Friday, October 9, 2009

When Spiritual Life Really Begins -- By Robert Augustus Masters

A very close friend shared this note with me, and it has been echoing in my head ever since I heard it... Wonderful lines.... Read on

"When your honeymoon with spirituality ends -- and it will end, marked by the arrival of STDs (spiritually-transmitted disappointments) -- and when your affair with being spiritually correct and spiritually "in-style" runs dry, you may say so long to spirituality, but it is a premature goodbye.
Disillusionment with spirituality is not only inevitable, it is also necessary, so that spirituality might be thoroughly de-glamorized. When that disillusionment has had its say--cynicism's couch now being no more than a pain in the butt--and when your fear of re-entering the spiritual no longer frightens or disturbs you, your spiritual life really begins.
Most of the books will be gone; the ones that remain will feel like old friends you don't tire of revisiting, even if only for a page or two every couple of months. Most of the practices will also be gone; the ones that remain will feel as natural to slip into as your favorite jeans or T-shirt, at ease with both being worn and being worn out. Most of your aspirations to be spiritual will also be gone; the few that remain will feel less like aspirations and more like unforced inhalations...
Whatever disciplines we take on will result not from one aspect of us dominating the rest, but rather from a core recognition of what is needed... to it. Instead of being at war with our weaknesses, we bring them into our heart. Instead of trying to get rid of what we don't like about ourselves, we develop a better relationship. Intimacy thus becomes more our path than transcendence.
Seeking will become supplanted by living a deeper life. Questions will still arise, but will ask for something more real than answers. Alignment with the Real will become the ground rather than the goal. Details will cease being just details. Focusing on "might be" will yield to focusing on what's "here now"; that is, hope (nostalgia for the future) will be replaced by faith (radical trust in the now)....
Your longing to be fully awakened will still be present, minus the desperation and ambition that once characterized it. Where once you were in a hurry to "get it," now you are not rushing or pushing, having accepted the fact that you are in it for the long haul. Then, even when you are off track, you are on track.
Life after spirituality is the beginning of authentic spirituality. No fireworks, no applause, no pats on the back from the Important People, no need to present oneself as someone spiritual. This is the beginning of true "nobody-ness." It is not annihilation, but revelation. It is at once bare yet sentient openness, and also the beginning of true individuality.
For every question that arises here, Silence is the answer. Put another way, everything supplies the answer. Nothing is explained, everything is revealed. Beyond knowledge, Wisdom; beyond paradox, Truth; beyond self, Being; beyond everything, Everything....
Life after Spirituality is committed apprenticeship to "What-Really-Matters." All that happens is the practicum. Every situation offers the same fundamental opportunity. The "teacher" is everywhere. There is no freedom from our Freedom. No escape. The implications of this froth then still the mind, awaken and release the body, ground and expose the soul, unraveling all our dreams, breaking us open to what we were born to do and be....
Life after spirituality is a constant "dying" to the now. Emerging from our own ashes becomes "no big deal," but just the way things are in each new moment...."

-- Robert Augustus Masters, in his May 2006 newsletter

Lower-leg muscles - VIPs while working out Legs!

Sometimes we are so focused on fixing things which are not right, that we forget to be thankful for and take care of the things that are not wrong at all! That’s a spiritual tip apt for the muscles of legs!
Before you start wondering, let me tell you that I am talking about – lower leg muscles, especially the calf muscles, anterior tibialis, peroneus muscles.
Everyone- be it male or female is mostly focused on developing their hips and thighs muscles rightly. And the lower leg muscles which are not usually ‘problem areas’ are neglected, when in fact they are highly important muscles and need to be strengthened and made flexible proportionately. They are the Very Important Parts (VIPs).

In fact it is not un-common to find tight calf muscles correspond to referred pain in the upper back and shoulder muscles and also lower back pain! And the interesting part is that most of us have tight calf muscles, simply due to the way we sit and stand.

You may have tight calf muscles in case (unless you purposefully stretch it post exercise or otherwise) –

Sit on a chair with your legs crossed and heels above and not touching the ground or the footrest (most commonly found).
Sit on a chair where your legs don’t reach the ground or the footrest.
Climb stairs only using the ball of your feet and not placing the full feet on each stair
Do a lot of fast-paced or high impact aerobics or dancing (esp. bollywood dancing) where your complete feet does not have time to touch the ground. So the calves are always contracted.
Wear high heels for most part of the day and life
If your feet don’t touch the ground and you have to balance your heavy bikes on the ball of your feet over a period of time

The flip side of tight calf muscles are stretched muscles on the front and lateral part of the lower leg, like the anterior tibialis and the peroneus longus and brevis respectively, all which result in shin pains, inflammations and bigger problems.
the calves are the unsung heroes in case of legs and need as much attention as we give to the other leg muscles.

Moreover, since our posture could actually keep the calves in tension, an ideal workout for the calves must include stretching and strengthening exercises, both.
If any of the factors mentioned in the previous article that cause calves to shorten ring true with you, then you must initially stretch the calf muscle before focusing on only strengthening it.
An easy example of tense calf muscles could be consistent pain and burning feeling in the calf muscle when standing or squatting even for short periods of time or even when sleeping.

A few stretches would be –

Seated calf stretch –
Sit with your back against a wall, with your legs stretched out straight in front of you. Now slowly bend forward at the waist and try to pull your toes inwards with your hand or with the help of a towel looped around the mid-part of the sole, making sure that the knees touch the floor all the time. Hold it there for around 20 secs and then repeat. This can be done one leg or both legs at a time.
The same posture can be repeated in the standing position as well. So, as you stand, lift and place one leg in front of you, with the heel touching the floor and toes pointing towards you. Now slowly bend forward at the lower back and try and touch the toes, keeping this knee straight but bending the other knee as you go down. Feel the stretch and hold for sometime and then repeat.

Standing Calf stretch –
Stand 1 feet away from and facing a plain wall. Place one heel on the floor and the ball of that feet on the wall. Now slightly bend forward using your whole body, with the other leg behind you, until you feel the stretch on the calves of the foot that’s near the wall. With right placement, you can also stretch the calves of the rear leg, however, the stretch should pre-dominantly be on the front foot. Repeat the same process with the other leg.

You can do this even after you come home from work or shopping or anything that involved walking/standing, however making sure that you are not over-stretching the calves especially when they are cold!
As has been discussed, muscles of the lower leg, namely soleus, gastrocnemius, anterior tibialis, peroneus and more must be given equal importance while exercising.
Also as has been observed, that due to our posture, the muscles of the calves are already shortened, and hence before strengthening them, they must be stretched. The stretches discussed last time can be done on a daily basis after coming home from work as well and need not be restricted to only after exercise.

To strengthen the calves, the simplest exercise that can be done, even at home, is the Calf raise. Many gyms have machines for Calf raises, besides using the leg press machine or even some advanced machines like Soleus Trade for working out calves. Machines with adjustable weights can be used to increase the challenge on the calves, once the body is used to challenge offered by one’s own body weight. For most of us, the challenge offered by our own body weight is sufficient enough for generating good strength.

The exercise Calf Raises can be done as follows –

Stand facing a wall or object that can provide support and position yourself against this using both arms. Maintain an erect posture, with body weight distributed on both feet. Now keeping your feet close together, raise yourself, balancing on the ball of the feet, and at the same time, squeezing the calves. Slowly release as you are coming down and again raise yourself and repeat the procedure.

To increase the range of motion, you can stand off a step or an elevated surface, such that you rheels are hanging off the edge. Now when you raise yourself on the ball of the feet and release, the heels can go farther than ground level and thus increase the range of motion and the challenge of this exercise. Needless to say, placing weights on your shoulders will increase the challenge. Remember to keep the hands free to support the body, else you may lose balance and trip. Atleast around 20 repetitions will help to start with. You can increase the number as your strength increases. Remember to stretch the calves at the end of your workout!

Workout @ Home! - Lower body

we now come to the lower body – a common area of concern for many ladies!
Leg muscles are large muscles groups namely – front part (Hip flexors, quadriceps, anterior tibialis), rear part (glutes, hamstrings, calves) and lateral muscles like tensor fasciae latae, peroneus and many more.
The beauty of leg workouts is that -
- Although they target one of the muscle groups primarily, the other muscle groups are almost equally stressed.
- Also, most of the leg exercises are quite functional in nature

Here are a few exercises for the legs that can be done at home–

Normal Squats -
Stand with feet about hip- or shoulder-width apart. Maintain upright posture and squeeze in your abdominal muscles. Bend the knees and slowly squat down. Keep the feet pointing outwards and check that the knees do not go beyond the toes as you squat down. Return to the starting position by fully extending the legs.To get the right posture, place a chair just behind you and try to touch it as you squat down.
The same can be done without any weights or you can hold bottles/bags in your hand placing them beside your body as you perform the exercise.

Wide Leg Squats / Plie
This is similar to the normal squats except that it targets the inner thighs as well, and provides a different stimulation to the gluteus muscles.
Begin with a wide stance with toes out at a comfortable angle. Keep the feet pointing outwards and check that the knees do not go beyond the toes as you squat down. Bend the knees and lower down into a squat, keeping knees in line with toes, abs squeezed in and upright posture.

