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.

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.

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. 

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.

“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.

People in recovery turn to fitness

Why people who are recovering turn to exercise for motivation

First off, this is a no-judgment zone. People who are recovering need our support, not our opinions. It’s all too easy to try substances that your friends try, then when it’s too late, discover that it’s nowhere near as easy to stop that substance. People who are recovering absolutely require other outlets for their interests. They need all the tools that the world can give them for that recovery. I learned that people in recovery turn to fitness which can provide the distraction and motivation they need.

Fitness is a community

Movement provides “transformational” mental and physical health benefits, according to Scott Strode, founder of a national “sober active community.” Fitness also brings people who are different in many other ways, together.

Physical and mental benefits

We know that exercise provides benefits from improved health, to better cognition, to more quality sleep. It also improves mood and reduces the risk of depression. But according to a 2023 study, people who jogged and did weight training, who were also being treated for addiction, were more likely to reduce their substance use than those who were not active.

From the results of this study, there were non-quantitative physical, emotional and brain-based benefits that led to positive change. We’ve seen before that exercise can produce that “runner’s high,” even though we’re not running. Exercise encourages the growth of brain cells, andl that leads to the release of dopamine. That mood boost is yet another reason for why people in recovery turn to fitness.

Fitness provides more positive outlets

Strode says that “movement and exercise helped him redirect subconscious neural pathways related to early childhood trauma at the root of his substance use.” Other studies have shown that exercise leads to an increase in the brain’s neuroplasticity, or the brain’s way of reorganizing thought patterns. This can help someone who’s recovering to find other, more positive, outlets.

And fitness provides routine

A fitness routine can also help someone who’s recovering find structure and grounding. We’ve talked about how to start (and continue) a fitness routine, to form the healthy habit of exercise at any age. It’s another good reason why people in recovery turn to fitness.