Warm-Up Exercises to Keep Your Interest

Warming up before a workout is like watching previews at a movie theater: Some people love it while others literally can’t wait to get to the feature presentation. But it’s important–however tempting–not to skip a warm-up. A proper pre-game routine helps maximize efficiency and decrease the risk of injuries by loosening and warming up your muscles, getting them primed for action. It does the same for your joints.

If you think that stretching and running are your only options, think again. Here are some other warm-up exercises to keep your interest and get you pumped properly.

Jumping Rope

Forget the playground. The jump rope is possibly the greatest workout ally you don’t utilize. Five minutes of mild to brisk jump rope gets your heart going and your blood circulating. It can also help improve coordination and balance. You might be surprised at how quickly you get tripped up, at first, if you haven’t jumped rope since childhood. If you find five minutes too difficult, do what you can in intervals, cutting your down time gradually after a few workouts.

Jumping Jacks

Another middle school gym favorite that makes for a great warmup. Jumping jacks don’t just get the blood moving–they also work your core, arms, and legs for a total-body and equipment-free session.

Yoga

We’re not talking a full one-hour session. A few Sun Salutations do nicely. This routine slowly wakes up your heart rate and muscles and increases flexibility. It’s useful before pretty much any type of workout, from lifting weights to kickboxing.

The Dynamic Warmup 

The most, well, dynamic of all. Generally speaking, the dynamic warmup is a series of exercises strung together and designed to move and stretch a variety of muscle groups. Lunges, pushups, body-weight squats, and even some of the above can be included for a fast and all-encompassing routine. With this option, you’re never doing to the same thing for very long, so it’s harder to get bored. Here are two sample routines from Men’s Fitness and Nerdfitness.com.

There’s also nothing wrong, of course, with a little jogging. But with other warm-up exercises to choose from, you can keep things varied and ensure that you never skip this important part of your workout.

 

Yoga for Gophers?

Yoga for Gophers? That’s a capital “G,” as in the University of Minnesota’s college sports team, the Golden Gophers. The football team has added a new component to its summer conditioning program: a weekly team-wide yoga class.

Eric Miller/University of Minnesota
Thursday morning yoga at the University of Minnesota.

When the head coach asked him what he thought about yoga, strength coach Erick Klein knew a little about its effectiveness. His brother was a seasoned yogi, after all. “I believe in it,” he told ESPN. “I tell our guys that you have to stress the body to make it better. But even more importantly, you have to focus on your recovery to allow us to stress it again the next day.”

So, Klein asked Christine Ojala, owner of Thrive Mind Body in Minneapolis, to design a regimen for the team. Ojala did so, and one that emphasized not just strength training, but also flexibility, mental clarity, and restoration. All of which Klein hopes will transfer to the field next season.

The Gophers aren’t the only ones embracing yoga as a way to enhance athleticism. Other athletes and teams who have been known to utilize its benefits include Shaquille O’Neal, the New York Giants, the Seattle Seahawks, Evan Longoria, and the Haverford College lacrosse team.

Many of these athletes seemed to have been hesitant before trying it out. Some men perceive yoga as very much a non-masculine activity. Chants or weird poses, they think. But they quickly become converts after realizing how beneficial–and challenging–yoga can be. In the Gophers’ first yoga session, several of the players repeatedly fell over. They even gave one a nickname: the Awkward Pose.

It’s now one of their favorite hours each week.

Quick and Healthy Post-Workout Dinners

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We recently posted about some easy ways to enliven chicken breasts. Consider this the expansion pack. Here are a few ideas for when you’re sick of boneless poultry but need some quick and healthy post-workout dinners.

Make-Ahead Chili

You probably already have a recipe you love. Chili is just the kind of thing most people know how to make. It’s packed with protein and, unless it’s a Texas-style chili–Texans have pretty much always banned beans and tomatoes in their chili pots–it’s got vegetables to boot. Make a big batch on a day you’re not working out (it’s better the next day anyway) and you’ve got a few heat-and-serve dinners. Serve it over brown rice for more complex carbohydrates.

If you don’t have a chili recipe here’s a basic beef chili, and here’s a vegetarian one. Both are easy as–well, chili.

Pasta

Your body needs complex carbohydrates after a workout, and whole-grain pasta fits the bill. Cook some Italian sausage or a lean ground meat of your choice (you can add spices if you want) in olive oil with a little garlic and red pepper flakes. When the meat’s done, add your favorite greens–spinach and arugula are winners for convenience, but chopped broccoli rabe is nice–and then toss with hot pasta and serve topped with cheese.

