source of antioxidants and other vital nutrients such as calcium, iron, fiber, and phosphates, according to the Huffington Post. Too much alcohol of any kind is associated with memory impairment, but women who drink one beer a day have been proven to have less decline and impairment in cognitive function as they age than women who don’t drink any alcohol at all, so says a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The calcium in beer can contribute to stronger bones, but so can the silicon, a nutrient that is hard to find in many foods or drinks. Beer has it, though, and a Tufts University study found that indulging in a couple of beers a day resulted in greater bone density. Men’s Health reports on a handful of other health benefits of beer including lowered risk of heart disease, faster recovery after exercise (beer has shown to rehydrate better than water!), lowering blood pressure, and preventing cataracts. Also, apparently the specter of the beer belly is a myth. It’s not beer that can cause your middle to spill over the waistband of your pants. It’s the increased snacking that often accompanies beer drinking that puts the spare tire around your waist.

Why Wine is Just Fine

The resveratrol in red wine is an effective anti-aging agent for your skin, eyes, and heart, among other things.

There was much celebration when wine was given the green light for improving digestion, but it’s good for so much more than that. Wine has been shown to raise omega-3 fatty acid levels in moderate drinkers, which helps protect against coronary disease. Speaking of heart health, red wine, in particular, has an almost magical ingredient that the Mayo Clinic says prevents blood vessel damage, can help prevent blood clots, and reduced bad cholesterol. The “magic” of resveratrol is that it’s not just good for your heart; it improves lung function, can help repair damage after a stroke, improves insulin sensitivity, and is good for eye health and can help prevent Alzheimer’s, according to Prevention. Also, drinking wine can diminish the damaging effects that UV rays can have on your skin.

 

Mas Tequila!

Quality tequila has natural sugars that are healthier for you and won’t cause a hangover.

It’s not just the more mild-mannered alcoholic beverages that are actually good for you. The hard stuff can be healthy, too. MeMD says that agave tequila can decrease blood glucose levels and act as an appetite suppressant which can help with weight loss–yes, you read it right: tequila for weight loss! Tequila contains fructans which can protect medications from breaking down in your stomach before you’re able to absorb them, making medications more effective. It also has prebiotic and probiotic properties to help balance the bacteria in your digestive tract as well as helping to strengthen your immune system. Like most liquor, tequila helps you relax but, unlike other alcoholic beverages which tend to prevent deep restorative sleep, tequila helps you sleep more soundly. Possibly the most important benefit tequila offers is that drinking it won’t result in a hangover. The catch is that you have to drink the good stuff. Cheap tequila has the added alcoholic sugars that cause the headache, bed spins, and nausea that most liquor is known for, so stick to 100 percent agave tequila.

The Common Sense Fine Print

As with EVERYTHING on God’s green earth, you must practice moderation to reap the healthy benefits of beer, wine, and tequila. The little-is-good-so-more-must-be-better logic does not apply!

Indulge to Improve Your Workout

Cheer up–coffee and chocolate are officially on the good-for-you list!

If constantly being told to avoid your favorite treats has you discouraged, take heart. Newer research has shown that some of the most common vices are not only OK to indulge in, but they actually have health benefits including improving performance during exercise. Today we’ll look at two items many people have a weakness for, but it turns out that these weaknesses can be sources of strength.

 

Give in to the Dark (Chocolate) Side

Though all types of chocolate have shown to be beneficial for heart health, dark chocolate is the type that enhances exercise.

Often people jokingly refer to chocolate as their drug of choice, acknowledging that they “know” it’s bad for them, but it just makes them feel so good. That’s understandable, considering that dark chocolate produces feel-good chemicals in the brain that result in pleasurable feelings. Plus, it also contains a natural anti-depressant. However, a recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that dark chocolate consumption improves athletic performance. Specifically, a test group of cyclists who ate 40 grams of the dark treat ended up being able to bike 17 percent farther overall than test subjects who didn’t.

Dark chocolate before a workout can increase endurance and improve performance.

