Finding Exercise Motivation When You’re Depressed

How to Get Moving When You’re Low on Energy
  — By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
I know exercise is supposed to help me fight depression, but how can I find the motivation to work out when I’m depressed?

Depression definitely can make it hard to find the motivation for exercise (among other things) because loss of interest in normal activities, along with the ability to enjoy them, is often one of the main symptoms of depression. But what does that mean in practical terms?

It definitely doesn’t mean that you’ll have to wait until your depression has cleared up before you’ll be able to start building up a regular exercise routine. In fact, it probably means just the opposite. You might need to stop looking for your motivation or waiting for it to appear before you start working out.  Instead, recognize that feeling unmotivated is part of the illness and that starting a regular exercise routine is an important part of the cure. It’s a lot like getting out of bed in the morning on a low day—you might not feel like it; but you know that if you don’t do it, things are only going to go downhill from there.

The good news is that actually starting an effective exercise routine isn’t as unpleasant or difficult as it seems. Just because you’re depressed doesn’t mean you’ll to have to spend weeks or months forcing yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing; you just have to start by taking the first few steps on faith. That’s because motivation is actually a mental muscle that works a lot like your other muscles—the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And just like there are good (and bad) ways to train your other muscles effectively, there are good ways to train your motivation so it gets stronger as you go along, and makes it easier for you to establish and maintain a good exercise habit. Here are a few good motivation muscle training tips to get you started.

Start with where you are today, and move forward from there. Exercise doesn’t have to mean 60 minutes of heart-pounding, heavy-breathing activity that leaves you sweaty, sore and exhausted. And you don’t need any special equipment or a gym membership to get started. You can start with something as simple as a walk around the block, going up and down your stairs a couple of times, or just taking some time to stretch your muscles while you’re watching TV. The important thing at first is to make a deal with yourself that you’ll do something every day rather than nothing. Once you’ve established a good streak of doing some activity every day, you can take the next step of trying to do a little more today than you did yesterday, and setting yourself some realistic goals or physical challenges that will keep things interesting.

Pay attention to how your efforts make you feel.
One of the chief benefits of exercise, especially if you’re dealing with depression, is the way it stimulates the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters in your brain. These are your body’s natural feel-good chemicals, and they can provide a significant mood boost at the same time they’re helping you generate some motivation to keep moving. You can make it easier for your endorphins to do all this for you if you pay attention to how your exercise makes you feel.

Notice how you’re feeling before, during, and after your exercise. Did your energy level pick up once you got started? Did you feel better afterward than you did before you started? How do you feel after you decide to skip your workouts, and how does that compare to how you feel when you decide to just do it? On days when you find yourself struggling to get started with exercise, take a moment to ask yourself how you’d rather feel today and which choice seems most likely to help you make that happen?

Be aware though, that exercise isn’t a substitute for other forms of treatment you might  also need when you’re dealing with a clinical depression. Rather, it’s a way you can help increase the positive effects of those treatments.

Reward yourself for successes, small and large.
One of the best ways to turn one good decision into a string of good decisions is to reward yourself. Earlier I mentioned starting a streak of days on which you decide to do some kind of physical activity rather than none. You can help yourself achieve this goal by setting a specific and reasonable target of consecutive days (let’s say seven) and then setting up a reward you can earn by achieving that goal. Maybe there’s a book you think you might enjoy or a movie you’d like to see, or maybe it’s been a while since you’ve gone out for dinner with a friend. It can be anything, really, as long as it won’t bust your budget or add any stress to your life. And if you can pick a reward that involves something you used to enjoy before becoming depressed, all the better.

Once you’ve achieved your first goal, set another one that’s a bit more challenging, like working your way up to 30 minutes of exercise, and find a new reward. Keep your goals specific, relatively short-term, and reasonable, and always keep in mind that progress doesn’t require perfection. If you miss a day of exercise that doesn’t end this whole project—it just means you start counting your seven days over at one again.

Share your efforts with someone else in the same boat.
One of the factors that can make depression especially difficult to beat is that people who haven’t been depressed often don’t seem to understand what you’re going through. Often, they seem to think (and will be happy to tell you) that you just need to snap out of it or pull yourself together. That’s not true, any more than someone with diabetes or pneumonia just needs to snap out of it; and it’s not helpful. One thing that does seem pretty clear is that people do a lot better at overcoming depression when they have the support and company of people who do know what you’re dealing with—because they’re also trying to do the same thing. So if you’re struggling to establish a regular exercise routine, find others in the same boat.

Most communities have in-person support groups focused on depression recovery, and there are many online resources that include social communities—like right here on SparkPeople. You can find active message board threads and exercise challenges, as well as online exercise buddies and accountability partners you can hook up with if you think that would be helpful. There’s nothing like the feeling of not wanting to let your exercise partner down to get you up and moving when you might otherwise not. There are also SparkTeams of members dealing with depression that can give you a place to go when you need to talk about what’s going on for you, or find someone you can help out when you want to get your mind off your own problems for a little while.

Source
Mayo Clinic. “Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms,” accessed February 25, 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.com.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Are Your Fitness Goals Realistic?

Forget Failure. Set Yourself Up for Success!
  — By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer & Fitness Instructor
In life, we’re told to dream big. Reach for the stars. Go for the gold. While I think everyone would agree that having big aspirations is admirable not to mention inspiring, you should take a more calculated approach when setting fitness goals. It may seem counterintuitive to start small, but remember that you want to set yourself up for success not burnout or injury.

Think about it. How many times have you or someone you know set a huge goal to lose 50 or more pounds, or exercise for an hour six days a week, only to fall off the wagon a few weeks (or days) later? The truth is that even when people have the best of intentions and the willpower to set out and do something grand, without a plan and a smart goal, they stumble—and are more likely to fail.

