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.

3 Tips for getting the most out of your workout

No one likes to waste time. I certainly don’t. So how can I make sure that I get the most out of my workout? You know that I’m not a fan of exercise at the best of times. So if I’m going to do it, get changed, sweat and get all out of breath, I want to make sure that my time is not wasted. If I’m motivated enough to put some time in and exercise for my healthy aging, I’m going to make sure it’s time well spent. Here are some tips to make sure you’ll be getting the results you want.

First: focus

Make sure you’re being intentional with your movements. It’s really easy to just go through the motions, especially if you’re enjoying the music. So pay attention to what you’re supposed to be doing. If it’s jumping jacks, make sure that you’re landing with bent knees in a squat. That way, you’re working your legs to the max! If you’re doing biceps curls, make sure you’re using the right muscles. If you’re running, tighten your core and hit with your heel, ball, and toe last of all. Be intentional with your movements.

Pay attention to form

The last tip and this one are linked. Make sure your form is on point. If you’re going through the motions with sloppy form, then your workout is for nothing. When you flex your biceps on a curl, you know that the right muscle is being worked. If you’re doing a Pilates workout, make sure that you’re inhaling when you’re supposed to and that your core is tight throughout the workout.

Keep distractions to a minimum

When you get a call, you know how long it takes you to get back to a productive mode? About five minutes. When I’m working out, I don’t have five minutes to waste on getting back into the groove. That’s part of what I use a warmup for. If your phone rings and you’re exercising, ignore it. They’ll leave a voicemail message. Put the dogs in another room. I put my dogs in their crates. (They’re all crate trained and get treats!) They can still watch me, but they’re not in kicking range. Distractions are time-wasters. When you’re not distracted, you’re not able to focus as well as if your full attention is on what you’re doing.

So, even when you’re doing a shorter workout – okay, maybe especially if you’re doing a shorter workout! – you’ll get the maximum benefit from minimal time. And that’s my goal when I’m exercising.

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.

Are you lying about your exercise routine?

I’m not on social media much, and when I do feel the urge to see what’s happening, it’s usually on Facebook. I do get lots of emailed newsletters, though, and something struck me this week. One of the fitness platforms I follow did a survey on Instagram and found that, despite the posts showing lots of exercise going on, people lie about their exercise routine. Apparently some people post gym selfies but aren’t really working out. And that makes me sad.

Why aren’t people working out

Why does it make me sad that people lie about working out? Because they’re not really getting the benefits that they could be from exercise. Data collected in a study done by Journal of Family Medicine and Disease Prevention found that people aren’t working out most commonly because of time constraints. Granted, it takes time to go to the gym, change, exercise, change back and drive back to work or home. And sometimes exercise is the least of it. But you can get in a great workout in 20 minutes at home. I know that 20 minutes is about the outside limit for my dogs getting a good nap before they get in my way. If there are kids, you can get your workout in early or late, or when the children are down for naps. The key to having effective short workouts is that you exercise with intensity and focus. 

Lying about your exercise routine hurts you

PS Fit asked its Instagram followers who actually do work out why they exercise. It’s no surprise that many responded that they exercise for their bone health, increased mobility and energy. Many replied that they exercise to benefit their mental health. And still others exercise to increase their resiliency and to provide stress relief.

Why do I exercise?

Besides burning a few calories to justify pizza for dinner, I exercise to be a nicer person. So, I lean into the mental health aspect of exercise benefits. Exercise makes me happier and easier to live with. All of which I want to have continue. 

Don’t lie about your exercise routine. Be honest with yourself above all. If you don’t feel like exercising, as I’ve said, then taking a day off won’t make a whole lot of difference. But, if it becomes more than a day or two that you’re not exercising because you don’t feel like it, then perhaps it’s time to take a look at your routine. See if a different kind of workout might make you happier and more inclined to do it. Because lying about your exercise routine hurts no one but yourself.

Is it okay to hit pause on your exercise routine?

I didn’t feel like running this last Monday, so I didn’t. And the world didn’t end. I had been on my feet almost all of Sunday at our Dog Training Club obedience trial – working, not exactly having a good time with my dog – it was hot, and I just plain didn’t feel like it. I was tired after running errands in the 90 degree heat, and I just decided not to work out. Every once in a while, it’s okay to hit pause on your exercise routine.