Sure, that’s terrific news for chocoholics but, more than that, some of the details of the study are very interesting. For instance, it was found that, when putting forth a moderate effort, the cyclists used less oxygen, making their workout more efficient. And, when pedaling at a flat-out pace for two minutes, the distances covered were increased when chocolate had been consumed beforehand. Additionally, Science Daily points out that chocolate contains epicatechin, a flavanol that encourages increased production of nitric oxide, essential for overall health but also beneficial for burning body fat and building muscle.

Do these studies green-light all types of chocolate? Well, you should definitely stick with dark chocolate, as the lower the cocoa content goes, the higher the sugar content gets, defeating the purpose. Go for 70 percent cocoa content, and eat about 1 1/2 ounces, or just over 37 grams, as part of your pre-workout snack.

Get a Workout Boost With a Coffee Buzz

For all the negative press, coffee has more health benefits than drawbacks, plus it can improve your workout by almost 40%!

Caffeine is considered a drug and, yes Virginia, it is addictive. As a stimulant, it can interfere with getting sufficient sleep. Plus, it is also a diuretic, so it can cause dehydration if you don’t make it a priority to drink enough water throughout the day as well as during your workout. All those reasons and more has landed coffee on the taboo list for many. However, there are actually many health benefits to drinking coffee. Beginning with your workout, Prevention recently reported on research that showed that drinking a caffeinated beverage such as coffee about an hour before exercising improved the workout. The specific type of workout was strength training, and the coffee and other caffeine-laden drinks allowed the participants to do 38 percent more reps on average, not too shabby when you’re trying to push past a plateau.

Coffee offers anti-aging benefits to help you retain and maintain muscle mass that would otherwise be lost as you grow older.

Researchers have all sorts of theories as to how coffee can improve a workout. Some say it limits the build-up of a naturally occurring exercise inhibiting molecule in the muscle cells. Others say it improves endurance by altering how much exertion you perceive you’re putting forth. Caffeine in coffee also acts as a pain-killer. One study found that subjects who consumed two to three cups of coffee prior to exercise (or the equivalent caffeine supplement amount) felt less muscle pain, so they were able to push themselves harder during the workout. What’s more, soreness after exercising was decreased by up to 48 percent–even better pain relief than aspirin and other OTC painkillers provide, according to Dr. Mercola. Just as important, coffee releases a growth factor in the body that benefits your brain as well as your muscles, acting as kind of an anti-aging agent. That means drinking coffee can inhibit age-related muscle atrophy and strength loss.

Next week we’ll look at the health benefits of a few favorite alcoholic beverages…can cake and ice cream be far behind?

Wave Your Way to Increased Strength

When you first start training with weights, you have nowhere to go but up. Beginners who workout consistently typically see improvements with just a basic routine, but the more you train, the harder it becomes to make progress. You may be pleased that your muscles have definition and that your strength has improved, but when your strength gains hit a plateau, a strategy like a wave workout will help increase your muscle strength.

The Concept

Training for strength requires lifting heavier with fewer reps and getting more rest between sets during your workout. A 4-week wave workout is ideal for increasing strength because it requires you to increase the weight you lift while progressively decreasing your reps. You’ll rest longer than you’re probably accustomed to before and after your wave sets, and you’ll also allow your muscle groups to rest longer before working them again, too.

4-Week Gains

Consistent training and sufficient rest are essential when wave training.

James Stoppani tells readers of the “Encyclopedia of Muscle and Strength” that the wave training method could boost their strength up to 10 percent over 6 to 8 weeks. And in the “Men’s Health Book of Muscle” Ian King and Lou Schuler note that strength increases are noticeable after just the first couple of workouts. How much your strength will increase after working a wave can vary. A lot will depend on your individual genetics. However, training consistently and getting sufficient rest between workouts will maximize the strength benefits that wave training can produce.

How to Implement Wave

Pick only one exercise during each workout to focus wave training on.