A major area of concern for women and a major area of neglect for guys – can be used to best describe legs which mainly consist of the hips, thighs and gluteus muscles. Strength and endurance are two parameters that your leg workout must focus on. Strength can be built by using additional weight to your normal body weight while performing each exercise especially the squats and some more advanced exercises like step ups, lunges and dead lifts.

A few exercises for working the endurance muscles of the legs namely hip flexors, ham strings which can be easily done at home.

Standing Hip Extension –

Stand straight facing a wall or sideways to a wall and balance yourself placing both or one palm on the wall.
Lift one leg up at the hip, bending the knee and push the leg down straight and then lift the leg backwards as far as possible keeping it straight at the knee. Make sure the body is standing erect and not leaning forward. Lower the leg so that both feet are together. Repeat for at least 15-20 repetition on each side.

Standing Side Leg Raises –
Stand straight sideways to a wall and balance yourself placing one palm on the wall. Lift the leg on the other side sideways just below your hip level or over the range that feels possible. Lower the leg back to the starting position, as slowly as possible and make sure you don’t rest the foot on the floor at the lowest position. Repeat on each side for at least 15-20 reps.
Lying down Side Leg Raises –
Lie on the floor sideways with one arm bent at the elbow and supporting the head with both legs one over the other sideways.
Raise the leg which is on the top (the one facing the ceiling), keeping the knee straight till a 45 degree angle to the floor and slowly lower them back to the starting position. The slower you take it, the more burn you will floor. Once again, make sure that you don’t rest your foot on the other foot at the lowest position. Let it hang in the air at the lowest position and repeat the same movement. Around 15-20 reps is a good count to work the glutes and the lateral muscles of the leg.
Inner Leg Raises -
Lie on the floor sideways with one arm bent at the elbow and supporting the head with both legs one over the other sideways.

Raise the leg on the top side (the one facing the ceiling) and bending it at the knee, place it in front of the other straight leg on the floor, right in front of you. Now supporting yourself with the other arm on the floor, lift the straight leg on the floor off the ground and upwards till you feel a stretch on the inner part of the leg. Slowly release it to the starting position and repeat.
Around 12-15 reps is a good count and repeat with both the legs.

Incase you are used to doing this workout at the health-club or at home for more than 3 months, it would be a good bet to invest in a pair of ankle weights, easily available at sports stores to increase the challenege of these exercises.

Here are some exercises –

Kneeling Hip Extensions (Variation 1)–
Get into the box position (kneeling down, bend forward and place palms on the floor to support upper body, lowerback naturally arched and head looking down). Slowly keeping one knee touching the floor as it is, bend the other one taking it forward and close to the chest and push outwards, backwards and upwards to the ceiling over a range that feels possible. Lower it slowly down to the initial position. Rememember that a safe range would be that which does not over-arch your back. The entire movement must be executed only at the hip joint. Around 15-20 reps is a good count and then repeat on the other leg.
Incase your shoulders cannot support for the entire duration of repetitions, you can support yourself with your elbows resting on the floor in front of you and perform the same movement.

Kneeling Hip Extensions (Variation 2) –
Get into the box position. Slowly keeping one knee touching the floor as it is, straighten out one leg backwards. Push upwards to the ceiling over a range that feels possible, keeping your toes pointing down to the floor. Lower it slowly down to the initial position, however making it sure that the feet does not rest on the floor at the lowest point. Rememember that a safe range would be that which does not over-arch your back. Around 15-20 reps is a good count and then repeat on the other leg.

Kneeling Hip Extensions (Variation 3) –
Get into the box position. Slowly keeping one knee touching the floor as it is, straighten out one leg backwards and diagonally outwards from you. Push upwards to the ceiling over a range that feels possible, keeping your toes pointing sideways and down. Lower it slowly down to the initial position, however making it sure that the feet does not rest on the floor at the lowest point. Rememember that a safe range would be that which does not over-arch your back. Around 15-20 reps is a good count and then repeat on the other leg.

Home Workouts - Upper body

Following the warm-up, many exercises can be done at home, without the need for any equipments or dumbbells and barbells! A few examples would be callisthenics (movements using your own body-weight as resistance), Surya Namaskars, exercises using Swiss Balls, Exer-tubes and an Aerobics Step, all of which will be discussed one-by-one.
Here are some Upper body exercises –

Wall Push-ups
Choose a plain wall or even your Kitchen platform. Stand about one or two feet away from the wall, and incline forward, placing your palms on the wall, with your elbows bent. Now push your body back to starting position using your hands with your heels raised. Exhale while your exert.

Floor Push-ups (Normal or modified)
Lie chest-down with your hands at shoulder level, palms flat and fixed on the floor and slightly more than shoulder-width apart, your feet together and parallel to each other. Straighten your arms as you push your body up off the floor. Try not to bend or arch your upper or lower back as you push up. Exhale as your arms straighten out. Modified pushups are done the same way, except that your legs are folded at the knee and the knees touch the floor.

Bottle Chest Press
Take two 1-litre bottles filled with water and then perform the bench press that you do at the gym.
Lie down with your leg bent at knees and using a grip broader than shoulder width, hold the bottles above your body, then lower slowly to the middle of your chest. Return to the starting position along the same path.

Bottle Flyes
Take two 1-litre bottles filled with water and then perform the Chect Flyes (lying down) that you do at the gym.

Just one word of caution – make sure your hands are dry so that you can hold the bottles in a good grip.

Major upper body muscle groups are – chest, back, shoulders and arms. Some exercises for the chest were discussed last week. This week, we shall discuss Shoulder exercises -

Shoulder Press – Stand/sit erect with your feet shoulder width apart holding the bottles with elbows bent and hands at eye level. Push weight over the head without arching the back until your arms straighten out and lower them back to starting position.

Upright Rows – Stand holding the bottles, hands close together in front and palms facing you. Bend the elbows and pull the weights up until they're at about chest or chin level. At the highest position, your elbows should be slightly above the shoulders and the wrists straight without shrugging as you pull the weights up. Lower the weights back the same way and repeat.

Lateral Raises – Stand with the bottles held at the sides, palms facing you. Keeping a slight bend in the elbow, lift the arms out to the sides, stopping at shoulder level. Lower the weights back to start and repeat.
Front Raises – Same as above however, starting with hands in front and palms facing you. Lift the arms upwards, stopping at shoulder level
Note: Keep the back erect and your abdominal muscles contracted throughout the movement.
Important –
As you progress, you might find that you get used to the weight of the bottles and the exercise seems less challenging. In that case there are 3 options –
a) Start with 2 sets of 12-15 reps and slowly progress onto 3 sets of 15 reps.. Avoid going on to a 4th set! Try the options below.
b) A simpler and more effective option is to vary the speed of your repetitions. So if initially, it needed you 2 secs up – 2 secs down for one repetition, try and vary the speed like 2 secs up – 3 secs down etc. For this, you have to knowingly control the movement. Target the part of the rep when you are releasing a position – eg. Returning from a shoulder press to the start position.
c) Take a slightly bigger bottle (may be 1 ½ litres) or add stones into your 1-litre bottle. You can also replace the water with sand or fine gravel completely!
d) Last option would be to add functional movements / isometrics into your movement. We’ll see that later!

we now move on to the arm muscles – mainly biceps, triceps and muscles like brachio-radialis and brachialis.
Two one-litre bottles held in either hand can provide good resistance for your home-workout routine. Always remember to have a clean, dry hand so as to firmly grip the bottles. Needless to remind that all exercises must be preceded by a warm-up.

Biceps Curls –
Possibly the best biceps exercise! Stand straight with your hands and legs shoulder-width apart beside your side. Hold the bottles down at arm's length beside you, with your arms, shoulders and hands in a straight line. Now, curl the arm up toward your chest keeping your elbows fixed and close to your sides. Bring the weight up as high as you can and squeeze the biceps at the top. Lower the weight slowly to starting position.

Hammer Curls –
As evident from the name, this mimics the movement of a hammer driving a nail. Put your elbows at your side and KEEP them there during the entire movement. Hold the bottles in your hands, with hands facing each other and inline with the elbows at the side, to start with. Pull your arms up until your biceps touch your forearms. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Tricep Extension (Both/Single hand) –
Sit on a bench or stand with feet shoulder width apart and hold a bottle with both hands overlapping one another. Take the weight straight up overhead with the arms next to the ears. Lower the weight behind the head until elbows are at about 90 degree angles. This can also be done with one arm at a time.
Tricep Kickbacks –
Hold the bottle in one hand and bend over until your torso is parallel to the floor (Soften the knees by bending slightly keep the abs engaged to protect the lower back). Begin the movement by bending the arms and pulling the elbows up parallel to the bent body and close to it. Holding that position, straighten the arms out behind you, squeezing the triceps muscles. Return and repeat.
The other advanced biceps exercises are Concentration curls, barbell curls and few more, which need increased focus on your posture, form and strength. And for triceps you can try Bench Dips, Close grip Push ups and more… However, these exercises discussed above are quite perfect to work out your arms effectively.

