Good form in exercise

Good form for the win!

Last week I gave you tips for maximizing the effectiveness of your workouts, and one of them was to make sure you have good form. So why is good form in exercise important? 

This morning I did my Pilates workout with a resistance band, and noticed that the instructor was continually reminding the class of the proper technique. Breathe in when you do this, make sure your abdominals are pulled in, and make sure your back is straight. Why is it important to have good form?

Avoid injury

First, and probably, most important, it’s important to maintain good form in exercise so you don’t injure yourself. I’ve talked about avoiding back pain by tightening my core – there it is. Make sure your back is straight and not twisted? Again, good form. When you’re exercising with good form, you avoid strains, sprains, tears, twinges, and all sorts of nasty things. When you’re doing squats, making sure that you can see your shoelaces when you look down ensures that you’re protecting your knees. And that’s something we all need to keep in mind for our healthy aging.

Focus on targeted muscle groups

When you have good form when you exercise, you know that you’re targeting what you’re supposed to be targeting. You’re using the muscle groups that you’re supposed to be using. And you’ll get the maximum benefit from the exercise. Like this morning, during my Pilates workout, the instructor emphasized during a few of the exercises that the shoulders should be back and down to work them properly. I’ve had experience with shoulder injuries, and the last thing I want is to re-injure the joint. So I made extra sure that I followed the instructor’s direction.

Optimize time

When we really focus on having good form in exercise, we’re truly getting maximum benefit from minimum time. I don’t have time to waste and neither do you! So let’s get strong with good form.

Create a fitness goal to keep you moving

It’s really easy to go through your days on autopilot. Go from one meaningless task to another, not really accomplishing much. Then all of a sudden, it’s bedtime. Time to brush your teeth and have some downtime until you do all the nothingness again tomorrow. Do you ever feel like you’re sleepwalking through your day? I emptied the dishwasher in the morning while I watched the news. And it was basically the same as yesterday’s news. I went to the grocery store yesterday. And it was basically the same items that I bought last week. Are you stuck in a rut too? I want to feel invigorated. And I don’t want to feel like I’m stuck on a treadmill. It may be time to create a fitness goal to keep you moving.

Your new fitness goal doesn’t have to be big

A new goal could inspire you to new heights, new levels of strength, faster speeds. That new goal in one aspect of your life could spark your motivation in others. And your new goal doesn’t have to be a big one. For me, I had a goal of running one tenth of a mile faster than my previous fastest speed for a minute during my treadmill session. And to do that for 4 runs. At first I couldn’t maintain that extra tenth for the whole minute. So I lowered the speed. But then after a walk interval I bumped my speed up that extra tenth again. And kept it there longer. 

That new goal will move you forward in your healthy aging. And when you’re doing something positive for your health, you’re automatically happier and more motivated to keep going.

Invigorated by success!

How did that extra tenth make me feel? Invigorated. By running just that little bit faster, I felt like I was invincible. I felt stronger the rest of the day, knowing that I met a really tough (for me) benchmark. And being successful for one day kept me motivated for the rest of the challenge.

Your challenge:

So, I challenge you to create a fitness goal to keep you moving. Make sure that your goal is specific, with measurement and a timetable. Your goal also should be attainable but not too easy. Write your goal down so that you’ll have accountability, even if it’s just to yourself. I use the worksheet from the “Get It Done” Guide. I print multiple copies of the worksheet – there’s not much on that worksheet. It seems simple, but, boy, is it powerful! 

So, create a fitness goal. You’ll keep moving and be empowered to tackle even more.

How to go from “I should” to “I did it”

Do you ever find yourself sitting and thinking to yourself, “I should do …” this or this … and then find yourself dreaming, “If I had this done, then I could …” “If I had exercised more when I was younger, I could play in the backyard with the grandkids.” Guess what? It’s not too late. Here’s how to go from “I should” to “I did it.”

First, be clear to yourself

Know exactly what you “should” do. It’s not enough to say, “I should work out more.” A more clear response is, “I should exercise 4 times a week for 30 minutes.” And a better response would be, “I will run / walk 2 times a week, do strength training twice a week and have active rest days 2 days a week.” That’s a clear response. It gives you the start of a plan.