It’s okay to hit pause on your exercise routine as long as

As long as you pick right up where you left off.I knew that if I resumed my normal routine the next day I wouldn’t get too sore. If your muscles are screaming after a workout, indirect ice helps to soothe the area, and gentle stretching helps, too. At the start of your exercise habit-building routine, though, the best way to avoid sore muscles is to build your speed and poundage gradually. Likewise, I wouldn’t lose my speed or endurance just by missing one day.

Habits are hard to form

A habit is formed by weeks of focusing on it. An exercise habit is helped along by scheduling and stacking behaviors. If you put your exercise clothes out the night before, you’ll be reminded that you’re scheduled for 8 am to work out, for example. When you’re forming an exercise habit you have to really think about how to incorporate it into your life. And change is not easy.

But established habits are hard to break

But once that habit is formed, like exercise is for me, you feel kind of lost if you don’t do it. Even though I knew that I’d be perfectly fine, I felt kind of guilty about not exercising that day. I had to keep telling myself that I’d put on lots of miles on Sunday, which is usually a rest day for me. And everything would be all right. It’s okay to hit pause on your exercise routine once in a while.

Keep in mind, though, that if exercise is still new to you, that you have to really make an effort to resume your new healthy habit. You’re probably not going to feel guilty, like I did, if you miss a workout. So make sure you schedule your workouts. Not only that, specify the workout that you’ll be doing. And keep that date with yourself. Remember your motivation for starting your exercise program in the first place – your reason for getting healthy and strong.

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. 

Give your body what it needs

You may say, “Oh, I don’t need a lot. I’m happy with the way things are.” But what you really mean is, “I eat healthy and get the nutrition I need within my calorie allotment. I move my body the way the AHA and CDC recommends. I give my brain all the stimulation it could possibly need.” But, is this really true?

It’s a lot. And if it really is true, that’s fantastic! But let’s take each of these individually to see if you do give your body what it needs.

Nutrition

I’m no expert, but I know that if I eat my 3 squares a day, load up my plate with lots of veggies and legumes, a little meat, and not nearly as much potatoes or pasta as I like, I’ll be eating well. I’ll probably be within my recommended calorie range. I’ll be getting enough protein, enough fiber, and enough vitamins and minerals to keep my body fueled. Of course, I also add in a bit of chocolate to keep me happy. You’ll want to check with your doctor or a nutritionist, but I’ll bet they’ll tell you pretty much the same thing.

Exercise

You’ve heard it from me before. The Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity, and even more strength work. How you get those minutes in is up to you. You know you’ll want to keep your workouts fun – because that keeps your motivation up. But, if you don’t exactly enjoy your workouts, but you know you have to keep it up, what do you do? You might want to hop on the “Cozy Cardio” bandwagon. That’s making your environment appealing. If you walk or run on a treadmill, or use a stationary bike, that’s a great way for your workouts to be more inviting. Listen to an exciting audiobook, like I do when I run, or watch a favorite TV show while you exercise. You’ll enjoy the ambiance, if not the workout.

Brain

And when you exercise, you’re also feeding your brain! Vigorous exercise improves your memory, makes you happier, more resilient and helps you sleep better. 

Put like that, it’s not too much to give your body what it needs.

Make it easy to track it all every day using your Fitness Journal and Tracker!

Why can’t I do the same workout every day

The first step in beginning a fitness regimen is finding an exercise program that you like. I’ve said that a lot. Because if you don’t like it, you won’t do it. Simple as that. If you have a program that gets you on your feet, gets you moving, and you actually look forward to it, then why in the world wouldn’t you do it every day? You’ve got built-in motivation, so get to it, right? Now you’re saying that’s a bad idea? Why can’t I do the same workout every day? Here are some answers, prompted by personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist Rachel Trotta with my own comments thrown in. And my own article about cross-training may have some ideas for you, too.

First, remember to recover

Our bodies need time to recover. When we work our muscles intensely, they need time to recover and get stronger. So if you love to run and want to run everyday (I don’t understand this, but I know many people do), try to find something else that you love for alternating days. If you emphasize strength workouts, try to work different parts of your body every other day. 

But if, like the series that I like, your workout program actually does target different areas of your body on different days, you may not need to do a different program. If you’ve found an instructor that you really like, that’s terrific. Try to find different programs that target different areas to mix up your workouts.

The dreaded plateau

If you do the same workout every day, your body gets used to the movements and you’ll hit a plateau. Your body is great at adapting, but that’s not what you want when you exercise. In order to get stronger, or leaner, or improve our cardio response, we need to keep progressing in our workouts. Lift a little more, or do more difficult moves.

The boredom factor

Why can't I do the same workout every day?