Here are a few exercises for upper and mid-back muscles (latissimus dorsi, trapezius etc.) –

One-arm Rows
Stand next to a bed sideways and bending forward at the waist, place one knee on the bed and support using the arm on the same side as the knee. Place the other leg at some distance from the bed, on the floor.
Hold a bottle in the other hand which is free and away from the bed, and while maintaining spinal alignment, exhale, retract the shoulder blades and draw your arms up towards the ribcage. Keep the elbows close to your body when performing the motion. Inhale and extend arms back to starting position at a controlled speed. Repeat with the other arm.

Bent-over Rows (One arm/both arms)
Position yourself with your knees slightly bent, buttocks pushed back, core tight to maintain spinal alignment, and bend forward so that your torso is just higher than parallel with the ground.
Hold the bottles (or bags) in both (or one) hands in front of you, palms facing each other. Exhale and retract shoulder blades, pull the bottles up bending arms at elbows, to a position just below your chest. Inhale and at a controlled speed, lower back to the stating position.

Stand straight up with your feet at shoulder width. Hold two bottles/bags with your arms hanging at your sides. To start with, droop shoulders down as far as possible. Raise shoulders up as far as you can go and slowly return to the starting position. You can also rotate your shoulders by going up in a circular motion from front to rear and then back down.

Performing around 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions is sufficient for a good back workout. As mentioned earlier, to increase the challenge, vary the speed of movements.

Workout at home, this monsoon!

Monsoons are here!! They are probably the best time to invent the most creative excuses you would have ever imagined! So, while the greenery, beauty and scenery all around, sure are a feast for the eyes, what goes for a toss is the exercise schedule! Exceptions are always there!
So, is there an alternate way to keep those guilt feelings at bay? Yes, there is…. Workout at home! Over the coming weeks, we’ll read about what exercises can be done at home.
Highly suggested is that you set aside a specific time of the day for your exercise. However, remember that anytime of the day is fine, especially if you manage to get to the gym on some days in between. Similar to your routine at the gym, the components of your schedule must be warm-up, core workout / conditioning exercises and cool-own. The core workout can be resistance exercises or simple cardio exercises.
Warming up is essential since the cold weather outside makes the muscles inflexible and cold. Many people choose to skip this without realizing that the first 10-15 minutes of warm-up save you from injuries, strains, joint pains and even your heart! Sudden and intense movements put tremendous pressure on the cardio-vascular system to provide blood to the active part and can prove dangerous. Sudden movements of muscles can also cause excessive strains thereby leading to complications, locally and which may act out in other parts of the body or affect posture!
Typical warm-up steps could be –
Start by simply walking around the house, slowly increasing speed
Once a slight warmth is felt, you can start by movements for loosening the joints – shoulder rotations, hip rotations and twists, forward bends, standing leg curls, hip flexions and extensions, ankle and wrist rotations, neck rotations and other dynamic stretches.
You can now increase the intensity by spot jogging, jogging around the house, climbing stairs, jumping jacks, skipping etc.
Remember to restrict the warm up to 10-12 minutes and medium intensity, just so that you have enough energy left to do the main workout! Don’t tire yourself out during the warm up itself!

Kick & Box for Fitness

High Energy, sweaty bodies and pumping music is what comes to mind when you think of a kickboxing class in your health club. Kick-boxing and variants like Tae-bo, Cardio Kickboxing are quite popular these days and promise high returns on investment!!
Traditionally, Kick boxing is considered as a contact-sport whereby moves from martial arts and boxing are combined to defeat the opponents, with some standard rules. However, in the realm of fitness, it is modified into rhythmic kicking and boxing movements and self-defense moves targeting the cardio-vascular system without or with minimum use of padding or other safety guards.
The advantages of Kickboxing are -
· Since it involves a high proportion of leg muscles, it gives an intense endurance and cardio workout.
· It improves alertness, coordination abilities, flexibility and above all brings in discipline and a sense of self-empowerment!
· When used wisely and with inanimate objects (!) it can be used to vent out anger and frustration!
Somethings you have to be careful about –
· Know your current fitness level. Kick-boxing, as is the case with any martial art form, focuses much on ‘core stability’. The core muscles are your deep muscles of the mid-region of the body (like rectus abdominus, ). These muscles are, in most people not well-trained due to sedentary lifestyles, over-weight, obesity and postural problems.
· Hence, start out slow and keep the intensity low at the beginning inorder to avoid excessive stress on the knees and lower-back. Use it as a progression from the Aerobics class or after atleast a month of ‘regular’ gymming and body conditioning. A group can be quite motivating but do remember your individual capacity and avoid over-doing it.
· Warm up thoroughly – especially your leg muscles (hamstrings, quadriceps, calves), lower back muscles and shoulder muscles. A warm-up based on dynamic stretches targeting these muscle groups is ideal to avoid strain injuries.
· Build your base well – Learn the techniques, body positioning and speed of the kicks and boxes to get the best out of your workout.
· Also remember to cool down well using static stretches, hydrate yourself well and incase you feel breathless in between, remember to slow down without stopping abruptly.

Getting the best from your Personal Trainer!

Help the trainer to help you –
All relationships are 2-way streets and you, as the client can always make things easier by following these tips –
· Be regular and on time for your sessions. Commitment from your side will ensure commitment from the trainer as well! Incase of any delays or absence, make sure you inform the trainer as early as possible.
· Avoid chit-chatting with the trainer in between the session. You can fix up a mutually convenient time, either before or after the session to share your thoughts. Also make sure you don’t waste any time on the mobile in between the sessions.
· Although most trainers offer to put back the weights that you use for your workout, offer to do this yourself or atleast assist the trainer in putting them back. The trainer is there to help, assist and guide you and must be respected.
· Incase you learn or come across some information that is conflicting with what your trainer has suggested, bring it to his notice politely and discuss a way to use the information optimally.
From the trainer’s end, note that he does not -
· Answer any calls or talk to other clients or trainers when he is with you, unless there is an emergency.
· Start diagnosing problems and advising medications/supplements for you
· Suggest extreme starvation or fad diets and sets un-realistic targets for weight loss
· Ignores or dismisses your questions and avoids discussing ways to accommodate your considerations
· Recommends a level of workout that is too hard for you and unnecessarily pushes you to higher intensities
· Gets too personal for your comfort and asks you personal questions or suggests meeting post-session.
Communication is the key to getting the best out of your training and your investment – in the training and in your life!

Personal Training - everything about it!

Personal Training – Necessity or Luxury?
Gone are the days, when choosing a Personal Training option at the health club was the domain of the rich and the wealthy! These days fitness enthusiasts, carrying along their “Fitness Gurus” with them is a common sight at many of the gyms! A very special thanks to Bollywood for this!

So, if you too are determined to get one yourself, make sure you agree with at least 2 of the below reasons!
Beginner –
In case you are just beginning a fitness program for the first time in your life, you can definitely use the services of the personal trainer. This is especially so, in case you use the gym facilities at peak-times – the times when the gym is very crowded, during which the general trainers might find it difficult to pay detailed attention. They can guide you on the right technique and form of each exercise and also help beat the initial soreness that accompanies initial days of exercising. Please note that this need is relative and may not be applicable to everyone!

Motivation –
One of the most important reason people opt for Personal training is motivation. Due to various personal and professional pressures, adherence and consistency at the gym, sometimes becomes a problem. Needless to say, with such pressures, physical fitness becomes of utmost importance. A personal trainer in this case can be of great help, by designing a time-efficient workout.
(May be the Personal Training fees could also motivate you to be regular!)

Efficiency –
A Personal Trainer can design an individualized and effective workout, rather than just wasting time on in-effective workouts. He also takes into consideration your personal health and fitness history, likes and dislikes and time-availability before he designs an optimum workout schedule for you!

Special Conditions – Incase you are recovering from any Surgery – Cardiac, joint or otherwise and exercise has been recommended in the rehabilitation program, it’s a great decision to get a personal trainer. The trainer will provide the adequate attention and feedback required in such complicated situations. Please note, that a Doctor’s clearance for exercising is very essential prior to starting any post-operation schedule.
Even in case of some previous history of severe joint problems or other complications, exercise under guided attention is a good option!

Improving technical skills – For those of us interested in improving our performance at competitive or recreational sports, a high-level of training is required. Performance-enhancing training is a different ball game completely and requires advanced knowledge of sports physiology and related exercises. These kind of trainings, usually cater to skills like agility, mental power etc. apart from strict focus on strength, stamina and suppleness.

Shattering the ‘Plateaus’ - The dreaded ‘P’ word, which basically shows its face once your body gets used to the exercises you do over the months and years. Reaching a Plateau slows down results even if you try to increase your intensity of workout… Breaking a plateau needs advanced knowledge of various modes of training and exercises to break out of the rut!

Frequent Traveller – In this case, you can have your personal trainer custom-design quick workouts while travelling, and also check on your motivation levels while travelling and when in town!

Choosing a Personal Trainer!

Living in an age where a “Consumer is the king” has its own advantages and disadvantages! So, while the consumer has different options to suit his needs and requirements, it also puts quite a bit of responsibility on the consumer to find out and update his knowledge about the different options. And more so, if you are dealing with people who, in turn are dealing with your life!

So, while hiring the services of a Personal Trainer is a good idea especially if you are an absolute beginner, need motivation, want to enhance your sport performance or you have some medical conditions, you need to know how to choose a personal trainer to suit your requirements.

