Thursday, June 29, 2006

Stretch and Strengthen Those Thighs!

I like to end my workouts with 5 to 8 minutes of relaxed stretching. One movement I enjoy not only stretches (the hip region, inner thighs, and quadriceps)— it strengthens those areas as well. I learned the movement years ago while practicing Tai Chi with an early morning group in the park. It is a stretch practiced in most martial arts and for good reason.

Give it a try. If you like it, integrate it where it works best for you. I just happen to like it as part of my stretching.

To begin, stand with your feet spread wider than shoulder width. Smoothly, drop down to one side as shown here.

Now, move your upper body -- without moving your feet -- across your center . . .

and over to your opposite side. Now, move back-and- forth, smoothly, without coming up.

As you grow more flexible, build up your reps.

If you have difficulty balancing or you are at first too tight to shift side-to-side, that is normal. Be patient. For balance, hold on to a pole or any sturdy support and slowly lower yourself to one side. Hold for a bit. Then come up. Do the same thing on the other side.

It may seem very awkward at first, but if you do it a few times at each workout, before long you will be sliding side-to-side with ease.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Soy component linked to heart health benefits

A specific estrogen-like compound, daidzein, appears to be responsible for the healthy effects of soy on cholesterol levels in women, a new study shows.

Women with high levels of daidzein in their blood had lower levels of triglycerides, higher levels of HDL-C or "good" cholesterol, and healthier ratios of total to good cholesterol levels, Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and colleagues found.

More information here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Heart Health

The American Heart Association on Monday released new lifestyle recommendations that urge Americans to cut calories and artery-clogging fats, and to replace "screen time" with exercise. Read the story here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What is "Periodization" Anyway?

In my book for senior beginners, I explain a straight line progression plan for building strength and fitness. You begin lifting a weight you can manage without straining for 12 repetitions. At your next training session, you do 13 reps. Then 14 at the following workout, and, finally, 15.

Then you add 5 to 10 pounds to the bar, go back to doing 12 reps, and begin the progression over again. It works in a similar way with cardio. Say that you choose walking. At each workout, you add some minutes to your total. That is how classic straight line strength and fitness progression works.

It is a solid beginner's plan — for a while. But eventually, you hit a wall. Call it what you want, a “sticking point,” a “plateau,” or whatever. If you simply try to push through it while doing the same things in the same way, you inevitably experience physical or psychological burnout.

The great Russian weightlifters realized this long ago and came up with an effective training protocol known as periodization. It works, more or less, like the following:

For 4 or 5 weeks, they trained with rather light weights (light for them anyway), doing 10 to 20 reps per set.

• Then during the next 4 weeks, they did medium reps per set (5 to 8 reps) with heavier weights.

• Finally, they would do low reps (2 or 3 per set) with heavy weights for a few weeks, culminating in a competition.

• After the competition, they would do 1 or 2 weeks of “active rest,” doing some kind of non-lifting type of exercise such as running, swimming or cycling.

Following the active rest period, they would begin another cycle.

You may not be a power lifter; nevertheless, once you have progressed beyond the beginner stage, all training, whether it is for a particular sport, bodybuilding, or general conditioning, should follow a somewhat similar format of 1) gradual buildup, 2) peaking, and 3) active rest.

Why? Because no one can continually push to the limit at every workout and make progress. While on the subject, it should be noted that Russian lifters do not train to failure. Total, all out efforts are reserved for competitions only. Most of us are not in competitions. Still the principle remains the same. Test your limits once in a while, but trying for a personal best at every workout only leads to dreading your training, injury and or eventual failure.

Train with variety. Mix it up. Change your routine. Do high reps for a while. Then switch to medium reps with heavier weights. For cardio, push to better yourself for a while. Add some sprints. Then back off and do something different and with less intensity for a couple of weeks.

You will not only make greater progress, you will enjoy training more.