Beans

Protein-heavy winners for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. “Burgers” are easy to throw together, and you can use pretty much any type of bean, but black beans, lima beans, and chickpeas are especially good. Serve them on whole-grain buns, or just as patties with a hearty side of vegetables.

You can also turn chickpeas or any white bean into a skillet supper with a little lemony-and-smoky kick. Saute an onion in olive oil until soft, then add several minced garlic cloves, hot smoked paprika to taste (if you don’t have any, it’s definitely worth the investment), salt, and pepper. Once fragrant, add a 28-oz can of diced tomato and two cans worth of drained chickpeas. Simmer for about ten minutes, add the juice of one lemon (or more!) and salt and pepper to taste. It’s really good on quinoa.

Eggs

The most important meal of the day can also serve double-duty as a powerhouse dinner. Simple eggs and toast are just fine. Maybe throw together some sauteed cherry tomatoes or spinach on the side. But a frittata is just as easy and gives you room to throw in whatever meat and vegetable you’d like.

Cod

What’s not to love? It’s fast-cooking, readily available, mild, and packed with protein. Roast it with a few vegetables and some mint or steam it with scallions and ginger. Or simply saute it, Italian-style.

Exercise and Friendly Bacteria

Everyone knows about “friendly bacteria.” The probiotics industry made $21.6 billion globally in 2010, mostly from food sales (like yogurt). The benefits are numerous: Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function. But there might be even more good news for gym-goers.

A recent Irish study conducted at the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Center at University College Cork found that frequent exercise might alter your gut bacteria for the better.

rugby

The study consisted of three groups. The first was comprised of 40 professional rugby players. The second consisted of healthy non-athletic men, and the third of sedentary, overweight men. The men in the last group had body mass indexes similar to the rugby players, but essentially without all the muscle.

It turned out that the athletes had more diverse intestinal microbes than the other two groups–but especially the group of heavier, non-active men. They also had a higher level of a certain bacterium called Akkermansiaceae (try saying that three times fast). Akkermansiaceae has been linked to a reduced risk of obesity, but also in systemic inflammation. The researchers basically found that the rugby players were exercising intensely (it was preseason training time) but recovering well.

It was a small study and so the results should be taken with caution. For example, the rugby players consumed considerably more calories and protein than the other two groups. Nutritional makeup was, however, not taken into account. Rugby players are also ridiculously athletic. Their fitness and endurance levels are well above those of a normal gym-goer.

So don’t throw away that yogurt just yet. But this could all be just another reason why you should stick to your workout routine.

 

Beat Chicken Breast Boredom

Chicken breast rules as king of lean proteins, and it can be an excellent part of your post-workout refuel routine. But it’s also easy to get tired of it. After all, the average American eats 55 pounds of chicken annually, which is more than any other meat. The good news is that it’s easy to jazz up. Here are some recipe ideas to beat chicken breast boredom.

parmesan-chicken-with-caesar-roasted-romaine-940x600

Your food processor or blender can be an awesome ally. Peanut sauce takes seconds to make, and it’s also good on steamed vegetables (broccoli, snow peas, etc.) and brown rice. You can also whir together avocado sauce or salsa for a fast taco night; serve with shredded or sliced chicken, warm corn tortillas (which are always whole-grain, by the way) and whatever else you’d like. Puree white beans or thawed frozen peas with a little seasoning, olive oil, and lemon for something mashed-potato-like on the side. If you’ve never tried Thai larb gai, it’s basically a pungent and much better version of what you might think of as lettuce wraps, with lots of fresh herbs; just finely mince some chicken breasts with a knife to replace the pork in this recipe, and you’re about ten minutes away from dinner.

If you don’t feel like lugging out a piece of equipment, Mark Bittman’s stir-fried chicken with creamed corn is a one-skillet wonder that only takes about twenty minutes. Or go the sandwich route and replace mayonnaise with store-bought hummus, chopped scallion, and lemon juice for a lower-fat, high-flavor take on chicken salad. Roasted chicken caesar salad (pictured above, from Bon Appetit) is a bit different, low-maintenance, and lighter than its namesake.

Nothing really beats marinating in terms of the work done versus amount of flavor. You just throw your chicken in a bag before you leave for work and let it soak up the goodness all day until you get home. Peruvian, balsamic, yogurt-honey, or Hawaiian are just a few health-conscious ideas.

If all else fails, raid your pantry before you cook: curry powder, paprika (regular or smoked), chili powder, and cumin all provide instant, nonfat spice power.