Here are some tips –
Certification – Ideally, the personal trainer must have recognized certification from reputed institutes. Some of the international certifying institutes, which offer certifications easily in India, include American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and a few others including some Indian Institutes.
This is especially so, incase you are exercising post-surgery or have a history of health complications!
Although, the Fitness Industry, today is more experience-driven rather than knowledge-driven, these certifications definitely offer high-quality and comprehensive knowledge about the human body and exercise.

Experience – Experience is an important factor in choosing a trainer. An experienced trainer can intuitively know the needs and limitations of his client and be flexible enough to modify, thanks to his vast knowledge.
However, what would be a better option is to also check the credibility in the claims made by him/her. Because, he/she could have a lot of experience in making the health conditions worse, rather than better!!

Personal Comfort Level – Your first meeting with the trainer can help you gauge your personal comfort level with the trainer usually through his body language, mannerisms and genuine interest in your well-being. Some of the trainers are very commercial and unaccommodating in their approach, which can be very easily detected in the first meeting itself.
Also, since personal training needs the trainer to come in close contact with you, make sure you check out their track record in terms of work ethics and also other factors like punctuality, attention, commitment, regularity etc. Ideally they should be fun, challenging within limits, creative and innovative!
Some other factors to check for are –
· A Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and First Aid certificate is a must for every trainer.
· The trainer must be a good listener (listens patiently without jumping to conclusions or advising you to follow their rules) and motivator.
· In case you are going for post-surgery or rehabilitation programs, be sure to check if the trainer has the requisite expertise in dealing with such complications, and must always demand a Medical Release from your Doctor and work in tandem with your doctor.
And there are other factors like –
· Does the trainer ever insist you to take supplements so as to ensure faster results and moreover to buy the supplements from him?
· Does the trainer show you exaggerated outcomes like losing 10 kgs in a month and the like, thanks to his training?
· Does the trainer force you to stick to a pre-determined schedule or not accommodate any changes as the training progresses?
If the answer is no to all of the above, then you can pat yourself on the back for having made a good decision!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Get Fit the NEAT way!

Are you someone who can’t seem to find anytime for exercise no matter what you do! Or just the thought of a gym makes you want to bury your head in the sand!

Well, the world is really amazing and the number of people working just to help you out will surprise you! What I am talking about is the concept called NEAT or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
Sounds complicated but is the easiest thing you can do to get fit in your own small ways!
Human energy expenditure (EE),which needs to be balanced as against the input energy through eating for optimal health is defined by 3 components – the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), Thermic effect of food (TEF) and Physical Exercise activity thermogenesis (PE). There are also other small components such as the energetic costs of medications and emotion that could be considered.
The equation can be represented as EE = BMR+TEF+PE
BMR is the energy expended when an individual is laying at complete rest, just to keep all body mechanisms running (tested in the morning, after sleep, provided the person is not shocked awake!) and accounts for nearly 60%. TEF is the energy associated with digestion, absorption, and storage of food and accounts for approximately 10-15 % of total daily EE. The PE is a variable factor and depends on the amount of physical activity done as - Exercise and NEAT during any given day.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is thus the energy expended for anything that is not sleeping, eating or strenuous exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, household activities, walking up the stairs or even fidgeting!
NEAT activities are a great way to start incorporating some physical activity in your daily life in a non-time consuming way. However, for those who are still excessively over weight, a word of caution – while NEAT activities can be a great way to start off, this alone will not suffice to get you into optimum health by the right time!

Here are some easy ways –
o Park your vehicle 50 - 100 metres away from your office building or elsewhere, and walk down the distance.
Use the same concept in your society and park your vehicle a few buildings away from your own building.

o Avoid asking the newspaper guy to drop the newspaper at your home. Instead, make it a routine to walk down and pick up the newspaper yourself.

o Try to use the stairs while shopping in malls or even at office and home. Of course, in case of office or home, do choose the number of floors you can climb according to your fitness levels and time, and let the lift help you with the rest!

o Instead of asking for home-delivery of household items, pick it up yourself from the neighbourhood shop.

o Reduce the use of remote while watching TV, and instead physically get up and go to the TV to change channels.

o In the lunch break during office hours, take the longest route to reach the canteen, or incase you eat lunch in your cubicle itself, make sure you take walk around for 8-10 min atleast either before or after lunch.

o Take some time out daily to play with your children, or incase you have pets, take them for a round outside, atleast once a day, and watch your health and relationships improving!!

All over the world, the concept has been put to use quite creatively… Here are few examples I feel that you may find useful too!

o While in office, keep your dustbin 5-6 cubicles away, and make it a point to get up and go over to it every time you want to dispose something!
o During the time that the computer is loading a page or downloading something, try some leg extensions, side bends, shoulder rolls or just stand up and walk around, stretch and then come back to your work.
o Walking meetings i.e. meetings where the participants walk around the office and discuss issues are quite popular abroad!
o Walk down to the water cooler, every two hours and fill up your bottle, instead of asking the attendant to do it! Who would have thought humility could also burn some calories!
o In the morning, while reading the paper, try walking around instead of sitting at the table! Also, you can take breaks in between at office and do the same!
o For mothers who have delivered recently, walking the baby around the house can also be a good exercise.(I am sure some of you must be of the opinion that taking care of a baby can be an exhausting exercise in itself!)
o While climbing steps at home or office, try creative ways to climb – like criss-cross climbing, climb once-step down and climb again – repeat etc.
o For those who sit for long hours at work, consult an expert who can suggest some office exercises for you, considering your workspace.
o In fact, it has also been found that chewing gum can also contribute to NEAT!

Get creative with NEAT and remember that “it’s the little things that count!”

Working with the Subconscious…

Writing and drawing are excellent ways to connect with the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is always receiving information without judgement.

The simplest way is to write positive worded sentences targeted at the issue that we are working on..
For example, in case you have a trouble remembering things to do or to carry things when you are headed somewhere, you can use sentences like “I remember to take the things I need” or “I remember all that I need to do”. These are positive sentences and have a corresponding positive effect on the mind, instead of using sentences like “I don’t forget to take the things I need or do things I need to do”. The basic intention is almost the same, however, what you focus on is very important.

There is a popular saying that “What you focus on, grows” and that is exactly that we as intelligent human beings can use to our advantage.

Whether you believe it or not, the underlying causes of most of the diseases, problems and conditions we have are the two main feelings – inadequacy and resentment / guilt / anger. Suppression of these feelings is what was taught to us since childhood and which later manifested as health and relationship problems.

So, the only way to get out of this vicious circle is to “let go” of the past conditioning, limitations and inhibitions that were passed on to us by our parents and ancestors and so on. That said, I am sure you think it is not that easy to just “let go” or “forgive” painful experiences or people that have caused us a lot of hurt and problems.
However, if you really look into it, you will realize that all the anger, hurt and resentment is only eating away at you. It is not really helping you live your life any better!

You can today choose to lead a better life and let go of all the anger, resentment, guilt and all negative emotions and move above and beyond these petty things as seen in the larger picture of life! Every experience is here to teach you something valuable!

Minding the Mind!

The two main feelings of inadequacy and guilt, anger or resentment when repressed give rise to many diseases, problems and conditions.

You might find this hard to swallow since most of this happens without conscious awareness and our human mind is accustomed to relating emotions, feelings and everything with logic and factual reasons!

The Subconscious mind is where all this is happening without your consciously controlling the thoughts. The Subconscious mind is like a sponge, with unlimited capacity and it just soaks in all the information around you unlike the conscious mind which has limited capacity and filters out information and is prone to judgements and bias.
More important is the fact that the subconscious is highly active in the first seven years of one’s life and hence the childhood conditioning stays with us for the rest of our lives, unless one becomes aware and intends to change it.
So, we take on the views, fears, limitations, attitudes of those closest to us during those years.

And that is where the advantage and the challenge lies! So, the challenge is that you cannot always control the information available around you and the advantage is that once you are aware of your mind games, there are ways in which you can tap your subconscious and tune it into positive perceptions and frequencies so as to overcome the effect of any negative conditioning or information that is present in the subconscious.

How to achieve this is by using our senses – namely audio, visual or kinesthetic. A combination of any two or all three works best. Writing and drawing which make use of kinesthetic and visual senses are an excellent option.
However, what to write or draw must only be done in consultation with an expert!


Taking it from the last week, before you learn to apply it, just to understand the power of the human mind, which is rarely discovered, leave alone understood, take this as a simple example –

Don’t think about the white hairy dog! Or Don’t think about Shahrukh Khan!

I am sure all of you thought about it. When ever you hear such a statement, the mind has to first construct the fact and then negate it. So simple things like “Don’t forget to do this, don’t forget to get that” usually end up in a negative way, with the person actually forgetting to do the instructed thing.

And such words are used so unconsciously that we don’t even understand how many times we say or use them, and then we wonder why keep getting negative results. Is it any wonder, now?
In other words, every word we speak has the power to bring about drastic results – good or bad, that depends on us!

