Health and fitness with Tiffiny Hall KIck-start the New Year with some fresh inspiration from our January 2017 cover model Tiffiny Hall. We chat to her about all things health, fitness and motivation.ON THE MEANING OF FITNESS:The meaning of fitness for me is, well, fitness with meaning. You have to train with purpose. W eight loss and changing body shape isn’t enough because weight comes and goes and body parts come in and out of fashion, like round bums. The deeper the meaning, the more powerful the motivation
In a perfect fitness world, you’d warm-up, you’d cool-down, you’d cross-train, you’d do intervals, and, oh, yeah, a laundry fairy would come wash your gear so you never had to wear a sweaty sports bra two workouts in a row. ;
But alas, if you’re like most women, you live in a fitness world where managing to cram in a few minutes at the gym is about as good as it gets. And when you do manage to make it to the gym—and log your usual 20 minutes on the treadmill—you wonder if you’re sacrificing results or risking injury by always doing the same old thing.
We took a look at seven common fitness habits to see which ones are forgivable—and which ones you should definitely change.
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Habit: You never warm-up.
Unless you’re about to compete in an intense activity, skipping a warm-up—a preliminary, easy workout—won’t likely hurt you. And in some cases, a too long warm-up can actually decrease workout performance, finds research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. According to the study, cyclists who warmed up extensively ended up sacrificing their performance. The athletes faired better with a shorter, more leisurely warm-up.
“It depends on what you’re doing,” Dr. Robert G. Marx, an orthopedic surgeon with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, said. “You want to warm-up if you’re playing a sport that involves sprinting, such as soccer.” ;
In that case, start with a few minutes of low-intensity dynamic (movement-based) exercise, such as 10 yards of skipping, backwards running, or lunges, said Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and author of “The 12-Week Triathlete.” ;
For walking or weight training, it’s OK to skip the warm-up but start out easy.
Habit: You skip workouts if your muscles ache.
Muscle aches occurring a day or two after a strength workout is a sign of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which can also happen if you’ve tried a new exercise move or worked out more intensely. And it’s totally normal, as in no need to ride the couch for days of recovery. ;
“DOMS is believed to be caused by microscopic tears within the affected muscle fibers,” Dr. C. David Geier, Jr., an orthopedic surgeon and director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, said.
And there’s no need to skip your workout entirely, Geier said. ;
“Simply choose lighter cardio workouts that increase blood flow or practice gentle stretching of the sore muscles.” ;
Just avoid aggravating the sore muscles with the same exercises, Geier said, as it could cause muscles to remain sore for a longer period of time. The caveat: if you’re in pain, not just sore, don’t power through. ;
Habit: You work through pain.
The muscle aches and soreness of DOMS is one thing, but a sharp or persistent pain that worsens over time may be a sign of something more serious. If you continue to push through pain it can worsen over time and be harder to heal, Marx said. ;
“Generally, you don’t want to work out when something just ‘doesn’t feel right,’ which most people can tell.” ;
Listen to your body. The amount of time off that you lose recovering from an injury is far longer than heeding your body’s warning and going easy in the first place, Marx said. For example, an ACL tear can take three to four months to heal after surgery, Marx said. See a doctor if the pain lasts longer than reasonably expected (this varies depending on the injury) or worsens over time. (What to do about calf pain)
Habit: You don’t cool down.
The verdict: Forgivable
When you barely have time to work out, cooling down for another 10 minutes seems like time better spent elsewhere. And in most cases it is. Failure to cool down won’t negatively impact you, Geier said. ;
“However, cooling down for a few minutes allows the heart rate and blood pressure to gradually return to normal and may also keep lactic acid from building up in the fatigued muscles.” ;
A cool-down help flush out the metabolic byproducts that cause that uncomfortable burning sensation in your muscles after a hard workout. And while cooling down isn’t crucial, if flexibility is a goal, you may want to take five minutes at the end of your workout to lightly stretch after a gradual cool down period. ;
“Muscles stretch easier when they’re warm,” Geier said. ;
Habit: You don’t stretch before a workout.
