The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2008 issue 2



Low Back Pain

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. Back pain can be caused by poor posture, sciatica, disc abnormalities, spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and a variety of miscellaneous causes.  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. Excess weight tends to creep up slowly, so we may not be aware of how it affects us. But try carrying a 20-pound pack on your back all day and you’ll have a better idea of how extra weight takes a toll on the whole body.
  2. Strengthen the abdominal and back muscles. You’ve heard it before, but strengthening the abdominals really does help protect the back. In fact, a strong core—which includes all the muscles of the trunk—is important for avoiding injury, whether you’re cleaning your house, playing tennis or sitting at a desk all day.
  3. Lift items properly. Protect your back when lifting anything by standing close to the object with your feet apart to give you a stable base. Squat down while keeping the spine in proper alignment and contract your abdominals as you lift using your legs.
  4. Strengthen the leg muscles. Along with the core muscles, the leg muscles play a vital role in helping you maintain good posture and body mechanics. And strong leg muscles can take much of the burden off the back when you’re lifting heavy items (see above).
  5. Stay flexible. Flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors and muscles attached to the pelvis relieves stress on the lumbar spine which in turn reduces the risk of low-back pain.  Inflexibility in the form of tight hamstrings and a limited range of motion in the trunk can increase your risk of injury or make existing back pain worse. Some forms of exercise, such as yoga, Pilates and tai chi, may help relieve or prevent back pain by increasing flexibility and reducing tension. These exercises should not be done, however, if they are uncomfortable or place a strain on the back.
  6. Maintain good posture. Correct posture and body mechanics play a vital role in preventing back pain because pressure on the discs and strain of the muscles, ligaments and back joints is aggravated by incorrect posture and body mechanics. When your posture is good and you move your body correctly, you reduce the strain on your back.
  7. Buy a comfortable mattress. Most of us spend a good deal of time in bed, which is why a good mattress is such a wise investment. Do some research, test the mattress out at the store and ask for recommendations. Remember—what works for one person may not work for you so take the time to find the mattress that suits your needs.
  8. Reduce stress. Stress increases tension in all your muscles including your back. Reduce or better manage your stress and you may literally feel as if the weight has been lifted from your shoulders.
  9. Warm up before activity. Beginning any activity with cold muscles and joints puts you at risk for injury. Jumping right into intense activity increases your risk of injury, so take the time to get your muscles and joints warm and limber first.
  10. Support the lower back when sitting. Use a rolled towel, small pillow or specially designed seat support available at medical supply stores. Remove the support every half hour for five minutes to give your lower back a change of position. After sitting for a prolonged period, straighten your back to an upright position and, if possible, stand and walk around to give your back a break.

Exercise Standards

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has recommended the following guidelines for healthy adults:
  • Mode of activity: Any activity that uses large muscle groups that can be continuously maintained. Examples include walking, jogging, running, swimming, skating, bicycling, rowing, cross-country skiing, rope jumping, jazzercise, dancing of various kinds, and other rhythmic activities.
  • Frequency: 3 to 5 days a week.
  • Intensity: 55%/65% to 90% of maximum heart rate. (Maximum heart rate is approximately 220 minus the person's age.)
  • Duration: 20 to 60 minutes of continuous or intermittent aerobic activity. (Intermittent means bouts of 10-minutes or more accumulated through the day.)
  • Resistance training: Strength training of moderate intensity, with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions of 8 to 10 exercises that condition the major muscle groups 2 or 3 days per week.
  • Flexibility training: Sufficient to develop and maintain range of motion; a minimum of 2 or 3 days per week.


Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Plyo Hop Push-up


Plyometrics are not just for the lower body.  There are a variety of explosive upper body plyometric exercises that can be incorporated into an athletic training routine.  Using the same basic mechanics as the "clap" push-up that our grandfathers probably remember, the plyo-hop push-up adds a lateral motion to this explosive movement creating and additional challenge.