Now, I would see that as a boon that the results of our words depend on us! Because it gives us the power to also use the words to our advantage. Actually, if you got to see, the mind is a good slave. It will do exactly what you tell it to do.
So, if you get up one morning on the wrong side of the bed, and keep telling yourself that “I’m having a bad day”, then that’s exactly what you will have! One by one, things may go wrong and just confirm your belief that it is indeed a bad day! If you don’t have one, it is just because you have consciously or unconsciously shifted your frame of mind to the brighter side of things or to positive frequencies, where you don’t let a small issue bother you!

The human mind is a powerful tool which can be used or abused. This is widely observed everywhere, right from books on the “Power of Positive Attitude” or training modules, which tell you how to be positive in life!
It’s easy and yet not very easy, interestingly!

The human body is the only tangible asset out of the three assets – mind, body and soul – the trinity of life! However, what has to be understood is that the other two assets – mind and soul are the ones in control of the body and hence must be given due importance so as to achieve a healthy balanced life.
The human body has been so beautifully and intelligently designed with a divine purpose for every organ, bone, tissue and cell in our body. Everything that manifests outside (effect) on a physical level has a deep underlying internal cause.

As a simple example – take the case of lower back pain. From the fitness point of view, lower back pain can be caused improper posture for prolonged hours, excess weight/fat on the belly, age, not adhering to proper lifting and bending techniques amongst a few reasons.
If you look at it from the other perspective, when a person is depressed, lonely, tensed or fearful about life, his muscles get tensed and usually the posture droops downwards. This causes muscular imbalance in the adjacent muscles and usually it’s the lower back muscles that compensate by becoming shorter and tense thereby causing inflexibility and pain in the lower back.

There is another perspective that, when a person with a history of “emotional eating” (eating excessively when depressed or afraid or undergoing emotional turmoil) is lonely, depressed or fearful about life, he ends up eating more, consciously or unconsciously, which leads to weight gain, which with the Indian tendency, shows first on the mid-portion i.e. the belly. Excessive weight towards the front, tries to shift the Center of Gravity of the body and tries to tilt the body towards the front, and thus the lower back muscles have to compensate for it by tightening themselves and pulling the body behind, thus causing lower back pain!!

Moreover, most of the root causes lie in the feelings of fear, resentment, guilt and anger which has been repressed, that is, it has not been expressed in a healthy way since childhood.

Its not surprising, how these feelings are common to one and all, since ever since we are able to talk, we are told to listen to elders and the society, and that anger is a bad emotion – you are not supposed to be angry, or that fear means you are a weak person and so on..
With no creative outlets to these pure feelings, they build-up and make a person fearful, pessimistic, negative, anxious, worrying all the time, jealous and insecure all of which affect their intra-personal and inter-personal relationships!

As a part of research worldwide and our own research as well, it has been found that two major feelings dominate most our human minds – the feeling of inadequacy (I am not good enough the way I am) and the feeling of anger or guilt towards oneself or especially others (I cant believe he did that to me / I cant do or say this, its not right, people wont like it).
There are many other feelings that are related to these and which finally manifest in disorders, diseases and problems.
For example, if you get angry at your mother for something she said, you stifle your need to give it back, since we have been told that a good child never disobeys or disrespects his/her parents. If there are more instances like this, then build-up starts and then finally either you burst out with anger one day, or you take to substance abuse or it causes other problems!

Mind & Body -- The connection

Last week, we talked about the power of mind and how it controls our body. This week, we shall see how this can explain the most common complaint in our lives – putting on too much weight, or rather how to lose weight.
Gaining excess weight is usually the effect of a deeper underlying cause.
Everything in our body is interconnected and ultimately controlled by the mind. So, our thoughts and feelings can manifest in the body, over a period of time, cumulatively, as excess weight. These thoughts and feelings are usually of “fear, resentment, guilt, sadness”.

Fear is the most important reason that is interconnected with the other three and various other feelings. Fear is one of the most important underlying causes of anger. When a person stifles his anger or fails to express it and get a closure on it, it usually builds up in the body as resentment. This fear and resentment manifests as excess weight.

Guilt again works in the same way and coupled with any of the above reasons gives rise to issues like emotional over-eating, obsessive eating of sugary foods etc. The fact is that, when you are depressed or sad, usually the blood sugar levels get affected and hence some people get a sugar craving and end up eating the wrong kinds of sugary foods, which gets stored in the body as fat.
Some people are able to step out of their negative emotions, especially when they start exercising due to two reasons –
a) They receive support from the people around or they themselves become mentally stronger and thus can keep themselves motivated.
b) Exercise releases happy hormones like endorphins, dopamines etc. in the body and they like the feeling.

However, this is not true for all the people. If your root cause is not taken care of, the problems will come back to haunt you even if you do manage to succeed the first time.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mind Matters

Have you been in a situation where you have been a regular fitness enthusiast and yet not got any results? Or rather, you have been ‘trying’ to lose weight, but the scales just won’t budge! And you wonder why it is so difficult to achieve your desired weight and then feel like giving up?

History has recorded many leading psychologists and scientists proving that it is indeed the mind that controls the body. All bodily manifestations of disorders, diseases and discomforts have their origin in the mind. This has been around as commonsense since centuries but just that it has not been given its due importance.

What is most important to realize is how our thoughts and corresponding actions over a period of time manifest into diseases and disorders. The word ‘dis-ease’ itself shows that something is not at ease! So, sometimes you must have come across people who have developed diabetes after a close one’s death or someone who has developed tumor due to childhood abuse. Trauma usually manifests itself as some chronic disease or disorder.

The power of our human mind to heal itself without external help is unimaginable. That does not mean that medications are not necessary. It just means that along with medications, using the power of the mind can give more effective and faster results. Medications are usually required to bring a disease or disorder under control, initially. However, once under control you can learn to use the mind power to root out the cause of the disease or the disorder.

As a proof of our tremendous power, there have been many cases like the “Miracle Man”, so called because he used his mind power to get him out of a complete paralysis due to an accident. There have been many other people who have cured themselves of their cancers, tumors and paralysis – miraculous things, which otherwise sound impossible!

Protein Supplements – The what and how!

Taking it up from last week, protein supplements are the most commonly found and used supplements these days thanks to the ever popular desire of people to have a “toned” body.

Protein supplements come in two to three types – the egg protein, milk protein or soy protein.
Protein sources of animal origin like eggs and milk, have a high biological value, that is they are better ingested and absorbed by the body as compared to those of plant origin like soy.
Egg protein (albumin) has the highest concentration of protein per unit and hence is generally
highly concentrated. Milk protein (whey, casein) come in close in reference to the quality of protein.
Soy protein has a relatively lesser concentration of protein, but is ideal for those who are lactose intolerant or intolerant to egg proteins and vegetarians!

Proteins are basically a structure formed by amino acid molecules which in turn have nitrogen molecules in combination with oxygen and hydrogen. These nitrogen molecules have a tendency to form gas in the process of digestion, and hence too much of protein- whether natural or supplements cause gas problems (flatulence) and digestive discomfort. The only one way to avoid this is to drink lots of water, throughout the day. This is a very important practice to be done by all those who are on protein supplements, else you can expect liver, kidney and other problems down the line.

Depending on the goal, proteins are usually taken before or after the workout, and usually after a strength training workout. It is highly recommended to consult a nutritionist to determine your dosage and the number of times you need to consume it. Usually, the human body requires 0.8 to 1 gm of protein per kg body weight, which can vary depending on the goal.
It is also usually better to fix up a routine and time for the protein intake and follow it so as to reap maximum benefits.
Remember to consult an expert and not go by the popular opinion, or self-proclaimed masters who believe “one size fits all”, when it comes to supplements. They have the power to make or break your life!

Performance Supplements – Do I need them?

Supplements… now that is a common word thanks to our gym trainers, nutritionists, fitness freaks and of course media! Are they good for you? Do you need them? The answer, ironically is as straight as a curve!

This is one issue where if there are ten people, they will have thousand opinions – some due to selfish motives and some due to half-knowledge about the advantages / dis-advantages of these items.

Supplements have been used since ages to provide nutrients which are missing or not consumed adequately in a person’s diet. These nutrients come in the form of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids which are usually consumed over and above the regular diet. These micro-nutrients help the body to perform at optimum levels and thereby improve the quality of life.
However, over the past few decades, thanks to the spotlight on body-building and body-image, a new form of supplements have emerged as a favourite option amongst many fitness enthusiasts.

Yes, we are talking about the performance supplements – the most popular being the Protein supplements which are quite commonly consumed these days even without an expert guidance.

Proteins have their basic function as building blocks of our body and are found in every part of the human body right from cells to hormones. Inadequate amounts of protein in the diet means that the body uses up stored reserves of protein, which are usually the muscles for their basic function, and as such this defeats the purpose.
Resistance training targets individual muscles and causes microtrauma (micro wear and tears) of the muscle fibers, and hence increases the need for proteins to heal the microtrauma through building newer tissues. Hence, usually the need of Proteins is emphasized if you are into weight training, and especially so if you are a man!

However, when this becomes an issue is when people abuse the supplements, use it as a fad, especially without expert advise. It has been proven time and time again, that a diet can be made rich in protein and that alone can suffice the need for proteins in the body without any need for supplements.
It is only in extreme cases and some medical cases, that one needs to use supplements since they come with their own set of side-effects and problems.

The Exercise – Eating Story!

