Fitness For Dummies
by Suzanne Schlosberg and Liz Neporent, M.A.,
with Tere Stouffer Drenth
Praise for the first editions
of Fitness For Dummies
“Hey who are you guys calling a dummy? When it comes to fitness, like
most male American slugs, I’m actually more of a complete blathering
moronic idiot. This book will come in handy for those of us who don’t
know a fat gram from Phil Gramm or a donut from a bagel. Now all I need
to know is how to look cool and studly in the gym while sweating
—Steve Elling, Raleigh News & Observer
“This book is a joy to read — written with wit and style, it comes as a welcome reassurance that both razor-sharp accuracy and first-rate writing
can co-exist in the same package.”
—Jonathan Bowden, M.A.C.S.C.S., Senior Faculty, Equinox Fitness
Training Institute and Contributing Editor, Fitness
“Fitness For Dummies is a smart buy for the exercise enthusiast. It’s the
fitness equivalent of carbo-loading.”
—Orange County Register
“This is one of the most comprehensive, authoritative — and entertaining
— fitness books I’ve ever seen.”
—Men’s Fitness magazine
“No one is more of a dummy when it comes to exercise than I am. Until I
read Fitness For Dummies, I thought taking a book like this off the shelf
counted as a workout. Now I know better. It’s only a warm-up!”
—Phil Rosenthal, Columnist, Los Angeles Daily News
“The exercise content and evaluations in this book are outstanding. Liz
and Suzanne are the ultimate professionals, and Fitness For Dummies will
help all exercisers maximize their potential.”
—Fitness magazine
“Fitness For Dummies is the definitive book for people who would like to
achieve a stronger, healthier body.”
—Mark Allen, Six-Time Ironman Champion
“Suzanne and Liz have created an insider’s guide through the maze of misinformation about fitness. Before you buy an exercise gadget, a gym membership, or a fitness video, read this book!”
—Women’s Sports & Fitness magazine
“Fitness For Dummies is a real rarity: a fitness book written by fitness writers — two of the best. It’s full of smart, jargon-free, common-sense advice
for anyone who’s interested in fitness. These two are not afraid to tell the
truth. It’s like getting the word from a trusted friend.”
—Shape magazine
“I am duly impressed with the newest entry into the For Dummies series.
From dispelling myths such as how we really burn fat to a comprehensive
look at every choice of equipment on the market today, this book
becomes a trustworthy, truly helpful guide to getting in shape.”
—Diana Nyad, World Record Holder, Longest Swim in History, and TV
by Suzanne Schlosberg and Liz Neporent, M.A.,
with Tere Stouffer Drenth
Fitness For Dummies®, 3rd Edition
Published by
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
111 River St.
Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774
Copyright © 2005 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Published simultaneously in Canada
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2005920303
ISBN: 0-7645-7851-0
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
About the Authors
Suzanne Schlosberg is a magazine writer known for her humorous approach
to health and fitness. She is a contributing editor to Shape and Health magazines and coauthor of Weight Training For Dummies and Kathy Smith’s Fitness
Makeover. She is also the author of The Ultimate Workout Log, Second Edition,
and an instructor in UCLA Extension’s Certificate in Journalism Program.
Suzanne writes frequently about her fitness adventures — from her failed
tryout for The American Gladiators to her record-setting victory in Nevada’s
Great American Sack Race, a quadrennial event in which competitors run 5
miles while carrying a 50-pound sack of chicken feed on their shoulders.
Suzanne also has chronicled her two bicycle treks across the United States.
She never travels without her weight-lifting gloves and has put them to good
use at gyms in Zimbabwe, Morocco, Guam, and the Micronesian island of Yap.
A Los Angeles native, Suzanne refuses to walk anywhere, including the
Starbucks 0.4 miles from her house — to which she commutes daily in her SUV.
Liz Neporent is a certified trainer and president of Plus One Health
Management, a fitness consulting company in New York City. Her job is to
make sure the members of more than a dozen fitness centers in hotels and
corporations throughout New York are happy, motivated, and exercising on a
regular basis.
Liz holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and is certified by the
American Council on Exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine, the
National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the National Academy of
Sports Medicine. She is coauthor of Abs of Steel, Buns of Steel: Total Body
Workout, and Weight Training For Dummies. She also wrote Fitness Walking For
Dummies. Additionally, she is the Gear Editor for Shape magazine and a regular contributor to The New York Times. She appears regularly on TV and radio
as an authority on fitness and exercise.
Liz is an avid runner and has competed in more than two dozen marathons
and ultra-marathons. She’s also a devoted sports climber, walker, hiker, and
weight trainer. She lives in New York City with her husband, Jay Shafran, and
her greyhound, Zoomer.
Tere Stouffer Drenth is a fitness writer and retired professional runner who
now spends her days hiking, walking, and snowshoeing with her workout
partner, a chocolate Lab named Maxine. She is the author of Marathon
Training For Dummies and coauthor of Fit Pregnancy For Dummies.
Authors’ Acknowledgments
The authors are indebted to Mitchel Gray, our photographer, and all the
models depicted throughout this book: Nancy Ngai, Shel Bibbey, Terry Certain,
Aja Certain, Annemarie Scarammucia, Melody Fadness, Yvonne Mitchell, Chris
Stothard, Stacy Collins, Val Towne, James Jankiewicz, Jay Shafran, Doris
Shafran, Melissa Saxon, Patty Buttenheim, Sunshine Hopkins, and Jane Scott.
Thanks, also, to our agent, Felicia Eth, for staying on the ball. At Wiley, we’d
also like to thank Acquisitions Editor Tracy Boggier, whose vision guided this
project, and Project Editor Elizabeth Kuball, who managed our book project
with grace, humor, and exceptional skill. Technical Editor Randall Broderdorf
added tremendous value to the book with his spot-on recommendations and
From Suzanne:
I’m grateful for input from Sarah Bowen Shea, Mary Duffy, Daryn Eller, Daniel
Hernandez, Jim Kraft, John Lehr, Wendy Niemi Kremer, Jennifer Schlosberg,
and Dana Sullivan. Nancy Gottesman performed her usual function of allowing me to kvetch whenever I felt like it.
Special thanks to my family — particularly my parents, my grandparents, and
my sister — for understanding my absence from various events while I worked
to meet my deadline. And thanks Mom, Dad, Espy, Jen, and John for helping
me move in the middle of all of this!
Finally, I couldn’t have a better coauthor than Liz Neporent, a good friend, a
great wit, and the supreme maven of all things fitness.
From Liz:
Many thanks to my Plus One partners, Jay Shafran, Mike Motta, and Bill Horne.
Thanks also to the entire Plus One staff, with special gratitude to Grace De
Simone, Holly Byrne, Baze Amiri, Lemont Platt, Bob Welter, Jamie Macdonald,
and Tom Maraday. And, as always, I’m grateful to the individual site managers
for making my job so easy and giving me the time to do all my extracurricular
projects: John Buzzerio, Shel Bibbey, Kathleen Troy, Jason Ferrara, Terry
Certain, Nancy Ngai, Nancy Belli, Mary Franz, Laura Girodano, Tom McCann,
and Carrie Wujick.
To my parents, sister, brothers, nieces, nephews, and all of my in-laws:
Thanks for your encouragement. Ditto to my good friends Patty Buttenheim,
Gina Allchin, Norman Zinker, and Mary Duffy. I also appreciate Frank Tirelli,
Lucy McGovern, Pam DiPietro, and David Wildstein for helping out with organization and proofreading.
A very special thanks to my husband, Jay Shafran, who is without a doubt the
most supportive person on the face of the earth. And a very special thankyou to my coauthor Suzanne Schlosberg. It is always fun, entertaining, and
enlightening to work with you.
Publisher’s Acknowledgments
We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration
form located at
Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:
Acquisitions, Editorial, and
Media Development
Project Editor: Elizabeth Kuball
(Previous Edition: Wendy Hatch)
Acquisitions Editor: Tracy Boggier
Copy Editor: Elizabeth Kuball
(Previous Edition: Donna Love)
Project Coordinator: Emily Wichlinski
Layout and Graphics: Carl Byers,
Lauren Goddard, Joyce Haughey,
Stephanie D. Jumper, Barry Offringa
Proofreaders: Leeann Harney, Jessica Kramer,
Joe Niesen, Carl William Pierce,
Indexer: TECHBOOKS Production Services
Technical Editor: Randall Broderdorf
Editorial Supervisor: Carmen Krikorian
Editorial Manager: Michelle Hacker
Editorial Assistants: Courtney Allen,
Nadine Bell
Cover Photos: ©Royalty-Free CORBIS
Cartoons: Rich Tennant,
Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies
Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies
Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies
Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies
Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel
Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel
Publishing for Technology Dummies
Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User
Composition Services
Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services
Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services
Contents at a Glance
Introduction ................................................................1
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch .........................7
Chapter 1: Fitness 101: Getting the Scoop ......................................................................9
Chapter 2: Testing Your Fitness .....................................................................................15
Chapter 3: Establishing Your Plan of Attack ................................................................33
Chapter 4: Hiring a Trainer ............................................................................................45
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health:
Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free ...........................57
Chapter 5: This Doesn’t Have to Happen to You: Avoiding Common Injuries .........59
Chapter 6: The Scoop on Stretching .............................................................................69
Chapter 7: Nutrition Basics ............................................................................................85
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter ................103
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course ..................................................................................105
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines ..............................................................................127
Chapter 10: Exercising Outdoors ................................................................................147
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building
a Stronger Bod with Weights ....................................161
Chapter 11: Why You’ve Gotta Lift Weights ...............................................................163
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em .....................................................171
Chapter 13: Demystifying Strength Equipment .........................................................191
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program .................................................205
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts:
Getting the Best of Both Worlds ................................237
Chapter 15: Circuit Training for Fitness and Fun ......................................................239
Chapter 16: All about Yoga: Mind and Body ..............................................................249
Chapter 17: Pilates: Sculpting and Strengthening .....................................................259
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home) ...........265
Chapter 18: Health-Club Primer: Getting the Most Out of Your Gym .....................267
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD .......................................................283
Chapter 20: Designing a Home Gym ............................................................................303
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages ...............327
Chapter 21: Fit Pregnancy: Exercising for Two ..........................................................329
Chapter 22: Kids, Tweens, and Teens: Fun Activities for the Whole Family ..........339
Chapter 23: Staying Active as You Age .......................................................................347
Part VIII: The Part of Tens ........................................353
Chapter 24: Ten Great Reasons to Break a Sweat ......................................................355
Chapter 25: Ten Great Fitness Investments under $100 ...........................................367
Chapter 26: Ten Fitness Rip-Offs .................................................................................373
Chapter 27: Ten Ways to Stay Motivated ....................................................................379
Appendix: Educating Yourself ...................................385
Index .......................................................................393
Table of Contents
Introduction .................................................................1
About This Book ..............................................................................................1
Conventions Used in This Book ....................................................................2
Foolish Assumptions ......................................................................................2
How This Book Is Organized ..........................................................................3
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch ...............................................3
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health:
Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free .................................................3
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter .........................................4
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights ...........4
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts:
Getting the Best of Both Worlds ......................................................4
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home) ...................................5
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages .......................................5
Part VIII: The Part of Tens ....................................................................5
Icons Used in This Book .................................................................................6
Where to Go from Here ...................................................................................6
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch ..........................7
Chapter 1: Fitness 101: Getting the Scoop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Yes, This Class Has Tests ...............................................................................9
Choosing Your Weapon ................................................................................10
Seeing into the heart of the matter ...................................................10
Getting buff with weights ...................................................................11
Cardio and strength together: Two for the price of one ................11
Stretching Your Mind (and Body) ...............................................................11
What Are You Eating? ...................................................................................12
At Home or at the Gym — Choosing What’s Best for You .......................12
Special Exercises for Special People ...........................................................13
Chapter 2: Testing Your Fitness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15
What’s Your Health History? ........................................................................16
What’s Your Heart Rate? ..............................................................................17
What’s Your Blood Pressure? ......................................................................17
How Fit Is Your Heart? ..................................................................................18
How Much of You Is Fat? ..............................................................................19
Pinching an inch ..................................................................................20
Taking your measurements ................................................................21
Calculating your body mass index ....................................................21
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Getting zapped (also body-fat scales and handheld testers) ........23
Getting dunked (underwater weighing) ...........................................24
BOD POD: The cutting edge of body-fat testing ..............................25
DEXA: X-ray vision ...............................................................................25
How Strong Are You? ....................................................................................25
Measuring your upper-body strength ...............................................26
Measuring your abdominal strength ................................................27
Measuring your lower-body strength ...............................................28
How Flexible Are You? ..................................................................................28
Your Fitness Test Results .............................................................................31
Chapter 3: Establishing Your Plan of Attack . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33
Setting Goals ..................................................................................................33
Long-term goals ...................................................................................34
Short-term goals ..................................................................................35
Immediate goals ...................................................................................35
Backup goals ........................................................................................35
Finding Ways to Reward Yourself ................................................................36
Writing Everything Down .............................................................................36
Making a goal sheet .............................................................................37
Keeping a workout log ........................................................................38
Making Exercise a Habit ...............................................................................40
Expect to feel uncomfortable at first ................................................41
Pace yourself ........................................................................................41
Work out with friends or join a club .................................................41
Mix it up ................................................................................................41
Buy the right gear and equipment ....................................................42
Cut yourself some slack ......................................................................43
Chapter 4: Hiring a Trainer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45
Five Smart Reasons to Hire a Trainer .........................................................45
Weeding Out the Poseurs .............................................................................46
Certification .........................................................................................47
University degrees ...............................................................................49
Experience ............................................................................................50
Brochures .............................................................................................50
Liability insurance ...............................................................................50
An interview .........................................................................................51
A trial session ......................................................................................51
Trainer fees ..........................................................................................51
Knowing a Quality Trainer When You See One .........................................53
Getting the Most out of Your First Training Session .................................54
Being the Best Client You Can Be ................................................................55
Table of Contents
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health:
Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free ............................57
Chapter 5: This Doesn’t Have to Happen to You:
Avoiding Common Injuries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .59
Taking Care of Common Injuries .................................................................59
Strains and sprains ..............................................................................60
Shin splints ...........................................................................................61
Achilles tendonitis ..............................................................................61
Knee pain ..............................................................................................62
Stress fractures ....................................................................................63
Lower-back pain ..................................................................................63
Tennis elbow ........................................................................................64
Neck pain ..............................................................................................65
Rotator-cuff injuries ............................................................................66
Chafing ..................................................................................................66
RICE, RICE Baby .............................................................................................67
Rest ........................................................................................................67
Ice ..........................................................................................................68
Compression ........................................................................................68
Elevation ...............................................................................................68
Chapter 6: The Scoop on Stretching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .69
Why You Need to Stretch .............................................................................69
Before, After, During? Knowing When to Stretch ......................................70
Following a Few Rules of Stretching ...........................................................71
A Simple Stretching Routine ........................................................................71
Neck stretch .........................................................................................72
Chest expansion ...................................................................................73
Back expansion ....................................................................................73
Standing hamstring stretch ................................................................74
Standing quad stretch .........................................................................75
Double calf stretch ..............................................................................76
Horse biting tail ...................................................................................77
Butterfly stretch ..................................................................................78
Finding Alternative Ways to Stretch ...........................................................79
Active Isolated stretching ..................................................................79
PNF ........................................................................................................82
Chapter 7: Nutrition Basics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .85
Control Your Calories ...................................................................................86
Get the Skinny on Fat ....................................................................................87
Distinguish between healthful and unhealthful fats .......................87
So how much fat is it okay to eat? .....................................................88
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Choose Your Carbs Carefully .......................................................................89
Choosing the best carbs .....................................................................89
Getting enough fiber ...........................................................................89
Avoiding processed carbs ..................................................................90
Going low-carb — with modifications ..............................................90
Get Enough Protein, but Don’t Fall for High-Protein Propaganda ...........91
Analyze Your Eating Habits ..........................................................................92
Follow a Food Pyramid .................................................................................93
The USDA Food Guide Pyramid .........................................................93
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid ......................................................95
Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Pyramid ..........96
Fuel Up for Your Workouts ...........................................................................97
Before you work out ............................................................................97
During your workout ...........................................................................98
After your workout ..............................................................................98
Don’t go too long without eating .......................................................98
Drink Lots and Lots of Fluids .......................................................................99
Don’t Waste Money on Useless Supplements ..........................................101
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter ................103
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .105
Two Cardio Rules That You Can’t Break ..................................................105
Warming up ........................................................................................106
Cooling down .....................................................................................107
How Hard Do You Need to Push? ..............................................................108
The talk test .......................................................................................108
Perceived exertion ............................................................................108
Measuring your heart rate ...............................................................109
How Much Do You Need to Do? .................................................................115
Following a Cardio Plan for Good Health .................................................116
How often you need to do cardio for good health ........................116
How long your workouts should last for good health ..................117
How hard you need to push for good health .................................117
Following a Cardio Plan for Weight Loss ..................................................117
How often you need to do cardio for weight loss .........................118
How long your workouts should last for weight loss ...................118
How hard you need to push for weight loss ..................................118
Which activities burn the most calories ........................................119
Following a Cardio Plan to Maximize Your Fitness .................................121
How often you need to do cardio for maximum fitness ...............122
How long your workouts should last for maximum fitness .........122
How hard you need to push for maximum fitness ........................122
Four ways to boost your fitness ......................................................122
Training for a specific event ............................................................124
Giving It a Rest .............................................................................................124
Table of Contents
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .127
Can You Trust Those Calorie Counters? ..................................................128
Combating Boredom on Aerobic Machines .............................................129
Take a cardio-machine class ............................................................129
Vary your workouts ...........................................................................129
Listen to music or a book on tape ...................................................130
Watch TV or a video ..........................................................................130
Read a magazine ................................................................................131
Exercise in short spurts ...................................................................131
Think, but not too hard ....................................................................131
Monitor your heart rate ....................................................................132
Talk to a friend ...................................................................................132
Exercising in the Great Indoors .................................................................132
Treadmill ............................................................................................133
Elliptical trainer .................................................................................134
Stationary bicycle ..............................................................................136
Stair-climber .......................................................................................139
Rolling stair-climber ..........................................................................141
VersaClimber ......................................................................................143
Rowing machines ..............................................................................144
Chapter 10: Exercising Outdoors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .147
Walking .........................................................................................................147
Essential walking gear .......................................................................148
Walking the right way ........................................................................148
Walking tips for rookies ....................................................................149
Running ........................................................................................................149
Essential running gear ......................................................................150
Running the right way .......................................................................150
Running tips for rookies ...................................................................151
Bicycling: Road and Mountain ...................................................................151
Essential cycling gear .......................................................................152
Cycling the right way ........................................................................153
Cycling tips for rookies .....................................................................153
In-Line Skating .............................................................................................154
Essential skating gear .......................................................................154
Skating the right way ........................................................................155
Skating tips for rookies .....................................................................155
Swimming .....................................................................................................156
Essential swimming gear ..................................................................156
Swimming the right way ...................................................................157
Swimming tips for rookies ................................................................158
Snowshoeing ................................................................................................158
Essential snowshoeing gear .............................................................159
Snowshoeing the right way ..............................................................159
Snowshoeing tips for rookies ...........................................................160
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a
Stronger Bod with Weights ........................................161
Chapter 11: Why You’ve Gotta Lift Weights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .163
Five Important Reasons to Pick Up a Dumbbell ......................................163
Stay strong for everyday life ............................................................164
Keep your bones healthy .................................................................164
Prevent injuries ..................................................................................165
Look better .........................................................................................165
Speed up your metabolism ..............................................................165
Building Muscle: Myths and Reality .........................................................166
How long does it take to get stronger? ...........................................167
Do some people have greater strength potential than others? ...167
Strength is one thing, but how long will
it take before my body looks better? ..........................................168
What if I want to get muscle definition
like Demi Moore or Jackie Chan? .................................................168
Will weight lifting turn me into a WWE contender? ......................168
But what if I want to increase bulk? ................................................169
If I stop lifting weight, won’t my muscle turn to fat? ....................169
Should I lose weight before I start lifting weights? .......................170
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .171
Shoulders .....................................................................................................174
Deltoids ...............................................................................................174
Rotator cuff ........................................................................................175
Back ..............................................................................................................176
Trapezius ............................................................................................176
Latissimus dorsi ................................................................................177
Rhomboids .........................................................................................178
Erector spinae ....................................................................................178
Chest (the Pectorals) ..................................................................................179
Arms ..............................................................................................................180
Biceps ..................................................................................................181
Triceps ................................................................................................182