To ensure you get a full body workout every week, yet still get enough rest between workouts, the “Men’s Health Home Workout Bible” recommends splitting your training into two workouts, an upper-body day and a lower-body day. You’ll schedule three workout days per week, leaving a minimum of one day for rest between each workout day. For example, you could workout Monday, Wednesday and Friday leaving Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday for rest days. Once you know what kind of split you’ll be working, it’s important that you not try to perform every exercise as a wave. Trying to do wave training throughout your entire routine every day is a formula for fast fatigue and burn out. Stack recommends picking one exercise each session to “wave.” Place your wave exercise at the beginning of your workout. If you try to do a wave in the middle or at the end of your session, you’ll already be fatigued and might not be able to lift as heavy as you need to to see optimal results from the technique.

Working a Wave Routine

Wave training gets you lifting more than usual right away putting you on your way to serious strength gains.

With a wave workout, you’ll do a group of warmup sets, or a wave, of each exercise followed by two to three waves of progressively increasing weights and progressively decreasing reps. For example, you’ll do your warmup wave starting out with 10 reps at 30 percent of your maximum weight, rest for 2 minutes, followed by 8 reps at 55 percent, rest for 2 minutes; finish with 5 reps at 75 percent. After a 4-minute rest, you’re ready to begin your first wave by starting out at 80 percent of your maximum weight for 8 reps. Rest for 4 minutes then increase the weight to 85 percent for 5 reps. After another 4-minute rest increase the weight to 90 percent and only complete 2 reps. You’ll be ready for wave number 2 after a 4 minute rest. You should still perform the descending reps 3, 2, and 1, but this time you’ll start out at about 83 percent of the maximum weight you can lift, then increase to 88 percent and finish with 92 to 93 percent. Your third wave will be even heavier: 85 percent, 90 percent, and finally 95 percent of your max weight. You should be able to get in at least two sets in your third wave. Try for 6 reps in the first set, 3 reps in the second set and 1 rep in the third set. It’s possible that you may only go to failure rather than completing all the reps in this last wave. Even if you’re only able to successfully complete the second wave, you’ll still be lifting more than usual and be on your way to serious strength gains.

Once you’ve done your wave exercise for the day, finish your workout with normal weight, sets, and reps with the rest of your exercises.

Take Care

Warming up before any weight lifting workout will help avoid injury; warmups are especially vital when you’re challenging your muscles to lift more than they’re used to lifting. The key to a successful wave workout is conservative increases. You should only increase the amount of weight for each wave by two to three percent, using only 30 percent of your maximum weight for your warmup and starting your first wave at 80 percent of your maximum. Additionally, you might want to alternate wave workouts with your normal routine to give your body a better chance to recover and minimize risk of injury. For example, you could make your first and third workouts in a three-day split wave workouts one week, then do a wave workout during your second workout the following week.

The Best Workout Secret: Mix It Up

It’s so easy to get into an exercise rut, hitting the gym on the same days every week and doing the exact same workout over and over. Humans are creatures of habit, so there’s something comforting about knowing exactly what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. That’s why we hate to break it to you, but your tried-and-true go-to workout is probably working against you, keeping you from losing weight or making strength gains. Yes, yes, it worked wonders for you when you first started doing it three years ago, so we wish we could say it ain’t so. However, even though it’s in your nature to find a comfort zone and stay there forever, it’s in your body’s nature to crave variety. Changing up your workout will benefit you in numerous ways.

Types of Exercise

Along with strengthening and aerobic conditioning your workout should include balance and flexibility exercises.

There are four basic types of exercise, according to the National Institutes of Health:

  • strength
  • aerobic
  • flexibility
  • balance

…and guess what? Your body needs them all. Strength training builds muscle to support your skeleton and to provide the power to lift, push, and pull. Aerobic or cardio exercise keeps your lungs, heart, and circulatory system healthy and in working order. Flexibility training keeps you limber and stretches your muscles for a wide range of movement, and it helps avoid injury. Finally, balance or stability exercises help you maintain control over your movements so you can perform common activities like walking across the room without falling over. The really good news is that many exercises overlap so, for instance, even though resistance training focuses on building strength, it can also help you develop better balance. You can even intentionally perform a workout to cover multiple bases, such as resistance training at a fast pace for a HIIT workout to get your strength training and aerobic exercise in one shot.

