Utilizing Resistance Machines

Since the invention of the first variable resistance machine in the late 1800’s, machines have become a major part of resistance training programs throughout the world.

Why have they become so popular? For one, they offer many users a larger degree of safety as compared to using other forms of resistance training. Users do not have to worry about being trapped by the weight or having a weight fall upon them. So safety is a big plus but do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Any piece of resistance equipment can cause injury if used improperly with poor technique and too much resistance.

Secondly, machine users often feel using such equipment allows them more ease of movement. They can change resistance quickly and efficiently and do not for the most part have to worry about coordinating and stabilizing their body, which can be a plus in some instances.

Lastly, variable resistance equipment through it’s design can provide users with the opportunity to train some body movements which would be nearly impossible to do by other means, i.e. hip abduction and hip adduction.

What should we keep in mind if we want to utilize variable resistance equipment?

1) Learn how to adjust the piece for you. Many pieces of equipment can be adjusted to fit your limb and torso length.

2) Learn the mechanics of the exercise. How to apply force effectively, how you need to stabilize, and know what your posture should be while performing the exercise.

3) Learn at what speed of movement you need to be at to receive the most benefit. Most if not all weight stack style need to be performed at a slow consistent speed to maintain a consistent strength curve. Not only can going too fast increase your chances of injury, it can also decrease the overall benefit of the exercise performed. Exercise speed should be somewhere from 2 seconds or more on the contractive phase (weight moving off the stack) to 4 or more seconds on the eccentric phase (weight moving back to the stack). Keiser type variable resistance equipment is one of the only styles in which you can perform the exercise at any speed and still retain a consistent strength curve.

4) Make sure to contact a Fitness Professional if you have questions. Ask for assistance. It will increase your success and decrease your risk of getting injured.

If used properly variable resistance training equipment can enhance any routine and provide you with many different training options. Train smart and be safe.

Ideal Body Weight

It is quite evident that everyone can not, and should not, be as thin as some of the movie stars and models you see on the covers of magazines these days.  These pictures are not only commonly airbrushed, but most certainly unattainable for the standard adult.  Common sense and sound nutrition and exercise principles mandate that you should avoid setting “hard and fast” body weight goals.  Rather, you should strive to achieve a body weight that is compatible with a healthy lifestyle by combining both sensible eating, and regular exercise.

To determine ideal body weight, you shouldn’t rely solely on a bathroom scale, height-weight measurements, or body fat percentage measurements.  What represents a safe, realistic, and perhaps even more importantly, attainable body weight for you will depend (to a large extent) on the following factors:

1.  Medical History: Your current medical history, to include a thoughtful review of your personal health risk factors, should be taken into account when attempting to define your ideal body weight.  For example, if your blood pressure is elevated, a modest weight reduction could be quite beneficial.  Extra body mass means that your heart must work harder to pump blood through miles of extra capillaries that feed that extra tissue.  People with diabetes are examples of medical conditions that can be positively affected by weight loss.

2.  Family History: Body weight, like most other physical characteristics, is strongly influenced by genetics.  If your parent and siblings are extremely heavy, it is highly unlikely that you will ever be really thin.  As unfair as this may appear, such a limitation should be kept in mind when establishing your ideal body weight goals.

3.  Body Composition: Leaner bodies are more effective calorie burners.  The more muscle or lean body mass you have, the more calories you burn.  Men naturally have more muscle mass than women, and as a result have higher metabolic rates.  Furthermore, individuals who exercise on a regular basis tend to have more muscle mass and higher metabolic rates compared to non-exercisers.  Add a strength-training program to your fitness regimen and build the muscle needed to raise your metabolic level.

4.  Body Fat Distribution: Body fat located in your upper body region is very risky in terms of your health.  If you have a high amount of upper body fat, you should consider losing weight (specifically body fat) through a combined program of sensible eating and exercise.  One accepted method of determining whether you have an excessive amount of upper body fat is to look at your waist-to-hip ratio.  This is determined by dividing the waist circumference by the hip circumference.  Measure the waist at the smallest point, the hips at the largest.  Men with WHR values exceeding 1.00 are considered to have an excessive amount of upper body fat, while those with less are deemed to have an acceptable level.  Women with WHR values above 0.80 are considered to have an unhealthy amount of upper body fat, under 0.80 is acceptable.