Do you go to workout early in the morning? Or do you go after work in the evening? Do you feel hungry during the workout? Or do you get low on energy just minutes after starting the workout?
Majority of us fit into at least one of the category, with exceptions ofcourse!

For best results, it is advisable to eat something light but complex carbohydrates like chapati, bread, oatmeal cookies, salad one-hour before the workout. Complex carbohydrates ensure that blood sugar levels are maintained over a long time which means, you have a steady flow of energy. Fatty, sugary foods like biscuits, cakes, chocolates cause instant rise in blood sugar levels but they come down equally quickly! So, after the instantaneous ‘feel-good’ feeling, the blood again goes low on sugar and on energy and you might feel hungry!
Incase you workout early in the morning or you get hungry very close to workout timing, eat a simple carbohydrate like an apple or light fruits, so as to maintain the blood sugar levels and energy during the workout.
Avoid taking in milk or other protein foods just before workout, since proteins have long digestion times and tend to remain in the stomach, causing a heavy feeling. Proteins have their basic function as building blocks of the body, and hence it makes sense to eat them after working out, which is when the body is constantly working to produce energy.
In case you have a strength training workout coming up, then it is best to eat a high protein - medium carbohydrate diet around 3-4 hours before workout for optimum results. In case you workout late at night, remember to eat an early dinner at around 7 pm to maintain blood sugar levels, and avoid binge-eating post-workout which will also be late night! The body metabolism is very sluggish by night and hence the tendency of the body to store food as fat is very high! Post-workout, try to eat some fruits, salads or soups.
Life is really very simple!

Is it eating you up?

Are the thoughts in your head constantly hovering around eating? What to eat before the workout, what to eat after workout, what to eat at breakfast, at lunch, at night or in-between?

Within limits, this is a positive sign of your interest in getting healthier. Needless to say, there are many cases of this becoming an obsession with many people, especially ladies, girls and aspiring models – girls and guys both!
Ancient wisdom says “ Eat like a king in the morning, farmer in the afternoon and beggar in the night” ! Inspite of the hundreds of fancy diets that you can find online or suggested by your well-wishers (those ever-ready with the “ It worked great for me.. You should do it too! suggestions), it does hold some credibility!

Breakfast can be made the significant meal of the day with a higher amount of Carbohydrates, inorder to compensate for the low blood-sugar levels due to overnight fasting! Skip the breakfast and these blood sugar levels drop so much that you start getting irritable, lose interest & concentration, may have difficulty speaking, or even get depressed. This also leads to sugar-craving which could lead into indulgence in sweets or excess coffee or tea or taking in a heavy lunch – which then gets you uncomfortable!

Presently, the suggestions made by nutrition experts are to have 5-6 meals spread across the day, which is basically to ensure that your blood-sugar levels are maintained throughout. Too much gap between meals reduces the blood-sugar levels and leads to craving! If the craving cannot be controlled, one ends up ingesting too much food, which later gets stored as fat. Hence control cravings.

It is always a good option, though to keep the dinner early and light. Avoiding carbohydrates is a great option if you are watching your weight, especially trying to reduce the paunch!
If you workout in the morning, try to eat an apple before the workout.

Get Creative with your Workout!

More ideas to get creative with your workout!!
Every once in while, try to get out in the open, outside the gym for your Cardio routine.

Cross Training is a great way to spice up your routine. It is also a favourite mode of performance training for athletes!
Simply put, it means training in different ways, using 2 or more different types of activities to improve overall performance – can be applied to resistance training, cardio training or a combination of both.

It also helps break the plateau in case of achieving results as is usually observed after months of performing the daily routine exercises. The results tend to stagnate or proceed very slowly, since the body has adapted to the routine and now does not consider it a challenge any more!
Also, the chances of adherence increase since the activities can be planned according to your interest. Also, it is ideal for the busy working professionals, who find it difficult to follow the resistance training and cardio schedule as is generally prescribed in a gym, due to time constraints.
Another significant benefit is that it helps prevent Repetitive Stress Injuries, which occur due to the wear & tear produced at the joints, if same intense activities are performed consistently over a period of time.
A routine can be designed using different Cardio methods – for example, instead of using Treadmill everyday or Elliptical Cross Trainer or both day in and day out, break the routine by doing an outdoor activity like biking, swimming or mountain climbing 2-3 times a week.

Every activity involves atleast some different set of muscles. For example walking and biking – both being cardio activities involving legs, target slightly different set of leg muscles!
And the beauty of such combinations is that along with the cardio component, the muscles can also be strengthened and skills like agility, balancing etc. can also be worked on. It focuses on the entire body and performance also.

Spoilt for Choice!

Enter a Gym and you will find one hundred and million machines that shout out their effectiveness towards keeping you fit and healthy! But you can afford only 30-40 minutes before you start work!
My friend calls it the 7’o clock dilemma – since he finds it easy to follow the schedule designed for him when he reaches the gym at 6.30am, but when that becomes 7am, he has to spend nearly 10 minutes just to decide what to do on that day!!!

Well here are some suggestions – whether you are like my friend or you just want to be informed!
We will start with Cardio machines. In case you are pressed for time and are not following any rigorous exercise schedule or trying to participate in a competition(!) – always opt for 30 minutes of a cardio workout.
The Cardio machines popularly seen in any gym are – treadmills, elliptical cross-trainers, upright cycles, recumbent cycles, steppers and rowing machines.
Treadmills provide the simplest and the most natural form exercise since they simulate the act of walking and can involve the full body muscles besides targeting the cardiovascular system primarily.
They are designed to provide resistance, incline angles and different speeds at which you can move.
The incline option simulates climbing a slope and puts the focus on particular muscles more than the others, as compared to walking on a flat ground.

Always choose a speed which keeps you slightly out of breath, and enable you to maintain the speed for atleast 10 to 30 minutes. In otherwords, instead of running for 5 minutes and exhausting yourself, choose to walk for longer durations, increase your stamina and then progress on to running.
Remember, fat burns in prolonged activities which last for atleast 20 to 30 minutes and to sustain such durations, the intensity can be lower to begin with and gradually increased over a period of a month.

Although treadmill walking or running is simpler than walking or running on a road outside, it can still provide an effective workout, particularly in the winters!
The treadmill, which we discussed last time is one of the most popular machines in the gym. There are so many people, who do not feel like they did a cardio workout if they do not walk on it for atleast 10-15 minutes!
However, one of the other popular machines is the Elliptical Crosstrainer – my personal favourite too!
It is called elliptical since the path followed by the motion caused by your legs is an ellipse!

The beauty of the Crosstrainer is that it is a highly non-impact machine – as in since the feet are constantly in touch with the feet-pads and there is no lifting and placing of the feet, there are no chances of impact. Impact forces act when your feet is lifted off the ground and then placed down, as is the case in walking.
In this case, as per Newton’s Laws of motion, the force exerted by your feet is countered by and equal and opposite ‘impact’ force which is subjected to the sole of your feet and travels upward towards the ankle, knee, hip and the spinal joints.
Hence, we call jogging as a high-impact activity. The body is usually designed to accommodate these impact forces without causing any problems – however, which can go wrong in case of excessive impact caused due to faulty movements. Hence it is a good option for the elderly age groups.

The Crosstrainers offer a very good cardiovascular workout, which uses the upper and the lower body simultaneously. They usually have the ‘incline’ and the ‘resistance’ functions, as was seen in the treadmills. The incline usually works on varying your stride length, which then affects the perceived exertion of the movement.
Remember to keep your complete foot on each of the pads, and not just push with the ball of your feet. Also, remember to keep the shoulders relaxed and the neck looking straight.
Once in a while, you can also try it out without the hand motion – this calls for higher balance and thus tines your core muscles!
Continuing the discussion on different types of Cardio machines and their effectiveness lets move on to discuss the third favourite Cardio Machine amongst all gym freaks, coming in strongly after the treadmill and cross-trainer!!

The loyal old stationary cycle - based on the lines of the cycle used as a vehicle by a lot of people even now! There are primarily two kinds of cycles – upright and recumbent. The main distinguishing feature is that the cycle is primarily a lower-body intensive machine, with very little effort exerted on the upper body, unless moved.

Upright cycle is the one which emulates the conventional cyclical motion with the feet pushing on the pads in a circular motion, moving against gravity in an upright position. It works in a plane perpendicular to the flat ground, which is technically called the Sagittal plane.
The upper body and the core muscles also get focused during the movement thereby intensely working out the whole body. However, a major part of the body-weight comes on a small area of the lower-back in contact with the seat and hence could cause discomfort.

Recumbent cycle is the one in which the torso and the feet pads are at an angle and the motion is slightly elliptical and moving against the machine-generated resistance along with gravity. It puts the user in a reclined position and is better supported at the lower-back and hence more comfortable.
The weight of the body, especially the upper part is spread over a larger surface area and hence there is less pressure on the lower back. It also does not place any stress on the shoulder or wrist muscles which are quite possible in the upright cycle.
Also a very interesting fact is that in the recumbent cycle, the legs are near to the level of the heart – a fact which enhances venous return to the heart and also helps build endurance.