More Reasons for Multiple Exercises

An example of a comprehensive and well-rounded exercise regimen could include boxing, aerobics, and Pilates.

Your body is a master at adaptation, meaning that it can get used to even the most challenging workout routine. Mixing up your workout challenges your body so it and you are less likely to adapt to and get bored with your routine. Plus, not knowing what to expect keeps your body on its toes, so to speak, so you won’t plateau as often or, if you do, you’ll be able to push past that stagnant level to see results faster. OneLife Medical points out that changing up your workout will give various parts of your body a break to avoid overuse injuries, too. What’s more, different exercises burn different amounts of calories so, rather than wandering aimlessly between exercises, you can intentionally choose workouts to address the calorie burn you want or need at any given time.

Find What Works for You

Weight training, TargitFit classes, kickboxing, aerobics, yoga, Pilates, rowing, Tai Chi, and a myriad of different outdoor activities including rock climbing and mountain biking. With all that and more to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide, but you don’t need to do them all. Pick a handful that interest you most and give them a go, but do try to make sure that, between them all, they address the four types of exercise. Once you’ve tried several, you can pick three or four you like the best and that your body responds to the most.

Fitness apps are useful additions to workouts. They offer a variety of exercise alternatives and can help keep you on track no matter what your schedule is.

In an interview with Shape magazine, Kate Hudson revealed that, though her body responds best to Pilates and she loves doing it, her workout regimen also includes biking, walking, and boxing. Additionally, because she travels so much, workout apps are her secret weapon to keep exercise in her schedule no matter what else is going on in her life. Hudson favors QE2, Hot5, and Sworkit, but there are tons out there and more being developed every day. Don’t want to wade through the entire vast lot of them? That’s OK. PC Mag did the homework for you and came up with a list of the 25 best ones. Bonus–many of them are free.

Reverse Pyramid Routine for Weight Training

Add muscle and size with a reverse pyramid routine.

 

A reliable method for gaining muscle strength and size is to train using an upside down–or reverse–pyramid. Reversing a typical weight training pyramid routine is one way of encouraging hypertrophy, which happens when you tear the muscle cell down by working it so that it can repair bigger and stronger. This sets your muscles up for optimal growth in size and strength.

What is a Pyramid

A true full pyramid routine takes you to the point of maxing out with heavy weights and back down again, but that takes a lot of time.
Image via Stefan Tosic/YouTube

A full pyramid routine for weight training is effective, but it is also time-consuming. And because full pyramids take up so much time, the number of different exercises that can be performed in a single workout tend to be limited. The premise is this: you begin your workout with an exercise such as bench press, performing the first set with light weight and 10 to 12 reps. Your second set is performed with slightly heavier weights and slightly fewer reps, such as 8 to 10 reps. Then your third set is performed with weight as heavy as you can press for at least 5 but no more than 8 reps. At this point, you’ve worked to the top of the pyramid and will work back down to the lightest weight and the most reps. Often people only train using the first part of the full pyramid, starting out with light weights, high reps and ending with heavy weights, fewer reps.

The Reverse Pyramid

With the upside down or reverse pyramid, you’ll only use the top-to-bottom part of the full pyramid routine. This will have you starting out with the heaviest weight you can successfully lift for at least 5 reps, moving to slightly lighter weights for the next set and finally ending with a set of light weights with more reps. Bodybuilding.com advises adjusting the weight and reps to accommodate your fitness goals. For example, using a 10, 12, 14 range of reps is supposed to help you lose fat while a range of 4, 6, 8 is supposed to do more for increasing strength.

How it Works for You

With your heaviest set first, you’ll be able to put all your energy into pushing through the set.

When you start out using the heaviest weights while training with a reverse pyramid, you aren’t yet fatigued from doing multiple reps with lighter weights first. All your strength and energy are available to press or lift the heavy weight. Then, as the workout progresses, the weight gets lighter–not just in your fatigued muscles’ perception, but literally. Mentally you can push yourself to work through the heavy initial set because you know it will be getting lighter as you go.