5.  Functional Ability: If your existing body weight inhibits your ability to effectively and efficiently perform your activities of daily living, and comfortably engage in the recreational activities of your choice, it is probably not an ideal level.

To whatever extent genetics determines how you store and lose fat, the body you’ve been given wants to be appreciated and treated well, even if being thin is not in its future.  Exercise and low-fat eating are two of the most important ways that you can help to make your body healthier.  Focusing on pleasurable activity and nutritious foods helps you feel good for who you are, not what size you wear.

There are simply two rules to getting in better shape, and losing body fat.  If that is your goal, why not start every day with this affirmation to yourself…”Today I will eat a little less, and move a little more.”  Tape it to your bathroom mirror, and repeat it throughout the day.  Then get out there and DO IT!!!

Cardio Crash Course

When you’re hanging out with people who exercise a lot you hear the word cardio all the time.  Cardio – which in medical jargon  is short for cardiovascular exercise, means “for your heart.”  It is the kind of exercise that strengthens your heart and lungs and burns a lot of calories.

There are literally dozens of reasons to pursue this sort of exercise – everything from eliminating that spare tire, to lowering your stress level and blood pressure.  Once you understand the basic concepts involved in cardio exercise, you can better design a workout program based on your goals.

How hard do you need to push yourself?  Maybe not as hard as you think.  No, you will not benefit much from walking on a treadmill at the same pace you stroll down the store aisles; they don’t call it working out for nothing.  On the other hand, exercising too hard all of the time can lead to injury and make you more susceptible to burn out.  Also, the faster you go, the less time you can keep up the exercise.  Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you may gain just as much, if not more, from slowing down a little and going longer.

To get fit and stay healthy, you need to find the middle ground: a moderate or aerobic, pace.  You can find this in a number of different ways.  Some methods of gauging your intensity are extremely simple, and some require a bit of arithmetic.  Here are a few of the most popular ways to monitor your intensity.

The talk test.  This is the simplest way.  You should be able to carry on a conversation while you’re exercising.  If you’re so out of breath that you can’t say, “help me!”  You need to slow down.  On the other hand, if you’re able to belt out your favorite song at the top of your lungs that’s a pretty big clue you need to pick up the pace.  Basically, you should feel like you’re working hard enough to breathe hard, but not so hard that you think your lungs might explode.

Perceived exertion.    This method uses a numerical scale, typically from one to ten, that corresponds to how hard you feel yourself working – the rate you perceive that you are exerting yourself.

An activity rated 2 would be something that you could do forever, like sitting on the couch watching the rain fall.  A 10 represents all-out effort, like the last few feet of an uphill sprint, about 20 seconds before your legs buckle.  Your typical workout intensity should fall somewhere between 6 and 8.  To decide on a number, pay attention to how hard you’re breathing, how fast your heart is beating, how much you’re sweating, and how tired your legs feel-anything that contributes to the effort of sustaining the exercise.

Measuring your heart rate.  This is a more precise way of monitoring your pace.  Your heart rate is called your pulse, and you can determine this number either by counting the beats at your wrist or neck or by wearing a heart rate monitor.

Your heart rate can tell you a lot about your body – how fit you are, how much you’ve improved, and whether you’ve recovered from yesterday’s workout.  But how do you know what heart rate to aim for?  There’s no magic number.  Rather, there’s a whole range of acceptable numbers, commonly called your target heart rate zone.  This range is the middle ground between slacking off and knocking yourself out.  Typically, your target zone is between 50 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, the maximum number of times your heart can beat in a minute.   

The most time-honored method for determining maximum heart rate is for men to subtract their age from 220 and for women to subtract their age from 226.  Keep in mind that this formula gives you only an estimate.  Your true max may be as many as 15 beats higher or lower.  Also, this formula is generally used for activities during which your feet hit the ground.

