The following are some recommendations to get an efficient workout:
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout.
- Eat carbs and protein before hitting the gym (at the very least be sure to drink a whey protein shake).
- Block out any distractions and avoid any temptation to socialize in the gym--your mind should be clear and totally focused on strength training.
- Listen to your own workout music to help keep you focused and motivated.
- Execute each and every exercise movement correctly and strive for perfect form in order to feel the targeted muscle do the work for each contraction and stretch of every repetition. Remember: the purpose of gym equipment (e.g., dumbbells, barbells, kettle balls, machines, etc.) is to stimulate your muscles to get stronger and bigger--the equipment is merely a means to an end.
- Incorporate variety in your workout to shock your body into getting stronger and more muscular (i.e., new exercises, change the number of reps and/or sets, different workout split, introduce supersets, giant sets or drop sets, etc.).
- Avoid rushing through your workout. Be sure to give yourself at least five minutes to warm up and cool down. You will inevitably shortchange your workout by speeding through it.
- Listen to your body. Pay attention to your energy levels and either back off or add more weight accordingly. Your body tells the story--all you have to do is listen to what it has to say.
Nearly 80% of adults will experience some sort of back pain in their lifetime. Back pain is a phenomenon and is therefore not clearly understood because any number of underlying factors may be involved (e.g., unhealthy spinal posture, lifting too much weight, lifting while twisting, sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, etc.). Here's the vicious cycle: poor posture may contribute to back pain which in turn may worsen poor posture. Once your back starts hurting, the vicious cycle begins with the end result being worse posture than before back pain. By the way, the invention of the computer certainly has not helped in terms of improving human posture. Poor posture is exhibited by misalignment of the cervical, thoracic and/or lumbar curvatures of the spine (e.g., rounded shoulders, protruding buttocks and abdomen, excessive arch of the lower back). This imbalance of spinal alignment may cause associated ligament and muscle strain as well as compressed nerves. Poor posture over the long-term may increase wear on joint surfaces, contributing to the development of osteoarthritis. Thus, to reduce back pain it makes sense to readjust the spinal curvatures into balanced alignment so as to lessen muscular strain and nerve compression. MYTH:
"I shouldn't do any physical activity if my back hurts"FACT: The above statement is a myth because physical activity can reduce back pain by increasing muscular strength and spinal flexibility. In fact, it may be due to muscular weakness that is a root cause of back pain. If necessary, follow your doctor's recommendation to get one or two days of bed rest only if the pain is debilitating. In general, acute and chronic pain require up to 2 days and 2 weeks of rest, respectively. Be sure to get up and about soon afterward since lying in bed for an extended period of time may actually exacerbate back pain due to increased stiffness. Remember, staying in bed and relaxing is NOT the best cure or treatment for back pain--the sooner you get moving, the better.SOME BACK PAIN PREVENTION TIPS:
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR BACK PAIN:
- Maintain proper posture by sitting on a stability ball while at your desk (it's hard to slump while sitting on the ball)
- Perform core stability exercises daily (e.g., ball hyperextensions, glute kickbacks, supine ball hamstring curls, ball abdominal crunches)
- Take a Yoga and/or Pilates class to increase muscular flexibility, particularly at the spine and hamstrings
- Stretch your muscles daily (esp. hamstring stretch)
- Decrease your bodyweight
- Stop smoking
- Wear comfortable footwear and avoid high-heels and worn-out shoes
- Walk with your chest out, abdomen in, and buttocks tucked in
- Practice abdominal contractions throughout the day
- Shift your bodyweight periodically from one foot to the other when standing for prolonged durations or simply rest one foot on a stool
- Avoid sitting for long periods of time (this is a big one!)
- Put a small lumbar roll against your lower back for additional support while sitting
- Sleep with a pillow under your waist while on your side
- Avoid wearing a heavy backpack or shoulder bag for long periods of time
Here are the recommended guidelines for training the back:
- Thermotherapy (e.g., ice pack for acute injury to lessen inflammation, heat pad or hot bath for chronic injury to relax tight muscles)
- Cryokinetics (e.g., ice pack immediately followed by knee-to-chest stretch)
- Nerve stimulation (e.g., transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) may block incoming pain signals)
- Chiropractor (e.g., manual manipulation, spinal realignment)
- Massage (esp. deep-tissue)
- Psychologist (cognitive behavioral therapy to target how one thinks about physical activity)
- Biofeedback (train your brain to control your response to pain)
- Spinal injection (e.g., corticosteroid helps relieve inflammation)
- Flexibility (e.g., knee-to-chest stretch, cat-dog stretch, child's pose)
- Exercise (e.g., swimming, walking, yoga)--bed rest is the worst thing you can do and may make your back pain even worse!!