Finally, here’s a tip if you just feel like a plain old chicken breast: Pound it with a meat mallet to even thickness. This way it cooks evenly and quickly in the pan without drying out or staying raw in the middle. No meat mallet? No big deal. Use a rolling pin or heavy pan instead.

Yoga Selfies: Selfish, or Selfless?

Selfies seem to be everywhere now, being taken by everybody from kids to grandparents. There are selfies of all kinds: dangerous, funeralcelebrity, illegal, and lately, yoga selfies, which have been more uproarious than you might think.

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Although the New York Times profiled the phenomenon last summer, the conversation–or controversy–really picked up in May of this year after an article by the New York Post. The article covered Tara Stiles, a “model-turned-yogi,”  who was transported through the streets of New York City in a clear, mobile yoga studio. The stunt was promoting a workout program at W Hotels–and also, presumably, Stiles’ own brand of videos and clothing. The article also printed y-selfies from celebrities like Lea Michele, Lindsay Lohan, and Gisele Bündchen before delving into the Instagram trend.

The internet took it from there, with blogs and other publications giving their two cents. Women’s fitness magazines seem to love selfies, even instructing you how to take a good one. But not every yogi feels so at peace with them. Continue reading to see a breakdown of both sides, and then decide for yourself whether you want to get in the selfie game.

The Argument Against

Naysayers argue that it’s exhibitionistic. They say that the flashy and self-indulgent nature of yoga selfies runs in total opposition to what is meant to be at yoga’s core: the contemplative and personal. By running to set the timer on your camera or phone before performing crow pose, yoga-bitionists are concerned with the picture and how they look. They’re pushing out core principles like inner reflection to focus on whether or not a picture is going to get them more “likes” on Instagram.

It can also be dangerous for a yoga newbie who attempts to perform a more difficult pose unsupervised. Or even replicate a situation. Hilaria Baldwin (wife of Alec Baldwin) doing warrior III pose in high heels with a baby stroller, for example.

On that note, some deride what they claim is a competitive aspect as well. The more expert, and expertly polished, stances can seem to challenge the viewer: Look at how easily and beautifully I’m completing this difficult pose.

The Defense

Yogis for selfies tout their photos as motivational, not competitive. Many argue that their growing community encourages well being by promoting yoga as part of a healthy and active lifestyle. As one writer from the Observer puts it, “And maybe — scratch that, definitely — they’ve inspired a lot of their followers to take up yoga thanks to their Instagram efforts.”

There’s also the argument that turns the ardent criticism that selfies aren’t yogic back on itself. “True yogis don’t make harsh judgements. So my advice to the haters: get on your yoga mat & breath [sic] & feel, until you make peace with diversity.” (Hilaria Baldwin)

Should You Exercise If You’re Sick

You’re sick and wondering if you can–or should–exercise. Adults get approximately 2-3 colds per year, lasting between 7 and 10 days from start to finish. When you throw in the various other illnesses a person can get, such as the flu, you can easily spend a month out of every year feeling crummy. That’s a lot of blight.

Anyone who works out regularly will feel antsy about being sick. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder or training for a marathon to miss being active. It’s no surprise, then, that most gym-goers wonder whether or not continuing training will hurt or heal them.

Some doctors and fitness experts like Jillian Michaels say to use an above-the-neck/below-the-neck rule. If your symptoms are confined to your head–sneezing, coughing, and congestion, for example–then a lower-intensity work out might do you some good. Activities like walking, yoga, and light swimming or cycling can feel restorative and help open up airways. But pay attention: If you find yourself struggling to breathe, or if the chlorine in the pool is starting to irritate you, then you’re putting your already-stressed system under more stress and you should back off. Try to avoid lifting weights because your fatigue and sensory distractions increase the likelihood of injury. If you insist on pumping iron, use lighter weights and be extra careful.

Anything below the neck or that affects the entire body, such as bronchial or gastrointestinal distress, aches, fever, and chills, means that you need to sit on the bench for a while. These can indicate something other than the common cold that might take more energy or time to battle. Especially avoid prolonged or high-intensity exercise, which the Journal of Applied Physiology found to depress immune function for up to 24 hours.

Let’s say you’ve just got a cold or minor bug and can go. Should you? It’s really about personal limits. If your body is telling you to stop, then stop. One big thing to consider, however, and which people often forget, is courtesy. Much like a work environment, you’re risking exposing those at your gym or in your class to your illness. If you wouldn’t want to work out next to someone with a runny nose or bad cough, why should they?

Exercises for Beginners

What kind of a workout is Zumba? How do I properly perform Warrior 2 pose? What actually happens during a bootcamp?