Forearm muscles ...............................................................................182
Abdominals ..................................................................................................183
Rectus abdominis ..............................................................................183
Internal and external obliques .........................................................185
Butt and Hips ...............................................................................................185
Gluteus maximus ...............................................................................185
Hip abductors ....................................................................................186
Leg adductors ....................................................................................187
Legs ...............................................................................................................188
Quadriceps .........................................................................................188
Hamstrings .........................................................................................188
Gastrocnemius and soleus ...............................................................189
Tibialis anterior .................................................................................190
Table of Contents
Chapter 13: Demystifying Strength Equipment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .191
Weight Machines .........................................................................................191
The advantages of machines ...........................................................192
The drawbacks of weight machines ................................................193
Special tips for machines .................................................................195
Free Weights .................................................................................................196
The advantages of free weights .......................................................199
The drawbacks of free weights ........................................................199
Special tips for free weights .............................................................199
A word about benches ......................................................................200
Cable Pulleys ...............................................................................................201
Tubes and Bands .........................................................................................202
Your Body .....................................................................................................203
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program . . . . . . . . . . . . .205
The Building Blocks of a Weight Workout ................................................205
How many reps should I do? ............................................................206
How much should I lift? ....................................................................207
How do I know when I’m ready to lift more weight? .....................207
How fast should I do my reps? .........................................................207
How many sets should I do for each muscle group? ....................208
How long should I rest between sets? ............................................209
In what order should I do my exercises? ........................................209
How many times a week do I need to lift weights? .......................210
How often should I change my routine? .........................................211
All about Abs ...............................................................................................213
A Simple Functional Workout ....................................................................214
Reading the exercise instructions ...................................................214
Lifting weights the right way ...........................................................215
A word about the exercises ..............................................................216
The strength workout .......................................................................217
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts:
Getting the Best of Both Worlds ................................237
Chapter 15: Circuit Training for Fitness and Fun . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .239
Setting Up Stations and Knowing Which Exercises to Do ......................239
Arm-strengthening stations ..............................................................240
Leg-strengthening stations ...............................................................243
Abdomen, butt, and lower-back strength stations ........................244
Moving through Sample Stations ..............................................................246
Putting the Stations Together into a Circuit ............................................247
Chapter 16: All about Yoga: Mind and Body . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .249
Knowing Your Asana from Your Elbows ...................................................249
Finding a Yoga Style That’s Right for You ................................................250
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Taking Yoga Classes ....................................................................................251
A Yoga Routine ............................................................................................252
Easy pose ............................................................................................253
Forward bend .....................................................................................253
Child’s pose ........................................................................................254
Sage twist ............................................................................................255
Cat pose ..............................................................................................255
Triangle pose .....................................................................................256
Sun salutation ....................................................................................257
Chapter 17: Pilates: Sculpting and Strengthening . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .259
Understanding How Pilates Works ............................................................259
Finding a Class or Instructor .....................................................................260
Looking at a Some Pilates Exercises .........................................................262
Upper-abdominal curls .....................................................................262
Bridge ..................................................................................................262
Basic cat .............................................................................................264
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home) ............265
Chapter 18: Health-Club Primer: Getting the Most
Out of Your Gym . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .267
Should You Join a Health Club? .................................................................268
Three reasons to sign up ..................................................................268
Three reasons to say, “No thanks” ..................................................269
Knowing How to Judge a Gym ...................................................................269
Location ..............................................................................................269
Size ......................................................................................................270
Cost .....................................................................................................270
Equipment ..........................................................................................273
Classes ................................................................................................273
Members .............................................................................................274
Staff .....................................................................................................274
Cleanliness .........................................................................................275
Hours ...................................................................................................275
Extra amenities ..................................................................................275
Braving the Gym Alone ...............................................................................276
Health-Club Etiquette: The Unwritten Rules ............................................278
Major no-nos ......................................................................................279
Locker-room rules .............................................................................280
A Classroom Code of Conduct ...................................................................282
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .283
Why Take a Class? .......................................................................................284
Getting through when you haven’t a clue ......................................284
What to expect from your instructor ..............................................285
Table of Contents
A word about cost .............................................................................286
Popular classes ..................................................................................286
Choosing from Among All the Exercise DVDs .........................................294
Advantages of exercise DVDs ..........................................................294
How to choose a DVD .......................................................................295
Where to buy DVDs ...........................................................................298
Your DVD options ..............................................................................299
Our favorite instructors ...................................................................300
Important safety tips .........................................................................301
Chapter 20: Designing a Home Gym . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .303
Planning Your Exercise Space ....................................................................303
Looking at the big picture ................................................................303
Choosing an inviting spot for your equipment ..............................304
Taking careful measurements ..........................................................304
Thinking about flooring ....................................................................305
Equipment Shopping Tips ..........................................................................305
Shopping around ...............................................................................305
Taking a test drive .............................................................................306
Looking for safety features ...............................................................307
Asking for a discount ........................................................................307
Checking out warranty and service plans ......................................307
Investing in Cardio Equipment ..................................................................307
Treadmills ...........................................................................................308
Elliptical trainers ...............................................................................310
Stair-climbers .....................................................................................311
Stationary bikes .................................................................................311
Rowing machines ..............................................................................313
Two cardiovascular bargains ...........................................................313
Buying Strength Equipment .......................................................................316
Exercise bands and tubes .................................................................316
Ankle weights .....................................................................................317
Free weights .......................................................................................318
Weight benches .................................................................................321
Multi-gyms ..........................................................................................321
Considering Flexibility Gadgets .................................................................324
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages ...............327
Chapter 21: Fit Pregnancy: Exercising for Two . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .329
Understanding the Benefits of a Fit Pregnancy .......................................330
Working with Your Healthcare Provider ..................................................331
Great Activities to Consider During Pregnancy ......................................332
Walk this way .....................................................................................332
Getting into the swim of things .......................................................332
Prenatal low-impact aerobics or yoga class ..................................333
Continue lifting weights ....................................................................334
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Monitoring Your Prenatal Workout Routine ............................................335
Keep Exercising after the Baby Arrives ....................................................338
Chapter 22: Kids, Tweens, and Teens:
Fun Activities for the Whole Family . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .339
Getting Your Toddler Outdoors .................................................................340
Taking your kids along on your fitness routine .............................340
Focusing on fun .................................................................................341
Finding Time with Your Preteen ................................................................342
Leaving the car behind .....................................................................343
Cutting back on TV and video games .............................................344
Connecting with Your Teenager ................................................................344
Planning new traditions ....................................................................344
Letting your teen find his groove ....................................................345
Chapter 23: Staying Active as You Age . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .347
Keeping Yourself Young with Exercise .....................................................347
Knowing Where to Begin ............................................................................348
Cardio workouts for a healthy heart ...............................................349
Resistance training for strength ......................................................350
Pilates for balance .............................................................................350
Stretching and yoga for flexibility ...................................................350
Staying Safe ..................................................................................................351
Part VIII: The Part of Tens ........................................353
Chapter 24: Ten Great Reasons to Break a Sweat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .355
You Reduce Your Risk of Medical Problems ............................................356
You Can Control Your Weight ....................................................................359
You Improve Your Looks ............................................................................360
You Gain Psychological Benefits ...............................................................360
You Enjoy Social Benefits ...........................................................................361
You Improve Your On-the-Job Performance ............................................362
Your Family Benefits ...................................................................................362
You Satisfy Your Competitive Urges .........................................................363
You Have Fun ...............................................................................................364
You Enjoy Life More ....................................................................................364
Chapter 25: Ten Great Fitness Investments under $100 . . . . . . . . . . .367
A Water Bottle ..............................................................................................367
A Good Pair of Socks ...................................................................................368
Stretching Mat .............................................................................................368
Table of Contents
Weightlifting Gloves ....................................................................................369
A Workout Log .............................................................................................369
PlateMates ....................................................................................................370
A Gym Bag ....................................................................................................370
A Heart-Rate Monitor ..................................................................................371
A Personal Training Appointment ............................................................371
A Massage ....................................................................................................372
Chapter 26: Ten Fitness Rip-Offs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .373
Anti-Cellulite Products ...............................................................................374
Metabolism Boosters ..................................................................................374
Fat Blockers .................................................................................................375
Effortless Exercisers ...................................................................................375
Electronic Muscle Stimulation Machines .................................................375
Spot-Reducing Gadgets ...............................................................................376
Weight-Loss Clothing ..................................................................................376
Four-Minute Workouts ................................................................................377
Gym Cardio Machine Knockoffs ................................................................377
Hand Weights ...............................................................................................378
Chapter 27: Ten Ways to Stay Motivated . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .379
Train for an Event .......................................................................................379
Keep Your Goals in Plain Sight ..................................................................380
Work Out with a Club or a Team ...............................................................380
Work Out with a Buddy ..............................................................................381
Join an Internet Fitness Community .........................................................381
Test Your Fitness Regularly .......................................................................382
Mix Up Your Workouts ................................................................................382
Dress the Part ..............................................................................................383
Keep Yourself Entertained .........................................................................383
Read Success Stories ..................................................................................384
Appendix: Educating Yourself . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .385
Sifting Through Scientific Research ..........................................................385
Look for context ................................................................................386
Consider the source ..........................................................................386
Don’t assume cause and effect ........................................................387
Look for comparison groups ............................................................387
Do some math ....................................................................................387
Notice the length of the study .........................................................388
Pay attention to the number of subjects ........................................388
Don’t make too much of animal studies .........................................388
Recognize that people lie in surveys ..............................................388
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Fitness Magazines .......................................................................................389
Check out specialty magazines .......................................................389
Beware of sensational headlines .....................................................389
Know that advertisers influence editorial copy ............................390
Newspapers .................................................................................................390
The Internet .................................................................................................391
ome things in life never change, like the traffic in Los Angeles or the
weather in Tahiti. But fitness doesn’t fall into that category. In the exercise world, there’s something new in equipment, research, classes, gadgets,
videos, and Web sites just about every day. In fact, so much has changed
since the first two editions of Fitness For Dummies were published that we felt
compelled to overhaul the book, adding several chapters and substantially
revamping the others.
So what exactly is new in fitness? Health clubs are offering innovative new
classes, like circuit training, cardio kickboxing, and firefighter boot camp, and
nifty new machines, like the elliptical trainer. Yoga, Pilates, and other “mindbody” workouts have become so popular that we’ve devoted additional
space to them. Technology has transformed fitness in many ways, too. And
many clubs have invested in fancy entertainment systems so you can watch
your own personal TV — or even surf the Internet — while running on the
Of course, this being the fitness industry, the last few years have also seen
the invention and marketing of new schlock — like pills that claim to eliminate cellulite or burn extra carbohydrates and machines that purport to tone
your thighs “without any effort on your part.” And there’s no shortage of
hokey books, Web sites full of misleading fitness information, and magazine
ads posing as articles. We help you sort through all of that.
About This Book
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition, updates you on all the latest — the good,
the bad, and the totally weird. But our main mission remains the same as it
was the first two times around: to tackle your fears, whether you worry that
operating a stair-climber requires a degree in mechanical engineering or fret
that no matter what exercise routine you start, sooner or later you’ll end up
back in the recliner.
We don’t want you to become a fitness statistic. The fact is, among people who
start an exercise program, half quit within eight weeks. This book gives you
the knowledge and motivation to stick with fitness for the rest of your life.
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition, tells you the stuff you really want to know,
such as:
Will you burn more fat if you exercise at a slower pace?
Which brands of home exercise equipment are most reliable?
How do you know if a health club is trying to rip you off?
Can you actually become “Rock Solid in 6 Weeks,” like the magazines say?
Which weight-training exercises are best for beginners?
What the heck is Pilates, and how do you pronounce it?
How many days a week do you really need to work out?
Is low-carb eating right for you?
The book is basic enough for the fitness rookie to understand, but it’s also
useful for workout veterans who want to brush up on the latest fitness concepts, gadgets, or training techniques.
Conventions Used in This Book
We use few conventions in this book, because we want you to be able to pick
it up and start anywhere. Two conventions to keep in mind are the following:
New fitness jargon appears in italics, like this, along with a brief definition.
Use these terms to impress your friends.
Web sites appear in a special font, like this, to distinguish them from
other text. Jump on over to your computer and check them out.
We also use the terms fitness routine, workout, exercise, and activity to mean
the same thing: whatever you’re doing to raise your heart rate, build strength,
or both.
Foolish Assumptions
We make few assumptions about you, dear reader, but the first and most
important is that you want to improve your fitness. You may be brand-new to
working out and have questions ranging from how to get started to what
shoes to buy. Or you may have been working out for years and are looking for
advice on how to reinvigorate your routine. Or you may be returning to a
healthier lifestyle after a few years in the recliner.
Whatever your situation, this guide helps you make the best choices for your
goals, lifestyle, and current fitness level. We give you step-by-step instructions and explain fitness terminology so you don’t feel overwhelmed when
talking to the salesperson trying to sell you a treadmill or a gym membership.
(Added bonus: These terms come in handy if you find yourself at a dinner
party with a bunch of personal trainers.) And we let you know when your situation may benefit from the advice of a personal trainer, physician, or specialized publication.
How This Book Is Organized
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition, is divided into eight parts, and the chapters
within each part cover specific topic areas in detail. You can read each chapter or part without having to read what came before, although we may refer
you to other sections for more information about certain topics. Here’s a
brief look at the eight parts.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
In this part, we give you the tools to start a fitness program. First, we give you
an overview of the entire book, so you have a fast and easy way to understand the basics. Then, we discuss the important first steps in any fitness
program, such as getting your fitness tested and setting realistic goals. We
present strategies for making exercise a habit and explain the basics of healthy
eating so you steer clear of fad diets and useless supplements. We also show
you how to choose a personal trainer, should you decide to take that popular
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health:
Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
This part covers everything everyone hopes to ignore about fitness: injuries,
stretching, and nutrition. Sure, getting off the couch is critical to getting fit,
but if you end up with an injury, you’ll be benched again before you know it.
Stretching may not be pretty or exciting, but it’s one of the surest ways to
ensure the long-term health of your muscles and joints. Finally, with so many
differing opinions today about how to eat — low-carb, low-fat, carbo-loading,
raw-foods-only — this part gives you the lowdown.
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
This part is devoted to cardiovascular exercise — the kind that strengthens
your heart and lungs, burns lots of calories, lowers your stress level, and
gives you the energy to chase down your cat for a bath. We tell you how long,
how often, and how hard you need to work out in order to slim down, live
longer, or train for a 10K run. We cover the most popular cardiovascular
options, both indoor and outdoor, and offer tips on how to combat boredom
when you’re walking, climbing, or pedaling in place.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building
a Stronger Bod with Weights
In this part we explain why everyone — whether you’re 18 years old or 80,
male or female — ought to strength-train. We give you the know-how to get
started and answer questions such as:
What’s the difference between weight machines, dumbbells, and
How much weight should I lift?
How many exercises should I do?
What’s a deltoid, and why should I care?
We also updated the book by including a complete weight-training routine
you can perform either at home or at the gym.
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts:
Getting the Best of Both Worlds
If you can combine cardio workouts with strength building, you’ve managed
to get two workouts in one. One of the most popular cardio-strength workouts is circuit training, in which you set up strength-building and cardio exercise stations, and walk or briskly run between each, giving you a total-body
workout; in this part, you find a chapter devoted to circuit training. Yoga,
one of the oldest forms of exercise in the world, is also discussed here, in
its many forms and varieties. You also find out about hot, hot Pilates, a
strength-and-cardio workout phenomenon.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym
(Even at Home)
Walking into a health club can be a terrifying proposition, sort of like landing
cold in some foreign country where you don’t know a soul, don’t speak the
language, don’t know the customs, and feel like everyone’s staring at you.
This part gives you the information you need to enter a gym with confidence.
We explain how to choose a good club, fill you in on locker-room etiquette,
and tell you how to get through an exercise class when you feel like you have
two left feet that are tied together. We also update you on the latest in exercise
classes, from spinning to treading to kickboxing.
Health clubs aren’t for everyone, so in this part, we also help you choose the
best fitness equipment for your budget, your goals, and the size of your living
room. We cover a wide range of equipment, from space-age treadmills to $3
rubber exercise tubes. We offer tips for designing your home gym so you’ll
actually use the stuff you buy. And we tell you everything you ever wanted to
know about exercise DVDs and videos.
Part VII: Exercising for
All Ages and Stages
Worried about continuing your workouts during your pregnancy? Don’t be.
This part helps calm your fears and gives you the basics on what to do — and
what not to do — to keep you and your baby healthy. And to help get your
kids off on the right fitness foot, this part shares some ways you can involve
the whole family in fun activities, whether you’re the parent of a toddler or
a teenager. If you’re moving into your senior years, this part is for you, too.
Here, we show you how to get and stay fit into your 90s, so you can enjoy this
golden time in your life.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
Every For Dummies book has a Part of Tens. These chapters give you a different spin on some of the information already presented in the other parts. For
example, scattered throughout this book are many reasons to get and stay fit;
in Chapter 24, you find a whole chapter of reasons. In Chapter 25, we tell you
which low-priced fitness products we consider to be the best bargains.
Conversely, in Chapter 26, we give you our picks for the worst fitness products
and pills. Finally, in Chapter 27, we present ten tips for staying motivated.
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Icons Used in This Book
Icons are small pictures in the margins of this book that flag certain material
for you. The following icons highlight information you want to pay special
attention to.
This icon flags great strategies for getting in shape, such as recording your
workouts in a daily log. We also use the target for money-saving tips, such as
asking your health club to waive its initiation fee. It also highlights first-rate
exercises and fitness products, from treadmills to stretching devices to nutrition newsletters.
When information is just too good to forget, this icon helps you remember.
This is the stuff you want to jot down and attach with a magnet to your
We use the Myth Buster superhero to dispel popular fitness myths. For example, in Chapter 8, we explain that exercise doesn’t have to hurt in order to be
good for you. In Chapter 26, we explain that you can’t sweat off excess fat by
wearing vinyl workout suits.
This icon warns you about hucksters who offer false promises, sell bogus
products, or try to snare you with slimy sales tactics. We also use this icon to
caution you about common exercise mistakes, such as neglecting to adjust
the seat on an exercise machine.
We use this icon when we tell a story about our own adventures in fitness
or recount the experiences of people we know. The anecdotes range from
the wacky to the inspirational to the just plain helpful.
Where to Go from Here
You can dive into this book in two ways:
If you want a crash course in fitness, read the book cover-to-cover.
You’ll get a thorough understanding of what it takes to get in shape.
And you’ll come across topics you may not have thought to look up,
such as proper etiquette in the gym, how to judge the accuracy of fitness Web sites, and how often you need to buy new running shoes.
If you want to find out about a specific topic, you can flip to that section and get your answers right away. Use the book as a reference every
time you boldly enter uncharted territory, like a yoga class or the exercise
aisle at your video store.
Part I
Getting Your Butt
off the Couch
In this part . . .
e help you get going on a fitness program, no
matter what shape you’re in.
Chapter 1 gives you a brief overview of the entire book, so
that, if you’re short on time, you can get the quick-anddirty lowdown on fitness. Chapter 2 explains the important
first step toward getting fit: having your fitness tested.
(Don’t worry — you can’t flunk!) Chapter 3 helps you
devise a game plan: You find out how to set goals, track
your progress, and use strategies to make exercise a habit.
And because personal trainers are all the rage these days,
Chapter 4 tells you how to choose one for yourself — and
how much you can expect to pay.
Chapter 1
Fitness 101: Getting the Scoop
In This Chapter
Getting ready for your first fitness test
Deciding among your many choices of exercise routines
Stretching well and eating right
Working out while pregnant, in childhood, and into your senior years
f you’re reading this chapter, you’ve decided to get fit. (Or, like wannabe
home remodelers who do nothing more than sit on the couch watching
Home Time or This Old House, you’re pretending to get fit by reading this
book!) While transforming yourself from couch potato to buff hottie doesn’t
take a Ph.D. in physiology or kinesiology, you do need to follow a few rules of
the road.
This chapter outlines the very basics of getting fit. If you want to find out
more, each section tells you which chapters to read for all the juicy details.
Yes, This Class Has Tests
In order to best determine how to reach your fitness goals, you first need to
figure out where you are, physically. And the best way to do this is to sign up
for a fitness evaluation (see Chapter 2), including a full health/fitness history
and other important measures, such as the following:
Resting heart rate: Also known as pulse, this test measures the number
of times per minute your heart beats while you’re sitting down or in
some other way relaxing. As you exercise more and more, your resting
heart rate will likely drop.
Heart rate after physical activity: Generally, you exercise for about 15
minutes on a treadmill or stationary bicycle and test your pulse. Cardio
exercises (discussed in Chapter 8) can gradually lower this number.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Blood pressure: This test measures how hard your heart has to work to
pump blood through your blood vessels. Cardio activities (see Chapter 8)
can help alleviate high blood pressure (hypertension), which can lead to
health problems.
