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How to find an exercise group that’s right for you

One of the best ways to stay committed to working out is to find a group, gym, or club that’s a good fit for you.

How do you do that? Here are a few things to consider.
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Ask around

Know some one who does a little bit of lots of activities? Running, cycling, weight lifting, and martial arts, for example? Or some one who focuses on an activity you may want to try? See if they have any suggestions about how you can get started.

Be a guest.

Most group workouts encourage participants to bring a friend for free. It can be a great way to meet some of the people and to try the workout for free. Most group instructors/ trainers will give you extra attention to make sure you stay safe through the workout and that’s a good thing.

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Ask your doctor for a recommendation.

If you’re under doctor’s care, can he or she recommend an exercise program? Yoga, to relieve stress, or water aerobics for low impact activity?

Explore community education offerings.

It’s a chance to try a new activity at very little cost and for a limited time. If you find you love it and want to continue, that’s usually an option.

Try meet ups in your area.

The Meet Up website connects people with the same interests. Read the group description to see what they’re all about. There’s a wide range of groups in most areas, everything from tennis to fitness camp workouts.

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Visit local gyms and try group classes.

Most gyms offer a trial membership so you can try a class for free.

Find a group you’re compatible with in these areas:

Activity

  • Find something you enjoy.
  • Be open to trying different activities. You may find that you like something you didn’t think you would.
  • Be teachable. You may think of the details as “common sense” but that’s not always the case. Listen, watch, and learn.

People

  • Group culture – Every group has its own culture or “vibe”. Find a group that’s a good fit. For example, if you’re a beginner, you may be overwhelmed in a group with very competitive members. She may need a more laid-back group.
  • Values – Look for a group dynamic that’s in line with your personal values. For example, a “party all the time” culture may not be the best fit for a non-drinker.

These are just a few things to consider when looking for the right exercise group for you.

Find what works for you and helps motivate you to stay committed to your goals.

Have fun with it!

 

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What is Balance Training and Should I Be Doing It?

Today, we continue the series on the benefits of exercise (you can click here to read that post in case you missed it) and specific types of exercises. (Read about Cardio Workouts here and Strength Training here.)

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According to Harvard Health Publications, guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend a well-rounded plan of “aerobic activity, strength training, and balance exercises.”

What’s balance training?

It focuses on improving and/or maintaining stability (not falling over). Stable movement improve overall mobility.

Some types of training that emphasize balance are:

Yoga

Pilates

Various core and agility exercises

Some martial arts practices, such as Tai-chi

BenefitsPicture downloaded from Pixabay for strong-woman.com

  • Strengthens core muscles
  • Improves stability and mobility
  • Requires little to no equipment
  • Multiple variations of simple movements
  • Helpful to people at all fitness levels

In-house fitness expert, Mark Montalvo, says this:

“As we age, balance usually decreases resulting in falling or injury…this is why balance training is so important. It develops proprioception, which simply means how we move our bodies through space and time.

He says effective balance training should be performed in multiple directions of movement, in an unstable environment. It can be as simple as walking on a straight line or standing on one leg.Weight loss photo courtesy of pixabay published on strong-woman.com

Complicate that by standing on one leg while throwing or catching a ball.

Drawbacks/Risks

  • Must practice good form to reduce risk of injury
  • Progress is hard to measure

So, everyone can benefit from balance training, no matter the level of fitness. Being able to stay upright and stable will go a long way to keeping you healthy and well.

Remember to check with your health care professional before starting an exercise program. This is especially important if you’re under doctor’s care for a health condition.

What’s Strength Training and Why Should I Be Doing It?

What’s Strength Training and Why Should I Be Doing It?

I’ve talked about the benefits of exercise (you can click here to read that post in case you missed it) and specific types of exercises. (Read about Cardio Workouts here.)

Today, I’m covering some basic information about Strength Training.

You’ve probably heard you should be doing some sort of strength resistance training.

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Many women dismiss the idea because of a pre-conceived notion that “strength training” means bulked up biceps and oversized thighs, and walking around saying (in a deep voice), “I pick things up and put them down!”

But that’s the stuff of comic books and make-believe. Women who “bulk up” put forth tremendous effort, specialized nutrition, and intense training to achieve those results.

Strength Training – What is it and what are the benefits and drawbacks

Strength Training is focused movement of weight.

Benefits of strength training are:

  • Strengthens bones
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Improves stability and balance
  • Especially good for women who lose muscle mass more rapidly than men and loss is accelerated with age
  • Versatile – Can be mixed with many different types of exercises

    Artwork by Mark Montalvo
    Barbell

In-house fitness expert, (my husband) Mark Montalvo, says this about strength training:

“Most women don’t want to do strength training because they don’t want to bulk up. Strength training does build muscle. However, women who build large amounts of muscle mass while lifting weights are usually doing other things to enhance their results.

Strength training is important because it helps reduce body fat and burn calories for longer than just doing cardio or any other type of exercise. It can significantly help in maintaining a healthy weight.

It also helps preserve and build bone mass, which is important as we age. For women in particular, building bone mass helps reduce the onset of osteoporosis.”