The verdict: Forgivable
Skipping stretching before exercise is not only forgivable but may even be recommended, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The study shows that stretching prior to weight lifting may make you feel weaker and more off-balance during your workout—two things you could do without when you’ve got dumbbells teetering over your face. ;
Another analysis of data published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine Science and Sport finds that stretching before exercise is generally unnecessary. ;
“Studies also show that stretching does not prevent injury,” Marx said. “If strength is your goal, you’re better off using the time for strengthening and core exercises.”
That said, it’s important to maintain flexibility overall—you just don’t have to do it before exercise. Stretch in the morning or before bed (it feels great!) or take a weekly yoga class to limber up. ;
Habit: You machine hop without a plan.
The verdict: Forgivable
Hopping from machine to machine without a real plan has its pros and cons, Holland said. ;
“On the upside you have built-in ‘muscle confusion,’ which means your muscles won’t adapt easily to your routine,” Holland said. “On the downside, unless you’re an advanced exerciser, you need to develop a sound strength base before you can build on it. Jumping around doesn’t allow for that.” ;
Holland says you need a certain amount of consistency before you make changes if you want to develop lean muscle tone. He recommends sticking with one routine for four to six weeks to develop that benchmark of strength and to learn proper lifting techniques.
Habit: You stay within your comfort zone.
The verdict: Regrettable
Staying within your comfort zone means you’re not challenging yourself enough to create results, says Holland. ;
“We tend to do what we like. But if you only do the exercises you like (which are usually the ones you do well) you’re not going to burn as many calories and you’ll just reach a plateau.”
;Comfortable exercises such as gentle walking or using light resistance may offer low-level heart benefits but little else. ;
“The truth is, exercise isn’t always fun,” Holland said. “If you want results, a sense of accomplishment is fun.” ;
Holland recommends exercising at about a seven intensity on a scale of one to 10 (for cardio as well as resistance training). “You should be uncomfortable, but it’s not unbearable. For cardio this means you can talk, but it’s difficult,” he says.
In many serious lifters’ playbook, the squat is the go-to lift for developing serious lower body strength and size. It no doubt gets the job done, but as with all exercises, there will come a point where you feel like you’ve hit a ceiling. You know you should be able to move more weight around, but your muscles just don’t seem to cooperate. At times like these, a temporary vacation from the same-old squat routine is in order.
Don’t worry, after you try one or several of these tried-and-true techniques, you can always come back to the squat variations you know and love best. In most cases, you’ll be stronger and more balanced when you do.
1 Try Single Leg Variations
It’s amazing how simply shifting the work from two legs to one leg can exponentially crank up the difficulty. You might think, “Ok, I’ll just squat half of the heavy load I’ve been moving in a back squat,” but in most cases, you’ll find that weight laughing at you the first time you try it.
The increased balance demands of single-leg squat variations make them highly difficult to the unaccustomed, but they are worth it! Stick with them until you find your footing. Unilateral exercises also confer additional benefits in correcting side-to-side muscular imbalances, which many people find to be a key to building even greater bilateral (two-leg) strength.
While there are many one-legged squat moves to choose from, my somewhat unorthodox recommendation for you, if you struggle to improve a barbell back squat, is to try the pistol squat. Tread lightly! Even bodyweight pistol squats can be extremely difficult for most lifters, at least in the beginning. The initial instability produces more muscle engagement, and the high level of muscle control this exercise demands may initially force you to hold onto something for balance. There’s no shame in that, I promise!
In the beginning, perform this exercise with bodyweight only until you can safely and confidently hit six consecutive reps. After you’ve done this for a while with good form, you can start adding weights, either by holding a dumbbell plate, a kettlebell, or a couple of light dumbbells held straight out in front of you. Once you can perform 6 good-form reps with a weight between 25 and 45 pounds in your arms, you should see a notable improvement in every other lower-body lift.
2 Spread Out
In a standard back squat, most experts would direct you to point your feet straight forward, or perhaps ever-so-slightly outward. A small adjustment in your foot position, they know, can cause a significant shift in the muscles that are worked.
Following that logic, try this on for size: Spread your feet slightly past shoulder-width and point your toes outward at a 45-degree angle. This adjusted position is called the sumo squat , and it will develop strength and mobility of the hips, adductors, and glutes to a greater extent than a narrow-stance squat.