Percentage of body fat: Instead of measuring how much you weigh,
which doesn’t necessarily indicate how fit you are, measuring your body
fat tells you how much of you is fat and how much is muscle, bones,
blood, organs, and other tissues. Up to a point, the lower the number,
the better; reducing your body fat is often a matter of eating better
(discussed in Chapter 7) and burning calories through cardio workouts
(see Chapter 8) and lifting weights (see Chapter 11).
Strength: This tests measures the strength of your upper body, abdominal muscles, and lower body by doing sit-ups, push-ups, leg extensions
(on a weight machine), and so on. Weight lifting, described in Chapter 11,
helps improve your strength.
Flexibility: Because flexibility is the downfall of even the super-fit, make
sure your evaluation measures the range of motion of your joints and
muscles. Chapter 6 gives you the lowdown on stretching, which is one of
the best ways to improve your flexibility.
Each of these tests can be done by a physician, a personal trainer, or a fitness
professional working at a gym. But don’t spend any time studying for them:
You can’t fail these tests. Think of them more as baseline measurements that
help you decide where to put your emphasis: improving the health of your
heart, losing weight and reducing body fat, building strength, improving your
flexibility, and so on.
Choosing Your Weapon
With so many workout options available these days, you have plenty of fitness
weapons from which to choose. Your workout options tend to fall into three
categories, however: cardio, strength, and combination workouts. The three
following sections give you a brief overview of each.
Seeing into the heart of the matter
Workouts that get your heart pumping are known as cardio (short for cardiovascular) exercises, and these improve the health of your heart and blood
vessels. Cardio workouts also burn calories, which helps you lose weight.
Check out Chapter 8 for a cardio primer.
Chapter 1: Fitness 101: Getting the Scoop
The simplest — and, perhaps, the cheapest — cardio exercise is walking. Other
popular cardio exercises include running, cycling, in-line skating, swimming,
rowing, and (if you live in a snowy winter climate) snowshoeing and crosscountry skiing. Chapter 10 discusses many of these outdoor cardio activities
and gives you pointers for developing good techniques for each.
You don’t have to brave the outdoors to get a cardio workout, however.
Chapter 9 discusses indoor cardio machines, including treadmills, elliptical
trainers, stationary bikes, stair-climbers, and rowing machines.
Getting buff with weights
Many men focus heavily on weight training, while some women shy away
from it. The truth is that both men and women need to do some strength
training (along with some cardio workouts, discussed in the preceding
section, to get the heart and blood vessels into tip-top shape) for one important reason: to help burn more calories. Strange as it seems, weightlifting
improves your resting metabolism, which means you turn into a fat- and
calorie-burning machine. Chapter 11 shares this and many other reasons to
start pumping iron.
Cardio and strength together:
Two for the price of one
A few activities combine cardio and strength training into one workout. One
of the most popular, circuit training (see Chapter 15), combines a cardio
warm-up and cooldown with a series of weight-lifting and other strength
stations. Not only can circuit training save you time, but it’s also a lot of fun,
because you move from station to station every 30 or 40 seconds.
Two other popular strength-cardio exercises are yoga and Pilates, which
tend to focus on core strength, the strength and flexibility of your midsection.
Discussed in Chapters 16 and 17, respectively, yoga and Pilates can be highenergy, revved-up workouts or soothing, mind-body workouts that leave you
feeling refreshed.
Stretching Your Mind (and Body)
Don’t let recent headlines claiming there’s no correlation between stretching
and injuries fool you: If you stretch properly and do it after (not before) you
work out, studies show that you reduce your risk of injury. (But do take care
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
that you perform some flexibility movement prep before your workout — see
Chapter 6.) And the bottom line is that you want to avoid injuries, because
they keep you from working out as often and as intensely as you’d like. We
offer you an entire chapter on stretching (see Chapter 6), plus a short chapter on avoiding common injuries (see Chapter 5).
Yoga, discussed in Chapter 16, is an excellent way to improve your flexibility.
What Are You Eating?
The link between exercise and nutrition has been clear for decades, and you’re
likely to have trouble improving your fitness if you make poor nutritional
choices. But how do you know which choices to make? Low fat? High carb?
Low carb? High protein? Low calorie? Food pyramids? Hydration? Vitamins?
It’s enough to make your head spin.
Knowing what to eat for optimal fitness has never been a murkier proposition.
Fortunately, in Chapter 7, we guide you through the haze, giving you a clear
picture of the benefits of a low-fat, low-bad-carb, high-good-carb, moderateprotein, Mediterranean-food-pyramid, lots-o-water, balanced diet. Flip to that
chapter when you’re ready to get the final scoop on nutrition — final for
based on current scientific research, that is.
At Home or at the Gym — Choosing
What’s Best for You
To join or not to join, that is the fitness question everyone asks himself at
some point. Joining a gym can be a big financial investment, and many people
choose not to join for that reason, opting for the free activities (walking, running, cycling) available just by walking out your front door.
But gyms have plenty to offer, including the latest and greatest workout
equipment, fun and invigorating classes, the opportunity to schedule time
with a personal trainer, and the infectious energy of other gym members.
Chapter 18 gives you step-by-step instructions for how to scout out and
decide whether to join a local gym and offers a basic lesson in gym etiquette.
Chapter 19 offers practical advice on deciding whether to join an exercise
class or purchase a DVD to use at home.
Chapter 1: Fitness 101: Getting the Scoop
A gym isn’t the only place to use exercise equipment. If you have the money
to invest in your own equipment, you can set up your own home gym in your
basement, spare room, garage, or any other convenient area. Chapter 20
helps you plan your space and make the most of your fitness equipment
shopping excursions; Chapter 25 offers ten low-cost fitness investments for
your home.
Special Exercises for Special People
Fitness isn’t only for those buff, 20-something gyms gods. In fact, you can
start exercising in your 80s and still reap the benefits of a healthier, longer
life. And the earlier in life you start working out, the more likely it will become
a lifelong habit. Chapter 23 offers some tips and advice for beginning an exercise program in your senior years.
How early is early enough? How about the womb? One study shows that
women who exercise during pregnancy have leaner babies who turn into
leaner kids. The benefits aren’t only for the kids, however. From reducing
back pain and encouraging better sleep patterns to encountering an easier
delivery to slipping back into your old jeans more quickly, exercising during
pregnancy offers incredible health benefits. See Chapter 21 for a short tutorial on getting and staying fit during pregnancy. For an in-depth look at pregnancy workouts, check out Fit Pregnancy For Dummies by Catherine Cram
and Tere Stouffer Drenth (published by Wiley).
Kids, perhaps more than any other age group, understand that being active
is fun. If you can tap into their natural love of activities, especially games,
sports, and dancing, you can help your kids avoid the alarming rates of obesity
that plague children today. Without emphasizing “exercise” or “workouts,”
you can introduce your child to all sorts of healthy activities that encourage
a lifelong fitness. Keep the emphasis on fun, without pushing your child into
competitions or activities she doesn’t enjoy, and you’ll help your child become
an adult with a strong body and a healthy heart.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Chapter 2
Testing Your Fitness
In This Chapter
Reviewing your health history
Determining your heart rate and blood pressure
Surveying your heart and lungs
Scrutinizing your body fat
Measuring your strength and flexibility
e’ve never been fond of tests that you can’t study for. Nevertheless,
we think the first step toward getting in shape is having your fitness
evaluated. Don’t panic. This test isn’t like your driver’s license renewal exam:
You can’t flunk, and you don’t have to stand in line for three hours listening
to people rant and rave about government bureaucracy. A fitness test simply
gives you key information about your physical condition.
We constantly hear people say, “I’m so out of shape. I need to lose weight.”
But that’s like telling a travel agent, “I’m in Europe. I need to go to Africa.”
Your travel agent needs to know the specifics: Are you in Rome? Berlin?
Moscow? Do you want to go to Cairo? Cape Town? The Kalahari Desert?
Before you embark on a fitness program, you need to know your starting
point with the same sort of precision. A fitness evaluation gives you important departure information, such as your heart rate, body fat, strength, and
flexibility. Armed with these facts, you or your trainer can design an intelligent plan to get you to your fitness destination. And when you get there,
you’ll have the numbers to prove just how far you’ve come.
In this chapter, we describe what to expect when a professional tests your fitness. We also explain how to test your fitness on your own. However, even if
you do most of the testing yourself, consider getting certain aspects of your
fitness evaluated at a sports medicine clinic or fitness center. As you complete the various tests, record your results on the chart found at the end of
this chapter.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
What’s Your Health History?
When you join a gym, one of the first things you should be asked to do —
after signing your check, of course — is to fill out a health-history questionnaire. Your answers to these questions give a snapshot of your overall wellbeing, including your eating and exercise habits, your risk for developing
cardiovascular disease, and any orthopedic limitations or medical conditions
that you may have. Typical questions include: Do you have any chronic joint
problems such as arthritis? Do you have a high stress level? Are you currently
taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications?
If you don’t belong to a gym, ask yourself the following questions, which are
designed to indicate your risk of developing heart disease:
Are you inactive?
Do you have a history of heart disease?
Do you have diabetes or high blood sugar?
Do you have a history of high blood pressure?
Did your mother, father, sister, or brother develop any form of
heart disease before age 50?
Do you smoke cigarettes, or have you quit within the last two years?
Do you have high cholesterol — either total cholesterol higher than 200
mg/dl or HDL less than 40 mg/dl?
If you answer “yes” to at least one question and you’re over age 35, see a
physician for a complete medical evaluation before you even pursue a fitness
testing session. A physician is the only one who can accurately determine
whether exercising puts you in any danger. If you answer “yes” to two or more
questions, get a checkup no matter how old you are.
Some gyms request that you be tested by a physician if a staff member feels
you may have a medical problem. Don’t groan; a request like this indicates
that your gym is on the ball. Some health clubs just want your money. They
may not require any testing — other than the test that determines whether
you can sign your name on a credit-card slip. If that’s the case, you need to
take responsibility for getting tested.
After you fill out your questionnaire, your tester should discuss the answers
with you and ask for more information if necessary. If you’re a smoker, for
example, he may ask you how much you smoke. Respond honestly and thoroughly. Don’t say that you run 5 miles a day if you haven’t broken a sweat
since high school — or if you intend to run every day but just haven’t gotten
around to it.
Chapter 2: Testing Your Fitness
Let your tester judge what’s important. Liz tested two men who failed to tell
her that they’d each had a lung removed. Another client neglected to mention that he had serious congenital heart problems. Two weeks later, he
passed out while running on the treadmill and hit his head on the way down,
causing a life-threatening head injury. Lucky for him, an ambulance arrived
within five minutes, and the paramedics were able to save him.
What’s Your Heart Rate?
Your heart rate, also known as your pulse, is the number of times your heart
beats per minute. Your fitness evaluation should include a measure of your
resting heart rate — your heart rate when you’re sitting still. Ideally, your resting heart rate should be between 60 and 90 beats per minute. It may be slower
if you’re fit or genetically predisposed to a low heart rate; it may be faster if
you’re nervous or have recently downed three double cappuccinos. In addition to caffeine, stress and certain medications can speed up your heart rate.
To be sure, take your heart rate first thing in the morning for three consecutive days and find the average to determine your heart rate.
After a month or two of regular exercise, your resting heart rate usually
drops. This means that your heart has become more efficient. It may need to
beat only 80 times per minute to pump the same amount of blood (or more)
than it used to pump in 90 beats. In the long run, this saves wear and tear on
your heart.
The simplest place to take your own pulse is at your wrist. Rest your middle
and index fingertips (not your thumb) lightly on your opposite wrist, directly
below the base of your thumb. Most people can see the faint bluish line of
their radial artery; place your fingertips here. Count the beats for 1 minute.
Or, if you have a short attention span, count for 30 seconds and multiply by 2.
For a really, really short attention span, count for 6 seconds and multiply by
10. An even easier and faster way to measure your pulse is to strap on a
heart-rate monitor, an extremely useful gadget we describe in Chapter 8.
What’s Your Blood Pressure?
Have a professional test your blood pressure. Home blood-pressure machines
tend to be inaccurate, as do those contraptions in the mall that charge a
quarter for a reading.
Blood pressure is a measurement of how open your blood vessels are. Low
numbers mean that your heart doesn’t have to work very hard to pump the
blood through your blood vessels. Ideally, your blood pressure should read
115/75 or below, a lower standard than the old standby of 120/80. If it’s
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
slightly higher, don’t get stressed (that only increases it even more). However,
if your blood pressure is higher than 140/90, you are considered hypertensive,
a fancy term for having high blood pressure. In case you’re wondering, the
top number, called your systolic blood pressure, measures pressure as your
heart ejects blood. The bottom number, your diastolic blood pressure, measures pressure when your heart relaxes and prepares for its next pump.
If you get a high blood-pressure reading, ask your tester to try again. The
numbers can be affected by many factors, such as illness, caffeine, nervousness, or racing into your test because you were late. But if you repeatedly get
high readings, see a doctor.
How Fit Is Your Heart?
Most reputable clubs perform something called a submax test. That’s short
for submaximal test, fitness jargon for a test that evaluates your heart rate
when you’re working at less than your maximum effort. Typically, this test
takes you to about 75 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. A maximal
test — in which you go all-out — should only be performed by a physician or
in the presence of a physician.
Submaximal tests are usually performed on a stationary bicycle, treadmill, or
step bench. (If you’re a runner, request a treadmill; if you’re a cyclist, ask to
be tested on a bike. You’re best at what you practice most.) The test usually
lasts about 15 minutes. During this time, you increase your intensity every
three or four minutes while the tester monitors your heart rate and blood
pressure. The test shouldn’t be very hard. On a bike, the worst it should feel
like is pedaling up a moderately steep hill for a few minutes.
If you don’t belong to a health club, you can test your aerobic fitness using a
watch with a second hand and a course that’s exactly 1 mile long. Warm up
with a slow walk for five to ten minutes, and then time yourself as you walk or
run the mile as briskly as you can. Take your pulse right before you stop, and
make a mental note of the number. Also note your time as you complete your
One minute after you finish the mile, take your pulse again. See how far it has
dropped from the pulse check you did right at the end of your walk. Try this
test again in two months and see how much faster you can complete the mile
and how much more quickly you recover. If a mile sounds like too much for
you right now, do a half-mile or even walk around the block. Just choose a
distance that you can measure again at a later date.
Schedule a second fitness evaluation in six weeks. Those first weeks of training can bring about some dramatic changes, and it’s really motivating to see
how well you’ve done. After that, changes tend to be steady but somewhat
slower. Get tested again every three to six months. Don’t go longer than a
Chapter 2: Testing Your Fitness
year without reevaluating your progress. You don’t want to waste time with
a workout program that’s not getting results.
How Much of You Is Fat?
During your evaluation, your tester will probably weigh you. Just know
that your weight is of limited value. When you hop on a scale, you learn the
grand total weight of your bones, organs, blood, fat, muscle, and other tissues.
This number can be misleading because muscle weighs more per square inch
than fat.
Consider two men who stand 5'8" and weigh 190 pounds. One guy may be a
lean bodybuilder who has a lot of muscle packed onto his frame. Another guy
may be a couch potato whose gut hangs 4 inches over his belt buckle. Even a
low weight doesn’t necessarily indicate good health or fitness. It may simply
mean that you have small bones and little muscle.
More helpful than your body weight is your body composition — how much
of your body is composed of fat and how much is composed of everything
else. Your body composition is also called your body-fat percentage. If you
score a 25 percent on a fat test, this means that 25 percent of your weight is
composed of fat.
Like your weight, your body-fat percentage is not necessarily a measure of
your health. True, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers are
more prevalent among overweight people — men who have more than about
20 percent body fat and women who have more than about 30 percent body
fat. However, some researchers believe that these health problems are not
caused by the extra fat itself but rather by a lack of exercise and a poor diet.
In other words, if you exercise regularly and eat well, extra body fat may not
compromise your health. So consider your body-fat score in a context with
other health measures, such as your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and
other gauges of fitness, such as a submaximal test and your resting heart rate.
An additional number to consider is the circumference of your waist. Excess
abdominal fat — the type that lies deep in your belly, clumped around your
organs — is linked to increased risk for heart disease. Heavy thighs, on the
other hand, do not appear to be related to health problems. (In other words —
to use terms we can all relate to — a beer belly is more harmful to your health
than saddlebags.) Men with waist measurements greater than 40 and women
with waist measurements greater than 35 should consult a physician.
Although body fat testing has its limits, your results can give you great
insight into how your fat-loss and exercise program is coming along. Sure,
your scale can tell you that you lost 7 pounds. But a body-fat test can tell you
that your 7-pound loss means that you lost 10 pounds of fat and gained 3
pounds of muscle, results that are probably more motivating.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Body-fat testing also can tell you if you have too little fat. Maybe you can
never be too rich, but you definitely can be too thin. For women, super-low
body fat — below about 16 percent — may lead to problems such as irregular
menstrual periods, permanent bone loss, and a high rate of bone fractures.
Keep in mind that every body-fat testing method has room for error. At a
recent fitness convention, Suzanne had her body fat measured by two different
methods — and appeared to have gained 11 percent body fat in a matter of
15 minutes. You may even get wildly different readings using the same test,
depending on the skill of the tester or the condition of the equipment.
The only way to measure body fat with complete accuracy is to burn yourself
up and take a carbon count of the ashes. Because that technique doesn’t
draw too many volunteers, scientists have developed a number of other
methods. Here’s a look at the ones you’re most likely to come across.
Pinching an inch
The most common body-fat test uses the skinfold caliper, a gizmo that resembles a stun gun with salad tongs attached (see Figure 2-1). When your tester
fires, the tongs pinch your skin, pulling your fat away from your muscles and
bones. (You feel moderate discomfort, like when your great aunt pinches
your cheek on the holidays.) Typically, the tester pinches three to seven different sites on your body, such as your abdomen, the back of your arm, and
the back of your shoulder. The thickness of each pinch is plugged into a formula to determine your body-fat percentage. Your tester should pinch each
site two or three times to verify the measurement.
Many things can go wrong with a caliper test. The tester may not pinch
exactly the right spot, or he may not pull all the fat away from the bone. Or
he may pinch too hard and accidentally yank some of your muscle. Also,
research suggests that certain formulas are more accurate for certain ethnic
groups, age ranges, and fitness levels.
Experts give this test a margin of error of four points, meaning your actual
body-fat percentage could be four points higher or lower than it actually is.
Be sure to get tested before your workout. When you exercise, blood travels
to your skin to cool you down. This can cause your skin to swell, and you
may test fatter than you really are. Plus, calipers can slip if your skin is wet
from sweat.
If you want to try this method on your own, you can purchase calipers such
as Accu-Measure (available for about $20 through Collage Video, a company
you can visit at and that’s described in Chapter 19).
These calipers come with a decent booklet that explains how to test yourself
and interpret the results. For better accuracy, you may want to have a friend
perform the test on you.
Chapter 2: Testing Your Fitness
Figure 2-1:
Photograph by Jennifer Lawler
Taking your measurements
A less precise but also helpful way to keep track of your body fat is to take
your measurements. You don’t get a percentage, but you can use the numbers to keep track of inches lost (or gained, if you’re trying to pack on
muscle), which can be motivating in and of itself. If you’re losing inches,
chances are, you’re dropping body fat. Some common places to measure
include across the middle of your chest, the center of your upper arm, the
smallest part of your waist, the widest part of your hips, the widest part of
your thigh, and the widest part of your ankle. You can write these numbers
on the chart at the end of this chapter.
Calculating your body mass index
Yet another method of estimating how “fat” you are is body mass index (BMI),
a number derived from your height and weight. To determine your BMI, turn
to Table 2-1, locate your height in inches, and then move across that row
until you find your weight. The number at the top of that column is your BMI.
Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Height Body Weight
(inches) (pounds)
Table 2-1
Body Mass Index
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Chapter 2: Testing Your Fitness
If you’re in the mood to pull out your calculator, you can determine your BMI
by following these steps:
1. Multiply your height in inches times your height in inches.
2. Divide your weight by the number you arrived at in Step 1.
3. Multiply the number you came up with in Step 2 by 705.
The result is your BMI.
So what does your BMI mean? The National Institutes of Health has issued
the BMI guidelines shown in Table 2-2.
Table 2-2
Understanding Your Body Mass Index
Weight Status
Less than 19
19 to 24.9
25 to 29.9
30 or greater
People with a BMI of 25 or above are considered at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, gallbladder disease, cancer, and death.