Know why you “should” do it

This step will ensure that you take the steps needed to go from “I should” to “I did it.” If you really want something – if you really, really want something, then you’ll be willing to go through the planning process, make some sacrifices, and then make it happen. Your motivation must be very clear. And, in our example, those grandkids are growing up way too fast to let any more time slip away.

You’ll start your fitness plan to spend more time with your grandkids. And then add things on. Travel might be an option since your mobility will be better. A new wardrobe isn’t out of the question either, since your clothes won’t fit any longer. 

Plus, all those benefits for our healthy aging that we’ve been talking about, that exercise gives us. You’ll have more energy – I know, weird, isn’t it that expending energy generates energy? But it’s true. Your heart health will improve. You’ll sleep better and your memory will be better too. Solving problems will be easier as your cognition improves. Your balance will be better, so you’ll be more confident when you step out of the house.

Schedule your stepping stones

You can’t go from not exercising to full hour-long (or even half hour) workouts in a week. The best way to make sure you follow through and not quit from the overwhelm is to map out your strategy. Write it down. Go from 10 minutes to 30 over time – but schedule those longer sessions specifically on your calendar.

Keep your appointments to go from “I should” to “I did it.”

And keep those appointments with yourself! When you do, your resilience improves. You’ll prove to yourself that you’re strong and can accomplish anything. You’ll have gone from “I should” to “I did it.”

5 tips for consistent workouts

It’s on everyone’s to-do list, but really shouldn’t need to be. You know that the only way exercise is effective is if it’s consistent. And it’s really important for us, as seniors especially, for our workouts to be consistent. We know that exercise gives us a healthier heart and lungs, it strengthens our brittle bones, and it improves our memory and cognition. But it’s hard to lace up those sneakers a few times a week. Every week. It’s essential for our healthy aging. The motivation is lacking to exercise on our own. I’m busy and so are you. We’ve got stuff to do. But exercise is important, too. So how can we make sure our workouts are consistent? 

This isn’t one of the official “tips,” but first set yourself a fitness goal. If you see progress toward a goal, you start off motivated! For suggestions on setting goals, just download the Get It Done Guide. Easy peasy. Moving on, here are 5 tips for consistent workouts.

Find an exercise program you enjoy

I’ve said it before – if you don’t like an exercise program, then you’re not going to do it. You’ll make excuses and find other things you “need to” do first. I’ll be the first one to say that I run twice a week even though I don’t enjoy it. But I do enjoy the audiobooks I listen to as I run. So, find an exercise program you can live with, and something to help you like it. And be sure that your exercise program has enough variety so you won’t get bored or overwork any particular muscle group.

Schedule your workouts

Now that you’ve found an exercise program that you don’t mind too much, put your workouts on your calendar. And set a reminder for them, plus extra time for changing into your exercise clothes before and a shower after your workout. Google Calendar is versatile and easy to use.

Track your workouts

Write down what you did and how you felt – both before, during and after your workout. You’ll see your progress and that will motivate you to do more. If you’re running on a treadmill, you’ve got the statistics there so copy them down. Your log can be in a journal or just a piece of paper. I recommend actually writing this down so you have something tangible. Follow this link for the Fitness Journal and Tracker.

Find accountability

Exercise with a friend. There’s built-in accountability when there’s someone with you. Cal or messagel a friend after every workout. Commiserate with that friend over how tough the workout was. Accountability keeps us honest. It keeps us coming back even when the workout was brutal.

Don’t overwork

Yes, we want our workouts to be challenging. Because if they’re not then we’re not improving. And that should be everyone’s goal – to improve. But be careful not to overtrain. Know your body. Be aware when something doesn’t feel right. If you’re breathing too hard, slow down. If something hurts, stop. 

With these tips, you’ll be motivated to exercise consistently and you’ll also be on your way to making exercise an unbreakable habit. 

Be Like a Scout and Be Prepared

No procrastination, for a change!

I’m writing this article on Tuesday, and (hopefully) it will be posted on Friday. Wait – what happened to procrastination? Doesn’t everyone write to deadline? Well, I don’t usually like to work that way, and especially this week. There’s supposed to be a line of severe thunderstorms passing through my area tonight. When we get those narrow lines of storms, there’s a good chance of damage. A few years ago when one of those straight line storms passed through we were without power for days. So, in case the worst comes to pass, I’ll be like a scout and “be prepared.”

