The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2006 issue 10



Be Flexible

Few would argue against the fact that flexibility is an important component of fitness and a critical factor in achieving peak physical potential.  However, flexibility is often overlooked or misused.  Many people emphasize their cardiovascular or strength training, and pay little attention to their flexibility.  Flexibility training contributes to enhanced muscular relaxation, improved range of motion within joints, improved muscular balance, enhanced speed of movement, reduced injury occurrence for certain activities, and improved performance of certain sport-related activities.  It is important to include flexibility training in all your fitness programs, especially since research suggests that injuries do occur as a result of tight or stiff muscles.

Flexibility is the range of motion within a joint along the various planes of motion.  There are a number of factors that can limit joint mobility including: genetic inheritance; the joint itself; connective tissue elasticity within the muscles, tendons, or skin surrounding a joint; strength of the opposing muscle group; and neuromuscular coordination.  Flexibility training minimizes the factors that limit flexibility to help balance muscle groups that might be overused during physical training sessions or as a result of poor posture.

There are two basic types of flexibility: static and dynamic.  Static flexibility involves a slow, gradual, and controlled elongation through a full range of motion.  Dynamic flexibility involves movement through a range of motion with an emphasis on maintaining both speed and force.  Many trainers feel dynamic (or ballistic) stretching is a higher risk technique and should be avoided unless specifically needed to prepare for a ballistic sports activity.

The benefits from flexibility training include:

  • Increased physical efficiency and performance.

  • Decreased risk of injury.

  • Increased blood supply and nutrients to joint structures.

  • Improved nutrient exchange.

  • Increased neuromuscular coordination.

  • Improved muscular balance and postural awareness.

  • Decreased risk of low-back pain.

  • Reduced muscular tension.

  • Enhanced enjoyment of the physical training program.

Flexibility training should be incorporated into both your pre-session warm up and post-session cool down.  Your warm-up is the key to unlocking tight muscles, which is the cause of injury. Hold each stretch for a minimum of 10-20 seconds, breathing slowly through your nose, aiming to exhale out through your mouth as you ease into the stretch.

Once you have finished any form of physical activity, they cool down will help you to gradually allow your heart rate and breathing to lower to a comfortable level, where talking can be performed with ease. Light aerobic exercise such as walking or easy indoor cycling are good, as both of these will allow you to hydrate yourself and also put on warm clothing.  Hold each stretch for a minimum of 10-20 seconds, breath comfortably, with deep breathes through your nose, and out via your mouth.

A good practice to get into that will assist you in remembering your flexibility exercises is to start at the top of your body and work down (neck, shoulders, arms, trunk, abs, hips, thighs, calves).  You should choose 1-2 exercises per muscle group and ensure that you are getting an adequate stretch to increase your range of motion without overdoing it.  Check out the flexibility exercise library for a list of stretches that can be incorporated into your program.

Pain in the... Back

We don’t think very much about our backs—that is, until they start to hurt. And many of us are hurting as back pain is now one of the most common medical complaints in the U.S. The good news is that, in many cases, back pain can be prevented. Here are the American Council on Exercise’s Top 10 ways to maintain a healthy back.
  1. Maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Strengthen the abdominal and back muscles.
  3. Lift items properly.
  4. Strengthen the leg muscles.
  5. Stay flexible.
  6. Maintain good posture.
  7. Buy a comfortable mattress.
  8. Reduce stress.
  9. Warm up before activity.
  10. Support the lower back when sitting.

Studies have shown that exercise can reduce back pain temporarily, as well as to prevent further risk of injury through flexibility and strength training (more).  A physician should always be consulted for persistent chronic pain or diagnosis of injury. 

Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

1 Leg Step-Up

If you are looking for a good exercise to work both your thighs and your butt, try a simple step up.  There are a variety of ways of doing this exercise (depending on your level of fitness and leg strength) and they can be performed just about anywhere.  Beginners can start utilizing both legs with an up-up-down-down stepping motion.  The 1 Leg Step-Up pictured above resembles a one legged squat.  With the 1 Leg Step-Up, the focus is on the one leg while the other leg barely makes contact with the ground.  Complete the desired number of repetitions and repeat with the other leg.

Legs and Butt (quadriceps, gluteus, hamstrings)

Count:  2 count

Description:  Starting position standing on one leg on a chair or bench.  Lower your other leg to the floor and barely touch with your toes before pressing back up to the starting position.  Repeat for an entire set with one leg before switching to the other leg.

You should be committed!

The Bike to the Bay is an annual goal that I set for myself.  In addition to the accomplishment of the ride itself, this goal motivates me to train for the ride and continue to maintain a good cardiovascular program throughout the summer.  What's your goal?  Try to find something that drives you to adhere to improved fitness.  Whether it is fitting into smaller sized clothes, decreasing your blood pressure, or participating in an event... if you focus on something measurable that also has a target date, it will help you to plan your exercise accordingly to meet that goal. 

One of my college buddies, Frank O'Brien, recently set a goal to complete an Ironman Triathlon.  For those of you that are not familiar with the Ironman, it is a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a 26 mile run... basically 3 different marathons back to back (kinda makes my little Bike to the Bay look like a ride around the block)!  After a rigorous training regime, with months of hard work, time, and sacrifice... Frank completed the Lake Placid Ironman this past summer and will forever be known as an Ironman!  During his training period, one thing that was evident to all of us was Frank's level of commitment to his goal.  Your commitment to reaching your goals is what motivates you to keep going when the temptation to take it easy presents itself.  A side effect of personal goal attainment is the inspiration that you provide to those around you.  

Inspiration ==> Goal Setting ==> Motivation ==> Action ==> Goal Attainment ==> Inspiration

So if everyone got inspired, set goals, became motivated, reached their goals, and inspired others... we wouldn't have the record setting inactivity and obesity related issues that we have in America now!

Thanks Frank... Great Job!

It's Go Time!

Whew... I just completed my 9th annual participation in the Bike to the Bay for Multiple Sclerosis.  75 miles on that little bike seat can wear on you after a while!  Thanks to all of you that sponsored me for the ride.. the funds will go to a worthy cause in support of finding a cure for this debilitating disease.

Complete exercise programs should incorporate flexibility training along with cardiovascular and resistance training.  When time is short, flexibility training is typically the first piece that is discarded.  This is not such a wise choice and can often increase risk of injury as well as post workout discomfort. Lack of flexibility of the hamstrings and hips can also often lead to lower back pain.  If you are going to be smart about your workouts, be sure to maintain a good balance of cardiovascular, resistance, and flexibility training.

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Good Luck!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

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