The Benefits

bench press

Any type of resistance can be used with a reverse pyramid workout, just as long as the resistance/weight can be increased to a challenging amount.

Because of the way the reverse pyramid functions, your muscles’ recovery will be more efficient. The recovery time for your muscle cells will still be the same as for any workout, about 48 hours. But because of the way your muscles are stressed with the upside down pyramid (using maximum weight at the start) the cells will rebuild bigger during the recovery. This results in gaining strength and size over a shorter period of time. You’ll also save time training because you’ll be performing fewer sets. That means you’ll be able to put more intensity into your workout and spend less time doing it.

Good Stretching Routines for Legs

Stretching before a workout can be helpful in preventing injury and enhancing performance, depending on the type of stretches you do. A study published in Sports Medicine found that dynamic stretching before a workout positively affected performance levels and the controlled movements even resulted in expanded range of motion. Static stretching, which is done simply by reaching to a point of tension then holding the stretch for a moment, will help with flexibility, but not much else. Static stretches are useful, though, when performed during your post-workout cool down because they’re an effective way to keep moving while bringing your heart rate down. Plus the improved flexibility will stay with you long-term to decrease chances of future injuries.

Walking Lunge Stretch–Dynamic

The lunging action in this movement will stretch most of your leg, affecting your quads, hamstrings, and calves. Make sure you have enough room to walk several long strides. Step out as far as is comfortably possible with your left foot, bending your left knee and keeping it just above the toes of your left foot. As you step, lower your right knee to just a few inches above the ground. Keep your upper body straight, abs tight. Rise up, bringing your right leg forward to take the lead in a long stride and bending it in the same way you did your left leg, this time lowering your left knee to just a few inches above the ground. Take at least 10 strides.

Butt Kicks—Dynamic


Butt Kicks will work on your quads and give you a little cardio warm-up while you do it. While jogging in place, bring your heels up to your glutes with each step. You’ll feel the stretch in your quadriceps with the exaggerated pull-back of the steps, and jogging in place will increase your heart-rate. This stretch can be performed a set number of times for the stretching benefits or for a per-determined amount of time to enhance the cardio aspect.

Inner/Outer Thigh Stretches—Dynamic


You might need a stabilizing object, such as a pole or even a chair for performing this stretch for your adductors and abductors. Standing straight and holding onto a chair with your right hand for support if you need it, lift your left leg out to the side. Swing the leg back down and across your body in one smooth motion. Keep your upper body straight, concentrating on moving nothing but your leg during this stretch. Continue moving the leg back and forth through the full range. Do several repetitions, at least 10, before switching sides and stretching your right leg.

Sprinters Stretch–Static


You might know this one as a hurdle stretch. Sit on the floor with your right leg bent behind you and your left leg extended straight in front of you. Lean back slowly. This part of the stretch will work on your quads. Hold the stretch, without bouncing, to the count to 10. Then lean all the way forward, reaching for your toe. This second part of the movement will stretch your calf and hamstring muscles. After completing both parts of this stretch, switch legs and repeat the stretching process on the other side, performing 2 to 3 times on each side.

Butterfly Stretch–Static

butterfly stretchYou’ll really feel it in your inner thigh muscles when you perform a butterfly stretch. Start by sitting on the floor. Bend your legs, bringing the soles of your feet together. Pull your heels in toward your body. Hold your feet with your hands, lean forward, and press your elbows down on your legs. Hold the position steady without bouncing for 10 seconds, then relax the pressure on your legs. Repeat this one 4 to 5 times.

Standing Quad Stretch–Static

The standing quad stretch is a useful one for runners and, as the name suggests, works on your quadriceps. Standing up straight, bend your left knee and catch your left foot with your right hand. Pull your left leg into your body, all the way to your glutes if you are flexible enough. Hold steady for a count of 10 before releasing your foot and moving to the other side to stretch your right leg. It may be necessary to do this one with a chair or other stabilizing object if you need help with balancing on one foot. Also, if you’re not limber enough to grab your foot with the opposite hand, you may have to start out by using your left hand with your left foot and your right hand with your right foot. Repeat this stretch 3 to 4 times with each leg.