But these guidelines are controversial. Even members of the government
panel that issued the guidelines believe that setting the low point for overweight at a BMI of 25 is somewhat arbitrary. Keep in mind that BMI, like bodyfat percentage, is only one factor in assessing your health. Also know that
BMI measurements for extremely muscular athletes and pregnant women are
not very accurate.
You may wonder: If BMI has so many limitations, why are we including it in
this book? Because it’s the simplest way — no fees, no equipment, and no
schlepping to the health club — of estimating whether you may be in the
overweight ballpark.
Getting zapped (also body-fat
scales and handheld testers)
Another common method of body fat testing is called bioelectrical impedance
analysis (BIA). You lie on your back while a signal travels from an electrode
on your foot to an electrode on your hand. The slower the signal, the more
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
fat you have. This is because fat impedes, or blocks, the signal. The signal
travels quickly through muscle because muscle is 70 percent water and water
conducts electricity. Fat, on the other hand, is just 5 to 13 percent water.
Similar technology is used in body-fat scales and handheld gadgets that
resemble a car steering wheel and are even less accurate than BIA.
Bioelectrical impedance can have a huge margin of error, especially if you’re
extremely fat or extremely lean. In one study, world-class female distance
runners were found to average 20 percent body fat, when more reliable methods actually show that they were closer to 10 percent. Dehydration also can
skew the results wildly; the signal slows down, and you appear to have more
fat than you really do. Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine for at least 24 hours
before the test because they can lead to dehydration.
Getting dunked (underwater weighing)
Underwater weighing is the most cumbersome method of body-fat testing,
but it’s also the most accurate method that’s anywhere near affordable. You
sit on a scale in a tank of warm water about the size of a Jacuzzi. (When
Suzanne did this, she felt like a giant piece of tortellini floating in a big pot.)
Then comes the unnerving part: You blow all the air out of your lungs and
bend forward until you’re completely submerged. If there’s air trapped in
your lungs, you score fatter than you really are. Knowing this fact makes you
try really, really hard to blow out your air, which makes you feel like you’re
about to explode. You stay submerged for about five seconds while your
underwater weight registers on a digital scale. The result is then plugged into
a mathematical equation.
This method of testing is based on the premise that muscle sinks and fat
floats. The more fat you have, the more your body wants to float when
dunked under water. The denser you are, the more you sink, and the more
water your body displaces.
The margin of error for this test is 2 to 2.5 percent for young to middle-aged
adults. The results are less accurate for children, older adults, and extremely
lean people. This is because lean body tissue is made up of other things
besides muscle. Bone, for example, isn’t fully formed in children, and it
may be somewhat porous in older adults and somewhat denser in super-fit
people. You can get this test done at sophisticated sports-medicine clinics or
labs for $50 to $100.
Chapter 2: Testing Your Fitness
BOD POD: The cutting edge
of body-fat testing
Underwater weighing has long been the standard for body-fat testing, but a
sophisticated contraption called the BOD POD may one day replace it. The
BOD POD is a 5-foot-tall fiberglass chamber that looks like a giant egg with
a tinted window. You sit in the chamber for two or three 50-second tests
while computerized pressure sensors determine how much air your body
displaces — in other words, how much space you take up. (Underwater weighing determines the same information, just in a way that’s less convenient.)
Research suggests that the BOD POD may be as accurate as underwater
weighing, but the technology is so new that only a few studies have been
conducted. Although the machine costs about as much as a luxury car, at
universities, fitness expos, and some health clubs around the country, you
can get a BOD POD test for about $25.
DEXA: X-ray vision
Another method is Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA). Not only does
it measure how much fat you have, but it also determines where the fat is
located on your body, a more relevant health indicator. Originally developed
to scan bone density, DEXA is available at hospitals and in doctors’ offices; it
usually requires a physician’s referral. (The test costs from $150 to $200.) You
lie on a bed while low doses of two different X-ray energies scan your body
from head to toe.
How Strong Are You?
Fear not: You won’t be required to do one-arm push-ups or lift a barbell that
weighs more than your dad. Strength tests, like the other tests that we describe
in this chapter, are simply designed to give you a starting point. If you get
started on a good weight-lifting program and stick to it, you’re likely to see
dramatic changes when you take another fitness test in two or three months.
Most health clubs don’t take true strength measurements; in other words,
they don’t measure the absolute maximum amount of weight you’re capable
of lifting. Going for your “max” can be dangerous and can cause more than a
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
little muscle soreness. Instead, gyms test your muscular endurance: how
many times you can move a much lighter weight. You can do many of these
tests at home. Having a friend count for you and make sure you’re doing the
exercise correctly is a help. Here are some common muscular endurance
Measuring your upper-body strength
Count how many push-ups you can do without stopping or losing good form.
For this test, men do military push-ups, with their legs out straight and toes
on the floor. Women do modified push-ups, with their knees bent and feet off
the floor. Lower your entire body at once until your upper arms are parallel
to the floor. Pull your abdominals in to prevent your back from sagging. Do
this test correctly! One guy we watched didn’t have the strength to lower his
body all the way, so he just bobbed his head up and down.
Use Table 2-3 or Table 2-4 to find out how you stack up against other people
of your age and gender.
Table 2-3
Push-Ups — Men
Table 2-4
Push-Ups — Women
Chapter 2: Testing Your Fitness
Some health clubs also measure upper-body strength on a free-weight bench
press or a chest-press machine. (In Chapter 12, we explain the difference
between free weights and machines.) The amount of weight doesn’t matter, as
long as you use the same weight every time you get tested. You simply do as
many repetitions as you can.
Measuring your abdominal strength
The strength of your abdominal muscles is usually measured by a crunch
test. (However, this test isn’t recommended if you have a history of lowerback problems.)
Place two pieces of masking tape about halfway down the length of a mat,
one directly behind the other, about 21⁄2 inches apart. Lie on your back on the
mat with your arms at your sides and your fingertips touching the rear edge
of the back piece of tape. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the
floor. Curl your head, neck, and shoulder blades upward, sliding your palms
along the floor until your fingertips touch the front edge of the front piece of
tape. Return to the starting position and keep going until you’re too tired to
continue or you can’t reach the tape. Don’t cheat by sliding your arms without moving your body or by moving only one side of your body. See Figure
2-2 for an example of the crunch test.
Figure 2-2:
The crunch
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Use Tables 2-5 and 2-6 to gauge the results of your crunch test.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Table 2-5
Crunches — Men
Under 35
Over 45
Needs work
Table 2-6
Crunches — Women
Under 35
Over 45
Needs work
Measuring your lower-body strength
The strength of your lower-body muscles is often measured on a leg-extension
machine, which targets your front-thigh muscles. (This machine is sort of like
a big chair with a high back.) Some clubs test lower-body strength on other
machines; others don’t test your lower-body strength at all.
You can test the strength of your thigh and butt muscles at home by doing an
exercise called a squat, described in Chapter 14. We suggest that, if you’re a
woman, you hold a 5-pound dumbbell in each hand with your arms hanging
down at your sides, and if you’re a man, use 15-pound dumbbells. If you’re a
novice, skip the weight and place your hands on your hips.
There are few standard norms for this test, so just use your results as a basis
of comparison for future evaluations.
How Flexible Are You?
How come gymnasts can wrap their legs around their shoulders while you
have trouble touching your toes? Because gymnasts are more flexible than
you are. Flexibility refers to how far you can move around a joint’s axis (your
Chapter 2: Testing Your Fitness
range of motion) and how easily you can move it. Because your muscles
attach to your bone and bones move around a joint’s axis (therefore, muscles
move the bones around a joint), flexibility also refers to the mobility of your
Flexibility tests sometimes feel like a cross between circus tryouts and an
IQ test. The tester asks you to twist yourself into some strange positions,
and you have to figure out what he’s talking about. Then you have to see
whether your body agrees to follow along.
One common test is the sit-and-reach, which measures the flexibility of your
lower-back and rear-thigh muscles. You sit with your legs out straight and
place your feet flat on the side of a special metal box. Keeping your legs
straight, you lean forward and reach toward the box as far as you can. Along
the top of the box, a scale in inches measures how far you reach forward. We
find it amusing that the special box costs $200. You can do this same test
with the carton that the box comes in.
Some clubs don’t get that sophisticated with flexibility measurements; don’t
hold it against them. As a measure of lower-back and hamstring flexibility, they
may simply ask you to bend over and try to touch your toes. Estimating your
flexibility instead of measuring it to the exact degree is okay. At least you
find out which joints are tight, so you emphasize them when you stretch. For
details about how to stretch properly, see Chapter 6.
Table 2-7 describes flexibility tests you can do at home. You may also
encounter these tests during a health-club evaluation.
Table 2-7
Testing Your Flexibility
The Test
What to Do
You Have Good
Flexibility If . . .
Your Flexibility
Your Flexibility
Needs Work If . . . Needs A Lot
of Work If . . .
Rear thigh
and lower
back (toe
Take off your
shoes and
stand with
your feet
together and
your knees
straight but
not locked.
Bend forward
and reach for
the floor.
You can touch
the floor with
little effort and
no discomfort in
your rear thighs
or lower back.
You can just
touch your toes
with little or no
You can’t touch
your toes, or
you feel considerable pain
when you try.
You may be
susceptible to
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Table 2-7 (continued)
The Test
What to Do
You Have Good
Flexibility If . . .
Reach your
You can clasp
right hand
your hands
behind your
back and your
left hand
across your
back toward
your right
shoulder blade.
Try to clasp
your hands
together behind
your back.
Your fingertips
almost touch.
You aren’t
within an inch
of touching
your fingertips
together. This
means you’re
susceptible to
shoulder and
neck pain.
Calf and
Sit on the floor
with your legs
straight out in
front of you.
Flex your foot
so your toes
move toward
Your toes bend so
they are just in
line with your
ankles (exactly
perpendicular to
the floor).
You can barely
bend your toes
toward you. You
may be susceptible to ankle
Sitting in the Your toes touch
same position or nearly touch
as the calfthe floor.
and-ankle test,
point your toes
and stretch
them toward
the floor.
Your toes come to Your toes
within an inch or barely move
so of the floor.
toward the
floor. You may
be susceptible
to shin splints
(see definition,
Chapter 24).
Top, front
of hip;
Lie on your
back and hug
one knee to
your chest;
clasp your
hands around
your shin just
below your
knee. Keep
the other leg
Your leg, when
straight, rests
along the floor
but to the outside
of your hip, and
you can almost
hug your knee to
Your toes move
enough toward
you so that they
are beyond perpendicular to the
Your straight leg
rests on the floor
directly in line
with your hip,
and you can
easily hug your
bent knee to
your chest.
Your Flexibility
Your Flexibility
Needs Work If . . . Needs A Lot
of Work If . . .
Your straight
leg doesn’t
touch the floor,
and you can’t
bring your knee
to within a few
inches of your
chest. You may
be susceptible
to upper-back
and shoulder
Chapter 2: Testing Your Fitness
The Test
What to Do
You Have Good
Flexibility If . . .
Your Flexibility
Your Flexibility
Needs Work If . . . Needs A Lot
of Work If . . .
Your arms easily
fall to the floor
without your
lower back
arching up.
Your hands
almost touch and
your lower back
remains in
contact with the
Your arms don’t
come within an
inch of touching the floor,
and your back
arches up. You
may be susceptible to upperback and
shoulder pain.
Lie on your
Your heel easily
stomach with touches your
one leg
straight, and
bend the other
knee so that
your heel
moves toward
your buttocks.
Your heel comes
close to but
doesn’t quite
touch your
Your heel
doesn’t come
within a few
inches of your
buttocks. You
may be susceptible to knee
Upper back Lie on your
back with your
legs out
straight, and
lift your arms
overhead. Now
drop your arms
back behind
you toward
the floor.
Front thigh
Your Fitness Test Results
Need a place to store your score? Table 2-8 gives you spaces to jot down the
results of all the tests described in this chapter.
Table 2-8
Your Fitness Test Results
Your Score
(Test #1)
Your Score
(Test #2)
Your Score
(Test #3)
Resting heart
Resting blood
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Table 2-8 (continued)
Your Score
Your Score
Your Score
(Test #1)
(Test #2)
(Test #3)
What to do with your results
At the end of your fitness evaluation, your tester
should not simply say, “Well, your resting heart
rate is 72, you did 23 sit-ups, and your body fat is
28 percent.” He may explain how your results
stack up against other people who are your age
and your gender, and he should tell you which
areas need the most improvement. A conscientious tester will also help you use the results of
tests to customize cardiovascular, strengthtraining, and flexibility workouts.
Your test results should be detailed on a piece of
paper (sort of like a report card) that you can
take home. Save this piece of paper so you can
see how much you’ve improved later. One day,
it may mean more to you than your high school
Chapter 3
Establishing Your Plan of Attack
In This Chapter
Establishing fitness goals
Rewarding yourself in small ways
Tracking your fitness progress
Making fitness a daily habit
ou wouldn’t start or expand a business without a plan — a clear-cut idea
of where you want to take your company and how you propose to get
there. Instead, you would assess your cash flow and expenses, choose a location for your office, decide on your hours of operation, and develop strategies
to overcome obstacles.
Your workout program deserves the same level of attention, whether you’re
just beginning to map out your fitness plan or looking to expand and improve
your current fitness routine. This chapter helps you develop your plan of
attack. We show you how to set realistic goals and track your progress, and
we offer strategies for sticking to your plan so that your workout program is
as successful as any of those upstart Internet companies run by 20-year-old
Setting Goals
Before you embark on a new exercise program — or attempt to invigorate
your existing one — clarify why you want to get fit. Maybe heart disease runs
in your family, and you want to avoid carrying on that tradition. Maybe you
can’t keep up with your grandkids. Maybe your pants split as you got up to
greet your blind date, and you thought, “I really ought to do something about
this.” Whatever the reason, make sure you’re doing this for yourself — not
simply to please your doctor or to lure back the spouse who left you for someone much younger.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Then, after you evaluate your current fitness level (see Chapter 2 for details
about fitness testing), start setting specific goals. Research shows that goalsetting works. In typical studies, scientists give one group of exercisers a specific goal, such as doing 60 sit-ups. Meanwhile, they tell a second group of
exercisers simply, “Do your best.” The exercisers with specific goals tend to
have significantly more success than the comparison groups. This approach
can work for you, too.
When you start an exercise program, you need to set a few different types
of goals. Look at the big picture while giving yourself stepping stones to get
there. Having mini-goals makes your long-term goals seem more feasible. Here’s
a look at the different types of goals you should set.
Long-term goals
Give yourself a goal for the next three to six months. Some people get really
creative with their long-term goals. One Ohio woman Suzanne interviewed set
a long-term goal to walk to a friend’s house — in Birmingham, Alabama. No,
she didn’t literally hoof it 697 miles. She charted the route on an auto-club
map, and for every 20 minutes that she spent doing an aerobic exercise video,
she gave herself credit for 1 mile. At the end of each week, she added up her
“mileage” and used a yellow highlighter to mark the ground she covered on
the map.
Make sure your long-term goals are realistic. If you start your swimming program today, jumping into the frigid waters of the English Channel and swimming all the way to France is not exactly what we recommend for a six-month
goal. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to dream. Choose a goal that really
sparks you — something that may be out of reach at the moment but is not
out of the realm of possibility. People are often surprised by what they can
accomplish. Liz has a client who was 60 years old when he started training
for a trek up Alaska’s Mount McKinley. Liz eventually had the guy walking
uphill for up to 90 minutes on the treadmill with a heavy pack and hiking
boots. After six months of training, the man successfully completed his trek.
He was the oldest one on the trip, but he wasn’t the slowest. His success
inspired him to train for many other hiking events.
Judge for yourself what’s realistic. Some people rise to the occasion when
they set goals that seem virtually impossible. Other people get discouraged
by setting extremely high expectations. If you’re a beginner, we recommend
setting moderately challenging goals. If you reach your goals earlier than you
expect, that’s the time to choose more ambitious ones. Here are some concrete
examples of long-term goals that may spark your imagination:
Complete a 50-mile bike ride that’s four months away.
Drop 3 percent body fat in 10 weeks.
Chapter 3: Establishing Your Plan of Attack
Do one full pull-up.
Drop 20 points from cholesterol count.
Fit into that pair of jeans.
Walk 1 mile in under 15 minutes.
Short-term goals
Six months is a long time to wait for feelings of success. In order to stay
motivated, you need to feel a sense of accomplishment along the way. When
Suzanne was bicycling from the West Coast of the United States to the East
Coast, she didn’t dream about the Atlantic Ocean every day; she focused on
a goal that seemed more manageable, like getting across North Dakota. Set
short-term goals for one week to one month. Here are some examples:
Take two step aerobics classes a week for one month.
Improve your 1-mile walk time by 20 seconds.
Use the stair-climber four times this week for 30 minutes each time.
Bicycle 60 miles a week for the next four weeks.
Immediate goals
Immediate goals refer to goals for each week, day, or workout. This way,
when you walk into the gym, you don’t waste any time figuring out which
exercises to do. Here are examples of immediate goals:
Spend a full ten minutes stretching at the end of a workout.
Do upper-body weight exercises and 20 minutes on the stair-climber.
Run 2 miles.
Bike a hilly 20-mile course.
Backup goals
You always need a Plan B, in case something happens and you’re not able to
reach your primary goal as soon as you want to. By setting backup goals, you
have a better chance of achieving something, and you don’t feel like a failure
if your long-term goal doesn’t work out. Suppose your long-term goal is to
lose 10 pounds by eating healthier and walking 3 miles a day. Your backup
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
goal could be increasing your stamina enough to walk 3 miles in less than an
hour. Or say that you’re training for a 10K run in the spring, but you sprain an
ankle and have to stop running. If one of your backup goals is to strengthen
your upper body, you can still keep on track while your ankle heals.
Finding Ways to Reward Yourself
You let your kids watch their favorite video when they bring home good
grades, right? You give your golden retriever a doggy treat when he fetches
the Frisbee. Be nice to yourself, too. Attach an appropriate reward to each
of your goals. If you drop 3 percent body fat over the next two months, buy
yourself a nifty sports watch. If you lift weights three days a week for a month,
treat yourself to a massage. Sure, it’s bribery, but it works. Short-term rewards
are particularly important because there’s always a chance that you may not
make it all the way to your long-term goal. You need to give yourself credit
for making it even halfway. (By the way, triple-decker fudge cake isn’t what
we have in mind for a reward. Try to make sure your reward is as healthy as
your goal.)
As with your goals, you can get pretty creative with your rewards. We know a
guy who asked a friend to hold $500 for him. If he reached his goal of losing
25 pounds, he’d get the money back and buy new clothes. If he didn’t reach
his goal, the money would become a charitable contribution to the Young
Republicans. Considering that this guy made Edward Kennedy look like Rush
Limbaugh, this was a very good incentive, indeed. The guy lost his 25 pounds.
Writing Everything Down
Setting goals and rewards is pretty easy; forgetting what they are is even
easier. To keep yourself honest — and motivated — consider tracking your
goals and accomplishments on paper. One friend of ours tapes his goals to
the inside of his gym locker. Some people program their computers to flash
their goals on-screen twice a day. A member of Liz’s Thursday night Internet
chat group posts her fitness and weight-loss accomplishments on the message board every week, along with a note thanking other members for their
encouraging notes. (And this idea of sharing your goals with others, even
someone in the cubicle next door, is a powerful motivator and may keep you
from giving up.) Losing 30 pounds was a big milestone for the woman and
touched off quite a bit of buzz among the regulars. Other members of the
group read these messages avidly and live vicariously through her progress;
many have been inspired to start their own fitness programs. Here are some
other ways that you can monitor your progress.
Chapter 3: Establishing Your Plan of Attack
Making a goal sheet
Write down your goals on a piece of paper or index card and put it somewhere so that you can see it every day, like taped to your desk or on your
refrigerator. Next to every goal, write down the corresponding reward. This
strategy isn’t just for amateurs. Many world-class athletes use it, too. Figure
3-1 shows a sample goal sheet that you can fill out each week. Underneath
each heading, write down your goal and your target date.
Long-Term Goals
Long-Term Rewards
Backup Long-Term Goals
Short-Term Goals
Short-Term Rewards
Weekly Goals
Weekly Rewards
Figure 3-1:
Make a goal
Workout Goals
sheet like
the one
here (or
this one).
Daily Rewards
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Keeping a workout log
Whatever your goals are, keeping track of your workouts in a workout log
(also called a workout diary or training diary) can help you get better results.
You can look back at the end of each week and say, “I did that?” And you may
be inspired to accomplish even more. Keeping a log shows you whether your
goals are realistic and gives you insight into your exercise patterns. If you’re
losing weight, building strength, or developing stamina, you won’t have to
wonder what works, because you’ll have a blow-by-blow description of everything you’ve done to reach your goals.