However, the abdominal and the core muscles also relax in this position and hence are not acted upon as a side-effect, which happens easily on an upright bike. Also, some people find the structure very cramped as compared to the upright cycle.
There is nothing too good or bad…. Take your pick!
The last few of the most commonly found cardio machines after the Treadmill, Cross Trainer, Cycles – Upright and Recumbent are the Steppers and the Rowing machines.

The Steppers as the name suggests are machines that simulate the action of stepping or in other words climbing an elevation like a stair case or something like that.
The Steppers are considered to give the benefit of a cardiovascular workout since they use the larger muscle groups of the legs and involve the whole body. The machines come with resistance adjustments top increase or decrease the intensity of the workout.
However, as compared to the other cardio machines, they rank pretty low on the effectiveness of the workout. The primary effect of the climbing movement is on toning the rear leg muscles especially those of the glutes (muscles of the butt).

However, if the angle of the knee in the bent position is greater than 90 degrees, excessive forces are placed on the knee cap (patella) and hence these technical details have to be taken into consideration while performing the movement so as to avoid long-term negative effects to the knee.

The rowing machine is also a popular cardio option in the west, especially because it involves both the upper and the lower body while working out. The primary muscles targeted are those of the lower back, Latissimus dorsi (of the upper back), hips, arms and of course the legs.
It is a very high-energy and demanding workout and can be used effectively to have a great workout.

However, one of the common mistakes that people make is tense their shoulder muscles while performing the rowing action which can then lead to stiff neck and shoulder muscles. Hence kindly take care to keep the upper body relaxed while performing the action.

To Eat or not to Eat!!

How early should I eat before working out? When should I eat after my workout? Questions, questions and more questions!

Needless to say, the common sense that prevails is to eat at least 1-2 hours prior to any exercise activity if it is a heavy meal and something light like fruits etc. can also be consumed 30 minutes prior to the exercise activity.

The reason for this can be explained on the basis of exercise physiology, which deals with the study of body response during exercise. As per the science, during exercise, there occurs “blood shunting” where blood from the non-target systems are diverted to the active target systems like the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular cardio-respiratory systems more.
Now, depending on the kind and amount of food consumed, the food can stay in the stomach for more than 2 hours sometimes. In such cases, if there is not enough blood flowing the system, it becomes difficult to complete the digestion and absorption processes, and short-term and long-term problems could arise. Also, the presence of food could exert unnecessary pressure on abdominal walls which could lead to complications. Light foods like fruits, due to their intrinsic nature, pass through the digestive system quickly and easily, and hence do not cause any problems.

Similarly post-exercise, give some time for the heart and the lungs (cardiovascular and cardio-respiratory systems) to return the blood back to the digestive system, so that any food ingested can be processed and absorbed efficiently. This return process usually takes atleast 30 minutes to an hour to complete depending on the preceding activity and the nature of cool down. However, during this time water intake can be done to replenish the body fluids. Relaxation procedures in the cooling down routines help to get to the state of equilibrium faster.

Check List!!

Hi all. Wish you a very happy and healthy new year.
By now, I hope you all have been following a good cool down routine instead of skipping it just to save 3-5 minutes! If not, the new year is the right time to start!

Usually, the stretches during the warm up phase (note: after an initial cardio warm up) are quite dynamic and must focus on the active part that will be used in the following main workout.
The ones after a workout, for cool down purpose are usually slow and done by holding the stretch for more than 20-30 seconds, and again focus on the active body parts used during the main workout routine.

Here is a general checklist of all the stretches that must be included in your warm up routine –

o Shoulder and neck – neck tilts, shoulder rotations, elevations etc.
o Upper back Stretches – full arm rotations, reaching out moves etc.
o Hamstring Stretches (Focuses on the back of the legs) – Forward bends, high kicks etc.
o Quadriceps Stretches (Focuses on the front part of the leg) – standing leg curls etc.
o Calf Stretches – (Back part of the lower part of the leg) – heel touch etc.
o Lower back Stretches – Forward bends – full and half, criss-cross forward bends etc.
o And many other muscles like – anterior tibialis (front part of the lower leg) as in toe touches, hip flexors as in back taps, Gluteus as in knee-ups and kicks.

Ask your trainer for the right technique and lots of variety in each stretch!
Perform each dynamic action 8-10 times for better effect.

Remember not to hold the stretches for a period of time since it has a relaxing effect and hence lowers the heart rate which was elevated through the warm-up. Since the core workout routine follows the warm up, lowering of the heart rate is not desirable for a better workout.

Creative Cardio

I admire people who look forward to their 1 hour of treadmill or cross-trainer, day after day, after day without feeling a tinge of boredom!
For the rest of us who cannot even think of more than 15-20 minutes on any machine, fret not! There are many creative ways to ensure a cardio workout that lasts atleast 30 min to an hour.

One of the easiest and most popular ways is – Interval Training. Other options include cross-training, boot-camps, circuit training etc.
The basic concept of Interval Training is to alternate periods of high intense and low intense activities and thus extend the total period of exercise routine. In special cases, the low intense activity could also mean rest, however it is not useful if your target is a cardio activity to burn fat!

You can really use your creativity to spice up your routine. A few examples are given below -

a) Incase you cant sustain the treadmill/cross trainer beyond 15 min either due to boredom or low capacity, alternate the 10-15 min of cardio with callisthenic (using your own body weight and no additional weights) workout using either abdomen or leg exercises.
Perform a couple of sets of 3-4 exercises of each muscle group and then return to the Cardio machine. Remember to end with a stretching based cool-down.

b) You can also alternate cardio machines with other cardio activities like a jog in the surrounding area, skipping, stepping, climbing steps up and down or spot jogging.

c) Another way is to alternate Cardio machines with weight-based activities, using low weight – high reps especially of the upper body like for example push-ups or pull-ups. You can also focus on legs using exercises like squats, lunges or step-ups.

The combinations can be many, as you can see above. The only care to be taken is to ensure that all activities leave enough energy to perform the next activity and hence, it is preferable to alternate high intensity activities with low-intensity ones! End with a proper cool-down for best results.

Stretchy Stories!!

The human body is an amazing piece of art! And understanding it can take a long, long time but you can only appreciate its beauty if you do understand it! There is a defined logic behind each and every occurrence in the body, and hence we can devise ways to keep it fit.
Last week we saw how important it is to cool down your body after a bout of exercise, and one of the most popular ways to do that is by stretching the active muscles.

Stretches are again of 2-3 types –
Active – when you perform the stretch on your own, till your comfortable range of motion
Passive – when someone else assists you to stretch
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching – when someone helps you to stretch using a slightly different procedure. This is usually used in a lot of rehab situations.

Stretching mainly targets the connective tissue, that is- the tendons that attach muscles to bones, and then the interconnected muscles, in that order. The flexibility of the connective tissue is a major factor deciding the range of motion around any joint.

I am sure all of us at some point of time, may have fallen asleep while being seated – at office, in a bus or anywhere..
The head usually falls to one side and, if it goes beyond a safe limit, the neck automatically jerks you up, and you try to keep your head upright!! The same is the case when you twist your ankle – you twist and suddenly jerk up to the original position.
This is called as the stretch reflex and is body’s natural mechanism to avoid injury due to over stretching. There are receptors in the connective tissue and the interconnected muscles that define the comfort level of your stretch…

However, while stretching in case of muscles which are shortened over a period of time, it is important to hold your
stretch comfortably for more than 20 - 25 seconds in order to re-align the muscles to their original lengths and avoid unnecessary activations of the different receptors.
Never perform any stretch when the muscle is cold. Always use a mild warm up and then perform the stretches.

Ways to be ‘Cool’!!

Now that we know the importance of cooling down after any bout of exercise, let’s check out the different ways to cool down effectively.

Simply put there are 2 types of cool down – Active and Passive

The aim of any cool down is-
o To gradually shift the body from activity to rest
o To get the heart rate down to the resting levels, gradually. Any sudden change, as is the case if you abruptly stop the activity that you were performing, can lead to complications
o Restore the normal blood flow to the different parts of the body – since while performing any activity, blood flow in the body is shunted from the inactive parts like the digestive, urinary systems to the active sites. So it is essential to restore the normal blood flow
o To restore the muscle fiber lengths to their original states

Actively cooling down is when you merely reduce the intensity of the activity that you were earlier doing and stop gradually. For example, if your main activity was jogging, and you want to stop, you gradually reduce the intensity of the jog, till you are just walking along and gradually stop.
If you were performing any other activity, you can also walk on the treadmill or elsewhere for 5-10 minutes and gradually stop.

Passively cooling down is when you do active or passive stretches towards the end of the workout. This is the most common form of cooling down. The stretches are usually for all the leg muscles (hamstrings, quadriceps, calves etc.), lower back muscles, upper back muscles and neck muscles apart from the active muscle that was worked upon.
Stretching works on the muscle fibers and also helps ease blood flow to the targeted body part.

Hence you will see that, a combination of active and passive stretches will give you the best results. Active cool down gets the blood flowing to all parts of the body and the stretches will work on the individual muscle level to give you a total cool and refreshed feeling!! A complete cool down process should last atleast 5 minutes and each stretch should be held for atleast 20-30 seconds for maximum benefit.