Brain Exercise–It’s Not What You Think!


We’ve discussed how exercise is an effective approach to anti-aging, but the focus in the past was mostly on looking and feeling young and retaining balance and overall health. While some may be of the opinion that they don’t care about mental decline as long as they look fabulous, a recent article in Prevention Magazine1 outlined a surprise anti-aging benefit of working out to keep you forever young.

Olga’s Secret

Researchers believe that staying extremely physically active was the key to Olga’s mental acuity well into her 90’s. Image via BBC News/YouTube

Timothy Gower’s article in Prevention introduces readers to Olga Kotelko, who lived to the impressive age of 95, and details the research she inspired and helped to advance. It wasn’t Olga’s longevity that sparked neuroscientists’ curiosity, but her extremely sharp mind. Right up until she passed away, Kotelko’s cognition was far better than other adults in the 90 to 95 age range, based on speed and memory tests. Additionally, an MRI scan showed that physically, though not perfect, her brain had fewer irregularities and aberrations than others her age. One neuroscientist quipped that if she were to guess Olga’s age based on her MRI, she would have thought her to be almost 30 years younger.

So what was Olga’s secret? The single thing that she did differently than the majority of nonagenarians was to be physically active. Olga didn’t just stroll around the mall, though. She excelled in track and field, and it wasn’t just that she gave the events a good go. Olga Kotelko won 750 (!) gold medals and set almost 40 world records in long jump, javelin throw, sprinting, and other events–and it was all accomplished in the years after she turned 77 and before she passed away at 95, proving that it doesn’t matter how old you are when you start, just as long as you do start!

Not Just Luck

Grow your brain while you grow your muscles–exercise has been shown to enhance growth factors that increase gray matter in the memory center of the brain.

Lest you rush to the assumption that Olga was just lucky, or had good genes, researchers have studied thousands of seniors and found that Kotelko’s results in staying mentally sharp can be duplicated by anyone who is inclined to make the effort. When the aerobic activity, physical activity, and brain activity was measured in adults between the ages of 60 and 80, the ones who were most physically active showed patterns linked to improved cognitive function. Specifically, their brains were more oxygenated, and their patterns of brain activity were better.

In fact, based on specific studies, researchers believe that, just like muscles, brains benefit from exercise because it increases oxygen and blood flow and reduces stress through increased endorphins and levels of norepinephrine. What’s more, a 2019 study linked exercise with memory activation. One of the most significant responses in the brain to exercise, however, is an increase in growth factors that actually support the creation of new nerve cells and improve cognitive agility. Further, research published in Scientific Reports found that people who work out regularly have more gray matter in the memory centers of their brains, the hippocampal region. Considering that there was a time when it was believed that there was nothing that could be done once neurons died, that revelation is huge.

A Dr’s Prescription to Reverse Brain Aging

Brain teasers are useful for improving cognitive function in your later years, but experts say that exercise is even more important.

The evidence for exercise being just as good for the brain as it is for the body is so overwhelming that doctors from psychiatrists to neuroscientists are recommending working out as a very real way to not just stop aging in the brain but to reverse it and even avoid dementia. Psychiatrist Dr. Gary Small developed a protocol for a 14-day program, detailed in his book “2 Weeks to a Younger Brain,” co-written with Gigi Vorgan. Though Dr. Small confirms that puzzles and brain-teaser games are useful, he says that working out is more effective because of the physical effects it has on the brain. Other doctors, including Washington University in St. Louis professor of psychology Dr. Mark McDaniel say that you’ll get the best results from engaging in both resistance training and cardio exercise.

What Works

Whatever your basic exercise routine, add something new like kickboxing or intervals for an element of challenge that will maximize brain benefits from working out.