Be like a scout and be prepared

Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts about a hundred years ago, said “that all Scouts should prepare themselves to become productive citizens and to give happiness to other people. He wanted each Scout to be ready in mind and body for any struggles, and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges might lie ahead.” To be prepared for life and live happily and without regret, knowing that you have done your best. That’s what the Scout motto means.

I can’t do anything about the storms. But I can be proactive and try to think of things I can do ahead of time to get ready in case, for example, the power goes out. Like, write this article. I’ll make sure my phone is charged and have a paperback book ready to be read. We always make sure that there’s plenty of food and water available.

Meditation for calming

If you're feeling anxious and stressed, meditation could help.

I’ll probably do a guided meditation this afternoon to try and calm my nerves. Storms make me anxious, because of all the “what ifs.” And while I try to be as prepared as possible, I know that there’s probably something that I will miss.

What can you do to get ready?

You know that life throws a bunch of crap at you every single day. Some storms are worse than others. How can we stay strong and resilient, and be like a scout and stay ready for those disruptive storms? 

The steps to prepare

First, know yourself. If you’re generally a nervous person like I am, then take some extra time every day to center yourself. Know that you’re strong, you’re reliable, your family and friends are there for you.

Then try to think of the projects you’ve got going. What could happen if they were disrupted? If there’s something you can do with those projects to prepare, do it. Or if your action could take multiple days, plan out your strategy.

My to-do lists are on paper. They’re always with me and staring me in the face, unlike the black screen when my phone’s not on. 

So, when storms approach, be like a scout and be prepared.

3 Sure-fire ways to get big goals done

Why set big goals?

It’s been all about goal-setting the last few weeks here. If you don’t have goals, then you’ll coast through life. That’s fine unless you want to accomplish anything. If you have dreams about your home, your family, your finances, then you need goals. But why set big goals? Aren’t small ones good?

Small goals are good

Of course, small goals are good. They’re what gets us through the day. The small goal of spending 2 minutes training my dog is better than not training him. Or sitting straight in my chair for 2 minutes rather than slumping is good for my posture and my spine. Planning what to make for dinner is certainly a laudable goal.

But big goals turn the world

All of the small goals mentioned above could be part of much bigger goals that could help you achieve more. That’s why we set big goals. Setting small, intermediate goals get our big goals done.

For example, if I train my dog for 2 minutes every single day, then at the end of a week we’ll have the foundations of a remarkable trick. After a couple weeks of training just 2 minutes a day, he’ll know how to retrieve something. At the end of a month I can think about training more behaviors to enter a competition.

If I sit straight in my chair for 2 straight minutes 3 times a day, my core will be more stabilized. I’ll be walking better. And my balance will improve. I’ll be breathing better, too.

And if I plan dinners for the family a few days in advance, I can plan my shopping to include more nutritious options. We’ll be healthier and perhaps lose some weight.

Big goals are more achievable

When we set big goals and approach them the “SMART” way, they have a better chance of being achieved. Not only that, but Edwin Locke’s famous theory argues that the more challenging the goal, we work harder to achieve it.

SMART goals

I set a big goal of holding the "Side Plank Star" pose. It was challenging goal, but with practice it got done.

That is, in order to have a reasonable chance of success in achieving a goal, it must be Specific, Measurable, Assignable (or Acceptable), Realistic, and Time-based. And studies by Locke and associates have actually found that the more challenging the goal, within reason, the better the chance of succeeding. 

Big goals build self-confidence

We need to be working toward meaningful goals. And writing them down helps provide us with a sense of direction and purpose. Plus, the more achievable but stretch-worthy goals we work toward, the more likely we are to build self-confidence, resilience and happiness. All attributes worth striving for.

So, why set big goals? We need those big goals to move forward in life with assurance and optimism.

Celebrating a major milestone

Lately we’ve been talking about those “little treats” that keep you going toward a bigger goal. They’re so important. Every time I step on the treadmill, I get that reward in the form of a few chapters in the audiobook I’m listening to. But, what about that big reward? That big reward celebrating a major milestone? You know you deserve it, so when’t it coming? When can we celebrate?