On the other hand, if you get injured or stuck in a rut, you can turn to your
diary for clues as to why. You may discover that if you don’t eat before you
cycle, you cover your usual route five minutes slower. Maybe you pull a hamstring every time you run over a certain hilly course. Maybe you’re more susceptible to catching a cold if you don’t rest at least one day each week.
A workout diary keeps you honest. You may think that you’re working out
four times a week. But when you flip through your log, you may realize that
you’ve been overestimating your efforts.
Bookstores and sporting-goods stores carry a variety of logs, some aimed at
walkers, others at weight lifters; others have space to chart any activity you
can think of. You also can buy nifty computer software to monitor your
progress or use a Web-based tracking program. In Chapter 25, we mention
some of our favorite products for recording your workouts. You can also use
Figure 3-2 (photocopying the page) to see whether you enjoy tracking your
workouts on paper.
Here are some suggestions for filling in the blanks.
Day, date, and conditions
Don’t forget to note the day and date. This information helps you assess what
you’ve done in a week; when you look back, you’ll know whether you ran those
20 miles in one week or two. Also, you may discover that you always have a
bad workout on Fridays because you stay up late Thursday nights to watch
ER. Maybe Friday is the day for you to take off. Note the day and date of your
rest days, as well. This way you know how much recovery time you’re giving
In the Conditions box, you may also want to note the weather conditions,
including the wind and the temperature, because you work much harder
when it’s raining or hot. Describe the course you cover (was it hilly or flat?);
who you worked out with (“Marge talks too much”), and how you feel before,
during, and after your workout. These notes may help you trace the root of
any training problems that crop up.
Chapter 3: Establishing Your Plan of Attack
Day of the Week
Cardiovascular Training
Strength Training
Difficulty Rating
Figure 3-2:
A sample
workout log.
Goals for the workout
Write down what you hope to accomplish during your workout, like completing the 20-minute Roller Coaster program on the stair-climber or swimming a
half mile. Rather than scribbling a few lines while you’re running from the
locker room into an aerobics class, fill in this section the night before or, better
yet, immediately following your last workout. This makes you stop and think
about just what it is that you’re trying to achieve. If you keep your goals in
mind, you may have more enthusiasm for your workout.
Cardiovascular training
Write down the type of activity, whether it’s stationary cycling, walking, skating, rowing, and so on. In the Time and Distance sections, note how long your
aerobic session lasted and (when applicable) how far you went — for example:
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Cardiovascular Training: “Jogged on treadmill”
Time: “20 minutes”
Distance: “1.8 miles”
In the Difficulty Rating box, rate your workout on a scale from one to ten.
Don’t base this assessment simply on the number of miles you walked or the
number of calories you burned. Instead, rate your workouts according to how
hard you push yourself. A 1 rating is an extremely easy day; a 10 is an all-out
workout. (See Chapter 8 for details on rating your exertion.) The purpose of
the difficulty rating is to remind you to aim for a healthy mix of numbers. If
you rate a 9 on Monday, Tuesday is a good day for a 2 workout. Log a 0 for
the days you don’t exercise.
Strength training
Jot down the name of each exercise, the amount of weight you lifted, and
the number of sets you did. (If you need any of these terms defined, see
Chapter 14.) If you don’t know the name of an exercise, make it a point to
find out. Writing down “bicep curl” may reinforce the idea that this exercise
strengthens your biceps. (If you’re not sure where your biceps are, see
Chapter 12.) You may also want to note what changes you need to make
during your next weight-lifting session. Suppose you use 50 pounds on the
leg-press machine and have a pretty easy time of it. In your diary, write that
you want to try 60 pounds the next time. Also, note which exercises are particularly easy and which need more attention.
Simply note whether you stretched or not. You may also jot down a few words
about which muscles felt the tightest and which stretches felt the best.
Here’s your chance to record any details that don’t seem to fit into the other
categories. For example, you may describe a new leg exercise you tried. Or
you may elaborate on which yoga poses you found most difficult. Or you may
realize that you always feel great when you work out with a certain friend.
Write down whatever you feel is important.
Making Exercise a Habit
As we mention in the introduction to this book, 50 percent of new exercisers
quit within eight weeks. Of course, we want to make sure that you’re among
the other 50 percent. The following tips can help you get over the hump and
Chapter 3: Establishing Your Plan of Attack
boost the odds that you’ll stick with your new program. We discuss several of
these topics in detail throughout the book, but we want you to keep them in
mind from the start.
Expect to feel uncomfortable at first
Exercise doesn’t need to be painful, but if you’ve neglected your body, don’t
expect a free ride. Despite what you hear on infomercials — “just five minutes
a day, and you can do this on the couch while watching TV!” — exercise is a
serious commitment. You can’t get into shape without exerting some real
effort and, perhaps, without experiencing some (but not a lot of) discomfort.
Pace yourself
Don’t buy every exercise video on the market or try every weight machine in
the gym the first day. You’ll kill your enthusiasm and flame out fast. Always
keep yourself hungry for more.
Work out with friends or join a club
An exercise buddy can push you to new heights — or get your butt outside
for a walk on the days when you’d rather stay home and watch reruns of
Bewitched. If you make a date to meet a friend at the gym, you’re a lot more
likely to show up than if you make a date with yourself.
Take the initiative to find workout buddies by joining an exercise class at
your community center or YMCA, a Sierra Club hike, a local running group,
or a charity event or race that has a training program.
Mix it up
One common complaint about exercise is that it’s boring. But if you change
your workouts every couple of months, or even every time you exercise, that
excuse pretty much flies out the window. This book is filled with ideas for
varying your workouts — experimenting with different weight-training equipment, trying new stretches, and changing the intensity of your cardiovascular
program, doing full-body or body-part workouts, training energy systems,
varying reps, sets, times, intensity techniques, and so on.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Not only does this strategy keep you motivated, but it also keeps you healthy.
Many injuries are the result of repeating the same movement patterns. So if
you alternate, say, swimming with running, you’re less likely to develop the
knee problems that are common to runners or the shoulder injuries that crop
up among swimmers.
Buy the right gear and equipment
Cycling isn’t going to be fun if you’re riding an old clunker that doesn’t shift
properly. Walking isn’t going to be comfortable or safe if you’re doing it in
sandals. You don’t need to spend megabucks on top-of-the-line equipment,
but investing in the right gear and equipment can sometimes be the difference between success and failure.
Liz had a client who went out hiking in a 20-year-old pair of aerobics shoes
and had a miserable time. She kept twisting her ankles because the shoes had
poor ankle support, and her feet were blistered and bruised because the thin
padding didn’t protect her from the rocks underfoot. Upon returning from her
hike, the client announced to Liz that she hated hiking. Liz suggested that she
buy a new pair of hiking boots and give it another try. The next time out, outfitted in a comfy, sturdy pair of boots, the woman sailed to the head of the
group and leapt from rock to rock like a mountain goat. She then reported to
Liz that she loved hiking.
In Chapter 10, we discuss gadgets and apparel you need for a number of different outdoor activities. But here are some general tips on shoes, one of the
most important fitness purchases:
Buy the right shoe for your sport. Walking shoes are more flexible and
have firmer heel support than running shoes. Shoes for tennis, golf,
and basketball have their own special designs; even sprinters and distance runners have different footwear needs. If you dabble in a variety
of activities — walking one day, biking the next, and lifting weights the
next — cross-training shoes may suffice (ask for them at your favorite
sporting-goods store), but if you spend a lot of time doing one particular
activity, invest in shoes designed for that activity.
Don’t cheap out. Bargain brands may look the same, but today’s fitness
shoes are highly technical. Beneath those swooshes, stripes, and flashy
colors, a lot of biomechanical engineering is going on to protect your
feet, ankles, and other joints. A decent pair of athletic shoes may cost
you at least $40, and in some cases more than double that. But you save
money down the line: One thing that’s always more expensive than a
good pair of shoes is a visit to an orthopedist.
Chapter 3: Establishing Your Plan of Attack
Shop at a specialty store where the salespeople are fitness enthusiasts
themselves. In New York, runners are blessed with a fine chain of equipment shops called Super Runners, and many other cities and suburban
areas have at least one running and/or walking store. If you’re a tennis
player, look for a tennis specialty store. Same with cycling, yoga, and
so on. When you find a shoe you’re comfortable with, you can save
money on future pairs by shopping through a catalog or by joining a
frequent-buyers club at your local shop.
Make sure the shoes feel good from the moment you put them on.
Forget this “breaking in” business. Try on several pairs of shoes, and
take each one for a test run around the mall. Bounce up and down in
them; mime a few quick volleys.
Cut yourself some slack
Recognize that people come in all shapes and sizes, and everyone improves
at a different pace. Getting inspiration from other people is great, but don’t
let anyone else’s accomplishments diminish your own. Be proud that you’ve
worked up to walking 3 miles every other day, even if your neighbor runs 10
miles a day.
And don’t get mad at yourself if you miss a few days — or even a few
months — of exercise. Expect to be up and down a bit in your motivation,
which means you won’t always exercise with the same consistency and
frequency. If you fall off the wagon, just try again. You have the rest of your
life to get this right.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Chapter 4
Hiring a Trainer
In This Chapter
Identifying good reasons to hire a trainer
Screening potential trainers
Knowing how much a trainer should cost
Recognizing the signs of a quality trainer
Being a good client
perating exercise equipment isn’t nuclear physics, but neither is it
something you should attempt to figure out on your own. We recommend signing up with a trainer — for at least one session — to get yourself
started on a strength and cardiovascular program suited to your goals. Even
workout veterans have plenty to gain from a session or two with a trainer.
A trainer can teach you the subtleties of using exercise equipment: how to
grip a barbell, how far to pull down a rope, and how to adjust a machine to fit
your body — stuff that’s tough to glean from a book or video. We know a
woman who hired a trainer just to teach her how to use the new technology
in her gym, like the computerized weight machines, the wireless TV/radio
headphones, and the fancy treadmill programs.
A good trainer can teach you all this and more. Unfortunately, the industry
has its share of quacks. This chapter explains how you can benefit from a
trainer and discusses how to find a qualified one.
Five Smart Reasons to Hire a Trainer
Trainers do a lot more than just whip wimpy actors into shape for their next
action movie, and they don’t all charge $200 an hour. (We tell you more about
how much you should expect to pay in the “Trainer fees” section later in this
chapter.) Consider hiring a trainer if you’re in any of the following situations:
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
You’re totally out of shape (or deconditioned, as the politically correct like to say). If climbing the ropes in high school gym class was the
last time you worked out, a personal trainer is a great way to bring you
into the modern age. A lot has changed over the years, from the equipment to the lingo to proper stretching and strength-training techniques.
A trainer can get you comfortable in your new environment and start
you on a program that’s appropriate for your fitness level, so your new
foray into fitness doesn’t end a week later with a trip to the orthopedist.
You don’t need to sign up for life; five to ten sessions can get you up and
You want to update your program. You can hire a trainer for a session
or two to reevaluate your workout regimen. If you’re feeling stagnant,
a new routine can give you a jump-start and ultimately improve your fitness level. (Of course, you actually have to work out for this to happen.)
You’re training for a specific goal. Say you want to run your first 10K
race, but you aren’t sure how long, how far, how often, or how hard to
train. A qualified trainer can design a workout program that’ll get you to
the finish line. Look for a trainer who specializes in the area you want
to work on, such as losing weight, building strength, or getting fit for ski
season. We know a trainer who works only with runners, designing their
running schedules and appropriate strength-training and stretching routines. Many of her clients are people who want to run their first marathon
without getting injured.
You’re coming back from an injury or illness. If you have a specific
condition such as lower back pain, or if you’ve just had surgery on your
knee, a trainer can help you get back on your feet. Check with your
doctor; she may want you to visit a physical therapist first. Still, more
and more physicians are giving the okay for trainers to participate in a
patient’s rehabilitation. Screen the trainer carefully, so you don’t make
matters worse. A growing number of trainers specialize in conditions
such as multiple sclerosis or breast cancer.
You need motivation. If you won’t exercise unless a trainer is standing
there counting your repetitions, consider the money well spent.
Weeding Out the Poseurs
Currently, few states have legal requirements for fitness trainers (and even
those laws have loopholes). At the same time, a behind-the-scenes scramble
is underway among the various professional organizations vying to be declared
the official certifying body. In the meantime, however, anyone who can hoist
a dumbbell and print a business card on a home computer can call himself a
personal trainer.
Chapter 4: Hiring a Trainer
Screen a potential trainer with the same care that you use to screen a potential employee. And don’t be afraid to try someone new if you don’t hit it off
with the first trainer. It’s your time, your money, and your health we’re talking
about. Our friend Daniel was thoroughly demoralized by his first trainer. “The
guy kept looking at himself in the mirror and then pulling up his shirt and
showing me his abs,” Daniel recalls. “Then he’d stick me on some machine
without showing me any technique and leave me there while he’d go talk to
some girl.” It took Daniel four years to muster the courage to hire another
trainer. “I should never have waited so long,” says Daniel, who’s now a confident lifter and a regular in the weight room.
The following sections tell you what to consider when investigating trainers.
As with many other occupations and professions, the fitness industry offers
certification tests. A certification is by no means a guarantee of competence,
but getting certified by quality organizations is a time-consuming, pain-inthe-butt process. You have to study for at least a few months and then spend
a full day taking a test. At the very least, going through this process shows
commitment: You know that the trainer isn’t just doing this job because it pays
better than her old job as a bike messenger. And by getting the certification,
trainers surely pick up enough to have a basic level of competence.
Still, some mighty unqualified people show up for these exams. While proctoring a recent certification test, Liz asked one candidate to demonstrate a
thigh stretch. He sat down on the floor and twisted one of his legs behind
him, then began scooting himself forward on the floor. When Liz asked why
he was doing that, the candidate explained that the maneuver shocks the
muscle into stretching. He admitted that the stretch was indeed as painful as
it looked, but said that was an unfortunate but necessary part of the exercise.
Although Liz was technically not allowed to offer candidates her opinion, she
felt compelled to tell the guy that he should never, ever, ever use that technique with a client.
High-quality certifying organizations weed out bozos like that. However, some
organizations certify any breathing body. These schools are sometimes advertised on late-night TV or in the back of fitness magazines (alongside the ads
for legitimate schools). You definitely don’t want a trainer who graduated
from the National Correspondence School of Diesel Mechanics, TV Repair,
and Personal Training. If you’re skeptical, ask to see a copy of the actual
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
The following are among the best organizations that certify trainers. Their
Web sites can refer you to certified trainers in your area. And make sure that
your trainer’s certification is current; most expire after a year or two unless
the trainer takes continuing education classes.
Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA): This organization
offers a variety of certifications, including Personal Trainer and Advanced
Personal Trainer. The Personal Trainer exam, which includes both a
practical and written portion (and many other tests are written-only),
covers a wide range of topics but require less knowledge than ACSM or
ACE certification tests. If the AFAA Personal Trainer is your trainer’s only
certification, your trainer may be a former aerobics instructor making the
switch to personal trainer without enough education or experience. Or,
the trainer may have taken the exam out of convenience, because it’s
offered in many rural areas where other exams aren’t available. See
the organization’s Web site at
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM): The ACSM offers several
certification levels and usually requires that the trainer possess a graduate degree in one of the exercise sciences. The certification we recommend is the Health/Fitness Instructor. The test is very tough, so many
trainers avoid it, but it’s the gold standard for personal trainers. Visit
American Council on Exercise (ACE): This organization certifies both
personal trainers and group trainers (such as aerobics instructors); we
prefer the certification geared toward personal trainers. The ACE Personal
Trainer certification is the most popular in the industry, and although
the test is easier than the ACSM Health/Fitness Instructor test, it’s still
plenty challenging. The certification is more practical than most, emphasizing the trainer’s ability to design appropriate programs for a wide variety of fitness levels and medical conditions. Visit
International Sport Science Association (ISSA): ISSA has ten different
certification programs, including Youth Fitness, Personal Fitness Trainer,
and Senior Fitness. Most of its programs are similar in the information
they contain, with sections devoted to the specific area of certification.
ISSA has more of a bodybuilding emphasis and focus from its founders,
educators, and information. Its certification process is actually more
stringent than many, requiring case studies and written papers as part
of the process, in addition to the written test. Although not quite at the
level of the other certifying organizations, ISSA has become much more
widely recognized. Check out
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM): This group, now affiliated with Reebok, offers a well-respected and practical Personal Trainer
certification. Trainers must attend a workshop and pass an exam; trainers need strong physiology, anatomy, and biomechanics backgrounds
Chapter 4: Hiring a Trainer
going into the workshop, which provides the education, solutions, and
tools needed by fitness professionals to systematically progress any
client through specific phases of training in order to reach any goal.
NASM trainers have a strong emphasis on understanding the in-depth
workings of the body as a functional unit. Check out
National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA): This organization offers two tough certifications: the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), geared toward training high-level athletes in
team sports, and the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), designed for trainers who work in gyms. All trainers must pass a three-part written exam
that includes a video analysis of exercises. Trainers certified by the NSCA
usually know a lot about strength training and conditioning; the NSCA
asks candidates to identify every muscle involved in a particular exercise
and requires them to know precisely what role each muscle is playing at
which point in the movement. Visit the NSCA Certification Commission
Specialty certifications: Some specialty fields, such as yoga (see
Chapter 16), Pilates (see Chapter 17), and kickboxing (discussed
in Chapter 19) do have certifications. Others, such as boxing, don’t.
Don’t expect a boxing instructor or a country-and-western line-dancing
teacher to be certified as a trainer. But if he does have a diploma from
one of the organizations we list, that’s a plus.
These organizations aren’t the only ones that offer certifications and certificates. Many colleges and universities offer their own extensive programs.
And while some health clubs put their employees through rigorous training
courses, trust courses from recognized organizations and universities above
all else.
University degrees
Most trainers don’t have degrees in physiology or related fields, so don’t hold
it against them. But a master’s degree (M.A. or M.S.) is usually even better than
a certification, and a fitness-related B.A. or B.S. can be a big plus. Look for
degrees in exercise physiology, exercise science, physical therapy, occupational therapy, fitness management, sports medicine, physical education, or
kinesiology. If the trainer has a fitness-related university degree but not an
industry certification, ask whether she keeps up with the latest techniques by
going to conferences and seminars. Opinions and facts change quickly in the
health and fitness field; if your trainer earned his Ph.D. in 1973 and hasn’t
attended a workshop since, he needs to join the modern world.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Many registered nurses and physical therapists are getting into the training
business. They tend to know a lot about how muscles work; what’s more,
they may be able to accept insurance reimbursement if a doctor recommends
training for treatment or rehab purposes.
Choose a trainer who has at least two years of experience at a club or on her
own. Be sure to check references. The best way to get the lowdown on a
trainer is from other clients. Also consider your own needs: If you’re looking
to have a detailed program designed, you have medical conditions or injuries
that require experience, or you have specific athletic goals you want to reach,
look for someone with many years of experience.
An in-home trainer should have a brochure or packet describing her background and experience as well as her focus and philosophy. (Trainers
employed by a single health club probably won’t have brochures, although
clubs may post information about their trainers’ qualifications.) The packet
also should clearly explain fees, payment schedules, and cancellation policies.
Printed materials show a degree of professionalism. Many trainers also have
their own Web sites. Clients can go on the Net and peruse the trainer’s bio,
photo, and sample workouts.
Liability insurance
Make sure your trainer has insurance to cover any mishaps that may occur.
Many trainers have you sign a release, but this doesn’t absolve them from
responsibility and from using safe and appropriate judgment, like asking you
to bench-press 250 pounds during your first workout.
Lawsuits against trainers are unusual but not unprecedented. The widower of
a health-club member who died of a stroke filed a $40 million suit against his
wife’s trainer for giving dangerous nutritional advice. (The club was also
named in the suit.) According to the suit, the trainer recommended ephedra,
an herbal supplement that has been linked to dozens of deaths and should
never be taken by people with high blood pressure. At the time, the woman
was taking prescription medicine for hypertension.
Chapter 4: Hiring a Trainer
An interview
To make sure that you’re compatible with your trainer, talk with him at length
and ask questions before hiring him. A trainer may look good on paper but
may not be able to speak in complete sentences. Or you may have a personality conflict — the trainer may have too much or too little enthusiasm for your
taste. Liz knows a woman who won’t work with a particular trainer because
the trainer laughs too loudly; she’s afraid he’ll draw too much attention to
her when she already feels self-conscious about working out.
Don’t judge your potential trainer by looks alone. Just because someone’s
a chiseled workout god doesn’t mean he knows which exercises are best for
you or even how to teach them to you. A great teacher can live in a less-thangodlike body.