Using that easy formula to find your max, find your target heart rate zone by calculating 50 percent and 85 percent of your maximum.  Here’s the math for a 40-year-old man:

220 – 40 = 180 (this is his estimated maximum heart rate.)  180 X .50 = 90 (This is the low end of his target zone.  Below this number and he’s not working hard enough. 180 X .85 = 153 (This is the higher end of his target zone.  If his heart beats faster than 153 beats per minute, he should slow down.

Okay, so now you know how to figure out your target heart rate zone.  But how do you know if you’re in the zone?  In other words, how do you know how fast your heart is beating at any given moment?  You can check your heart rate in two ways: taking your pulse manually or using a heart rate monitor.

When you’re just starting to work out, you may not have a good sense of how hard to push yourself.  And you may be working out harder than you actually need to.  Actually, this happens to advanced exercisers and athletes all the time.  Left to their own devices, they try to out-do themselves every day.  The smart ones use a heart rate monitor to remind them to slow down.  However, for most of us the problem is getting into a higher gear.

Finally, why can’t we work above the higher end of our aerobic zone?  The point at which your extra oxygen supply runs out and you slip into the reserve mode is referred to as your anaerobic threshold.  When you’re in poor physical shape, your body isn’t very efficient at taking in oxygen, and you hit your anaerobic threshold while exercising at relatively low levels of exercise.  As you become more fit, you’re able to go farther and faster, yet still supply oxygen to your muscles.  By monitoring your heart rate, you can be careful not to become anaerobic (gasping for air, feeling that burning sensation in your legs) and forced to stop exercising.

Exercise Adherence

Your decisions been made, you’re pumped to get started, this time you’re really going to shape up for good!

But did you know that more than half of those who begin an exercise program drop out within the first 6 months?  That’s a staggering statistic, especially when you consider that these same people will eventually start and stop again and again.  But once people realize the reasons they stop exercising, they can implement new behaviors to make exercise a way of life.

There are a variety of reasons people drop out of exercise.  They run out of time, workouts are no fun, or they’ve tried to do too much too soon and are dissappointed in the lack of results.  Someone who stops exercising for any of these reasons, and then starts again without alleviating the initial problem, is very likely to continue to drop out.  Luckily, there are techniques that you can adopt to increase your adherence to an exercise program.

How can you avoid being an exercise drop-out?  First, you should choose an activity that you really enjoy.  Don’t force yourself to take up body building, for instance, if you really can’t stand the weight room.  Enjoyment itself is a powerful motivator.

Second, choose an exercise program that fits your schedule and meshes with your lifestyle.  When you choose an exercise class, for example, find one that fits your time schedule and is in a location that is near your home or workplace.

Next, choose the class that’s right for you.  The type of class, step, low impact, dance or circuit, should fit your exercise capabilities.  If the class is too difficult or too easy, you’ll be more inclined to drop out quickly.  If you’re new to a class, be sure to let the Instructor know.  He or she can tell you what to expect, what level the class is working at, and show modifications if you’re just getting started.

Once you select the facility, time and class you want, make sure your Instructor is motivating to you.  They should be knowledgeable and enjoy teaching.  You should feel that the instructor is concerned with providing you with the best workout possible.  You should also enjoy the environment you’re in and the other members around you.  A huge reason people do group fitness is because it’s social, fun and motivating to be in a group of like-minded individuals that not only enjoy each others company, but enjoy the element of fun and comraderie.

There are several other techniques to help you keep exercising.  Schedule your workouts so a friend can accompany you to class.  Make sure you have the support of your “significant other” so they can reinforce your efforts.  Choose a class where other participants share your exercise capabilities and workout goals.  Pack your clothes the night before and leave them in front of the door.  This way, you must pick them up to leave.

Probably the best way to guarantee that you don’t become a dropout is to set goals for yourself.  I know, I preach this one often.  But you have to make sure your goals are reasonable, achievable, measurable, personal and set within a respectable time frame.  For example, you may want to progress from an intermediate class to an advanced class in 3 months.  This would mean attending 3 or 4 classes a week to build your fitness level.  They key in goal setting is to make certain that you experience success along the way.  Rememeber…Success breeds success.