When you first set a goal, you’re full of energy and completely motivated, but over time those feelings can wane and your overzealousness can push you to do too much too soon. The fix is to define a progressive set of fitness goals that build on one another to help propel you toward that big dream or aspiration. Breaking a big goal into smaller, realistic goals can help you both mentally and physically. This method can also help you improve your fitness level gradually and safely, which helps to build confidence.

The first step to setting realistic goals is to really think about your goal and write it down.

Then, ask yourself these three questions:

    1. 1. How big is the goal? Is your goal only attainable in three months or more? If so, make a or goals to get you to that long-term goal. Ideally, you should be able to reach the smaller goal in two to six weeks.

 

    1. 2. What does it take to achieve the goal? This question addresses your goal’s frequency. If reaching your goal requires five workouts a week, but you can only get a babysitter two days a week, then you need to scale back your goal. Be realistic about what time you have to devote to the goal and be honest about your fitness level. Building your fitness base takes time, and being smart about increasing it will help you stay injury-free. As a general rule, never increase your weight lifted or your minutes exercised by more than 10 percent in any given week. Slow and steady really does win the race!

 

    3. Can you see yourself reaching the goal? You want a program that you can stick with for the long haul—not just this week. Be completely honest with yourself and ask if you can realistically see yourself doing what it takes to achieve the goal at hand. If you can and it meets the above criteria, then you probably have a goal !

Take a look at these common situations (and fixes) that I’ve encountered as a personal trainer:
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Unrealistic Goal for a Non-Competitive Exerciser: I want to complete an endurance event in two weeks. Competitive events are an excellent way to stay motivated and a great goal, but many triathlons and running races put a lot of wear and tear on the body, and if you do too much too soon (or without proper form or footwear), you can get injured, which really puts a damper on your dreams and is just plain painful!

Realistic Goal: I will complete a shorter distance endurance event like a 5K or sprint triathlon in three to six months. If you want to begin participating in endurance events, it’s important to start building your fitness base slowly and really listen to your body. If you can walk comfortably for at least 20 minutes and can commit to working out four to five times a week for 20 to 40 minutes, then a 5K training program is a great place to start. A run/walk program is flexible and lets you see results over the course of just a few weeks, which is both exciting and motivational. Plus, if you get into it and find that you really despise running or it makes your knees hurt, you can walk and still reach your goal instead of giving up after the first week. Additionally, the time frame of two months is long enough—and the 5K itself is challenging enough—so reaching the goal is big enough to result in one of the best rewards of all: bragging rights!

Unrealistic Goal for a Sedentary Person: I want to go to the gym every day. There are two main issues with this goal. First, it’s not specific—what activities do you want to do and for how long? After all, just showing up at the gym doesn’t accomplish anything unless you get your body moving. Second, it’s not realistic. I love to work out and even I don’t want to go to the gym every day. Plus, taking a day off here and there helps give your muscles time to repair and rest, and it gives you a break mentally.

Realistic Goal: I will be active for at least 10 minutes each day. While this goal isn’t specific when it comes to the activity, it is specific and realistic with the time constraint. While going to an hourlong Spinning class every day would be impossible, not to mention not very healthy for you (cross-training is important so that no specific groups of muscles get overused), doing something active for 10 minutes a day, whether it’s a walk after work, some push-ups or sit-ups over lunch, or a full session at the gym or with a workout DVD, is very doable. Also, note the addition of “at least” in this goal, which helps to emphasize that 10 minutes is just a minimum. Over time, this goal could progress to have a minimum of 15, then 20, then 30 minutes.

Unrealistic Goal for a Novice Exerciser: I want to do the workout I did in high school. If you used to play a sport competitively when you were younger and are itching to get back into it, beware. Most sports require explosive and powerful movement that can give your body a rude awakening—such as extreme soreness or injury—especially when you try to do something that you haven’t done in years. Even if you were the high school team captain, if you haven’t practiced it in many years, start slowly and be cautious.

Realistic Goal: I will meet with a personal trainer once a week for a month and follow his or her strength routine two times a week. Even if you were MVP of your team back in the day, a lot has changed in sports performance and workouts over the last few years. Instead of going out and doing the same old workout that you remember from high school, take the time to meet with a personal trainer who specializes in your sport or regularly works with athletes. He or she can get you back in the sport saddle with a strength routine that prepares your body for competition and will help you prevent injury. A qualified personal trainer will also help you set other realistic goals once you’ve built your foundation to play. (If you’re not sure how to look for a personal trainer or what else you need to ask, read this.)

Don’t Forget to Reward Yourself
Perhaps the most important component of setting an effective and realistic fitness goal is rewarding yourself when you reach your goals, even the small ones! From buying yourself a new magazine to read, enjoying a long bath, or buying a new pair of workout shorts, the reward should be a time where you compliment yourself for your hard work and revel in your success.

Also, don’t be afraid to tweak a goal as time goes by. Life happens! Remember, the key to setting yourself up for success is to be realistic. Now, start setting those goals!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Get Fit Without Leaving the House

Home Gyms are Practical and Affordable
  — By Liz Noelcke, Staff Writer

Imagine a gym you can commute to in seconds. It’s open 24-hours, so you can come and go as you please—on your time. It’s comfortable, and you feel completely at ease when you work out there. Oh, and membership is free. You may be daydreaming, but the perfect gym is a dream that can come true…in your own home.

 

There is no reason that you can’t make a home gym part of your reality. A home gym adds convenience and privacy to your workouts. When you exercise at home, you save time, money, and the rush hour headaches (on the road and in line for the elliptical). Although you might be cautious due to budget and space limitations in your house, building a home gym isn’t as impractical as you might think. After all, gym memberships can occupy a large portion of your budget at several hundred dollars per year.

The Basics

Remember, you want to build a gym based on your own personal needs and fitness level. As you progress, you can add on equipment, so don’t feel that you need to buy everything at one time. Your gym can be as simple or complex as you want.