These are questions many beginners have when looking at a gym’s class schedule or are taking a class for the first time, and questions sometimes lead to hesitation. Unfamiliarity shouldn’t stand between you and an exercise program you might love.

Here at Pura Vida Urban Fitness we’ve compiled a list of worthwhile YouTube videos we found to serve as helpful visual introductions to many of the different exercise styles you’ll encounter–at our studio and elsewhere. They’ll give you an excellent idea of what each training method is like and has to offer.

 

Zumba

Zumba to Shakira’s “Waka Waka.”

 

 

A guide to basic Zumba steps.

 

 

Yoga

Yoga for beginners…

 

 

and then intermediate-level yoga.

 

 

Pilates

A fifteen-minute beginner’s Pilates class.

 

 

Bootcamp

A full, sample bootcamp class.

 

What is TRX?

Many gyms and fitness studios have started offering classes mysteriously called TRX. You’ve probably seen people working out using “strappy things” attached to a door or hanging from the ceiling. Maybe you’ve heard somewhere that celebrities like Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Lopez, and NFL star quarterback Drew Brees love it. Maybe you’ve even seen mentions of it in Shape, Vogue, or the Wall Street Journal. Needless to say, it’s popularity has grown in the fitness world over the last few years. So what exactly is it, and how does it work?

trx classes prospect heights

TRX was invented by a former Navy SEAL named Randy Hetrick. It’s a highly portable training system, one designed to be taken almost anywhere for an effective total body workout. It uses a suspended bodyweight trainer, which, simply put, is a long, heavy-duty nylon strap with two handles that can be anchored either indoor or outdoor. No weights or benches required. You can order the equipment through the official website.

What are the benefits?

For starters, it’s essentially one piece of equipment that puts hundreds of exercises within your reach. You can control the difficulty level for most of them by simply adjusting your body’s position, meaning that anyone of any fitness level can use it advantageously. You don’t have to be an elite athlete nor do you have to be a beginner. Unlike exercise machines, this system leverages gravity and body weight, a combination that helps focus and tone your core while simultaneously powering up other muscles.

There are plenty of good TRX videos on YouTube that can give you a visual, but for starter’s, here’s one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmhI_8wlm8I

Classes are especially great for beginners, since the instructor is there to help correct your form and demonstrate new exercises. Not to mention egg you on.

What’s the Best Time to Work Out?

Maybe you’re an early riser who can’t imagine starting your day without a workout. Or maybe you’re the type of person whose ideal way to unwind after a long haul at the office is to sweat out the stress. It’s a no-brainer that exercise any time of the day is more beneficial than no exercise at all, but is there actually a better time to burn calories and build strength?

Depends, really.

Appalachian State University found in a 2011 study that people who work out in the morning get more, and more restful, sleep than those who train in the evening. It’s also easier to stick to your routine, especially if you work unpredictable or long hours, because it limits the number of unexpected variables. Fatigue, mood, and work or social obligations–these are all things that can pop up throughout the day and interrupt your path to the gym.

Early morning routines can also provide the motivation to make positive mealtime decisions–not to mention the revved metabolism to utilize those calories efficiently. Some people might try to work off a cheeseburger-and-fries lunch by doing pilates or lifting weights in the evening. The exercise early bird might find it’s just easier to say no to the Happy Meal altogether.

PM workouts also have their advantages. Classes and gyms are typically less crowded during pre-work hours, and for people with larg personal bubbles, that’s a definite bonus. However, if you’re the type that gets a boost from a more social and competitive setting, the you might find the scene after 6 PM more exciting. And if you’re excited about going to workout, the chances are greater that you actually will.

There’s also a greater chance you’ll be able to find a buddy willing to meet you, if you enjoy working out with a partner or downward-dogging it next to a friend. Magazines like Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Health, and Body+Soul have all touted the benefits of a buddy workout. You’re less likely to skip a day if you’ve committed to another person, you’ll each get an extra boost of motivation from one another, and it can just be plain fun.  It’s also an excellent way to try new things, whether it’s lifting heavier weights safely or checking out a kickboxing class.

But what this all really boils down to is that the best time of day to work out is the time that you’re most likely to go. If you’re not a morning person and you know that you’re going to pick the snooze button over exercise most days of the week, you don’t need to stack the deck against yourself; give the evening a shot. Likewise, if you find that distractions and obligations are constantly keeping you from hitting the gym at night, make yourself get up and go early on. You’ll feel good and reap the physical and mental benefits no matter when you’re exercising.