Challenge is the key that optimizes the benefits of exercise to improve brain function, restore memory, and reverse the aging process. That doesn’t mean you should dive right in to signing up for a triathlon or biking across the country. Instead, suggestions from health and fitness professionals center around simply tweaking routines. Take a fitness class you’ve never participated in before to learn new routines and skills. Walk or jog a different route every month, maybe one that is rocky, uneven, or uphill, or add in some intervals. Even if you’re already accomplished at your favorite sport such as weight lifting or tennis, sign on with a trainer now and then to learn new techniques and exercises–or try something different like golf, rock climbing or kick boxing. Any physical activity that also requires you to learn something new increases communication in different parts of the brain, which just adds to the benefits your brain is already reaping from exercise.

 

1Timothy Gower, “Forever Young,” Prevention, April 2016

 

Circuit Training Routines for Women

Some women shy away from weight training because they don’t want to “bulk up”, but circuit training has emerged as a useful way for women to lose weight and get fit. First, the inherent flexibility of circuit training allows you to tailor your workout for toning and fat loss. That same adaptability means you can continually change up your workout to keep it interesting–which means you’ll be less likely to lose motivation to work out.  

How It’s Done

You can use your body weight or resistance equipment when circuit training. Image via Nicole Pearce/YouTube

You probably know what circuit training is, but let’s refresh our memories. In a typical free-weight workout, you go through a list of exercises, doing about three sets of each one before moving to the next. With circuit training, you can start with that same list of exercises but instead, you’ll do one set of one exercise and then immediately move to the next one and the next, resting no more than 15 seconds between each exercise. The sets are timed, too, instead of consisting of a certain number of reps. You just do as many reps as you can within the allotted time–anywhere from 30 seconds up to 1 minute. Once you’ve cycled through the complete circuit once, you start over, with the goal of going through the entire circuit 2 to 3 times. The number of exercises in a circuit is up to you. Beginners might start out with as few as 4 or 5 different exercises, but there can be as many as 12 or more different exercises in a circuit. If you attempt more than 6 exercises, though, you’ll probably only have the time and energy to go through the entire circuit once or twice.  

Examples of Circuit Routines

Just about any workout routine can be done as a circuit. Image via HASfit/YouTube

The number of different exercise combinations you can use for circuit training routines are endless. You can group upper body exercises together one day, then do a lower body circuit on a different day. Or, do a couple of full-body days, doing different exercises each day. For example, you might try crunches, rows, machine chest press and dumbbell flys one day, then squats, lunges, leg curls and leg press the next day. A useful feature of circuit training is that you can incorporate aerobic exercises in with free weight and machine exercises, jogging in place or climbing on the stair-stepper for a set (30 to 60 seconds) in between the resistance sets. This adds a fun dimension to your workout, and it’s nice to be able to get your cardio done at the same time as your resistance workout. 

Circuit Training Especially for Women

Women can tailor their circuit training to focus on specific fitness goals, and they love that circuits accomplish cardio and resistance training at the same time.

Anyone–men or women–can certainly benefit from circuit training, but the ease in which each person can adapt a circuit for their fitness goals makes it especially useful for women. If toning and fat loss are the main goals, circuit training can handily accomplish them with small adjustments to the routine. Lighter weights and longer set times will burn more fat and tone muscle without building it up excessively. Also, taking shorter rest times between sets will keep your heart rate up for more effective fat burning. The routines themselves can be tailored to concentrate on areas you want to work on most, like toning your abs, working on definition in your calf muscles, or tightening up the backs of your arms.

Circuit Training Equipment

Jen working out

The elements of numerous exercises and being able to quickly move from one to another makes the TargitFit Trainer perfect for women’s circuit training.

If you belong to a health club, you’ve already got some quality circuit training equipment at your disposal. Your gym might even offer circuit training classes you can attend. But if you prefer working out at home, your local sporting goods store will have a selection of equipment that can be used for circuit training at home. Items like resistance bands, dumbbells, and fitness balls are all basic items that can be purchased fairly inexpensively. Or, you can have access to over 115 gym-quality exercises with one piece of equipment with the TargitFit Trainer. The workout gear you choose depends on your budget and your preferences for exercise.