 

  1. Dumbbells (Free weights): A good set of dumbbells will help you start a strength training routine. There are two basic options when it comes to dumbbells. You can buy single sets based on the weight you want to lift. These are often metal, but can also be covered with a rubber material to keep them from slipping out of your hands. Expect to pay $15-$20 for a pair of 5-pound weights. Prices will increase as the weight goes up. A second option is to buy an adjustable dumbbell set. This includes two handles (or bars) for you to grip, as well as plates of varying weights that can be attached. Depending how many plates you get, expect to pay at least $60 for a set like this. Fancier versions can run up to $350 or more.
  2. Resistance Bands: Bands are great because they are compact, portable, and allow for a wide range of motion. Resistance bands come in three or four different levels of resistance and usually run around $15 for one band. These can be used pretty much any way that a dumbbell can be used, so if you are in a budget crunch, these might be the better option. To learn more, read No Need to Stretch the Truth About Resistance Bands.
  3. Stability (Swiss, Balance, Physio) Ball: An exercise ball, no matter which name it goes by, is simply an oversized inflatable ball. These are extremely versatile, and not just for core workouts anymore. You can sit, lie, and balance on them during almost any exercise, rather than investing in an exercise bench. Plus, this unstable surface targets your core muscles and improves your balance and coordination. The balls come in different sizes (based on your height and weight), and a rainbow of colors, and cost around $25 apiece. Read Exercising with a Stability Ball to learn more.
  4. Exercise Mat: Place a good exercise mat on the floor to stretch comfortably, cushion your body during floor exercises (from crunches to modified pushups), and prevent slipping while lifting weights. Consider this a must if you do a lot of Pilates or yoga. Plus, they can roll up out of the way for storage if your space is limited. For about $20 you can get a sticky mat (for Pilates and yoga), which is thin—but better than a hard floor. The price goes up for larger and thicker mats.

Once you’ve purchased some or all of the basics, you’re well on your way! <pagebreak>

 

The Extras

  1. Cardio Machines: Next, consider a piece of aerobic workout equipment. Whichever you choose, make sure your machine has different resistance levels to allow for workout variety and challenge as you progress. Also available, for a price of course, are computer systems with timers, calorie counters, RPMs (for bikes, ellipticals) and even heart rate monitors. Before you make a major purchase, try one for several minutes in a store. While it might be tempting to buy the cheapest available, you’ll want to make sure you are investing in a solid piece of equipment that you are comfortable on.
    • If you like running and walking, a treadmill is a good option. Keep in mind, however, that running outside is free, while these machines are costly—at least $600 for the most basic model.
    • Stationary bikes or elliptical machines are more affordable alternatives.   Elliptical machines, which cost at least $400, are low-impact (and fun!). Bikes come in two different varieties, recumbent (like sitting in a chair with a backrest) and upright (standard seat) and also cost at least $400 for a decent model.
    • Of course, a jump rope is a cheap piece of equipment that can also get your heart pumping!
  2. Workout Bench: Space and budget allowing, a good workout bench is a solid investment. Look for one that adjusts at varying angles (incline, flat, and decline). Many benches start at around $90. Make sure to purchase a sturdy bench (test it out for length, width, weight limit) to support you effectively while you work out.
  3. Universal Gym Machine: Finally, the king of home workout equipment is an all-in-one weight machine. You’ve probably seen them on infomercials, but are also available for purchases in many stores. They will run at least $800, but are often well over $1,000. These machines include a bench and various pulleys and weights, which combine all the machines in a commercial gym into one compact unit, allowing you to do squats, presses, curls, and pull downs.

All of these pieces of gym equipment are available in a variety of places—sporting goods stores, department stores, websites, and by catalog. For a great deal, consider purchasing gently used equipment. Look through the classified ads, auction websites, and even garage sales. If possible, test it out before you buy.

<pagebreak>

Set Up

Start small. A few basic pieces of equipment are all you need. You don’t need 5 different weight machines to have a great gym, although if your budget and house allows it, consider yourself blessed. Keeping just the basics on hand will help make healthy lifestyle goals much more attainable.

 

Make sure you have enough space for your gym. Choose a room with a high ceiling (so you won’t hit your hands while working out), and a sturdy, clean floor (to prevent slipping). Finally, add some good lighting, ventilation (possibly with a fan), and a stereo to crank your favorite tunes, and you’ve created a gym that you can really enjoy!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Running Workouts with Interval Training

Training Programs for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Runners
  — By Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer & Marathon Runner
Want to boost your fitness level and burn more calories? This program uses intervals (short bursts of higher-intensity activity followed by lower intensity recovery periods), which can be a more effective way to train than exercising at one intensity level. If you’re new to running or exercise, start with the Beginner program. As you progress, slowly increase your time and eventually move to the Intermediate and Advanced workouts. Because this is a general program, you may need to adjust the recommended speeds, intensities, and times to suit your fitness level.

If you have access to a treadmill, focus on the pace guidelines, working at your own intensity level. If you run outdoors and do not have access to any tools to measure your pace, then use the intensity guidelines (rate of perceived exertion) as a guide for how fast or slow to run. (Find a full RPE chart and explanation below the workouts.)

Beginner Interval Running Workout

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Intermediate Interval Running Workout

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Advanced Interval Running Workout

An Explanation of Using the RPE Method to Measure Intensity
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) may be the most versatile method to measure exercise intensity for all age groups. Using this method is simple, because all you have to do is estimate how hard you feel like you’re exerting yourself during exercise. RPE is a good measure of intensity because it is individualized—it’s based on your current fitness level and overall perception of exercise. The scale ranges from 1 to 10, allowing you to rate how you feel physically and mentally at a given intensity level.

An RPE between 5 and 7 is recommended for most adults. This means that at the height of your workout, you should feel you are working “somewhat hard” to “hard.” For more information, check out this article about high intensity internal training (HIIT).