A trial session
Before you commit to several sessions with a trainer, ask for a free or discounted trial workout. Also look for a money-back guarantee if you’re not
fully satisfied with your trainer or the session. Many trainers will comply in
the hopes of getting a long-term client. Most gyms that offer personal training
either offer a first session free or a discounted session before making you
commit to a package of sessions.
Trainer fees
Fees vary from region to region, and from big cities to small towns. In Des
Moines, you may pay $30 an hour; in New York, the going rate is between $85
and $105 per hour, and trainers charging as much as $120 per hour is not
uncommon. (Charges depend on experience and popularity; the more experienced and popular a client, the higher the fee.) Ask friends or call gyms to get
a sense of rates in your area, so you know if a trainer’s fees are way out of the
On the off chance that someone is charging too little, watch out. Your so-called
trainer may just be a pizza-delivery guy who happens to work out in his spare
time and thinks he can make extra cash on the side.
If you belong to a health club, you’ll probably save money by hiring a trainer
through the club. Good gyms thoroughly screen their trainers and keep an
eye on them. However, follow the rules we list in the preceding section for
weeding out bad trainers: Don’t assume that the club hires trainers who are
certified and experienced.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
You also can cut costs by signing up for joint sessions with a friend. The
trainer may charge slightly more than the regular hourly fee, but split two
ways, your session is still a deal. You won’t get quite as much attention from
the trainer, but teaming up with a friend may make a session affordable. Try
to choose a friend who’s at the same fitness level as you or who has similar
fitness goals. If you’re training for a marathon and your friend is a linebacker
getting ready for football season, the trainer is going to have a tough time
serving both your needs at once.
Another way to save money is to do a half-hour of cardio exercise on your
own (see Part III of this book) with a program designed but not supervised by
your trainer, and then hook up with the trainer for a half-hour of weight training. This is a service primarily offered by gym trainers, as opposed to trainers
who come to your home.
If you’re not big on human contact, if you want
to save money, or if you just can’t get enough of
technology, you may be interested in hiring an
Internet trainer. We can’t really call these “personal” trainers, because you never actually
come face-to-face with a person, but many of
these Web sites offer more individualized
advice than you can get from a book or a video
(or a lousy human trainer). But watch out: Some
of these sites are a rip-off.
Most programs start by asking you questions
about your health, your goals, and your current
workouts. The better ones also ask you to perform some basic at-home fitness tests, similar
to those we describe in Chapter 2, and then
enter the results online. The really bad ones ask
you for little more than your credit-card number.
After you plug in all this info, your cybertrainer
sends you a workout routine with suggested
exercises, sets, and repetitions. Usually, you
can download videos demonstrating how to
perform each recommended exercise. Or, you
can go to an exercise database, click on any
number of exercises for a particular muscle
group, and watch a demonstration. You can
print out the routine and take it with you to the
gym, or tack it up on the wall at home. If you
plug in your workouts, you get feedback —
allegedly from an actual human being — on
how you’re progressing. For example, the
trainer may suggest that you increase your
weight or try a new shoulder exercise.
The Internet training program Web sites we like
and, offer workouts designed by trainers who seem to know
what they’re doing. Physical Genius lets you
download programs into a handheld device that
you can carry to the gym. You have to pay a
couple hundred dollars for the device, which
you order through the site.
Expect to pay up to $500 for four months of
cybertraining. Watch out for programs that
charge $100 a session and those with exercise
descriptions written in jargonese. Pay attention
to the credentials of the trainers who are supposed to have designed the routines.
To find an Internet trainer other than the two we
list, enter “online personal trainer,” “workout
programs,” or “weight-training programs” into
Google or some other search engine.
Chapter 4: Hiring a Trainer
Finally, ask whether your trainer charges by the hour or by the session.
Typically, sessions last 45 to 90 minutes, including discussion and consultation
time (not just workout time). If you’re paying by the hour and your session
runs over, you may wind up paying a lot more than you expected.
Knowing a Quality Trainer
When You See One
Trainers have different philosophies and use a variety of techniques. Some
come from the drill-sergeant school of motivation; others prefer the cheerleading approach. Still, there are some characteristics that all trainers should
share. Choose a trainer who:
Evaluates your fitness and goals: Before anything else, your trainer
should assess your current physical condition. (See Chapter 2 to find out
what’s included in a fitness evaluation.) Then your trainer should have a
long talk with you about your expectations for the training sessions —
your hopes, your dreams, and your specific goals. All this information is
crucial: To really be of help to you, a trainer must know where you’re
starting from and where you want to go.
Gives you a balanced program: Unless you specifically request otherwise, your sessions should include three components: cardiovascular
exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises. Some trainers prefer
that you do the cardiovascular portion on your own, but if you ask, your
trainer should help you design a program and keep tabs on your workout and intensity. Heads up: Many trainers also skip the stretching and
cool-down portions of a workout.
Watches you closely: Your trainer should pay attention to your form
and give you pointers throughout the session. On the other hand, you
don’t want a trainer who blabs incessantly. Your trainer also should spot
you — in other words, stand poised to grab the weight and give you
some help if your muscles give out.
Reassesses your goals and measures your progress: A good trainer
retests you after the first six weeks of training and, if you’ve been working out consistently, every two to three months thereafter. A trainer who
is really on the ball also reassesses your goals every few weeks to keep
you motivated.
Listens to you: If you mention that an exercise doesn’t feel right, your
trainer should figure out why and show you an alternative move for the
same body part. There’s no single exercise you absolutely must do. If
you tell him you’re feeling stagnant, overtrained, or underchallenged, he
should alter your program.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Teaches you to be independent: Ironically, good trainers train themselves out of a job by teaching you how to do everything on your own.
After a few months, you should be able to set the correct amount of
weight, adjust the machines, use proper form, and modify your routine
as needed. Of course, if you’d never exercise by yourself, you’re welcome to hire your trainer for life; she’ll be glad to accommodate you.
Regardless, you should know how to do everything on your own. This
way, if you’re out of town on business or vacation, you can keep up your
workouts at a hotel or local gym. And if, heaven forbid, your trainer goes
on vacation, you won’t have an excuse to stop working out.
Speaks English, not jargon: Some trainers say things like, “Your patella
edema is a limiting factor in increasing your volume of oxygen uptake.”
Translation: “You can’t run faster because you have bad knees.” If you
can’t understand what your trainer is saying, find someone new. You
shouldn’t expend extra energy just trying to figure out what the heck
you’re being asked to do. Trainers with jargonitis tend to be really insecure. Occasionally, however, a small dose of fitness verbiage is good for
you; a trainer may be trying to teach you something that you actually
should know, like where your triceps are. (By the way, if you don’t know
where your triceps are, read Chapter 12.)
Getting the Most out of Your
First Training Session
Even with the guidance of a trainer, your first session may be a little awkward.
One friend of ours says she just had to swallow her pride while trying out the
weight machines for the first time. “Here was this cute, young trainer helping
me climb onto the hamstring machine,” she remembers. “I felt like a 40-yearold woman trying to get on a horse for the first time. I’m lying on the bench
with my butt in the air, and the trainer’s saying, ‘Keep your butt down.’ And
I’m saying, ‘That’s as far down as it goes. It’s just big.’”
Having a good sense of humor can get you through a first workout session
without any ego damage. So what if you sit backward on the shoulder machine?
So what if you sink to the floor when you hop onto the stair-climber? Your
trainer may as well earn his money showing you the right way to use the
Here are some tips to help ease your anxiety and make your first session
a productive one:
Schedule the session at a time when the gym isn’t busy (any time
other than weekday mornings or evenings). This way, you won’t have
12 other members clamoring to use the arm-curl machine while the
trainer teaches you to adjust the seat.
Chapter 4: Hiring a Trainer
Take notes and draw pictures. During the session, your trainer should
fill out a card listing each exercise in your program, how much weight to
lift, and how many sets and reps to do. But if you supplement this information with your own notes, you may find it easier to remember what
to do when you work out alone. For example, if your trainer writes “lat
pull-down,” you can add, “pull bar down to chest; strengthens back
muscles; adjust seat to second notch.” You may even want to sketch
some of the machines so that when you work out by yourself, you won’t
spend ten minutes searching for the right contraption. Some facilities
number the machines to make them easier to remember and identify, too.
Your trainer simply notes the machine number and the seat height.
Ask lots of questions. Don’t be too intimidated to ask the trainer why he
picked a particular chest exercise or for a reminder of where your delts
are. No question is too stupid (unless you’re asking what time the 3 p.m.
boxing class starts).
Don’t expect to absorb everything your trainer tells you on the first
day. Every time you work out, you’ll pick up more information, such as
how to adjust each machine and how to stretch each muscle group. You
can make things easier on yourself by scheduling a second training
appointment to reinforce what you learned on the first go-around. Some
gyms charge for a second appointment; some don’t. If you bring up the
issue when you join the gym, some clubs may throw in a few extra training sessions.
Don’t try to impress the trainer by lifting too much. The trainer doesn’t
expect you to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. One friend of ours lost any
such illusions during his first session with a trainer. “I sat down on this
machine and pulled the handles back, and the trainer said, ‘Do you feel
that?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it’s really pulling on my muscles.’ Then the trainer
said, ‘Oops, I forgot to put the weight on.’” When stuff like that happens,
just laugh and realize that it doesn’t take much time to get stronger.
Being the Best Client You Can Be
You have the right to demand a lot from your trainer, but your trainer can
also expect a certain level of courtesy, attention, and effort from you. Keep in
mind the following rules of client etiquette. Some of these tips apply just to
home trainers; others apply to trainers at a gym.
Don’t show up at the door in your pajamas. Your trainer shouldn’t
have to serve as your alarm clock or wait a half-hour for you to get your
act together. Like you, the trainer has a schedule, and time is money. If
you’re late getting started, the trainer has every right to cut your session short or charge you extra.
Part I: Getting Your Butt off the Couch
Don’t answer your doorbell, phone, fax, pager, or e-mail. This just
wastes the trainer’s time and distracts you from your workout. Also, if
you have kids, make sure that someone is watching them. Your trainer
won’t be happy if your 5-year-old runs into the room screaming,
“Mommy! Mommy! My Scene Barbie is sick!”
Don’t whine. Get yourself in a positive frame of mind before your
training sessions.
Liz used to train a woman who wanted to tone her legs but who hated to
do leg exercises. While working out, she used to curse at Liz very loudly,
to the point where people would turn around and stare. The management
eventually asked Liz and her client to go elsewhere, but Liz refused to
work with the client any longer.
Schedule in advance. You’ll have a very happy trainer if you schedule a
month in advance. (Just make sure that it’s a schedule you can stick to.)
At the very least, don’t call in the morning and expect a session that
If canceling or rescheduling, give your trainer as much time as possible.
Many trainers have a 24-hour cancellation policy, which requires you to
cancel or reschedule your session with at least 24 hours’ notice. This
allows your trainer time to adjust his schedule and possibly fit someone
else into that spot. It also helps keep a positive rapport with your trainer.
Speak up. Just because you’ve hired a trainer doesn’t mean you’ve lost
the power of speech. If something doesn’t feel right, say so. Your trainer
isn’t a mind reader.
One woman we know severely pulled her inner-thigh muscles because a
trainer went overboard on a stretch. Afterward, she said she felt pain for
nearly a minute before she heard a loud pop. Why didn’t she say anything? Because she didn’t want to question the trainer. Granted, the
trainer should have paid better attention, but he couldn’t have been
expected to know how the woman felt.
Keep the relationship professional. Your trainer isn’t your therapist.
Inevitably, you’ll get into personal stuff; after all, this is your personal
trainer. But don’t take your bad day out on your trainer, and don’t
expect your trainer to fix your life. And never make a pass at your
trainer, just as he or she shouldn’t be making a pass at you or making
inappropriate comments.
Part II
Enjoying Total-Body
Health: Eating
Well and Staying
In this part . . .
e tell you how to enjoy whole-body health, from
injury prevention to stretching to eating well.
Chapter 5 helps you prevent and treat common exercise
injuries — and discover the difference between a sprain
and a strain.
We also introduce you to the most neglected — and, perhaps most important — component of fitness: flexibility.
In Chapter 6, we make a darn good case for taking ten minutes out of each day to stretch. We also give you a rundown
of the various stretching philosophies, cover the basic
rules of stretching, and present a head-to-toe stretching
workout that doesn’t require the flexibility of a Cirque du
Soleil troupe member.
Chapter 7 fills you in on nutrition basics: You get the skinny
on low-carb diets, low-fat eating, food pyramids, vitamin
supplements, and phytochemicals (an important group of
substances with long and unpronounceable names).
Chapter 5
This Doesn’t Have to Happen to
You: Avoiding Common Injuries
In This Chapter
Differentiating between good pain and bad pain
Recognizing and treating exercise injuries
ometimes, exercise hurts. If you never lift anything heavier than a tube of
Pringles potato chips and then start lifting dumbbells, naturally you’re
going to feel some soreness. That type of pain is nothing to worry about. But,
if you wake up the morning after a weight-lifting session and feel like your left
arm has been shredded by a meat grinder, that’s a different story. This chapter tells you how to differentiate the two, how to take care of an injury, and
how to prevent injuries in the first place.
Taking Care of Common Injuries
Normal pain is achy, dull, and very general. Usually, you feel it throughout
an entire muscle or over a large area of your body. Bad pain — the type that
signals injury — tends to be sharp and specific. It usually hurts when you
do certain movements, like bending your knee or lifting your arm overhead.
It’s important to recognize this type of pain and act accordingly. Not long
ago, Suzanne ignored the shoulder pain that flared up after she performed
certain chest exercises. Eventually, the pain got so bad — and her tendon so
inflamed — that she couldn’t lift a pitcher of water without wincing. Suzanne
was forced to take off three entire months from upper-body weight training,
which made her grouchy and a real annoyance to her friends and kept her
from improving her fitness level.
You can avoid a scenario like that if you follow the advice in this chapter,
which covers injuries common to people who exercise. We tell you how to
recognize and treat them — and how to prevent them from happening in the
first place.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Strains and sprains
First, we should clear up some terminology. One of your coworkers may
hobble into the office announcing he has “strained” a muscle — or maybe he
says he has “pulled” a muscle. These terms are interchangeable, but they’re
not synonymous with “sprain.”
When you strain a muscle (commonly called a pulled muscle), you over-stretch
or tear the tendon (the tough, cord-like end of the muscle that attaches to the
bone). Strains happen when you push yourself harder than normal, like when
you challenge your kid brother to a 100-yard dash. A sprain refers to a torn or
overstretched ligament (the connective tissue that joins two bones together).
You can sprain a joint — like when you turn your ankle while stepping off a
curb — but you can’t sprain a muscle.
Two of the most commonly strained muscles are the hamstrings (rear thigh
muscles) and groin (inner-thigh) muscles. (See Chapter 12 for pictures of and
more information about these muscles.) These muscles often pull because
they’re tight and because most people don’t take five minutes to warm up
(that is, to ease into a workout by starting slowly and gradually increasing
the tempo — see Chapter 8) before working out. You know you’ve strained
your hamstring if a sharp pain shoots up the back of your thigh when you
straighten your leg. You have a groin pull if a stabbing pain prevents you from
lifting your leg in toward your other leg or out to the side. In both cases, you
may feel a lump or a knot where the muscle has tightened up. Stop the
offending activity for a few days until the muscle repairs itself. Otherwise,
you may be headed for a full-blown tear, in which case you could be sidelined
for several months instead of being laid up for a few days. Light stretching
may be beneficial (see Chapter 6).
To speed up the healing process for a strain, apply ice to the injured area for
the first 24 to 48 hours. (See the “RICE, RICE Baby” section in this chapter
for icing tips.) Gentle — emphasis on gentle — massage may help work out
muscle kinks. To prevent future pulls, carefully stretch your muscles every
day, always after a thorough warm-up, and increase your exercise program
on a gradual basis. Check your shoes, too. Athletic shoes with flared heels —
heels that are wider on the bottom than on the top — may restrain your foot
and ankle from normal movement. That, in turn, may cause your thigh muscles to tighten up. Shoes that are too big cause the same type of problem.
Sprains occur most commonly at the ankle. If you sprain your ankle badly,
you may hear a loud pop or tearing sound when the injury happens. Usually
you’re left with a bruise and swelling, and you can’t place any of your weight
on the injured foot without pain. The treatment for a sprain is to keep your
shoe on for as long as possible (this keeps the ankle from swelling), and then
following the RICE formula (see the “RICE, RICE, Baby” section later in this
Chapter 5: This Doesn’t Have to Happen to You: Avoiding Common Injuries
Shin splints
Shin splints is a catch-all term for shin pain, usually caused by a slight separation between the shin muscle and the bone. You can develop shin splints
from doing more exercise than your body is ready to handle or simply from
introducing a new aspect to your training, such as wearing a new pair of shoes,
running downhill, or running on the beach when you normally run on asphalt.
To cure shin splints, back off for a few days. When you’re free of pain, start
back up gradually. Don’t increase your exercise time or distance by more
than 10 percent a week (see Chapter 10). Ice helps by reducing inflammation
and by dulling the pain. For shin splints, we recommend the ice massage
method described in the “RICE, RICE, Baby” section. Also, gently but deeply
massaging the area several times a day can help.
To prevent shin splints, strengthen your shin muscles so that they work more
in harmony with your calves, the muscles that operate in opposition to them.
Here’s one simple exercise: Stand on the floor or with your heels on the edge
of a stair, with your weight distributed evenly over the entire length of your
foot, and lift and lower your toes and the balls of your feet 20 to 30 times, as
shown in Chapter 14. Ask a trainer to show you some other shin exercises.
Stretching the calf muscles (see Chapter 6) also helps prevent injury to the
shin and ankle.
Also, be sure to replace your athletic shoes often so your shins don’t take a
pounding from lack of cushioning. We know one guy who solved his chronic
shin splint problem overnight by buying a pair of shoes with a slightly wider
heel. This seemed to suit his running style; a podiatrist or sports-medicine
specialist (or even a well-informed running store associate) can help you find
the solution that suits your style. If all else fails, your podiatrist may make
a special pair of inserts, called orthotics, to properly position your feet in
your shoes.
Achilles tendonitis
Achilles was the mighty Greek warrior whose mother had dipped him into
the waters of the River Styx to make him invulnerable. The problem was, she
missed a spot: the point on the back of his heel where she held him. This area,
where the Achilles tendon connects to the heel, is a weak spot for just about
anyone who happens to stand or move in an upright position, especially runners, walkers, in-line skaters, cyclists, and tennis players. When the Achilles
tendon becomes swollen, sore, or inflamed, you have Achilles tendonitis.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
The most common culprit is a calf muscle that’s too short and tight. A regular
stretching program that focuses on your foot, calf, and hamstring muscles
(see Chapter 6) goes a long way toward preventing the problem. Your old
friend ice also can reduce swelling and relieve pain (see the “RICE, RICE
Baby” section for details). If you wear high heels, wean yourself from them
and switch to flats; heels can contribute to Achilles tendonitis by keeping
your calves in a contracted (shortened) position for hours on end.
For chronic Achilles inflammation, the remedy that works best is something
many die-hard exercisers don’t want to hear: Stop exercising. Give your
Achilles tendon a few days off to rest and repair. Ice the spot, but don’t do
any stretching or strengthening exercises that put pressure on your heel.
(You can swim, but only if you feel no pain.) If your Achilles problem persists,
see an orthopedist or a podiatrist. You may need more-aggressive remedies.
Knee pain
On the surface, the knee seems to be a wonderfully uncomplicated mechanism with a pretty simple job description: to bend and straighten your leg. In
reality, knee function is controlled by more muscles, tendons, ligaments, and
cartilage than any other joint in your body. That’s one reason why it’s often
the first joint to break down. The other is that the knees are involved in virtually every sport or activity, making it the most common joint to suffer injury.
Knee pain comes in more varieties than Baskin-Robbins ice cream. It can
be caused by a tear in a ligament, a tendon, a muscle, or a piece of cartilage,
the cushioning that prevents two bones from rubbing against each other. (See
Chapter 12 for additional definitions of these high-tech terms.) We can’t diagnose your specific ailment, but we can tell you this: Knee pain is often the
result of doing the same movement over and over again. Typically, you can’t
trace it to a specific incident; it’s more likely the result of one bike-a-thon or
skate-a-thon too many. It’s also affected or caused by a lack of stability and
strength in the hips.
Cross training is a good way to avoid knee pain. By varying your exercise
activities — running one day, cycling the next — you use different muscles,
or at least you use the same muscles in different ways. You can still injure
your knees with a cross-training regimen, so be careful not to overdo it. If you
do feel knee pain coming on, cut back on your exercise routine or switch to
an activity that doesn’t aggravate the situation. Or, better yet, contact a qualified personal trainer to ensure that your form and technique are correct —
improper technique is often the cause of joint problems. Some people with
knee problems from running can bicycle with no pain whatsoever, and vice
versa. Ice is always a good choice, too. But don’t mess around here. If pain
persists, recurs frequently, or is caused by a single incident, get thee to a
doctor ASAP.