No matter how much you like a workout program at the beginning, if you repeat it too much, you will get bored and you’ll lose your motivation. It’s the same thing with your favorite foods. Eat the same thing every single day and you’ll get bored with it and look for something new and exciting. I think that’s one reason we find it hard to stick to a restrictive eating plan. If you stick with it, you’re bound to lose weight, for example, but we want variety. Same thing with our workouts. If we do the same workout every day, we’ll get sick of it.

Over-exercise may result

And doing the same workout every day may result in over-exercise. Over-doing a move may result in injury. Or, if you’re merely going through the moves without focusing on them, you won’t get the full benefit.

So what’s the solution?

If I can’t do the same workout every day, what do I do? As I said before, if you’re streaming workouts and have found an instructor you really like, look for other programs that they do. While you’re enjoying that instructor’s workouts, also look for other programs you think you might enjoy and try them out. Also, try something totally different. You might like that too.

Tighten your core for everything

My balance group people are probably sick and tired of me telling them to “tighten your core.” But the core is the center of, pretty much, everything. Your core holds you up, helps you breathe, saves your back and saves you from falling. Strengthening your core also helps to improve your balance. Back to the core of it all – your core.

What is your core?

In a nutshell, your core includes all the stabilizing muscles in your middle – front and back. Your transverse abdominis is deepest and wraps around your middle like a girdle. It connects your rib cage to your pelvis and holds everything in place. Your internal and external obliques are next out toward the surface. These muscles criss-cross your middle and help with twisting and bending. Closest to the surface is the rectus abdominis – your six-pack – which also helps with bending and pelvic control. So, literally, your core really is the center of everything.

What will a strong core do for me?

You’re probably slumping in your chair. Straighten up! See that – you engaged your core! When you tighten your core, you’re able to sit or stand more upright. And when you’re upright, you can breathe more fully, get more oxygen into your lungs, and into your bloodstream.

Got a bad back?

I had back pain fairly regularly after a fall I took a few years ago. While I was healing I had time to do some research and found that improving your balance helps to prevent falls. My research also indicated that a strong core helps improve balance, and it also helps to prevent lower back pain. (This is from a study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.) Core strength training helps alleviate low back pain. This is crucial for our healthy aging. Nothing ages us more than pain, and many older people complain of back pain.

Tighten your core for better quality of life

Imagine a life without back pain. A life with free breath and limitless movement. This is the potential you can have when you tighten your core. 

How do you tighten your core? Suck it in. That’s easiest. Feel your stomach pull in. This is easiest when you’re lying on your back on the floor. Put your hand on your abdomen and tighten. Now stand up and do the same thing. Now, download your Week of Core-Centered Balance Moves and do an exercise a day. That’s a great start to strengthening your core.

No weights required for strength training

So many things you should do for your healthy aging. And most of them are expensive. Even with insurance, visits to the doctor cost most of the time. Care for your hair and skin aren’t getting cheaper. Those nice socks aren’t cheap. So, it’s great that even though the CDC recommends strength training a couple of times a week, you don’t have to go out and buy free weights. You don’t need a gym, either. There are no weights required for strength training.

Your body weight will do

You may not want to build muscle, but we all want to maintain what we’ve got. And it’s possible to do that and improve our strength by just using our own bodies. I think I’d look kind of stupid with bulging biceps, but if that’s your thing, it’s possible to get those as well by doing body weight exercises. First thing, though, according to Sten Stray-Gunderson, MS, an exercise physiologist and trainer, is to eat enough protein. So many of us focus on vegetables now that we don’t get enough protein in our diets. He recommends 1.2 to 2.2 grams per pound of bodyweight a day of protein to preserve your muscle mass – probably the lower end for those of us over 60. For exercise, Stray-Gunderson says high reps and many sets of body weight exercises will help increase muscle mass. 

For those of us who want to just maintain and get stronger, not necessarily build muscle, focus on the time under tension while we do the exercise. For example, lower into a squat slowly, and come up again just as slowly. It’s hard, but that’s the way to build strength. Focusing on form and control is the way to make an exercise really effective. There are no weights required for strength training here.

What exercises to do?

The aforementioned squat is an all-time favorite, of course, as is the plank. There’s nothing like squats for the lower body and the plank works everything, especially the core. Just make sure that you’re using good form. For the squat, your back is straight, legs are wide and knees are behind your toes as you look down. For the plank, keep your back straight and head in line. Of course, for everything, keep your core tight. And if you get bored with a regular plank, there are many variations to hold your interest.