Your Foolproof Guide to Building a Strength Training Workout

Perfect for Any Fitness Level
  — By Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach
What comes to mind when you think about strength training? Is it extremely fit people at the gym, lifting large amounts of weight and flexing their big muscles in the mirror? Or is it videos you do at home, where the instructor uses crazy equipment or performs complicated bodyweight exercises you would never dare to attempt? Maybe what comes to mind is a big question mark because you’ve never followed a regular strength program and don’t know how to get started. Perhaps you’ve considered strength training in the past, but figured spending money on pricey sessions with a personal trainer is the only way to get real results.

While strength training is some of those things, it’s also an essential and simple element that should be part of every fitness plan. Strength training doesn’t have to mean bulky biceps or be shrouded in mystery. With a solid understanding of the basics of strength training, anyone can put together their own program that will keep their muscles challenged without requiring hours at the gym in order to see results.

  1. Set your goals. Everyone has different reasons for starting a strength program. Are you training for a 5K and want to improve your performance? Have you always wanted to do a pushup but lack the upper-body strength? Do you have specific areas of weakness that keep you from doing the things you want to do in everyday life? For example, do you have trouble walking up the stairs without your legs getting tired, or can’t pull something heavy off of the top shelf in your closet? Let your goals guide the creation of your strength program so you can measure progress and improve your quality of life.
  2. Learn the basics. You don’t have to be an expert in pyramid routines, drop sets and explosive training in order to create a quality strength routine. Knowing the basics of reps, sets, frequency and intensity is usually enough to help create a balanced program. Keep in mind that after four to six weeks, your body gets used to the same routine, making it less effective than it once was at the start. It’s important to add variety to keep yourself and your muscles challenged.
  3. Start with a full-body routine. Full-body routines are best for beginners and those looking to save time. You can get a good workout in 20 to 30 minutes, two to three days per week if you are smart with the exercises you choose and target all of your major muscle groups in one session. Split routines are great for those who have more advanced training goals or who prefer to do strength training workouts more frequently (since you can do lower body one day, upper body the next) throughout the week.
  4. Explore the world of compound exercises. Repeat after me: More is not always better. You don’t have to do 20 different exercises in order to get a good workout; compound exercises are moves that work more than one major muscle group at a time. Typically, there is one primary muscle group that does the majority of the work, and one or more secondary muscle group that “helps.” For example, squats primarily work the quadriceps muscles, but also work the hamstrings and glutes. Compound exercises are a good way to save time, versus doing isolation exercises (like a bicep curl, for example) that target just one muscle at a time.
  5. Work opposing muscle groups. If you understand the concept of push/pull exercises, you can easily create your own balanced strength routine. These exercises take into account how you’re actually moving during the exercise and which muscles are involved with each movement. For each “push” exercise you’re doing (think squats or chest presses), you’ll want a “pull” exercise (deadlift, row) to balance it out. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to lift the same amount of weight on both the push and pull elements, but understand that working opposing muscle groups will prevent strength imbalances, so that one muscle group doesn’t become significantly stronger than another.<pagebreak>

Now that you have the basics of how to develop a strength routine, it’s time to create a simple full-body program, targeting the following major muscle groups:

  • quads (push) and hamstrings/glutes (pull)
  • chest/shoulders/triceps (push) and back/biceps (pull)
  • core

By focusing your attention on these groups, you can get a quality, full-body workout with just five exercises. As you progress in your routine, you might find you need to add more weight and/or repetitions to increase the challenge. For example, if you are doing a set of 12 repetitions of an exercise, the 12th rep is the last one you should be able to do in good form. If you can easily keep going after 12, the weight is too light. If you can’t get anywhere close to 12 without sacrificing form, the weight is too heavy. You might also decide to add more exercises or swap out others based on your needs and preferences, but a routine like this is a great starting point. Examples of additional exercises that work each of these muscle groups can be found in SparkPeople’s Exercise Library.

Pick one exercise from each category below and you’ve got a full body strength workout! (In general, one to two sets of each exercise with 8-12 repetitions per set is a good place to start.)

Remember that there is no perfect program. Each of us has different goals and bodies that respond differently to the demands placed on them. Additionally, a healthy diet and regular cardio are important pieces of the weight loss and healthy living puzzle. If you’ve been avoiding strength training because you don’t understand what to do or where to start, these basics will help you easily create a routine you can use anywhere. You might even be surprised at how lifting weights makes you feel, both physically and mentally. When you have a plan, you’ll walk into the weight room at your gym (or your own basement!) with confidence and the motivation to stay focused during your workout.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

7 Times It’s Okay to Skip a Workout

Stop Feeling Guilty When You Need a Break
  — By Erin Whitehead, Health and Fitness Writer
Sometimes when we miss a workout, we know full well that we are just making “the dog ate my homework” types of excuses that wouldn’t fool anyone—not even you! But then there are the times when we have a valid reason for skipping a workout. Sometimes life really does get in the way. Sometimes you really do have to skip a workout, and don’t need the extra guilt for doing so. You shouldn’t beat yourself up for missing a day or even a week (or more) of workouts if you have a legitimate reason to opt out. But you should check in with yourself so you know whether it’s a valid excuse or whether you should be a little tougher on yourself. To help you tell the difference, we’ve come up with a list of times you can totally pass on a workout—without feeling an ounce of guilt.

7 Justifiable Reasons to Miss a Workout
1. You just had a baby.
Having a baby is maybe the most valid reason for not working out. It’s typically recommended that you wait six weeks after giving birth before you work out and even longer if you’ve had a C-section. Your body is recovering from a major physical even and not only should you cut yourself some slack, but it can be dangerous to exercise too soon. Postpartum bleeding, called lochia, can continue well past the four-week mark, and overdoing anything can cause bleeding to increase. So heed your doctor’s advice and enjoy the baby. Don’t rush getting back into fitness until your body feels ready to take it on (and you have your doc’s OK). There will be plenty of time to work out once you’ve recovered!