Your goals are achievable

We’ve talked a lot about setting goals. That nothing is impossible, if you plan for it. And that’s true. That plan has to include very specific steps and deadlines that lead all the way to the big goal you’ve set. And whenever you complete a step, you deserve a “little treat.” This “little treat” is just that – a quick burst that keeps you on the straight and narrow of your path. It’s different for everyone, as are the goals that everyone sets. One of my goals is to get on the treadmill and run for at least half the time I’m on it, steadily increasing the time, speed and incline of the treadmill. And the treat I give myself every time I step on the treadmill is listening to my audiobook. 

Achieving a big goal means many steps

One of your goals may be to write a book. This is not an easy task, nor can it be done in one sitting. It will involve many sessions, and the words may not always come smoothly. So, to keep you going, a possible “little treat” could be to prepare a cup of your favorite tea to sip while you work. Or write near a favorite light. Another little mood-lifter could be having your favorite childhood stuffed animal on your desk while you write. And a mood-lifter is exactly what these “little treats” are: they keep you happy, engaged, and continuing your program.

A fitness example could be running a 10K race if you’ve never run for more than 100 yards. A little reward for every extra quarter mile! How about a facial mask.

And intermediate milestones, too

jump for joy in achieving a milestone

And when you’ve finished, say five chapters – an intermediate milestone – you deserve a bigger reward! Be sure to choose something that’s meaningful for you, something that’s bigger than one of those “little treats,” but not so big that you’re not tempted to go back and finish your book. This could be something like a spa afternoon, or trying a new recipe that you’ve wanted to try. Or something that’s related to your goal. Like an hour reading (for research, of course) a book that’s been on your list.

And for our fitness example, if you’ve run 2 kilometers during your practice, that certainly deserves a nice reward. A massage, perhaps, if you enjoy them.

But that major milestone needs a major reward

But that big reward celebrating a major milestone should be something even more special. For example, planning that getaway you’ve wanted to go on. Or a launch party with friends and family for your book. Or having a party a few days after the big race. You may feel like the goal you’ve achieved is reward enough, that you’ve grown because you reached it. And you have! Your self-confidence has improved, your resilience has grown, and you’ve shown that you can stick with something major. But, darn it, you deserve it! Your big reward should feel as major as the goal you’ve achieved. Go ahead and celebrate.

Reach your biggest goals one step at a time

Last time we talked about stuff you had to get done, no matter what. For those tasks, you just have to buckle down and do it. But what about your big goals. How can you achieve the things that there’s no deadline for, or that you’d really like to have happen but hadn’t started yet? It can seem overwhelming to have pie-in-the-sky goals, but they’re really necessary. And you can reach your biggest goals one step at a time.

We all want big things, and we usually want them as fast as possible. But the best, most life-changing goals take time. We have to plan the steps that it takes to get to the ultimate goal. Why not just dive in? Because for many goals, we’ll never get there. And for the goals that we do reach, they may be set too low and there may be further achievements that we’d miss out on.

Take the time to plan

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas spent eight years away from her sport. But now she’s back in training. In fact, she recently qualified for the U.S. Championships with hopes of making it to the Paris games this year. She stepped away after the Rio games because the training, then the Games themselves, took so much out of her. She said, I went through hell x2 and i lost my joy, i lost my passion, my fire, my love, and then myself.”

So, then what happened? How did Douglas find her passion in gymnastics again? She said that she did a lot of reflecting and journaling. Then when she decided to go back to training she just took a deep breath and stepped into the gym. “Remember, you don’t have to get it all done in one day. Take baby steps — I definitely did.”

One step at a time

And that’s good advice for anyone with a big goal. Douglas knew what it took to achieve success. And she knew that it was a lot. So she took it slow. One step at a time. That’s what we all should do when faced with a really big goal. For me, to reach the goal of a side plank with my leg raised, I modified the move, got stronger, and finally was able to do the full pose. Planning for one step at a time keeps you motivated to continue.

Break it down

Consider that goal, and everything that it will take to achieve it. Then think about the logical steps to take to get there. All of them. Write it down. And then plan – concisely, every step, every milestone, with deadlines. Use your “Get It Done” Guide to help you plan! Then do it. And when you reach a milestone, celebrate! That’s what keeps you motivated to continue toward that big goal.

That’s what Olympic champions do.

“Little treats” keep us going

I hate running. I’ve said that before, but it’s actually not so true any longer. I still don’t like to run, but I don’t hate it as much as I used to. That’s because I’ve been running regularly for over a year. I only run twice a week. And it’s still mostly run / walk, but I do run for over a minute at a time. I call that running. How did I achieve that consistency of doing something that I actively dislike? The “Premack principle.” Those rewards, those little treats keep us going.