Cooling You Down

Woke up late in the morning – but don’t want to miss the morning Gym session! So? You decide to hit the weights directly, just skip the warm up and cool down – they are just a waste of time!! Do, I sound familiar?

Many of us consistently skip the cool down whenever we are in a hurry. Unfortunately, the negative results are not immediate but in fact they manifest themselves weeks or months later in the form of aches, shortened muscles, strains, muscle pulls and other postural problems.

Incase of any activity, be it a cardio activity like walking on the treadmill or a resistance-training routine, there are continuous muscle contractions that take place. The muscle fibres in a muscle are the ones that cause the contraction. When the activity is stopped, due to the repetitive nature of all activities, the muscle fibres are still in contraction, and have not returned to their original resting lengths.
Over a period of time, these fibres adjust themselves to the new shortened length causing the muscles to shorten.

Our musculo-skeletal system can be best represented by a camping tent – with one pole in between (skeletal bones and spinal column) and strings on all sides (muscles). So the moment one string tightens up, the pole starts leaning towards it. To compensate this and restore balance, you have to pull and tighten the strings on the opposite side – which means increase the tension in that string!

Thus you can see that the muscles get imbalanced and can even spoil the posture. The intermediate effects of this consequent tension in some muscles can lead to aches, referred pains, muscle pulls, strains etc. For example, if your calf muscles are tight, especially in case you jog, then this can cause a pain in the shoulder muscles and back - neck muscles, as a referred pain!
Moreover, as we have covered earlier, during a cardio activity, majority of the blood supply is diverted to the leg and active muscles. So, when the activity is suddenly stopped, due to gravity, all the blood pools in the leg thus causing temporary reduced blood flow to brain which may lead to dizziness, nausea, fainting.
Hence, it is very essential to reduce the intensity of the activity gradually and then stop,

Sweat out the myth!

Imagine if we could just sweat out all our excess fat every summer which would keep us slim-trim till the next summer and this cycle would repeat! And in between you can eat all that you want! There’s nothing wrong with imagining, is there? Well, not every thing can be that simple! That’s no fun!!!

There seems to be a wide-held notion that if you sweat more means that you are burning more calories, and the reverse – that if you don’t sweat much means that you are not burning enough calories.

From last week’s discussion, sweating is a mechanism to control the body temperature. When your body temperature starts rising, sweating helps to cool it down. However, most of the water content of the sweat comes from the water present in blood. Remember, blood has high content of water. It is this water that is lost due to sweating, and nothing else. Fat deposits are not exactly vascular unlike muscles and even then sweating does not in any way indicate fat is burning or your losing muscle, as some people think!

That is why, the moment you drink water, this water content in the blood is replaced and your weight back is to normal! Hence the ineffectiveness of sauna and steam in long-term weight loss.

You can, not sweat much and still burn calories. The process of burning calories does generate heat but depending on your body’s thermoregulation system you may or may not sweat accordingly.
However, the problem arises only in case the thermoregulation system is not functioning optimally, and the all the heat generated has no means to dissipate.

Moreover, sweating helps in flushing out the toxins from the body and leaves you glowing and feeling fresh! Remember to carry a napkin and wear sweat or cotton absorbent materials to increase the comfort while working out.

Is it necessary to sweat?

They say “opposites attract” – Guess its true…My friend hardly sweats after an intense aerobic session, but me – I literally rain on myself! So, is it necessary to sweat while you are working out?
To start with, sweating is a mechanism (thermoregulation) used by the body to maintain the normal core body temperature (homeostasis), of around 37o C, which is prone to fluctuate especially with intense activities which generate a lot of heat while generating energy.
So, sweating means that the body is allowing itself to cool down and maintain the status quo.
What happens during intense activities is that the blood flow to skin (larger surface area) increases, so as to dissipate heat, and at the same time the sweat glands increase their output. The process of evaporation takes place on the skin – and as the sweat evaporates, it cools the body. So, sweating is actually a good sign.
Infact if you don’t sweat much, you must take care to take some breaks, sip water (not drink!) so that your core body temperature does not go too high.

Incase the temperature goes very high, either due to excessive sweating and loss of water or due to no sweating, sometimes dehydration also sets in, which may lead to heat strokes or other problems. The basic symptoms include feeling dizzy, nausea, high pulse rate, hyperventilation etc. The body uses these as its own natural mechanism to ensure that the body temperature and the safety of our internal organs is maintained.
Excessive sweating also causes loss of salts from the body. It is advisable to limit yourself to sipping water and that too just 3-4 times in an hour, since excessive water will further dilute the available salt content in the blood. This can lead to another condition – hyponatremia (less salt in body) which could lead again to dizziness, nausea, headache, muscle weakness etc.
So a safer bet is to hydrate yourself through out the day, and not just drink while working out since you are thirsty!

Breathing right!!

Have you ever experienced a situation in which you have searched the entire house for something, only to find that you were holding it in your hand all the time!! Even if you do not belong to the absent-minded lot amongst us.
Similarly in case of exercising, your search for results has very simple companion – your breathing technique! Didn’t think there was a technique for breathing ???????
If your trainer has guided you right, then while lifting a weight (usually) - when the muscle contracts, you exhale and, when you are putting it down – when your muscle relaxes, you inhale. Is it important to maintain this sequence?

To start with, as we have learned, there are 2 basic processes – inhaling and exhaling.
When we inhale, we take in oxygen which then gets dissolved in the blood, and this oxygen-rich blood is pumped by the heart to all the muscles and organs. The muscle then contracts while exercising. This contraction temporarily constricts blood flow through the arteries passing near muscle and later releases some waste products, which are carried by the blood to the heart and lungs for purification.

So, moral of the story? When you contract your muscle, always exhale, so that the direction of blood flow near muscles and that from the heart don’t become opposite. And when the muscle relaxes, inhale, so that the pure blood pumped by the heart reaches the muscle to prepare it for the next contraction.

Whatever you do, please avoid holding your breath – simply or through Valsalva Maneuver – when you are lifting weights, to avoid blackouts and other health problems.

Cardio activities call for deep breathing through nose and mouth, for better endurance. Connoisseurs of Yoga may have different beliefs, some logical others not so much.

Facts Unlimited…

Lets explore some more facts which are essential for a safe, useful and result – oriented exercise program –

§ Weight training workout designing is a very interesting and detailed procedure, ideally, but of course usually not taken seriously by our lesser trained programmers.
What I mean to say is that, its not just any muscle, any time for how many ever repetitions. There is a logic, order, method and technique to be used. For example, functionally speaking, the muscles of the leg and lower back are “endurance” muscles – that means they help to keep your body erect the whole day (if needed) without much fatigue.

§ As such, your training program must focus on increasing the muscle endurance of these muscles.
A simple technique would be to work the lower back muscles with lesser weight and more repetitions, thereby increasing the time the targeted muscle is under stress. It is pretty obvious that if the weight is very high, then you cannot sustain it for a longer duration.

§ Similarly, all repetitions must be performed in the complete Range of motion – which is the movable range available at any of your joint. Any motion which does not use the naturally available range gives rise to shortened muscles and a distorted appearance, and may be postural problems as well.

§ Also, please try to control the urge to show –off your strength or crane your neck to your side to look at the beautiful people arriving at the gym, when you are working out to avoid injury to the neck. Always look straight ahead and keep your body upright and relaxed. The world can wait!

§ Always use the help of a trainer (Spotting) when you are lifting heavy weights over your head or when you are lying down and lifting heavy weights to avoid shoulder injury or fatal accidents. Follow the right techniques and form while lifting weights.

Counting is the key!!

Of all the six body parts – chest, back, biceps, triceps, legs and shoulders, the ones of the chest, back and legs are considered to be the larger muscles.
§ Depending on the fitness status, the workout is divided into a 2-day or 3-day split, where in 3 muscle parts and 2 muscle parts are targeted on a single day.
§ Usual combinations include, synergistic muscles – the muscles around the main target muscle which assist in the particular movement – with the larger muscle group being targeted first.
§ E.g. while performing exercises for the chest, the triceps group of muscles also get involved. Hence, it makes sense to train them on the same day. However, amongst other reasons to support this order, the larger muscle being the chest group of muscles, the order is Chest – Triceps.
§ The same way, the usual combinations are Back – Biceps, and Legs – Shoulders. These combinations are not a rule of thumb, but just very commonly found and hence taken as an example.
§ Please remember the combination of muscles and the order is decided by your goals and targets as well as the different principles of weight training (Joe Wieder’s principles and many more..)
§ Most commonly used principle is the “Pyramid principle” – where you start with less weight and more repetitions in the first set, and then progress onto more weight and slightly lesser repetitions in the next set and so on. The logic is quite simple- that the heavier the weight, the lesser is your ability to repeat the movement frequently.
E.g. this would look like, 1st Set – 5 kg x 15 reps, 2nd Set – 7.5 kg x 12 reps and may be 3rd Set – 10 kg x 8 reps.
If this looks like what your workout card looks like, please understand, that every set, the focus must be on completely exhausting your effort (the last rep must be nearly impossible), and not strictly follow the counting! Use the counts as a guideline and decide for yourself..

Like I mentioned earlier, the focus of this article series is to enlighten you as to how a workout is designed, so that you know why you are doing what you are doing! Please solicit your trainer’s opinion too!!!!