2. You’re injured.
It’s not only important to skip your workouts when you’re injured, but it’s a necessity if you want to feel better! Giving your injury a break is essential to letting it recuperate so you’re able to get back on the horse again soon. Putting more strain on an injury is just a recipe to get sidelined for good. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to find out what activities you can do with your injury. It might be possible to modify exercises so you can still work out, but there might be exercises to avoid, too. Being injured can be a positive in some ways, though. Nothing makes you miss working out more than not being able to do it, and this type of setback can also push you to discover new workouts you enjoy. If you can’t run because of a knee injury, you might be able to try Pilates. If you have a stress fracture, you could fall in love with the bike or rowing machine or try a low-impact class.

3. You had surgery (or the doctor told you to lay off exercise).
In the case of a major surgery–or even a minor one–you can skip the sweat session sans guilt. The last thing your body needs after a major medical event is to work harder: It’s working hard enough on recovering and feeling better. Work with your doctor to find out when you can safely work out again, and heed his or her advice. The last thing you want is to pass out while you’re on the treadmill.

4. You chronically get too little sleep.
Sleep is more important for your health than working out. If you didn’t sleep well (or at all), are jet-lagged or are adjusting to a new schedule, rest up before hitting the gym again. Chronically skipping sleep to exercise doesn’t do a body (or mind) a lot of good. If you’re just feeling a little tired after a night or two of poor sleep, exercise might actually give you an energy boost. But it’s up to you to know the difference between a little fatigue and the exhaustion that comes from true sleep deprivation. Odds are, if you could fall asleep at 7 p.m. for the night, it’s probably a good idea to skip the gym that day.

5. You’re sick.
The general rule is that if your illness is above the neck (e.g., runny nose, sore throat) you can safely workout. If your illness is below the neck (e.g., stomach issues, lungs, full-body aches) it’s best to rest. But in the early stages of a really bad cold, we still say it’s totally fine to skip the gym. When your body isn’t feeling it, you know it–and it’s OK to hit the couch for a couple of days instead so you can let your body focus on expending extra energy toward fighting off illness. The last thing you want is to spread the germs to others or to pick up something else during cold and flu season!

6. You just completed a major athletic/endurance event.
Just ran a marathon? Slogged through a Tough Mudder? Competed in your box’s CrossFit competition? You’re entitled to a day off from your usual workout. After a big event, you might want to go on a walk and do some mild stretching to help alleviate any soreness, but it’s probably a good idea to give yourself a break so you can properly recover.

7. You’re actually too busy.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, intentions or desires, life really does get in the way of working out. You had a dentist appointment, worked all day, hauled your kids to soccer practice, baked a cake for a birthday party at work, made dinner, paid the bills, and now it’s 9 p.m.–and you didn’t get your workout in. That’s fine! If you’re genuinely too busy, you’ll know it. But if this is always the case, try to find a plan to work more exercise into your hectic schedule, even in small bursts. Remember, too, that exercise is great stress relief and much-needed “me” time for many people; it can make all of those busy tasks seem more manageable!

You don’t have to feel guilty for skipping a workout when you genuinely have a good reason to do so. Just watch for those excuses when you know that you could have gotten to the gym or fit in a quick at-home sweat session–and then make a plan to do it the next day!

Original Post On SparkPeople.com

Are You in a Cardio Rut? Break Free!

6 Easy Ways to Bust Boredom
  — By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
Are you bored with your cardio workout? Do you yawn when thinking of getting on the stationary bike again? Are you already dreading the stair stepper workout that you have scheduled for tomorrow morning? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’re quite likely in a rut, and when you’re in a rut, it’s easy to fall off the fitness wagon because motivation and excitement are G-O-N-E.

So how do you get your aerobic mojo back? You shake things up! You try new activities and refocus your workouts so that they’re more exciting and motivating than ever. We all know how important cardiovascular exercise is for health and weight loss (plus it just makes you feel good), so read on for six surefire ways to break out of the cardio rut now and forever!

Change Your Sound of Music

New tunes: Investing in a couple of new CDs or MP3s is an easy way to bust out of your cardio rut and get you happily moving. When you have your headphones on, no one else knows what tunes you’re playing (unless you’re listening too loudly, in which case turn it down some so that you don’t harm your hearing!), so play whatever you want! Guilty pleasure songs (think Britney Spears, Journey or Kenny G) work great here, but, really, go with any songs that get you going and make you feel good. Studies have shown that music is motivating, but if you’re bored at the gym, it may be time to shake that playlist up! For ideas, read Coach Nicole’s music blogs at dailySpark.com for ideas.

-OR-

No tunes: If new music isn’t doing it for you, try doing your workout sans tunes. Especially when walking or running outside, listening to your own breathing and the sounds and sights around you can be an incredibly meditative experience that can turn your cardio from boring to darn near spiritual. And if quiet isn’t your thing, try downloading a podcast or an audio book. You can get through your to-read list and get in shape. Now that’s multitasking.

Change Your Equipment

Try a new piece of equipment: If you and the stair stepper are in a serious relationship, but you’re bored out of your gourd, it may be time to see other machines. Date around some. Check out the treadmill, recumbent bike or elliptical you’ve had your eyes on. All of the different pieces of cardio equipment help train the most important muscle of your body—your heart—but they each do it in a slightly different way. To check them all out yet not get too bored, do 10 minutes on each type of cardio equipment that your health club offers. If you’re working out at home, jump off your machine after a few minutes and do some jumping jacks or lunges to mix things up.

-OR-

Try a new brand of equipment: You may think that all ellipticals and stationary bikes are the same, but different brands do have different feels and features. If your health club offers varieties of equipment, trade your normal treadmill for another one and discover what new programs and features you’ve been missing. You just might find a new love (or, even better, a new challenge). <pagebreak>

Change Your Social Nature

Try a class: One sure-fire way to spice up your cardio routine is to check out a group exercise class. Most full-service health clubs have a group exercise room, so grab a schedule at the front desk, find a class that’s totally new and different for you and make an appointment with yourself to go. Recruit a friend to go with you and show up with an open mind. You might just make a few new fit friends in the process! (If you’ve never been to a group exercise class, decode the class schedule with these tips.)