A little treat keeps me on the treadmill

David Premack, a psychologist in the 1960s developed the theory, now named for him, that said that doing something you like to do can be a reward for doing something you don’t want to do. Like my listening to an audiobook that I really enjoy while I run, which I do not enjoy. It’s that little treat – an audiobook that I get for nothing – that keeps me on the treadmill. My body gets much more of a benefit from running than my brain does by listening to that audiobook. 

Those little treats keep us going, but they’re not luxuries

A recent article in Psychology today explains that these little treats are not a luxury. We’re not pampering ourselves by getting rewards. Ray Christner, the article’s author, says that the Premack principle has a solid foundation in psychology. And we use it for our dogs too. It’s called positive reinforcement. These little treats keep us going by offering encouragement for doing something good. 

It’s like dog training

Likewise, our dogs are rewarded for doing what we like. We always say that “what gets rewarded gets repeated.” And this holds for us, too. That audiobook gets me on the treadmill twice a week. And, now, to tell the truth, when I have to miss a day of running, I don’t feel quite right.

And studies have shown that the speed of the reward matters. The faster the reward is linked to the action, the more motivated to perform it. And it actually may not be the reward that compels us to perform the action – it may be how that reward makes us feel. Listening to that audiobook is not a tangible thing. And it’s different every time I turn the player on. But I feel the same enjoyment.

How to use those little treats

If the little treats keep us going, how do we use them? First, we have to set clear, achievable goals. For me, it’s treadmill time twice a week. Walking no more than half the time. And running at 7 miles per hour or more.

Identify meaningful rewards

Identify meaningful rewards and tie them to specific achievements. Choose rewards that you like, perhaps a cup of coffee or a half hour doing a crafting project after you perform the behavior you’re not fond of.

All things in moderation. Don’t go overboard – either with the reward you like or the behavior you don’t. Have the reward fit the behavior. 

And make sure it’s helping. For me, it is – I’m faster than I was, I can run longer, and I no longer hate running.

It’s true – those little treats keep us going. They motivate us to face challenges and lead a happier life. Remember to celebrate your achievements – big and little.

Not feeling it

After 325 articles about fitness, exercise, motivation, time management, healthy aging, balance, and other aspects of my world, I sat down to write something new and fresh and uplifting. But I just was not feeling it. Had I covered it all? I refuse to believe it. I just was not motivated to delve deeper.

Outside and Inside Forms of Motivation

So that leads me to the controlled and autonomous forms of motivation. Yes. Another research study! But this one is completely relevant to fitness and how we approach it. Controlled motivation is determined by outside forces. If it’s raining, we’re motivated to close the window. If my dogs are jumping on me, I’m motivated to put in another few minutes of training. I see controlled motivation as cause and effect. If you know you’re supposed to exercise and you’re not feeling it, controlled motivation is not going to cause you to change into workout gear and run. 

Outside motivation doesn’t last

Well, perhaps if you’ve eaten an entire candy bar, you may feel motivated to exercise for a while. But that candy bar is not going to inspire you to develop the healthy habit of a regular exercise program. Working out because you feel guilty or bloated today is not going to remind you to exercise in two days.

This controlled motivation goes away when the immediate need is satisfied. Once you don’t feel the bloat, you’re not likely to lace up those sneakers.And you know that exercise is not effective unless you do it several times every week. You won’t get all the benefits that exercise offers, like weight control, stronger heart and bones, better cognition and mood, and improved memory, unless it becomes a habit.

Healthy habits are autonomous motivation

And autonomous motivation creates healthy habits. That is, motivation that comes from within. So, even though you’re not feeling it, you go exercise. You brush your teeth twice a day no matter what. Every time you get in the car, you put your seatbelt on. You know that your teeth and gums stay healthy only if you brush twice a day. Putting your seatbelt on is not just the law, it saves lives. Sound familiar?

That autonomous motivation keeps me lacing up my sneakers 4 or 5 times a week because exercise has become a habit. So, even though I’m not feeling it, I still do it. I know that I’ll be in a better mood. And even though I may not realize it right away, I’ll be able to remember more. My sleep quality will be better.

So, even though you’re not feeling it, exercise anyway.