fitness tips

The Fitness Question I Get Most Is...

Hi friends! A quick post from me today with the answer to a question I've gotten quite a lot. People are often curious about how often they should be exercising, and what that exercise should be (cardio, strength-training, flexibility, etc.). Every body is different, so take what I'm going to suggest and run it through the filter of your own sense of what's reasonable for you. Or, share it with your physician if you're new to working out and make sure that he or she thinks it's safe.

What follows is the general schedule I followed when I was first getting into exercise and I think it's a fairly reasonable one. 

I only did 30-minutes a day of any kind of exercise. That was all I had time for and all I had the energy to do. Sometimes I broke that 30-minutes up into smaller sessions (three, 10-minute bouts, for example). 

Three times each week I spent that 30-minutes doing some kind of strength training. When I was first starting out, that meant exclusively exercise DVDs. I wrote a post with some recommendations, which you can access here. Jessica Smith has some great ones and many of them are 30-35-minutes. I love this one. And this one, which is a 6-week program with several DVDs to rotate through. Or you can find 10-minute workouts on Pinterest or YouTube and do one in the morning, one at lunch and one at the end of the day, if shorter is better for you. There are tons of those. I left at least one day in between strength training sessions for rest or for some kind of cardio exercise.

Once or twice each week I took an active rest day, where I just did some gentle yoga, went for an easy walk or did some stretching. Just gives your body some time to recover, which is essential for building strength.

And then 2-3 times each week, depending upon how many rest days I took, I'd do some cardio exercise. For me that meant walking. Walking is great exercise! It's low impact, you don't need any equipment, and you can do it anywhere. I like to walk outside, but I also love putting some music on and walking on the treadmill.

Hope that helps give you some ideas! Again, you don't have to do what I did. I just know that when I was starting out I really had no idea how to build a program for myself, so something like this would have helped me. If you're really not sure what's good for you, or if you're new to working out, I would encourage you to talk to your physician or spend an hour with a trainer in your area and ask them to help you put together a plan. 

How to Treat Your Sore Muscles

Sore muscles are the wages of exercise. Unfortunately. I almost always get them when I return to working out after a break, or when I change-up my workout in some way. I wrote a post about how to minimize soreness with the former.

But, I have had people ask me whether there's a way to prevent it or cure it. The answer is that I don't know of a way to prevent it from ever happening. When I'm exercising regularly, there's always some muscle of mine that's a little (sometimes a lot) sore. 

However, you can mitigate the discomfort in some simple ways. I'm going to share a few of my favorite tips for that here. I hope one or more of them help you!

Drink water. Staying hydrated helps everything feel and function better.

Stretch. Make sure you're stretching after your workouts (and not before), and that you're building active recovery days into your workout schedule once or twice a week. Stretching returns muscles to their healthy resting lengths, and can provide short and long-term relief from muscle soreness when done correctly.

Get enough sleep. Seven to nine hours is the recommended range. I tend to fall more on the nine hour end, but you may need less. One of the many reasons why getting enough sleep is important, is that it's the time when the muscles you broke down during exercise repair themselves. If you don't sleep enough then those muscles don't get stronger.

Eat protein, including some right before bed. Amino acids are cellular building blocks, and there is some evidence that ingesting them before sleep is especially beneficial to the repair and rebuild process. 

Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt in hot water can provide some relief for those sore muscles. And they are really inexpensive. A soak in a hot tub is great too, if you have access to one. 

Foam rolling. I haven't talked a lot about foam rolling on the blog, but I did a ton of foam rolling when I was recovering from a knee injury a while back and it helped. It can be really intense though, especially if you have really tight muscles. If you don't have a foam roller, or traditional foam rolling is too intense and uncomfortable, you can use a rolling pin to gently massage your achy muscles. If you've never done it before, I would highly recommend getting a professional to show you how to do it safely. A personal trainer or physical therapist can help you learn the basics.

Massage. I read an article recently about a personal trainer who swears by weekly massages to treat muscle soreness. If my bank account would let me, I would totally try this experiment myself. If you can afford it, regular massage makes life better. 

Take an anti-inflammatory. Ibuprofen can provide some relief for sore muscles, but it's definitely not something you want to be taking regularly. If you're in so much pain from your workouts that you need pain killers, you may not be dealing with normal muscle soreness. It may be a symptom of overtraining or injury. When mine is especially bad, I'll take ibuprofen. But it's rare that I do that, and far more common that I use the other treatments listed here. 

I Don't Crunch & You Don't Have to Either

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Anyone reading who absolutely LOVES abdominal crunches? Anyone especially love getting down on the floor; struggling to relax your neck (kind of an oxymoron, I know); and crunching until your abs burn or your arms get tired of supporting your head? I mean really love crunches? I broke-up with crunches months ago and here's why. They're uncomfortable; it's relatively easy to do them incorrectly and hurt yourself; it's relatively easy to do them wrong and have them be almost completely ineffective as an exercise; they don't really target the deep core muscles (the ones you need to be strong in order to prevent back issues and to support your body in the motion of daily life); they hurt my neck; they are not fun but are very boring. Other than that, I think they're great :-)

This would be a bummer of a post, except for the fact that there are so many awesome exercises that work your core better than floor crunches. Yay for good exercise news! I won't list them all here, but here are my 5 current favorites, making their way through my current workout rotation.

The Woodchopper. I just think this one is so much fun. Not sure why. But I love it.

Dead Bug. Terrible name. Awesome exercise.

Forearm Plank. I love to add knee-drops or hip drops for variety. But make sure you've got the basic plank form down pat before adding anything fancy.

Bird Dog. Great name. Great exercise.

Standing Mountain Climbers. Can make these harder by holding a dumbbell in your hand.