-OR-

Try a class at a new gym: If you’re a group-exercise aficionado or know the moves of your step class before the instructor calls them out, it’s time to switch it up. Find a new class with a different instructor or branch out to classes at other gyms (many gyms will give you a free one-week pass to check out their facility). Or try a group-exercise studio that offers classes that you’ve never taken. From Pilates to yoga to Zumba to ballet-inspired workouts, the opportunities are endless! And for you guys who might think that group exercise is just for girls, it’s isn’t! Check out a power yoga or boot camp class and get your stereotypes rocked (in a good way)!

Change Your Location

Go to the gym: If you always hit the great outdoors for your cardio or always walk on the treadmill while catching up on TV, moving your cardio sessions to a facility with other exercisers and a fitness-centered environment may be just what you need to re-spark the love of your workouts. Sure, a health club membership costs money, but if it comes down to not working out or paying a monthly fee, wouldn’t you rather cut a few costs in your budget and stay motivated?

-OR-

Avoid the gym: If you’re a gym rat and pretty sick of the first half of that nickname, maybe it’s time for a change of scenery! Move your workout outdoors or create your own home gym. Even a new DVD or two can mix things up!

Change Your Mindset

Focus on a fitness goal or new skill: Mental boredom is a very common cause for being stuck in a cardio rut. If you’ve been focusing on the minutes, miles or calorie burn of each of your workouts, a good way to switch things up is to switch your thinking. Instead of focusing on these daily quotas, set a longer-term goal such as walking a 5K or completing a sprint triathlon. When you have an end goal to train for, you’ll be less bored during your workouts because you can always think about how much you’re preparing for your goal! (And, let me tell you, once you reach that goal, you’ll feel great!)

-OR-

Focus on how you feel: Instead of obsessing about the numbers on the piece of cardio equipment, turn your workouts in serious “me” time. Use the 30 minutes on the elliptical not to think about how bored you are, but to focus on how good exercise makes you feel. Focus on your breathing, feel your legs pushing the pedals down. Be grateful that you have the ability to move, pushing your body to new levels. Even develop your own mantra that you can repeat over and over to help get you going! Nike’s “Just do it,” always works, but find a phrase that has meaning to you.

Change Your Intensity

Try a longer, less intense workout: If you can usually only set aside 10 to 20 minutes for exercise, make those minutes intense, switch it up by setting aside extra time to make your workout longer and less intense. By doing a longer, less intense workout, you’ll give yourself time to really enjoy the activity without rushing or trying to burn as many calories you can in a short amount of time. Pick an activity that you love—dancing, walking, hiking—and enjoy it! Think of it as your active relaxation time.

-OR-

Try a shorter, more intense workout: If you’re the type of exerciser who would rather walk for an hour than run for 5 minutes, then maybe it’s time for you to swap your low-intensity sweat sessions for shorter, more intense workouts. Try an interval workout and watch your rut go bye-bye! This is an especially good trick if you spend most of your mental energy watching the clock wishing your long workout was over. Don’t worry: When you work hard enough, one short, intense session can be just as effective as a longer one that’s lower in intensity.

Pick one thing to change—or six—and bust out of that rut today!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

50 Non-Food Rewards for Fitness and Weight Loss

Healthy Ways to Celebrate Success!
  — By Megan Patrick, Staff Writer
Losing weight and maintaining healthy habits are both challenging, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also be rewarding. Besides the intrinsic benefits that come from feeling better and reaching new goals, rewarding yourself for your healthy efforts will reinforce your new habits and inspire you to continue your journey.

There are lots of effective and motivating ways to reward yourself (both large and small), but first you need to come up with a system. One easy solution is to tie rewards to SparkPoints or fitness minutes rather than weight loss alone. Start by choosing a target that is challenging but not unreachable. For example, give yourself a reward if you reach 600 fitness minutes in a month or each time you earn 500 SparkPoints.

Before I discovered SparkPeople, I created my own reward system that had two components: one to reward healthy behaviors, which are the only things you can truly control, and another to mark weight-loss progress. It’s very similar to earning SparkPoints, which you can add up by doing healthy tasks such as tracking your food, exercising or utilizing the supportive Community. But if you have some specific behaviors that SparkPoints don’t cover, you can use this list for ideas and customize it however you wish to fit your own goals.

My Healthy Choices Reward System
1 star for going to the gym
1 star for going to the gym three times in one week
1 star for walking at least 30 minutes
1 star for walking outside in temperatures below 20 or above 80
1 star for drinking at least six cups of water per day
2 stars for drinking eight or more cups of water per day
2 stars for staying below my daily carb range
1 star for meeting my daily calorie goal
2 stars for not weighing myself more than once a week
100 stars = I got a reward from my list

To mark my weight-loss progress, I bought an old-fashioned silver charm bracelet and added a new charm for every 10 pounds I lost. I chose charms with symbolic meaning to remind me of my journey and all my hard work. For example, because walking helped me drop the first 10 pounds, I chose a silver sneaker. When I got halfway to my goal weight, I chose a tiny pair of scissors.