- Sleep with plenty of pillows (i.e., when on your back: position pillow under your knees; when on your side: position a pillow between your knees and another one under your waist)
- Physical therapy (i.e., learn how to properly sit, stand and move without causing back strain; learn core exercises)
- Medication(s): NSAIDs, acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol)
- Surgery: should ALWAYS be the last option (e.g., discectomy to remove disc material to lessen nerve pain caused by bulging disc; spinal fusion to help stabilize the spine)
- F: resistance training: 2 to 3 days/wk; cardio training: 3 to 5 days/wk
- I: resistance training: less than 80% 1-RM; cardio training: 40 to 65% HRR
- T: resistance training: 15 to 30 mins; cardio training: 20 to 40 mins
- T: resistance training: perform core isometric exercises (e.g., lumbar extension); cardio training: walking, swimming, cycling
Despite the lack of knowledge regarding the etiology of back pain, it is possible to prevent or at least reduce the onset of back pain. The bottom line is you should make every effort to keep your spine limber and your muscles strong and flexible in order to reduce spinal curvature misalignment and the resulting back pain.
- STRETCHING: perform gentle lumbar flexion stretches
The answer is yes, it is okay to cheat or use "body english" when lifting weights. Cheating involves incorporating assistive or ancillary muscles in order to facilitate the execution of a full range-of-motion movement of an exercise (e.g., standing dumbbell bicep curl, barbell row, standing dumbbell lateral raise, etc.). It becomes noticeably apparent when one deliberately hitches the weight upward by utilizing a jerking movement.
If you choose to decide to cheat in order to complete a set, be sure to do so only during the tail end of the last set of an exercise. In other words, cheat only when you're very close to muscle failure. Muscle failure occurs at the point during a set when you would not be able to complete another repetition by yourself even if your life depended on it. Then, and only then, is it permissible to cheat when performing an exercise. The purpose of cheating in this case is to take a muscle slightly past the point of muscle failure and into the realm of near total muscle fatigue. Maximum muscle fiber destruction occurs at this point in which the goal is to gain more strength and muscle mass.
The body's primary fuel source is carbs (sugar). Glucose is the elemental form of sugar that the body relies on to function (i.e., it enables the brain to think). The problem is that the foods manufactured for at least the last four decades contain more preservatives (read: sugar and fat) in order to increase shelf life. The downside is the body can develop an addiction (much like one may have with a drug) to these foods in order to feel good. David Kessler, who wrote "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite", has described how the fast-food industry has combined sugar, fat and salt into highly-engineered foods which target the pleasure centers of the brain. Case in point can be found in the movie "Super Size Me" which chronicles Morgan Spurlock's experience over a month of eating nothing but fast-food and suffering near-fatal health consequences. A bit extreme but nevertheless makes a point.
The scenario is this: eat a sugar-laden food; blood sugar and insulin levels rise dramatically and you feel good; eventually blood sugar and insulin levels drop and you feel bad; eat more sugar-laden food; blood sugar and insulin levels rise even more dramatically and you feel great; eventually blood sugar and insulin levels drop and you feel really lousy; eat even more sugar-laden food; and so on and so on and so on...congratulations, you're now on a roller-coaster ride that has no stop!
Laboratory researchers have found that high-fat, sugary foods have addictive-like qualities, stimulating the pleasure centers of the brain, and making one crave for more and more of these foods in order to feel good. The dopamine receptors within the brain become more diminished as the addiction wears on. This causes one to develop more of a craving for foods which trigger dopamine (feel-good chemical) release.
The solution is not to personally ban tempting sugar-laden foods as this will only encourage more of a craving. Instead, drink water or tea prior to eating these foods as the liquid itself will lessen one's satiety and therefore diminish one's craving. The result: eat less of the food and not experience a dramatic blood sugar rise and fall.
Cardio per se is not the problem. In fact, cardio exercise may enhance muscle mass because it can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), improve sleep quality, and increase one's tolerance for intense weight training. Cardiovascular exercise promotes blood vessel dilation, ideal for increased nutrient delivery to and waste products from muscle tissue--this is what may reduce DOMS. Sleep quality can be enhanced because the body will need restful sleep in order to recover from the energy expended during cardio. Weight training intensity may be increased when performed in conjunction with cardio because one's aerobic capacity may increase, allowing for lessened rest period durations between sets.
The real issue here is over-training and/or dieting. Over-training occurs when one performs physical activity at frequencies, intensities, and/or durations that overly taxes the body's ability to recover. Dieting in this context means caloric reduction. Over-training and/or dieting are not conducive for muscle anabolism (growth). Rather, muscle breaks down (catabolism) as the body resorts to its protein stores for much-needed energy.
So the key here is to perform cardio exercise in moderation and eat plenty of carbs and protein to spare muscle tissue. Moderation means three to five days per week at 65-85% MHR from 20 to 45 minutes. Recommendations for how much in the way of carbs and protein one should eat to preserve muscle mass can be found in the nutrition section of this blog.
I highly recommend tai chi, a low-intensity martial art practice, for those who are older. This exercise enhances one's core strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, postural stability, endurance, proprioception, and relaxation--in fact, better sleep is one superb benefit. Other benefits include a reduction in the risk of falls as well as decreased stiffness caused by arthritis.
Other recommended exercises include swimming and walking. Both are good low-impact physical activities that overall are beneficial physiologically (e.g., heart, arteries, muscles, bones, lungs, etc.). Research published in Neurology (2010) has found that walking up to 9 miles per day may increase gray matter within the brain, thus diminishing cognitive impairment. As a result, the risk of Alzheimer's disease can be reduced due to the sparing of brain tissue which normally degenerates during the aging process.