Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Importance of Stretching


The Importance of Stretching

What Gym class didn't teach you..

In today’s fast paced world, everyone is so focused on seeing results now, that they overlook perhaps the most important exercise; stretching! You can’t run without learning how to walk, and you will never reach your fitness goals without taking the proper time to stretch. Your muscles need the right flexibility in order to perform their best, and that’s hard to achieve without stretching. Stretching your muscles not only improves your range-of-motion, but it also increases blood flow, helps you burn fat, and improves your efficiency for building muscle.
Believe it or not, taking the time to improve your flexibility will also improve you posture. If you’ve ever seen pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was competing for Mr. Universe, his biceps were so massive that he walked around like his arms were always half bent. This was probably due to lack of stretching while he was developing his biceps. When you stretch, you elongate the muscle, improving your posture, and will ultimately look better.
Like any other type of exercise, there is a right way and a wrong way to stretch. Most physical education teachers you might have encountered in grade school more than likely advocated the static stretch technique. This method involves extending the muscle, and holding it for 12-18 seconds.
While this method can be beneficial for certain workouts, when it comes to strenuous exercises involving prolonged cardio and weight training, this is the wrong technique. When you hold a muscle in a static position like that, you’re really doing a relaxed stretch. This technique forces the muscle to relax itself in order to adapt to the stress you put on it when you stretch it. This is NOT what you want. Instead, utilize a full range-of-motion stretch. This can include grabbing a light weight, like 5 or 10 pounds (something light), and doing a continuous motion that relates to the workout you will be doing on it.
For example; if I wanted to do a shoulder exercise, for my stretch routine I would grab a 10lb dumbell weight, and rotate my arm in a giant circle from my waist to up above my head, and back down in a smooth controlled motion. This style of style of stretching not only prepares your muscle for the work it will soon be doing, but also adds all the benefits of stretching (flexibility, muscle gain, fat burn, posture, etc). This method of stretching is usually referred to as full range of motion or dynamic stretching since it requires movement and change of position.
Other ROM/Dynamic stretching could include walking, lunges, twists/turns, or even jumping jacks. Basically anything that is light weight that involves moving the muscle group you wish to workout in a continuous fashion. Stagnant stretches can still be useful though, it just has a different kind of use. Try doing static stretches after your workout is done. It is a common misconception to only stretch before hand, but stretching afterwards is just as important. Muscles can lock up after a tough workout, so relaxing them is equally as crucial. Much like an injured football player stretching out his hamstrings on the sidelines, stretching can also help hurt muscles and tissue recover faster. For this, we would utilize static stretches. Take 5 minutes after the gym and stretch each of the muscle groups you worked that day. Doing so will reduce how sore you are tomorrow, as well as prevent cramping and bad posture.
So we have gone over the basic ins and outs of stretching, and why it is so important. Something that takes less than 5 minutes is so commonly overlooked, yet can yield such great benefits. So next time before you go and try and put up 3 plates on the bench, stretch out those muscles, and see how much it can really help.

Gym & Fitness Terminology


Staying Informed

Know the Terminology!

Let’s face it; knowing all you need to know when it comes to staying in shape can be down right confusing. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this right now!

There is a lot of information to absorb and understand before you can even think about getting that dream body, so take a few minutes and prepare you with some ground level basics.

There is no point in describing muscle groups, workout techniques, or exercise equipment when you can’t decipher the terminology. So let us start off first with the various gym-lingo. There are many important inside terms used frequently at the gym, in fitness articles, and by health professionals, and knowing what these mean can make a huge difference in how fast your results come. By reading this glossary, you will be more prepared for gauging your working and meeting your goals. This information will be the building block of the rest that you do inside the gym.