Another method for improving your adherence to exercise involves relaxation and imagery training.  When you are relaxed, imagine yourself fitter, thinner, stronger or more toned, feeling better and thinking more positively.  All these images will condition your mind to help you exercise over longer periods of time.  Like I always tell my class participants, “you gotta want it!!”  That is why you take the time to show up in a class.  No one takes time out of their day to show up and slack through an hour of exercise.  Remember, you showed up because you want results.  And the only way results are made, is with determination and attitude.

There are many “tricks of the trade” to help you stick to your exercise program.  The key is to really enjoy what you are doing.  When people are having fun together, they will persist in doing it longer.  I realize that I do a lot of preaching about persistence, but it is only because I really want you to succeed.  I want your goals to be met, and I want you to feel good about the person you are.  You need to know that it isn’t all about the way you look on the outside, but exercise can dramatically help the way you feel on the inside.  The first results you get  are not going to be on the scale.  But they will be in the way you go about the rest of your day, or the release of stress you feel after a day at the office.  Exercise is the magic pill that can turn a frown into a smile – and give you the energy to be a better co-worker, parent or friend.  It is a gift you have to give yourself – and it takes a long-term commitment.  So what are you waiting for?  Get out there – and get moving!

A Fitness Consumer Checklist

With the wet and cold season upon us it’s time once again to take our fitness activities indoors. Unfortuately, people know little about how to select the health and fitness center that is right for them. The solution? Learn the important characteristics to be considered before joining a fitness program.

Based on research and experience in the health and fitness industry, a checklist was developed to help the public evaluate health and fitness centers in order to make informed decisions.

It should be noted that this checklist has not been standardized, and there is no set score that assured facility excellence. Rather, the checklist identifies program features available in the industry and allows individuals to rate each component themselves. Answering “yes” to the majority of the following questions about a particular health club should be one given the highest consideration. Though choosing a specific center is subjective, people who use the checklist should feel more confiedent in their decision and, as a result, experience greater program satisfaction.

In addition it is a good idea to discuss the health and fitness centers you are considering with current or past members, This may provide additional insight into whether the program is right for you.

FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT

  • Is a variety of equipment available (i.e. cardiovascular machines, strength machines)?
  • Are no “out of order” signs visibile on the equipment?
  • Are the facilities clean?
  • Are the facilities being only moderately used during the time you plan on exercising?
  • Are locker rooms available and clean?
  • Does the equipment appear to be well maintained?
  • Is the ambiance of the facilitiy comfortable?
  • Is adequate security provided for personal belongings?
  • Is the facility conveniently located?
  • Is the temparture of the facility comfortable?
  • Is the dress code acceptable to you?
  • Are there time limits on the equipment?

HOURS OF OPERATION?AVAILABILITY

  • Is the center open at convenient times (including weekends, evenings, mornings?)
  • Is the center open when you want to use it?

STAFF QUALIFICATIONS

  • Are floor instructors available to help with your programs?
  • Are floor instructors “experts” (denoted either by professional certifications or degrees)?
  • Are staff available to greet and assist entering clients?
  • Are all staff trained in CPR and is first aid available during all hours of operation?
  • Are staff enthusiastic fitness instructors rather than salespeople?
  • Was a physician’s clearance (in accordance with the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines) discussed by anyone on the staff?

COST

  • Were you offered a pass to try out the facilities before you joined?
  • Is the membership fee affordable?
  • Does the cost of dues include the classes, lockers, towels, membership cards, pool, etc?

SERVICES PROVIDED

  • Are daycare services provided? If so, do they offer programs to keep your kids entertained and fit?
  • Are periodic clinics or seminars provided?
  • Are fitness assessments conducted before you begin and periodically throughout your membership?
  • Does the club work with the community to endors the importance of fitness?
  • Are fitness assessments used for developing an individualized exercise program?
  • Are towels provided for wiping down the equipment between patrons?
  • Does the club provide nutritional services or guidelines?
  • Does the staff care enough to call you by your name?

I hope this questionnaire will help you in your search for a quality health club. Most importantly, I hope you will achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself and continue your exercise program. If you’re just getting started, please start slowly and stick to your program. Positive results don’t happen overnight.