Target:  chest, arms, shoulders (pectoralis major, triceps brachii, deltoids)

Count:  4 count

Description:  As with any plyometric exercise, make sure you are warmed up and stretched well first!  Starting in a standard pushup position on one side of a flat line (real or imaginary) explode into a push-up so that your upper body leaves the ground and you come down on the other side of the line.  Imediately explode into another push-up, returning back to the starting position.  Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions.

Budget Body Equipment

Have you seen the cost of some of those fitness gadgets nowadays?  You've got to be kidding me! 

For those of you that have been reading my newsletter, you know that I'm a big fan of bodyweight exercises.  They cost nothing (besides some calories and sweat) and you can do them almost anywhere.  Whether you're traveling on a business trip or vacation, or you just can't get to the gym, you can complete a total body workout wherever you are.

Of course, it is often more fun to use various pieces of fitness equipment, and sometimes more productive depending on your desired results.  I'm not telling you to run out and spend all kinds of cash on equipment.  In fact, with a little creativity, there are endless gadgets and tools that you can use in your workout.

Ever since I was a kid, I was always trying to figure out how to make stuff.  I started dabbling with exercise equipment back in high school when I built a preacher curl bench in wood shop and made a lat machine in my basement out of garage door pulleys and cable.  Hey, they worked, and they didn't cost all the cash I would have dropped on the real thing! 

After becoming a personal trainer, I became very interested in medicine balls and the various functional exercises that could be performed with them.  Have you every priced those things?  I was searching for them on Google and I ran across an article of how to make medicine balls.  I bought a basketball from Walmart for $3.35 and a 50 lb bag of sand for another $3.  So for about $5.00 I made my first medicine ball which weighed a whopping 25 lbs.  A medicine ball of the same weight sells for $89.95 at most fitness suppliers!  Since then I've made numerous balls of 10, 15, 20 and 25 lbs for myself and others.

Home Depot is your friend if your are feeling ambitious.  I've made an agility ladder out of PVC pipe and rope, a kettlebell out of regular plumbing pipe, agility hurdles out of PVC pipe, chin-up bar, suspension straps, body bars, and a few other training tools that I thought were cool.  If you're feeling creative, check out my budgetbody link on the todayfitness website for some ideas. 

Of course, you don't always have to make the equipment that you use.  You can use use soup cans, soda bottles or gallon jugs as dumbbells.  You can hang from playground equipment, tree branches or anything sturdy for many back and bicep exercises.  I personally find a lot of use out of folding chairs on a regular basis.  The point is, the most important part of your workout are the exercises that you perform, and the effort that you put forth, not that equipment that you use.  Where there's a will, there's a way!

It's Go Time!

Flexibility training, strength training, cardiovascular training... you've got them all incorporated into your workout program for 2008, right?  Don't skimp... they are all important to a well rounded exercise program that will give you your best return on your investment!

February, March, April, May, Swim Suit Time!  So you really have only about 4 months to decide what type of suit your going to want to put on to either show-off or cover-up your physique!  I'll give you my standard, new year speech... 4 months = about 16 weeks.  At the safe rate of about 1 to 2 pounds of fat loss per week, you have the potential of dropping a whopping 16 to 32 pounds... IF you have it to lose, you put in the effort to do so, and last but not least.. you WANT to lose the weight and make it a PRIORITY!

Whatever your goals are for 2008, fitness or otherwise, make a game plan for how you are going to accomplish them.  Break your big goals into a series of small goals that will create easier to reach "steps" that will keep you on track and motivated.  Remember, your goals should be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound.  Prioritize your goals and decide how important they are to you.  If they are important enough, you will find a way to make it happen.  The choice is yours!

Last but not least, I expect all of you to be pulling for my Giants in the Super Bowl this Sunday!  It's going to be a tough one, but that's what makes it all worthwhile... get the picture?!  Go Big Blue!

For prior issues of this newsletter go to  

Good Luck!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

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