  • Cardiovascular (Cardio) – The physical conditioning related to an interval workout. These types of exercises are meant to burn fat, build endurance, and increase the heart rate to a desired level. The level of intensity of a cardio workout is directly linked to the heart rate. For optimal results, try and achieve your specific target heart rate.
  • Strength Training – The technique of building up ones strength by the use of resistance training accompanied by the duration of rest. The heavier the weight and the shorter the rest time will yield better results than lower weight and longer rest times. However, the amount of weight affects results much more directly than rest periods, as long as the rest periods do not exceed a few minutes.
  • Rep [Repetition] – One full movement, from start to finish, of a given exercise. Set – A completion of continuous repetitions from start to finish. A grouping of repetitions to form a set will depend on the type and intensity of a given exercise. 1 Set = X amount of continuous Reps. Most typical exercises involve multiple sets.
  • Cool Down – The period after an intense workout in which you cool down and allow your heart rate to gradually drop back down to normal.
  • Warm Up – A brief period in which you do a light exercise in order to loosen certain muscle groups and raise your heart rate.
  • Muscle Group – Grouping of related muscles either physically connected, or containing similar exercises. Back and Biceps can be considered a muscle group because working out your Lats often requires the use of biceps. The same goes for flat bench in relation to incline and decline bench press when it comes to working out your chest.
  • Stretching – The process of stretching ones muscles to warm them up for a workout. In order to achieve full range-of-motion it is a good idea to stretch that particular muscle.
  • Range Of Motion (ROM) – The complete motion cycle of a given exercise repetition. For Biceps a full ROM would include starting the rep with the weight at its lowest point with your arm fully extended, curling it up towards you, and then lowering it back down to its original starting point.
  • Curl – The act of bringing a weight towards you while using a joint as a pivot point. An example would be a curl exercise for biceps or hamstrings in which your muscle starts fully extended, then you curl it towards you, then release in a controlled fashion.
  • Aerobic Workout – A workout or exercise which requires a great deal of oxygen to perform. An aerobics class in which you perform a full body workout would be a good example.
  • Anaerobic Workout – A workout or exercise that typically does not require an extensive amount of oxygen.
  • Modality – The specific mode in which you exercise a muscle or muscle group. This could be anything from ‘Flat Bench’ for chest press exercises or running on a Treadmill for your cardio.
  • Intensity – The level of energy exerted when exercising. A high intensity workout typically will involve a higher heart rate, burn more fat, and be more difficult to perform.
  • Duration – The length of time you perform a given workout for.
  • Compound Exercise – A single exercise that involves multiple muscles or joints.
  • Supplements – A supplement is an external nutrient taken in place of something else; either a meal or a specific nutrient. Supplements can range from diet pills and creatine to protein shakes and vitamins.

Gym, Clubs, Centers, and Contracts!


Joining a Gym

Negotiating the right Contract

Don’t Sign Your Life Away Just Yet!

Once you’ve done your homework, and have decided that this is the gym for you, next up is the contract. I know I know, a headache, and it seems easier to just sign it and get started, but choosing not to review it can cause undue stress later on.
You wouldn’t sign a check unless you knew what you were paying, or buy a car without checking the miles, so why sign a membership contract unless you know what you’re getting! Look for these simple things to help you stay in the know.

What To Look Out For:

  • A salesman is just that…A Salesmen! They don’t work for free. They know that in order to eat this month, they have to make a sale. And more times than not, people end up backing out of contracts and purchases for whatever reason. So sometimes they will include a cancellation clause where they still get paid even if you cancel.
    Real estate agents do it for appraisal fees, contractors do it, and gym membership salesmen do it too. Do not sign anything if you are not sure you want to join, because you might end up paying for nothing!
  • “Pay $7 a month in dues! (With the inclusion of a $170 sign up fee)” A common selling gimmick used to trick buyers with backside deals. Always watch out for flashy promotions. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is, and has some catch to it. Even if it’s an advertisement ploy, and not in your contract, gyms often use quick sale techniques to hook you in.
    They might try to offer a limited time discount forcing you to sign up right there and then. Do not fall for these! They want to sell you quick, while they can earn the most profit on the deal. The longer you think about it, the less likely you will sign up for that price, or even sign up at all. Be patient, the gym will still be there tomorrow.
  • What you see is what you get! Some gyms will fool you with tricky wording regarding memberships, charges, rights, and liability. You may agree to pay X amount of dollars a month for membership only to find out that there is an annual membership fee too, often associating each fee with different privileges or costs. The same thing can be said for hidden finance charges, or usage fees.
  • Most gyms also retain the option to cancel any amenity at any time for whatever reason. So all the sudden, the rock climbing class you originally joined the gym for is now cancelled, or the 24 hour policy is now only 8 to midnight. These little clauses can turn a 12 month contract into a year long nightmare.
  • Watch out for liability forms as well. If they make you sign one before joining, read it over and make sure it’s not restricting your natural rights. Most liability forms will prevent law suits from personal injury while in the gym, but some will include clauses that apply that policy to the gym in its entirety; meaning that if you slip and fall due to their reckless efforts, you will have little to no power to sue them.

Watch Out for Rate Increases!

Some gyms will set you up in an annual contract with a fixed monthly rate, however, when the contract rolls, the rates may roll too. Always ask what the terms and conditions are for when your contract ends.
Some might increase your rates while others will simply continue your membership as is until you change it. If in the contract they do state that they hold the right to increase your rates, try bargaining with them until they see things your way. Do not sign until you are completely happy with your contract!

Cancelling your Contract Can lead to Extra Fees!

Much like cell phone contracts, gym memberships can have cancellation clauses too. Ask your gym whether or not they will let you cancel without a costly fee. If you plan on canceling due to an injury or moving, you can always ask to transfer your membership.
It is always a good idea to negotiate this out of any gym contract due to the nature of the membership. You may join thinking you’ll go 5 times a week, or that it has every amenity you want, but instead go once a week and use machines that you hate. Keep your options open. It’s your contract, so only sign it if it is in your best interest.

This wraps up the contract portion of joining a gym.

Do I need a Personal Trainer?