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  • Requires equipment
  • Must practice good form to reduce risk of injury
  • Some people find weight lifting hugely boring – lifting things up and putting them down isn’t very exciting
  • In order to ensure proper form and technique, you may need a coach or trainer

 

Most weight lifting will not accelerate the heart rate for prolonged periods of time (anaerobic) so in order to get full-body benefits, you need to incorporate some kind of cardio.

 

As always, it’s important to check with your health care professional before starting an exercise program, especially if you’re under doctor’s care for a health condition.

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Exercise and Good Nutrition: Why You Need Both

The first time I trained for a half-marathon, I thought, “Okay, this is good.  I’ll be burning a ton of calories running all these miles and I’ll probably drop a few pounds. Awesome!”

And, yeah, I burned lots of calories, but I didn’t lose weight. Not at all.

The saying goes: You can’t outrun (or out-lift, out-train) a bad diet.

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That means, exercise alone isn’t enough.

If you really want results, you need both: regular exercise and good nutrition.

How can it possible that even when you’re burning a lot more calories you don’t lose weight?

One possibility is a phenomenon called “The Halo Effect”

The Halo Effect

In a nutshell, it’s when you think something or some one is so good it’s hard for you to be objective.photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

When it comes to fitness, the halo effect is:
I work out so I can eat whatever I want.

Sure, I can have dessert and a jumbo margarita! I just ran 10 miles.

 

I’m running a 5k tomorrow. I can have an extra serving.

The Halo Effect results in a person losing objectivity and allowing herself more high calorie indulgences or “rewards” because she worked out.

Thus the saying: You can’t outrun, out-lift, or out-train a bad diet.

In my experience, nutrition is way more critical in losing and maintaining a healthy weight than exercise, but it’s also the more challenging component.

And, it seems that the nutrition piece becomes even more important with age. You may be thinking, “I used to be able to eat whatever I want and never gain a pound.” [I’ve never said that, personally.]

So how do you do it? What’s the easiest way to get the best results from all your hours at the gym?

Here are a few tips on how to incorporate exercise and nutrition for the best results

Eat clean

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Simply put, eating clean means eating whole foods in their most natural form as possible. For example, if you have a choice between an apple, apple sauce, and an apple flavored, gluten-free fruit chew, the apple’s the best choice. Choose minimally processed food with no added sugar whenever possible.

Eat more vegetables

At every meal, have at least one serving of vegetables, and shoot for 2 – 3 servings each meal. Starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes don’t count. 

Drink water to stay hydrated

The standard recommendation is to drink half your body weight in ounces every day and even more than that if you’ve been sweating. Adequate hydration improves all bodily functions. Not drinking enough water can cause dehydration which can result in problems such as headaches, constipation, muscle cramps, and more.

Be aware of added sugar in beverages and choose accordingly

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Sports drinks, soda, fruit juice, adult beverages, and sweetened coffee drinks often have a ton of added sugar and a ton of extra calories.

Many restaurants now have calories per serving listed right on the menu and others have nutrition information on their website. It’s worth taking a look.

Read labels for ingredients and serving size

When you look for calories on the label, don’t forget to check the serving size.

For more information, read How to Read a Food Label

The most important thing is to find what works for you and then stick with it. For more recommendations and nutrition tips at How to Start Eating Healthy and Stick to It

Over the past few years of working out and finding what works best for me, I discovered that exercise has many benefits but losing weight isn’t one of them. Maybe that’s because of the Halo Effect. I don’t know for sure.

What I know for sure is that making good nutrition choices improves my overall feeling of health, wellness, and fitness. I make my share of bad choices and I’m not anywhere near perfect, but when I do these things most of the time:

  • Eat clean
  • Eat my veggies
  • Drink water
  • Avoid added sugar
  • Pay attention to food labels

I get better results. It’s most likely, you will too.

How about you? Do you agree with the statement: “You can’t outrun a bad diet”? What works best for you?

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What’s a Cardio Workout?

So, we know exercise is good for us – good for the mind, good for the body.

But what comes to mind when you hear the word “exercise”?

Is it running on a track, doing calisthenics like in gym class, dancing, weightlifting, running a half marathon, walking, yoga, or something else?

Recommended Guidelines

According to Harvard Health Publications, guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend a well-rounded plan of “aerobic activity, strength training, and balance exercises.”

Over the next few weeks, I’ll touch on each of these 3 different exercise categories:

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Cardio/Aerobic

Strength

Flexibility/balance/core

Starting with Cardio/Aerobic

Is cardio the same as aerobic exercise?

You’ll hear both terms, but cardio and aerobic workouts are the same types of exercises.

Aerobic literally means “with oxygen”. Cardio (cardiovascular) gets the heart pumping or increasing heart rate.

Cardio Workout:

Activities that get your heart pumping for a sustained period of time, such as cycling, swimming, running, power walking, jump rope, rowing, calisthenics like jumping jacks and running in place, etc.

Usually, you know you’re doing a cardio workout when you’re breathing heavier than normal, but not so heavy that you can’t catch your breath.