50 Non-Food Reward Ideas
Almost anything can work as a reward as long as it fits into your budget and doesn’t undermine your efforts. Food does undermine your efforts, so always choose ways to reward yourself that don’t involve eating. What works as a reward should be inspiring to you; otherwise, it won’t compel you to stick to your program. Here are 50 ideas to get you started (arranged from least expensive or time-consuming to most):

  1. Give yourself permission to take a nap.
  2. Visit the library or bookstore all by yourself.
  3. Have a guilt-free home spa afternoon.
  4. Sleep in!
  5. Take a selfie to celebrate your progress.
  6. Spend an hour away from your phone or computer.
  7. Eat lunch outside or at least away from your desk.
  8. Clean out your closet and donate all your too-big clothes to charity.
  9. Post your progress on social media (or SparkPeople) so your friends can celebrate with you.
  10. Take a bubble bath.
  11. Drive to a beautiful neighborhood or park to walk instead of taking your usual walking route.
  12. Use smiley face or star stickers to note milestones on a wall calendar hung in a prominent place.
  13. Make your own ribbon or trophy.
  14. Make or buy a refrigerator magnet with a motivational quote.
  15. Take a vacation day from work to do whatever you want!
  16. Unwind with a movie of your choice.
  17. Plan a night out with your friends.
  18. Buy a lottery ticket.
  19. Subscribe to a fitness or healthy cooking magazine.
  20. Get a new driver’s license photo. (Don’t lie about your weight.)
  21. Download a new fitness app for your phone.
  22. Buy a new workout song.
  23. Get yourself a bottle of fancy shower gel or lotion.
  24. Pick up a new plant for your garden.
  25. Invest in some moisture-wicking workout socks.
  26. Get fitted for a new sports bra.
  27. Try a new shade of nail polish.
  28. Get some new shades for outdoor exercise.
  29. Come home with a bouquet of flowers.
  30. Try a fresh hair color.
  31. Buy a small personal blender for smoothies and protein shakes.
  32. Order a pair of high-end wireless headphones.
  33. Invest is a fitness tracker to motivate you even more.
  34. Sign up for a charity walk or running event.
  35. Splurge on some nice yoga pants.
  36. Go for a mani/pedi.
  37. Treat yourself to a massage!
  38. Take a cooking class to up your game.
  39. Get a new hairstyle.
  40. Get fitted for workout shoes at a running store.
  41. Go for a flashy piercing or tattoo!
  42. Start a charm bracelet.
  43. Get your rings resized to fit your smaller fingers.
  44. Plan a weekend getaway with your significant other.
  45. Adopt a dog so you’ll always have a walking buddy.
  46. Hire someone to clean your house so you have more time to hit the gym.
  47. Try a fun exercise class like Zumba or pole fitness.
  48. Book a session with a personal trainer.
  49. Schedule a professional portrait shoot.
  50. Two words: Dream vacation!

There are countless ways to reward yourself, and while it may seem trivial, research shows that rewards that are personal to us do in fact help us stay motivated and establish long-term habits. It’s worth the time to come up with a system and a list of rewards for your own milestones!

What are your favorite ways to reward yourself for healthy habits or weight loss?

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

5 Stretching Myths, Busted

5 Stretching Myths, Busted

Stretching is an essential part of a workout. Research shows that stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, shoulders, biceps and other muscle groups helps increase range of motion, reduce stiffness and improve flexibility.

Despite the importance of stretching, myths abound. Here, we dispel five common stretching myths and give you the information you need to ace your stretching routine.

MYTH #1: YOU ONLY NEED TO STRETCH BEFORE OR AFTER A WORKOUT, NOT BOTH

Fact: It’s important to stretch before and after a workout.

Derek Carter, a Manhattan Beach, California-based personal trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist, believes in doing dynamic stretches to warm up for a workout and static stretches to recover afterward.

Dynamic stretching involves active movements such as walking lunges and single leg squats that stretch muscles without holding the position. In contrast, static stretches like quadriceps stretches and hamstring stretches are supposed to be held for a defined period. “Dynamic stretches help warm up the muscles for a workout and static stretches keep the muscles loose after a workout,” Carter explains.

Since both kinds of stretches are important for different reasons, Carter suggests adding them to your pre- and post-workout routine.

MYTH #2: STRETCHING PREVENTS INJURIES

Fact: The research is clear: Stretching does not prevent injuries. One literature review found that stretching was not effective for reducing exercise-related injuries — and countless other studies have reported similar findings.

Although there is no solid evidence that stretching prevents injuries, Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist and senior health and fitness advisor for the American Council on Exercise, still believes it’s important.

“A flexible muscle is less likely to become injured from a slightly extensive movement,” she says. “By increasing the range of motion in a particular joint through stretching, you may decrease the resistance on your muscles during various activities.”

MYTH #3: IT’S BEST TO HOLD EACH STRETCH FOR 30 SECONDS TO 1 MINUTE

Fact: Stop watching the clock when you are doing static stretches.

“The tighter you are, the longer you should hold the stretch,” Carter says.

Rather than holding a stretch for a certain amount of time, Carter recommends holding it until you feel a sudden release of tension and increased range of motion; go deeper into the stretch and hold it until the second release. Focusing on how muscle responds to the stretch is more effective than watching the clock, he says.

MYTH #4: STRETCHING IS ENOUGH

Fact: Stretching is more effective when it’s combined with foam rolling.

“More often than not, people with tight muscles have knots in their muscles,” Carter explains. “You might not get the same release [from stretching] that you would get if the knots were unstuck.”

Research published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that foam rolling helped ease post-workout muscle soreness; a separate study, published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, reported that foam rolling helped increase range of motion.

For maximum results, use a foam roller after a workout and stretch after “rolling out.” You’ll feel the difference, according to Carter. “Foam rolling before stretching is far better than just stretching alone,” he says.

MYTH #5: YOU DON’T NEED TO STRETCH IF YOU’RE ALREADY FLEXIBLE

Fact: You don’t get to skip pre- and post-workout stretching just because you can bend yourself into a pretzel.

“Stretching, as a practice, has many acute benefits beyond flexibility,” says Matthews.

Even the most flexible folks should make time to stretch, using dynamic stretches before a workout to prepare the muscles for exercise and static stretches as part of the post-workout cool down.

A stretching routine is important even if you don’t work out, according to Matthews.

“It helps to improve mechanical efficiency and overall functional performance,” she says. “Since a flexible joint requires less energy to move through a wider range of motion, a flexible body improves overall performance by creating more energy-efficient movements, whether you’re chasing your kids around the house or moving furniture.”