Do I really need a personal trainer?

What to consider:

No matter what gym you go to, chances are you have seen at least one personal trainer. Their purpose is simple: To provide an individual with a strong foundation, confidence, and ability to achieve their fitness goals. While some trainers may be useful, a common misconception is that they are experts in health and fitness. Despite the fact that some gyms only hire trainers with quality references, many do not, and such practices can lead to false information, and injury.

If you ever choose to use a trainer, it is always in your best interest you ask them a few basic questions first.

  • Where did they get their credentials, and how long did it take?
  • What process did they have to go through to become certified?
  • Do they have a degree in kinesiology, or another health/fitness field?
  • How long they have been a personal trainer?
By asking these basic questions, you can begin to understand how much time and effort this individual spent becomming a trainer. If you are interested in working with a personal trainer, then it is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the organization that provided their credentials. Below is a basic list of some of the best in the industry.
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association(NSCA)
  • Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research (CIAR)
  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • National Council of Strength & Fitness (NCSF)
  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
  • Aerobic and Fitness Association of America (NFAA)

With the basic questions out of the way, and a little knowledge of accredited fitness institution, you can get a little more into detail. Below you will find some very good questions and topics to think about when deciding on whether this (or any) personal trainer is right for you!

Things To Try:

  1. If you have been going to this gym for awhile, chances are you might have seen this trainer before. Give yourself a week or two and watch how the trainer interacts with their current clients, for it may give you some insight into whether or not this person knows what they are doing.
  2. Another option would be to get to know whomever the trainer is currently working with, and ask them whether or not they are getting anything out of the experience. The latter may be hard for the timid, but under the given circumstances, could save you money and time. (Who knows, it may even give you a chance to talk to that cute girl / guy the trainer has been working with all week!)
  3. Ask for some work history too. Just because they claim to know all there is about physical fitness and nutrition, doesn’t mean they really do. Ask for a couple of references, whether it be previous places of employment, or previous clients, and learn all you can. At any rate, checking up on the trainer’s references will usually provide you with information the trainer will not.
  4. Nutrition is another key aspect when it comes to choosing a trainer. No trainer is complete without a knowledgeable background in healthy eating. Any good trainer worth his weight in gym equipment will make you write down a detailed log of what you eat and when you eat. Doing so will ensure you are actively thinking about what you put into your body, thus helping you eliminate the bad foods. After all, when it comes to changing your appearance, diet is 80% of the battle (at least!), and exercise is the remaining 20%. If a trainer does not make note of what and when you are eating, he either does not care, or does not know. Both of which are red flags. If however, you fully understand the concepts of healthy nutrition, then you should be doing this already on your own time. This is discussed in greater detail in the Nutrition aspect of this website.
  5. Liability insurance is always a plus for a trainer to have. This isn’t always the case though. Some trainers might be covered under their gym’s insurance plan. However, if this person is not fully affiliated with your gym, or you’re not sure about your gyms policy, then this is a good question to ask. If you get hurt while with a trainer, and they’re uninsured, then you’re the one left holding the gym bag. Also ask if they have any emergency preparations ready. A well prepared trainer will know CPR, or at least a cell phone handy in case of an emergency.
  6. Beware of any trainer that tries to sell you on supplements of any kind. While these supplements may be the best in the world, that doesn’t mean they are the best for your body. A good trainer will avoid pushing a sale on you just to make a commission. Instead, they might recommend useful supplements or aids to help you in your progress. Even so, supplements should be taken with extreme caution, and always ask your doctor before starting any kind of supplement plan, no matter how insignificant.
  7. Make sure your trainer is up to date on all the latest health news! There are always new research studies, articles, and test results emerging, so having a trainer with his finger on the pulse can really make a difference. This is especially true if you are taking supplements of any kind. Ask your trainer, he may know of something you don’t.
  8. Your hard earned cash is too valuable to waste on a trainer that only claims to know what he’s talking about. Ask for a free session. You don’t buy a car without a test drive, so apply the same mentality to your trainer! This will be a good insight into his or her workout styles, and whether or not they know their stuff. Try and get their opinion on matters like nutrition, workout equipment, and training styles, for this can be a good indicator on how they will work with you. Not only will this reveal how much the trainer actually knows, but you might also learn something out of it too. A personal favorite of mine is asking the trainer to provide multiple methods for working out the same body part. If he cannot answer with more than 3 different exercises for a major muscle group, then they aren’t worth your time.
  9. Life is unpredictable, which makes it very easy to miss gym appointments. Ask the trainer whether or not they allow rescheduling. If they are truly there to help, then they will usually let you reschedule appointments. Some gyms however require their trainers to follow strict scheduling guidelines, which could cause you to lose your appointment, money, or both. So make sure you ask to avoid missing out.

About The Author

I am a 24 year old college graduate from California. I am big into health and fitness, and feel everyone should get out there, be active, and live the best life they can.

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