Some people may find this position to be more comfortable for their individual body, and it becomes their go-to squat. That’s great for them, but make sure you do it right before you fall in love. Ensure that your knees don’t spill too far over your toes when you drop it low. And, perhaps even more importantly, don’t flare your knees inward as you bottom out. Get them out wide over your toes!
3 Pause At the Bottom
Are ya ready to feel your quads and buns burn? Try pausing at the bottom of any squatting movement. This applies to front squats, back squats, pistols, and all other variations you see in the gym. This pause eliminates the stretch reflex in the muscles, and thereby forces the muscle to generate more “true” force to be able to complete the squat.
What do I mean by “true?” At the bottom of a deep squat, the stretch in your hamstrings and adductors helps you bounce out of the hole to some degree, even if it doesn’t look like a “bounce” per se. Envision pulling back a rubber band to a stretched position; it is now primed to spring back to its normal elasticity with even greater power. Adding a brief isometric contraction of about 2-4 seconds makes this “bounce” impossible, and has the potential to improve strength and power production from the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and other lower-body prime movers.
Some lifters find this to be such an effective technique that they perform at least some sets starting from the bottom. This is known as an “Anderson Squat.”
4 Add Half-Reps From the Bottom
Trying new squatting variations is only one way to attack a squat that doesn’t seem to be progressing. Another is to take your current form of squatting and simply make it more difficult. A great way to accomplish this is to perform half-reps from the bottom.
These are just what they sound like. Sink down into a full squat, and then rise up just halfway. Pause, and then lower back into the hole before pushing up into the full standing position. Sound easy? In execution, it’s anything but. This technique places more stress on your muscles during your weakest point of the squat movement pattern, which allows you to build strength where you need it most. Just don’t call me when you can’t sit down comfortably for the next few days.
Few people are able approach their normal squatting volume with half-reps being added in, so take it slowly. Add 1-2 half reps per set to start, and build up until you can perform a full set with a half-rep in between each full rep.
5 Shift the Load
When someone mentions the squat in casual conversation—what, your friends don’t do that?—-most people imagine the back squat during which the bar is placed behind the neck. But that is only one type of loaded squat, and to be honest, it isn’t right for everyone. Some people simply never feel comfortable with the spinal compression that results from having a barbell sit on top of their back. Others find that for reasons of balance, knee strength, or something else, they are able to achieve far superior form with other variations. Open your mind and your squat will feel the benefit!
Take, for example, the front squat. In comparison to the back squat, the front squat hammers the quads more and calls for additional muscle activity from the hips and lower back. Due to the biomechanical nature of the movement, the front squat places less spinal compression and torque on the knees as well. Simply put, it offers much of the same stimulus as the back squat, but less risk to your most vulnerable areas.
“In comparison to the back squat, the front squat hammers the quads more and calls for additional muscle activity from the hips and lower back.”
Most athletes find that maximal weight they can front squat will be approximately 80 percent of a back squat’s maximal lift, so bragging rights aren’t quite the same. But in recent years, having a strong front-squat max has become cooler than ever, and is often taken as a sign of being an overall well-rounded athlete. And you’d better believe boosting your front squat will help your back squat grow, too!
6 Make It Explosive
Common sense says that the only way to develop a heavy squat is to squat heavy. Sure, that’s part of it, but there is another proven method: squat fast. Bar speed is often overlooked because it often makes the exercise feel “easy” or less productive, but cranking up the velocity of your squat can help your squat immensely by allowing you to practice technique while still training for peak power.
So what exactly makes it a “speed squat?” Perform the squat at a smaller percentage of your max. Depending on your repetition range and volume of work you want to get done, this can range between 35 and 70 percent of your one-rep max. For heavier loads, lower the rep scheme; the lighter the scheme is, the higher reps should be. You can perform a set portion of a leg day for speed, or if you’re really dedicated to squatting, you could split your week into light and heavy days.
Another way to add power to the squat is by performing bodyweight squat jumps. Drop down into a deep bodyweight squat and launch yourself off the ground as high as you can go. Land quietly, meet the balls of your feet to the floor, and bend your knees slightly to absorb the impact. Drop back into the squat position and continue your reps in this fashion. As you would in any exercise, maintain proper form throughout, being mindful of spine and knee positions. Don’t lean too far forward or let your knees pass too far over your toes.
Give one or all of these tips a try on your next lower-body training day, and share your experience in the comments below!
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