Toning vs. Bulking Up: The Real Facts

5 Myths and Truths about Strength Training
  — By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
Everyone has an idea in their head when it comes to looking their fittest and healthiest. For some, it’s fitting perfectly into a certain outfit, or walking on the beach in a bikini with total confidence. For others, it may mean seeing a defined midsection reflected in the mirror, or having strong, toned shoulders or legs. We all have our own goals for how we want to look and feel. Although your specific goals may be different from those of others, almost everyone wants to look and feel toned and fit.

But what does “toned” really mean? And is it different from “bulking” up? This article sets out to define just that—and to dispel some myths about toning, strengthening and bulking up.

What Is Toning?
When most people say that they want to “tone up,” what they usually mean is that they want to become leaner. Basically, they want to lose fat, and add a little muscle definition—but not so much muscle mass that they look like a bodybuilder (much more on that later).

In the fitness world, there is no real definition for toning that is greatly recognized. Rather, toning is a term used to describe the end goal, which usually results from a combination of basic weight-lifting and fat-burning.

What about Bulking Up?
Typically, men want to “bulk up” and women usually wish to avoid building big, bulky muscles. Although there is no strict definition, “bulking up” means adding a lot of muscle mass to the body and possibly (although not always) reducing one’s body fat, too. Bulking up harkens images of bodybuilders and big football players—usually male and usually beefy!

Toning, on the other hand, typically refers to aerobics instructors and Hollywood starlets who have lower amounts of body fat and some visible muscle, but not huge muscles.

So now that we have our definitions straight, let’s move on to facts and the fallacies about toning up and bulking up.
The 5 Most Common Myths about Toning and Bulking Up

Myth #1: Lifting light weights will tone your body and lifting heavy weights will bulk you up.

The Truth: I’m not sure who first pioneered this idea that heavy weights will bulk you up, but it has stuck over the years and erroneously makes many people—both men and women—afraid of lifting heavy weights. While there is some truth to the idea that lifting lighter weights for more reps does a better job of increasing the muscular endurance, lighter weights will not help you “tone” better than heavy weights. In fact, because heavier weights build the strength of your muscles (and the size to a small degree—no Hulk action here), thereby helping to increase your metabolism and burn fat, lifting heavier weights with fewer reps (8 to 12 on average) and working until you’re fatigued is more effective at helping you reach your toning goals than lifting lighter weights. Not to mention that it’s more time efficient, too!

Myth #2: Building muscle and bulking up are one in the same.

The Truth: If you’ve been avoiding weights because you think that building muscle means that you’ll bulk up, think again. When you lift weights that are challenging, you actually create micro-tears in the muscle fibers. These tears are then repaired by the body (this is where soreness comes from!) and in that process the muscle becomes stronger and a little bit bigger. However, because muscle tissue is more dense than fat, adding a little bit more muscle to your body and decreasing your fat actually makes you look leaner—not bigger. To really bulk up, you have to really work with that goal in mind. Bodybuilders spend hours and hours in the gym lifting extremely heavy weights, along with eating a very strict diet that promotes muscle gain. The average person’s workout and diet—especially a calorie-controlled diet—doesn’t’ result in the same effects.

Myth #3: Lifting light weights won’t help you get stronger.

The Truth: When it comes to lifting weights, the secret to really getting stronger isn’t about how much weight you’re lifting. Instead, it’s all about working your muscle to fatigue where you literally cannot lift the weight for another repetition. The August 2010 study from McMaster University that proved this found that even when subjects lifted lighter weights, they added as much muscle as those lifting heavy weights. However, the time it takes to reach fatigue with light weights is much longer than the time it takes to reach fatigue with heavier weights. So, if you’re like most people and extra time is a luxury, it makes more sense to go heavy and then go home!

Myth #4: Women and men should lift weights differently.

The Truth: I see this one all the time at the gym. It’s pretty common to see women lift 3- to 5-pound dumbbells to do biceps curls while men pick up the 20-pounders to do the same exercise. Although men are genetically stronger than women, they aren’t that much stronger. Second, most women tend to stick to the weight machines or basic leg-work that target the rear end and abs (women’s “vanity” muscles), while the guys at the gym are more likely to be seen working out with free weights or using barbells and—most often—focusing on their vanity muscles: the biceps and chest.

Obviously gender differences exist and everyone has different goals (like we discussed in the beginning). But if you really want to lose weight and get lean—no matter if you call that toning or bulking—people of both genders should have a strength-training plan in place that works every major muscle in the body at least 8 to 12 times, using a weight that is heavy enough that the last two repetitions are darn hard to lift. Only then is the body challenged enough to change, grow and adapt, making you stronger and leaner no matter if you’re male or female. Lifting this way is also a great way to lose weight.

Myth #5: Certain forms of exercise build long, lean muscles.

The Truth: Many forms of exercise claim to lengthen the muscles or develop “lean” muscles, not bulky ones. But here’s a truth that may be shocking to some: To put it another way, no form of exercise makes muscles “longer” because your muscles do not—and will not—respond to exercise by getting longer. It’s just not how they work. Muscles are a certain length because they attach to your bones. A wide variety of movements and exercises can help you strengthen your muscles without necessarily making them bigger. In fact, you can develop a lot of muscular strength without your muscles ever increasing in size (girth).

That said, exercises such as yoga, Pilates, dance and barre classes can help to increase your flexibility (improving your range of motion at certain joints) and your posture, which can give you the illusion of feeling and looking longer or taller. But lengthening? Not possible. Claims like these are just trying to appeal to people who fear bulking up.

If you’re ready to get strong, be sure to check out some of SparkPeople’s amazing free resources and workout plans that will help you do just that!

Everything You Need to Know about Strength Training
How to Fall in Love with Strength Training
A Get-Lean Strength Workout Plan
Get More Results in Less Time with High-Intensity Strength Training
The Perfect Strength Workout for Beginners
The Muscle Building Quiz

Sources
PLoS ONE. Burd NA, West DWD, Staples AW, Atherton PJ, Baker JM, et al. “Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise in Young Men,” Accessed August 2011. http://www.plosone.com.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

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