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Benefits of Cardio

According to Mark Montalvo, a Certified Personal Trainer with more than 25 years experience in the fitness industry (and my husband), one of the primary benefits of cardio is to get your heart pumping.

He says, “Your heart’s a muscle and, like any muscle, you have to work it. The way to do that is by increasing your heart rate and putting a little bit of stress on it. One of the easiest ways to do that is to go for a walk, and what I mean is to intentionally set aside time, 15-20 minutes, to go for a walk that can increase your heart rate, so it’ll get you’re heart pumping.

It’s not just a stroll. You want to move with a purpose as if you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry. Imagine that your bus is at the bus stop and you’re a block away and you’re trying to get there before the bus drives off – that’s the kind of pace your want to have, that hard walk. It’s in addition to the normal walking around you do every day.”

If you’re mostly sedentary now, going for a walk would be a good exercise activity to start because it’s accessible and doesn’t require expensive equipment.

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Risks of Cardio

Overuse/Impact related injuries – Repetitive, high impact activities can cause injury. As always, finding equipment, like a suitable pair of shoes, will go a long way in keeping you healthy and active.

No focus on building muscle (aside from the heart) – Cardio works the heart but doesn’t build other muscle groups, not directly anyway. Loss of muscle mass puts women at higher risk for osteoporosis, so it’s important to incorporate strength training with cardio activities.

I’ll be covering strength training and flexibility/balance/core workouts over the next two weeks.

Read Newsflash: Exercise is good for you! for a list of the research-based benefits of exercise.

As always, it’s important to check with your health care professional before starting an exercise program, especially if you’re under doctor’s care for a health condition.

Picture by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com

How Functional Fitness Can Help You Get Stuff Done

The next time you’re getting ready to work out, instead of putting on your workout clothes, grabbing your running shoes, or driving to the gym, get a functional fitness workout by doing that household project you’ve been putting off.

Functional fitness and household projects?

Some household project possibilities: repair a fence, wash windows, mop the floors, clean baseboards, dust ceiling fans, clean a closet, organize the pantry, rearrange your furniture, re-tile the floor, and many more.

Tackling these types of projects not only gives you the satisfaction of checking them off your to-do list, but it’s a great way to get your body moving, to practice one of the main benefits of full-body workouts – functional movement.

Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re getting into.

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Functional movement – get stuff done.

The little project that grew

Now, let me first say, I’m not big into house cleaning. I figure when I’m dead and gone, no one’s going to be talking about how clean I kept my house. Let’s just say that getting my workouts in is way higher on my priority list than deep cleaning. I strive for tidy, not spotless.

But my husband and I were hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the family and we wanted to get our house guest-ready. One of the things I really wanted to do was wash the windows, which were long overdue for a serious washing.

I knew it would be a tricky project. Some of the windows are so high they’re hard to reach even with a 20-foot ladder, so I had no intention of even attempting to do those hard to reach windows.

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The problem window

I decided to do one easy-to-reach window, but once we got started, the small one-window project turned into a we-might-as-well-do-them-all kind of project. Our projected 20-minute project turned into more than 2 hours of going up and down the ladder, scrubbing, stretching, and lifting. It was a full-body workout using core strength and balance.

Through my window washing experience, I experienced firsthand how functional fitness workouts offer major benefits when you need to get stuff done. DIY, of course.

What’s Functional Fitness?

Endurance

When we started the window-washing project, we hadn’t planned on it taking hours. But when we saw what a difference it was making, we were determined to do as much as we could. Sure, we were tired, but our windows looked amazing. We still had lots of cooking, setting up, and prepping to do for our holiday meal and would be working for hours. Endurance training helps condition for those days when you have a long, physically demanding to-do list.

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See how the sparkle.
Balance

Working out regularly helps improve balance and improve functional fitness in every day movement. Especially as we age, balance becomes more critical. Older people have a higher tendency to lose balance, putting us at higher risk for injury by falling down. Working out regularly helps improve balance and is great for every day movement, like walking, and when tackling home improvement projects.

Core strength

An easy way to increase core strength is to keep proper body alignment. Stand up straight, instead of hunched over, and keep shoulders up back and down. Engaging abdominals and maintaining good posture is a simple way to build core strength so that you’re better able to move well, protect your back, and improve balance.

Strength

Lifting and moving things like furniture or boxes, carrying grocery bags, carrying a child, or any number of things we do every day require strength. Strength training can mean lifting weights or using your body weight, such as doing push ups, sit up, and squats.

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Strength training helps reduce loss of muscle.
Flexibility

An often overlooked component of a workout is regular stretching. Stretching every day helps keep your muscles engaged and your joints limber. It’s an important aspect of functional movement of all kinds.

Functional fitness is exactly what it sounds like – moving your body efficiently for whatever purpose you desire, for whatever you want to do.

Take care of your body so that you’re able to continue to enjoy independence, strength, and mobility for life. And you’re better able to get stuff done!

I’d love to hear your experiences with functional fitness and household projects. Feel free to share in the comments.