Chapter 5: This Doesn’t Have to Happen to You: Avoiding Common Injuries
Stress fractures
The first large group of modern-day athletes to experience stress fractures
were soldiers in World War II. The Army took out-of-shape civilians, placed
heavy packs on their backs, and sent them off to march for miles in heavy
combat boots. Soon the rookies complained about foot pain, but because
nothing showed up on X-rays, doctors assumed they were faking it. Often, a
second X-ray was taken several weeks later, revealing a fuzziness along the
bone. Bone callus (a build-up of bone material) was forming; the healing
process had started. Today, long-distance runners, hikers, backpackers,
and in-line skaters are the most common sufferers of stress fractures.
Stress fractures are typically not one but a series of micro-fractures or hairline
breaks that run along the bone. Typically, you don’t have a telltale snap or
pop that occurs in other breaks. More often, you wake up one day with pain
radiating down the top of one or two of your toes to the center of your foot
or along your shinbone. You may feel pain when you walk. You may even
notice redness or swelling on top of your foot. When you press your finger
on that spot, you feel a stabbing pain that immediately grabs your attention.
The front of the shin is also a likely place for a fracture accompanied by the
trademark pinpoint of pain.
Don’t try to treat this kind of pain yourself. It definitely warrants a visit to your
orthopedist or podiatrist, who will X-ray your foot to make sure that your
injury is a stress fracture. The doctor will probably prescribe anti-inflammatory
medication, ice, and elevation, and implore you to stay off your feet. In extreme
cases, he may even put you in a soft or hard cast.
If you think you have a stress fracture, stop exercising immediately. We can’t
tell you how many times marathoners in agonizing foot pain at mile nine go
on to finish the race anyway. When you continue to run on a stress fracture,
you transform a minor injury into one that can take months to heal.
Lower-back pain
Nearly 80 percent of people utter the words “Oh, my aching back,” at some
point in their adult lives. You may be referring to a nagging stiffness that
makes tying your shoes a difficult proposition, or you may be referring to
chronic, debilitating pain that keeps you curled up in bed for weeks at a time.
Although regular workouts (especially abdominal and back exercises) can do
a lot to help prevent back pain, fitness activities can also cause back problems,
particularly if you do a lot of pounding or use improper form when you run or
cycle. You also can wrench your back by failing to bend your legs when you
lift a weight off the rack.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Of course, you also can throw out your back by doing completely nonathletic
activities, such as improperly lifting a child or a bag of groceries. Always use
proper form (lifting and bending with your legs, not your back), when lifting
and carrying anything.
In many instances of back pain, the worst thing you can do is just stay in bed.
This weakens the very muscles that need to be loosened up and strengthened (and lack of activity may have led to the back pain in the first place).
Another time-honored treatment, the heating pad, makes many back conditions worse by further inflaming the nerves.
So what helps back pain heal? Time, for one thing. Many cases of back pain
disappear within four weeks without any treatment at all. If that doesn’t
work, you can see a variety of professionals. Most experts believe that the
majority of back pain is muscular in nature and can be treated successfully
with nonsurgical procedures, such as exercise, massage, physical therapy,
and chiropractic. (To find a good chiropractor, get a recommendation from
a friend, or better yet, from a medical doctor.) Swimming, walking, and yoga
seem to be the best activities for limbering up tight back muscles. Back and
abdominal strengthening exercises supervised by a physical therapist or
trainer experienced in dealing with back pain can give you long-term immunity
from further recurrence of back pain. For helpful back stretches, see Chapter 6.
For an episode you’re having right now, ice and gentle movement are probably
your best bet for relief. Some experts recommend seeing a physiatrist, a medical doctor who rehabilitates the disabled. Physiatrists are more likely to prescribe exercise than medication or surgery. If you experience severe back
pain that prevents you from going about your normal activities, see your
physician first to rule out any underlying medical causes, such as kidney
infections or intestinal disorders.
Don’t ignore the symptoms, like Liz’s husband, Jay, once did. One night Jay
woke up in the middle of the night to get some ice but got so dizzy from his
back pain that he fainted. When he hit the floor, Liz woke up and found him
lying in the hallway, blood dripping from his mouth. Liz thought he had been
shot. For the next two days, Jay was confined to bed because he couldn’t
walk. His cut lip didn’t feel too good, either.
Tennis elbow
You don’t need to be a tennis player to experience a tenderness on the bony
bump on the outside of your elbow or an aching sensation whenever you
straighten your arm or pick up an object. In fact, tennis elbow (inflammation
of the tendons in your elbow) can be caused by carrying a gym bag or briefcase with a straight arm or by lifting weights or any heavy object with
improper form.
Chapter 5: This Doesn’t Have to Happen to You: Avoiding Common Injuries
When you lift weights or use a stair-climber, take care not to lock your
elbows. This is a very common mistake, and the people who do it often fail
to make the connection between their elbow pain and their sloppy form.
If you feel pain in your elbow, stop the offending activity. Ice can help, and
you can buy a brace or slip-on wrap at the drugstore to help support your
elbow. Your doctor may even suggest that you wear the brace while you
sleep, to keep up continuous compression on your elbow joint. To help prevent future episodes of tennis elbow, strengthen your wrists (forearms) and
your triceps, the muscles at the back of your arm (see Chapter 12 for more
information on tricep muscles; see Chapter 14 for a tricep-building exercise).
Strong wrists are particularly important because most elbow pain is caused
by swollen tendons that originate in the wrists and end in the elbow (see
Chapter 14).
To prevent tennis elbow, lift objects with your palm facing your body. Also
try doing strengthening exercises with hand weights: With your elbow cocked
and your palm down, repeatedly bend your wrist, stopping if you feel any
pain. Stretch the muscles in and around the elbow before beginning a potentially stressful activity by grasping the top part of your fingers and gently
but firmly pulling them back toward your body, while keeping your arm fully
extended and your palm facing outward.
Neck pain
You may not realize how useful your neck is until you can’t move it, like when
the guy standing next to you asks a question, and answering him requires a
three-quarter turn of your body.
Just about anything can cause neck pain — you may sleep on your neck in
a funny way or spend too much time cradling the phone on your shoulder.
But neck pain is often caused by fitness activities. We’re talking about poor
weight-lifting technique, such as turning your head to the side while doing a
shoulder press, and poor upper-body exercise posture, such as letting your
head droop forward when you walk. If you experience neck pain after a traumatic incident, such as getting beaned on the head with a soccer ball, check
with your doctor immediately. Also consult a physician if you have constant
or recurring neck pain.
Neck pain of the non-traumatic kind usually signals tightness in the muscles
of your neck, upper back, and/or shoulders. When you press a finger into the
area between your shoulder and your neck and there’s very little give or
springiness, you have tight neck muscles. One remedy: Gently stretch your
neck muscles; if you feel tightness on the right side of your neck, tip your
head toward your left shoulder and stretch your right arm downward. See
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Chapter 6 for details. Gentle massage is also useful for freeing up knotty neck
muscles. You can give yourself a massage, but somehow that isn’t as satisfying as enlisting a friend, significant other, or professional therapist.
Ice, usually an injury-friendly treatment, isn’t always the best choice for neck
pain. If you’re stiff to begin with, applying ice may cause you to tense up even
more. If your trouble is a stiff neck, moist heat in the form of a warm washcloth, shower massage, or whirlpool may be the way to go.
Rotator-cuff injuries
What’s the capital of Belgium? If you can’t raise your hand to answer that
question, you may have a rotator-cuff tear. Throwing, catching, and lifting
your arm to the side may also be painful. (By the way, the answer is Brussels.)
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that surround and protect your
shoulder joint (see Chapter 12 for details about the muscles in your body, if
you’re interested). They’re particularly delicate and susceptible to injury.
They can tear if your arm is violently pulled or twisted or if you fall with your
arm outstretched. But the most likely scenario is damage from repetitive
movements such as throwing, catching, swimming, and lifting weights that
are too heavy. Which movements cause pain depends on which rotator-cuff
muscle you damage and how badly you injure it. Rotator-cuff tears are often
the reason for the early retirement of baseball players and weekend softball
players alike.
These injuries usually are treated with ice and compression (see the “RICE,
RICE Baby” section later in this chapter), plus strength-training exercises using
very light weights. Ease up on hard-core weight-training exercises, particularly
heavy bench pressing, both on a flat and an incline bench, and ask a trainer
to check your form. Reeducate yourself on throwing, catching, or swim
stroke technique — make sure to involve your entire body rather than just
your arm and shoulder. In some cases, the rotator cuff is too far gone to
strengthen through exercise, and the damaged muscle needs surgical repair
or, at the very least, physical therapy.
Your legs feel great, and you’ve barely broken a sweat, yet you can’t continue
your bike ride because your butt is rubbed raw. You have what’s essentially a
case of adult diaper rash, an irritation that can crop up anywhere your clothing touches your skin and is known as chafing. It’s particularly common in hot
Chapter 5: This Doesn’t Have to Happen to You: Avoiding Common Injuries
weather, when heavy sweating contributes to the problem. Every sport has
special hot spots to look out for. The bra line, underarms, and sock line are
the most common among runners. But you can also get chafed if your tights,
shorts, or shirt rub against your skin as you move. Only streakers are immune.
You can also develop a similar condition, blisters (a small buildup of water or
blood under your skin), when your feet rub against the seams in your shoes,
slide around in too-loose shoes, or feel friction against too-tight or bunchedup socks. Small, deep blisters and large blisters are not only painful — they
can keep you off your feet and knock you off your training routine for days at
a time.
To prevent chafing, experiment with fabrics and cuts of clothing that don’t
irritate your skin. Softer fabrics that include at least some cotton tend to be
the kindest to your skin, but it’s a matter of personal preference. To prevent
chafing or blisters, before your workout, try greasing up your hot spots with
Vaseline or with a product like Sportslick or BodyGlide, all-purpose skin lubricants that lasts longer than Vaseline and won’t come off until you wash with
soap and water. (Check with your local running or walking store; some allpurpose sporting-goods stores also carry these products.) Long-distance
cyclists also slather their butts with udder balm, an ointment made for cows
but helpful for reducing chafing in humans. It feels kind of icky, but it usually
does the trick.
We know one runner who used to get a severe case of irritation on his nipples.
He solved this with the strategic placement of Band-Aids. Not very macho,
but then, neither were the two spots of blood leaking through his shirt.
If your doctor or trainer prescribes RICE for an injury, he isn’t suggesting
some New Age nutritional treatment. He’s referring to the common way to
treat sports injuries: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Usually, this
treatment is all you need to get back on your feet, particularly if you RICE
diligently for the first 48 hours after an injury.
Stop doing activities that aggravate your injury. (If you sprain your ankle,
don’t try to “walk it off.”) Rest can often mean the difference between an
injury that heals right away and one that nags you for months. But don’t use
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
your injury as an excuse to quit exercising altogether. Simply choose an activity that doesn’t hurt. If you pull a hamstring, you don’t have to stop upperbody weight training. Swimming is also often a great activity when injured,
unless, of course, your injury is swimming-related.
Ice reduces swelling and deadens pain by constricting blood flow into the
injured area. Ice for 15 to 20 minutes three or four times a day for as long
as you feel pain. Contrary to popular belief, ice is not useless after the first
day. You can apply ice with a pack, a plastic bag full of cubes, or a package of
frozen corn. Just don’t allow the ice to rest directly on your skin; otherwise,
you’re inviting a whole new list of problems, such as ice burns. Instead, put a
thin, damp washcloth between your skin and the ice.
One of our favorite icing techniques is ice massage. Fill a paper cup 3⁄4 full of
water and stick it in the freezer. When the water freezes, peel the cup down
so you have what resembles an ice cream cone of ice. Use this to massage the
injured area in a circular motion for as long as you can take it, usually four or
five minutes. Ice massage penetrates deeper into your muscles than passively
throwing an ice pack over the injured area. Be sure to keep the ice moving.
Put pressure on the injured area to keep the swelling down. Wrap a damp
ACE Brand bandage around the injury, or buy a special knee, elbow, or wrist
wrap or brace. Wrap tightly enough so that you feel some tension but not so
firmly that you cut off your circulation or feel numbness.
Elevating your injured body part reduces swelling by allowing fluids and
waste products to drain from the area, much like water runs downstream.
(Waste products are the bits of broken blood cells and other inflammatory
agents hanging around the injury.) If your ankle is injured, you don’t need
to raise it so high that it’s perpendicular to the ground. Propping it up on a
couple of fluffy pillows will do. Elevation works best when used in conjunction with the rest of the RICE treatment.
Chapter 6
The Scoop on Stretching
In This Chapter
Understanding the benefits of stretching
Knowing when to stretch
Going through a stretching routine
Investigating alternatives to traditional stretching
f you’re like most people, stretching ranks right up there with flossing and
oven cleaning on your list of least-favorite activities. Many of the most
dedicated athletes we know hate to stretch. And prominent stretching
researchers have admitted to us that they have trouble getting motivated to
stretch — despite the fact that their own studies demonstrate the importance
of flexibility training. The designer of a popular stretching device even admitted to Liz that he usually skips the stretching part of his workout. “Because
stretching doesn’t help you lose weight or make your muscles bigger, it’s the
first thing to go when you’re short on time,” he said.
True, stretching won’t burn many calories or sculpt you a physique like Brad
Pitt’s, but a few minutes of daily stretching is a very wise investment. So, in
this chapter, we explain what stretching can do for you, give you the lowdown
on several different stretching methods — including the very-hot method
called Active Isolated stretching — and show you some basic stretches that
you can use right away.
Why You Need to Stretch
Stretching is the key to maintaining your flexibility — in other words, how far
and how easily you can move your joints. As you get older, your tendons (the
tissues that connect muscle to bone) begin to shorten and tighten, restricting
your flexibility. Your movement becomes slower and less fluid. You don’t stand
up as straight. You walk more stiffly and with a shorter stride. You find it more
difficult to step up to a curb or bend down to pick up the trash. Stretching
your rear thigh, hip, and calf muscles can make a big difference.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Flexibility is one of the keys to good posture. When your front neck muscles
are short and tight, your head angles forward. When your shoulders and chest
are tight, your shoulders round inward. When your lower back, rear thigh,
and hip muscles are tight, the curve of your back becomes exaggerated. A
regular stretching routine also can reduce pain and discomfort, particularly
in your lower back. In fact, the pain often disappears when you begin doing
simple stretches for your lower-back and rear-thigh muscles.
What’s more, flexibility exercises can correct muscle imbalances. Say that
your front-thigh muscles are strong, but your rear thighs are tight and weak.
(This is a common scenario.) As a result, you end up relying on your front
thighs more than you should. Chances are, you won’t even notice this, but it
will throw off your movement in subtle ways — you may have a short walking
stride or bounce too high off the ground. Muscle imbalances can eventually
lead to injuries such as pulled muscles. They also contribute to clumsiness,
which in itself can lead to injury. Finally, if you’re any kind of a jock — even a
bowler or a Saturday-afternoon softball player — stretching may help you
perform better. The ability to move freely in a wide variety of directions
makes you a better athlete.
Before, After, During? Knowing
When to Stretch
Contrary to popular opinion, stretching is not the first thing you should do
when you walk into the gym or arrive at the park for a jog. Don’t stretch your
muscles until you’ve at least warmed up thoroughly (see Chapter 8 for warmup basics); we think stretching at the end of your workout, after you’ve finished
your workout but before you shower, is even better. A post-workout stretch is
a great way to relax and ease back into the rest of your day and has been
shown to reduce injuries.
Can stretching prevent injury?
A recent study showing no link between
stretching and injury rates has bolstered nonstretchers’ self-confidence. Don’t be too surprised if, while stretching at your gym, someone
lectures you on how you’re wasting your time.
But before you throw stretching out the window
altogether, consider that what this study
showed was that warming up with stretching does not reduce injuries. As we clearly
recommend in this chapter, you don’t want to
stretch before you work out, but after. (Although
you want to ease into any workout by doing a
full warm-up — see Chapter 8.) Research actually shows that, although runners who stretch
before they work out have higher injury rates
compared to runners who don’t stretch at all,
those who stretch after workouts have lower
rates of injury.
Chapter 6: The Scoop on Stretching
Don’t stretch before you cool down (see Chapter 8 for more on cooldowns).
Putting your head below your heart right after a workout can cause fainting
and nausea. Wait until your heart rate dips below 100 or you aren’t feeling
breathless before you lie down to stretch.
Following a Few Rules of Stretching
Watch runners at the park or weight lifters at the gym. Chances are, they
have the wrong idea about stretching. Maybe they’ll grab their heel for a split
second to stretch their front thigh, or bend over for a moment to touch their
toes. Liz recently saw a very short woman wind up and throw her leg onto
the hood of a very tall car. The sight made Liz cringe with fear for the
woman’s hamstring. That sort of “stretching” isn’t going to make you more
flexible, and it may even injure you.
Here are the basic rules for a useful and safe flexibility workout:
Stretch as often as you can — daily, if possible. Always stretch after
every workout, both cardiovascular and strength training. When you
stretch on days you don’t work out, be sure to warm up with a few minutes of easy movement like shoulder rolls, gentle waist twists, or light
cardio activity.
Move into each stretching position slowly. Never force yourself into
a stretch by jerking or snapping into position.
Notice how much tension you feel. A stretch should rate anywhere from
mild tension to the edge of discomfort on your pain meter. It should never
cause severe or sharp pain anywhere else in your body. Focus on the area
you’re stretching, and notice the stretch spread through these muscles.
Never bounce. No matter which type of stretching you choose (traditional, PNF, or AI — see the “Finding Alternative Ways to Stretch” section)
after you find the most comfortable stretch position, stay there or gradually deepen the stretch. Bouncing only tightens your muscle — it doesn’t
loosen it. Forceful bouncing increases the risk of tearing a muscle.
As you hold each position, take at least two deep breaths. Deep breathing promotes relaxation.
A Simple Stretching Routine
In the following sections, we show you a thorough, basic stretching routine
to get you started. If you consider stretching too boring, too painful, or too
complicated, you’ll like this section. It features a no-brainer stretching routine
that won’t pull your hamstrings like a rope in a tug of war. Although we like
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
alternative stretching techniques such as AI and PNF (described in the following section), in this section, we demonstrate classic stretches because
they’re the type most fitness experts recommend. After you master these
moves, the workout should take about five minutes.
Keep in mind that this is just a starting point. We think it’s a great idea to
learn additional stretches; there are literally hundreds to choose from. Varying
your flexibility routine allows you to stretch your muscles at a number of
angles. Plus, you’ll be able to give the necessary extra attention to the muscles you use most in your particular workout. For example, if you’re a tennis
player or rower, you may want to do a few extra upper-body stretches. If you’re
a runner, do a few additional hamstring and lower-back stretches. If you’re a
cyclist, emphasize your quadriceps and glutes.
Neck stretch
This stretch is designed to loosen and relax the muscles in your neck.
Stand or sit comfortably. Drop your left ear toward your left shoulder, and
gently stretch your right arm down and a few inches out to the side (see
Figure 6-1), using your opposite hand to assist the stretch by gently pulling
on the side of your head. Repeat the stretch on your right side.
Keep these tips in mind as you perform the neck stretch:
Keep your shoulders down and relaxed.
Your ear may or may not touch your shoulder, depending on how
stiff you are.
Figure 6-1:
The neck
loosens and
relaxes the
muscles in
your neck.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Chapter 6: The Scoop on Stretching
Chest expansion
This stretch targets your shoulders, chest, and arms and helps promote
good posture.
Sit or stand up tall and bring your arms behind you, clasping one hand inside
the other (see Figure 6-2). Lift your chest and raise your arms slightly. You
should feel a mild stretch spread across your chest.
Keep in mind the following tips as you perform the chest expansion:
Resist arching your lower back as you pull your arms upward.
Try to keep your shoulders relaxed and down.
Don’t force your arms up higher than is comfortable.
Figure 6-2:
The chest
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Back expansion
This move stretches and loosens your shoulders, arms, upper-back, and
lower-back muscles.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Standing tall with your knees slightly bent and feet hip-width apart, lift your
arms in front of you to shoulder height. Clasp one hand in the other. Drop
your head toward your chest, pull your abdominals inward, round your lower
back, and tuck your hips forward so that you create a C shape with your
torso. Stretch your arms forward so that you feel your shoulder blades
moving apart and you create an “opposition” to your rounded back. You
should feel a mild stretch slowly spread through your back and shoulders.
(See Figure 6-3.)
Keep in mind the following tips as you perform the back expansion:
Keep your abdominal muscles pulled inward to protect your lower back.
Lean only as far forward as you feel comfortable and balanced.
Keep your shoulders down and relaxed.
Figure 6-3:
The back
arms, and
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Standing hamstring stretch
This is a great stretch for your hamstrings (rear-thigh muscles) and your
lower back. If you have lower-back problems, do the same exercise while
lying on your back on the floor and extending your leg upward.
Stand tall with your left foot a few inches in front of your right foot and your
left toes lifted. Bend your right knee slightly and pull your abdominals gently
inward. Lean forward from your hips, and rest both palms on top of your
Chapter 6: The Scoop on Stretching
right thigh for balance and support (see Figure 6-4). Keep your shoulders
down and relaxed; don’t round your lower back. You should feel a mild pull
gradually spread through the back of your leg. Repeat the stretch with your
right leg forward.
Keep in mind the following tips as you perform the standing hamstring
Keep your back straight and your abs pulled inward to make the stretch
more effective and to protect your lower back.
Don’t lean so far forward that you lose your balance or feel strain in
your lower back.
Figure 6-4:
targets your
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Standing quad stretch
This stretch focuses on the quadriceps (front-thigh muscles). Be extra gentle
with this stretch if you’re prone to knee or lower-back pain. If back pain is an
issue for you, you can do a similar stretch while lying on your side, bending
your top knee, and bringing your heel toward your buttocks.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, pull your abdominals in, and relax
your shoulders. Bend your left leg, bringing your heel toward your butt, and
grasp your left foot with your right hand (see Figure 6-5) or with your left
hand, if the opposite hand is too uncomfortable. You should feel a mild pull
gradually spread through the front of your left leg. Then switch legs.
Keep these tips in mind as you perform the standing quad stretch:
Hold onto a chair or the wall if you have trouble balancing.
Don’t lock the knee of your base leg.
Figure 6-5:
quad stretch
targets your
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Double calf stretch
This stretch offers some relief for the calf muscles, which tend to be tight and
bunched up from daily activities such as walking and standing.
Stand with your feet together about 2 feet from a wall that you’re facing. Pull
your abdominals gently inward and don’t round your lower back. With straight
arms, press your palms into the wall and lean forward from your ankles,
keeping your heels pressed as close to the floor as possible (see Figure 6-6).
You should feel a mild stretch spread through your calf muscles.
Chapter 6: The Scoop on Stretching
Keep in mind the following tips as you perform the double calf stretch:
Keep both heels flat on the floor or as close to the floor as your
flexibility allows.
Keep your abs pulled in to prevent your lower back from sagging
or arching.
To increase the stretch, bend your elbows, leaning your chest toward
the wall.
Figure 6-6:
The double
calf stretch
tightness in
your calf
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Horse biting tail
This movement stretches your abdominals, sides, and lower back. Take care
not to force this stretch, especially if you have lower-back problems.
Kneel on your hands and knees so that your palms are directly beneath your
shoulders and your knees are directly below your hips. Pull your abdominals
gently inward so that your back neither sags nor arches. Slowly twist your
spine to the left as much as your flexibility allows, so that you’re looking back
over your shoulder toward your left buttock, and your left buttock moves
slightly forward (see Figure 6-7). You should feel a mild stretch spread
through your spine. Slowly move back to center and repeat to the right.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Keep in mind the following tips as you perform this stretch:
Keep your abs pulled in to prevent your lower back from sagging.
Don’t force the stretch.
Figure 6-7:
The horse
biting tail
sides, and
lower back.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Butterfly stretch
This exercise stretches your inner thighs, groin, hips, and lower back. If you
are prone to lower-back discomfort, take extra care to lean forward from your
hips rather than rounding your lower back. This exercise may also cause
some knee discomfort.
Sit up tall with the soles of your feet pressed together and your knees dropped
to the sides as far as they will comfortably go. Pull your abdominals gently
inward and lean forward from your hips. Grasp your feet with your hands and
carefully pull yourself a small way farther forward (see Figure 6-8). You should
feel the stretch spread throughout your inner thighs, the outermost part of
your hips, and lower back.
Keep in mind these tips as you perform the butterfly:
Increase the stretch by carefully pressing your thighs toward the floor as
you hold the position.
Don’t hunch your shoulders up toward your ears or round your back.
To reduce stress on your knees, move your feet away from your body.
To increase the stretch, move your feet toward your body.
Chapter 6: The Scoop on Stretching
Figure 6-8:
The butterfly
your inner
hips, and
lower back.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Finding Alternative Ways to Stretch
Traditional stretching — holding a position for 10 to 30 seconds — isn’t the
only way to make your muscles more flexible. Here’s a look at a few other
popular methods.
Active Isolated stretching
Some exercise experts theorize that conventional stretching techniques can
damage muscles by pulling on them too hard, too far, and for too long, causing muscles to tighten up and spring back to prevent ripping and tearing.
This automatic defense mechanism has many technical names too long to
pronounce, but in laymen’s terms, it’s referred to as the rebound reflex.
Active Isolated stretching, or AI, is a method designed to avoid the rebound
reflex. To do an AI stretch, using a rope or stretch band, you tighten the muscle
opposite the muscle you’re targeting for a stretch and then move the targeted
muscle into a stretched position and hold it for about two seconds — that’s
right, two seconds — just long enough to elongate the muscle without triggering the rebound reflex. The theory is that when you contract, or shorten, a
muscle, the opposite muscle has no recourse but to relax and lengthen. You
repeat the process 8 to 12 times in each position before moving on to the
next stretch.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Little research has been conducted yet on AI, but we think this method works,
and we particularly like it for people who don’t exactly have the flexibility of
a ballerina. When you’re very inflexible, holding a stretch for even ten seconds
can seem like a lifetime. We also like the fact that there is a reliable certification program for AI, offered by New York City exercise physiologists Jim
and Phil Wharton and their company, Maximum Performance. Maximum
Performance has certified thousands of trainers nationwide. Look for these
trainers, who can either teach group classes or do one-on-one instruction.
Also pick up The Whartons’ Stretch Book, which takes you step-by-step
through an Active Isolated stretching routine.
To use the AI method, lie on your back and bend your right leg so that you
can wrap a towel or rope around the instep of your right foot. (Buy boating
rope at your local hardware store and have them seal the ends; buy a length
that’s about twice your height.) Then proceed with the instructions in this
section; at the end of the movement, while your leg is still straight, use the
rope to actively pull your leg toward your torso into a stretch, holding for
about two seconds before releasing.
Hamstring stretch
To stretch your hamstrings (rear thigh muscles), with your rope around your
right foot, lie on your back, keeping your left leg straight or slightly bent, and
follow these steps:
1. Straighten your right leg, lock your right knee, and using your rope,
pull your right leg up toward your chest (see Figure 6-9).
Figure 6-9:
Photograph by C.D. Stouffer, Detroit
Chapter 6: The Scoop on Stretching
2. Hold for two seconds, and then release, allowing your right leg to
relax for a few seconds.
3. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 for a total of eight to ten counts.
If necessary, do an additional set of eight to ten repetitions.
Quadriceps stretch
You may not even know your quads (thigh muscles) are tight, but as soon
as you do this stretch, you’ll know. Although you may feel like a contortionist,
work through the following steps to get a fantastic stretch in your quads:
1. With your rope wrapped around your right foot, lie on your left side.
2. Bend your left leg and pull it up toward your chest and chin.
The quadriceps of your left leg should be parallel to the top of your
3. Bend your right leg and pull your right foot toward your butt.
4. Pull the rope over your head and hold for two seconds (see
Figure 6-10).
5. Release, allowing your right leg to relax for a few seconds.
6. Repeat Steps 2 through 5 for a total of eight to ten counts.
If necessary, do an additional set of eight to ten repetitions.
Figure 6-10:
Photograph by C.D. Stouffer, Detroit
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Calf stretch
To keep your calves loose and supple, sit up and wrap the rope around your
right foot (left foot bent or straight — makes no difference), and then follow
these steps:
1. Lock your right knee and pull your right foot straight back toward
your chest.
2. Lean your upper body forward (toward your lower leg) about 10
degrees and hold for two seconds (see Figure 6-11).
This leaning-forward part is critical. If you simply pull your foot toward
your chest without the forward lean, you won’t get much of a stretch.
3. Release, allowing your right leg to relax for a few seconds.
4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 for a total of eight to ten counts.
If necessary, do an additional set of eight to ten repetitions.
Figure 6-11:
Calf stretch.
Photograph by C.D. Stouffer, Detroit
If you have a trainer or go to a gym, you may come across a stretching technique with a name that, in our opinion, sets a new standard for fitness jargon:
proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation — PNF for short.
Chapter 6: The Scoop on Stretching
PNF involves tightening a muscle as hard as you can right before you stretch
it. PNF is most often used for stretching the hamstrings. You lie on your back
with your heel resting on your trainer’s shoulder and your leg almost straight.
To exhaust your hamstrings, you press your heel into the trainer’s shoulder,
while he pushes his shoulder into your heel. You hold this position for five to
ten seconds. Then, you relax and hold the stretch for about 15 seconds. You
may repeat the whole push/relax scenario three or four times.
You can do a PNF hamstring stretch yourself by lying in the same position and
wrapping a towel around your ankle and holding an end in each hand. The
theory behind PNF is that the act of tightening, or squeezing, causes a reflex
in the muscle so that it becomes relaxed and more “receptive” to the stretch.
So, after you tighten your hamstring for a few seconds, you’re able to stretch
it a little bit further than usual immediately after you release the tension. Many
experts also feel that having someone push the stretch just a little bit further
than you’re likely to do yourself gets better results.
Does PNF work? Research does look promising. We know many trainers —
and clients — who swear by PNF. Some gyms offer 45-minute private training
sessions entirely devoted to this type of stretching.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Chapter 7
Nutrition Basics
In This Chapter
Counting calories
Understanding the balance of fat, carbs, and protein
Developing healthy eating habits
Eating your way up a food pyramid
Meshing your eating schedule with your workouts
Taking in enough fluids
Getting the lowdown on supplements
ot long ago, we came across a fitness book that proclaimed, “A great
exercise program can make up for lack of a great diet.” Unfortunately,
that just isn’t so.
But wait — if you scarf an extra donut at the office, can’t you just burn off the
calories on the treadmill? Sure, except that it takes an entire hour of brisk
walking to burn off that single honey-dipped cruller. On a daily basis, exercise
isn’t a realistic way to make up for overeating. Besides, weight control isn’t
the only reason you should watch what you eat. If you make consistently
poor choices, you deprive your body of nutrients that fight cancer and heart
disease, prevent your bones from becoming brittle, fuel you through your
kickboxing class, and give you the energy to keep reading this book (not that
this book isn’t a real page turner, of course).
So what’s the right way to eat? Americans seem to be obsessed with finding
the answer. The bestseller lists are always filled with diet books, whether it’s
The South Beach Diet, The Abs Diet, Superfoods, or Dr. Atkins’ New Diet
Revolution, and many contain specific rules about how to eat.
We say: Forget about all these rules and gimmicks. No single eating plan
works for everyone. How much, how often, and what time of day you should
eat depends on so many factors, including your body size, how much you
exercise, your daily schedule, and your personal preferences. What appears
to work for Dr. Atkins may not work for you — and may not be nutritionally
sound, anyway. Plus, figuring out what to eat shouldn’t be so complicated!
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
You shouldn’t have to carry around a diet book and constantly glance at your
watch. A better plan is to know nutrition basics, listen to your body’s own
signals for hunger and food preferences, and develop eating habits that you
can sustain for life — not just for five days.
In this chapter, we present sensible, basic guidelines for nutritious eating.
Adopting these common-sense rules will help you maintain your weight and
your health yet, at the same time, keep your taste buds interested. If you’re
interested in a more in-depth discussion of nutrition, visit
for a wealth of health and nutrition books that answer your every question.
Control Your Calories
As a country, we eat less fat than we used to, but we’re more overweight than
ever. How come? Because people don’t pay enough attention to calories. The
reality is, if you eat more calories than your body consumes, you’re going to
gain weight. If your nutrition analysis — or simply the fit of your jeans —
indicates that you’re eating too much, use the strategies in this section to keep
your calories under control. Just make sure you don’t drop your calorie intake
too low, especially if you exercise regularly. If you drastically cut calories —
particularly if you drop below 1,200 — your body will think it’s being starved
and will compensate by hanging on to the few calories that you do eat.
Start with small portions. You don’t need to model your dinner plate
after the Eiffel Tower. You can always go back for more. Also, buy singleserving packages of snack foods. You’re less likely to keep eating if you
have to rip open a whole new bag of chips than if you have your hand
buried in a bargain-sized package.
Don’t confuse fat-free with calorie-free. Many fat-free foods are plenty
high in calories because they make up for the lost fat by adding sugar.
One Reduced-Fat Chips Ahoy! cookie has 50 calories, while a regular
Chips Ahoy! has 53. Not exactly major savings.
Don’t deprive yourself. If you lust after a slice of chocolate cake, eat a
small piece; otherwise you’ll end up inhaling an entire cake tomorrow.
Eat slowly. Utter at least one complete sentence between bites or chew
32 times before taking another spoonful. Many people eat so fast that
they don’t taste anything and then rush back for seconds. Give your
body a chance to feel full.
Go easy on the booze. Alcohol stimulates your appetite and weakens
your reserve. This combination can lead to some serious overeating.
Instead of drinking before a meal, drink while you eat.
Chapter 7: Nutrition Basics
Stop when you’re satisfied. Eat half of what’s on your plate and then take
a ten-minute break and assess whether you’re still hungry. People often
eat for reasons other than hunger, such as depression and exhaustion.
Make sure that you’re eating for the right reasons.
Eat regular meals. Skipping meals sets you up for losing control and
overeating. You’re less likely to pig out if you avoid becoming a ravenous
monster in the first place.
Get the Skinny on Fat
For years we’ve heard a single message about fat: It’s bad for you. There’s
just one problem with this message: It’s not true. In reality, only certain types
of fat are harmful to your health. Others may actually help prevent heart disease. And we all need some fat to absorb certain vitamins and maintain a
healthy immune system; fat also provides the material for hormone production, such as testosterone.
Distinguish between healthful
and unhealthful fats
In the following sections, we take a look at the different types of fat.
Saturated fat
Saturated fat is the really bad stuff. In excess quantities, saturated fat raises
your levels of blood cholesterol and clogs your arteries. It’s found mostly in
animal products, such as beef, pork, chicken, milk, ice cream, and cheese.
But the amount of saturated fat in these foods varies greatly. For instance,
4 ounces of roasted pork tenderloin contain only about 2 grams of saturated
fat, compared to 12 grams of saturated fat in 4 ounces of beef ribs.
How much saturated fat is too much? The major health organizations recommend keeping saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your total calories. If
you eat 2,000 calories per day, that means you can get 200 of those calories
from saturated fat. Because 1 gram of saturated fat (or fat of any kind) contains
9 calories, you can eat about 22 grams of saturated fat per day. (By the way,
that’s four fewer saturated fat grams than the amount in one Burger King
Double Whopper with cheese.)
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Trans fats
These artery-clogging fats may be just as harmful as saturated fats; they’re
created through hydrogenation, a process that turns liquid oils into solids like
margarine and shortening. Hydrogenation makes pie crusts flakier and french
fries crispier. (Thanks to their trans fat, McDonald’s french fries have roughly
as much artery-clogging fat as if they were fried in lard.)
Chips, crackers, cookies (yes, even low-fat cookies), granola bars, pastries,
microwave popcorn, many types of bread, many cereals, and many peanut
butters often contain trans fats. Look for the words hydrogenated or partially
hydrogenated on labels and avoid those products that use hydrogenated oils,
especially when near the top of the list. Keep reading labels and don’t give up:
For every ten cereals or microwave popcorn products that have trans fat,
you can find one that doesn’t.
Unsaturated fat
All right, now we’re getting to the fats that may actually be good for your
health. Unsaturated fat is the kind found in foods such as:
Canola and flaxseed oils
Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel
Nuts and seeds
Peanuts and “natural” peanut butter (the kind made only from peanuts
and salt, as opposed to the processed kinds, like Jif and Skippy, which
have hydrogenated fats, mentioned in the preceding section)
Olives and olive oil
Unsaturated fats fall into two categories: mono and poly. Olive and canola
oils are predominantly monounsaturated, as are peanut butter and avocado.
Corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oils are mainly polyunsaturated.
The evidence is strong that monounsaturated fats may help protect against
heart disease by reducing levels of LDL cholesterol (the artery-clogging kind)
without affecting HDL cholesterol (the kind that acts as a vacuum cleaner
within your bloodstream). There’s less of a consensus about polyunsaturated
fats, but you want to eat a balance of both.
So how much fat is it okay to eat?
That’s debatable. Most major health organizations recommend keeping your
total fat intake to less than 30 percent of your total calories (about 66 fat grams
per day if you eat 2,000 calories). However, the 30 percent figure is not backed
Chapter 7: Nutrition Basics
by solid evidence. Certain Greek populations of the 1960s ate as much as 40
percent fat — primarily from olive oil — and their heart disease rates were
a remarkable 90 percent lower than those of Americans. There may be a
range of acceptable fat intake levels. Keeping your saturated fat to less than
10 percent of total calories appears to be the more important figure.
Choose Your Carbs Carefully
Read some of the most popular low-carb diet books and you get the impression that carbohydrates are the root of all evil. Many of these books claim
that pasta, bagels, fruit, sweet potatoes, and other high-carbohydrate foods
trigger the body to store excess fat. But, as with many wacky diet theories,
this one takes a scientific theory and distorts it beyond recognition.
In reality, carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel, and exercisers
need plenty of them. Sports nutritionists recommend that between 50 percent
and 70 percent of calories should come from carbohydrates.
Choosing the best carbs
The key is to favor complex carbohydrates and natural simple sugars over
processed and nutritionally-void simple sugars. Complex carbohydrates have
sugar molecules strung together in long chemically bonded chains. These
carbs are found in beans, whole-wheat pasta, grains, veggies, and the like.
Most complex carbs are low in calories, low in fat, and high in fiber. The
sugar in complex carbohydrates is absorbed relatively slowly into your
bloodstream so that your blood-sugar level and energy level remain fairly
constant, and you feel full for a good while.
Getting enough fiber
Although most Americans eat just 12 to 17 grams of fiber per day, the federal
government recommends 20 to 35 — nearly double. Fiber comes from wholegrain products (veggies, fruits, oats, whole-wheat bread), plus in dry beans,
peas, nuts, and seed. Check labels, of course, and you’ll find very little fiber
in processed foods. To get the most fiber, eat whole-grain flour-based products and the skin on vegetables and fruits.
Perhaps the most well-known benefit of fiber is to keep your colon healthy
and keep your bowel movements regular. Fiber also plays a role in reducing
cholesterol. But the most tangible benefit? Fiber keeps you feeling full longer
throughout the day.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
If you just don’t eat a lot of fiber in your diet and can’t seem to change that pattern, try using a fiber supplement such as Metamucil. Although you want to get
your fiber from the foods you eat, a supplement is a good idea if you don’t.
Avoiding processed carbs
Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, are single or double sugar molecules. They’re found in table sugar and processed foods like Pepsi and
Twinkies, but they also occur naturally, like in fruit. Simple carbs, whether
they’re found in a papaya or a Pop Tart, are absorbed quickly, causing the
amount of sugar in your blood to skyrocket and then plunge soon after, leaving you feeling tired and hungry. But there’s a difference between the natural
simple sugars found in fruit and the refined simple sugars found in candy.
When you eat that papaya, the sugar comes packaged with vitamins, minerals,
water, and fiber. Also, the sweetness in fruit comes from fructose (as opposed
to sucrose or glucose in other simple sugars), and fructose doesn’t cause the
sort of sharp insulin spike that other simple sugars do.
In general, eat foods that are processed as little as possible. Choose an apple
over apple juice, and whole-wheat bread over white bread. Be sure to buy
bread that is actually labeled “whole wheat.” Many wheat and grain breads
are mostly refined white bread colored with molasses, despite the brown
wrapping that depicts wheat fields waving in the wind and names like “12grain health nut bread.”
Read food labels carefully and find out where you’re getting most of your
refined sugar. Breakfast cereals such as Kellogg’s Raisin Bran and Frosted
Flakes are more than 42 percent sugar. Flavored yogurts are loaded with
sugar, too. Be aware that sugar goes by other aliases, including corn syrup,
honey, maple syrup, maltodextrin, sucrose, and other words that end in -ose.
Sugar is sugar.
Going low-carb — with modifications
If you’ve been bitten by the low-carb craze, don’t fret. Low-carb eating could
be an ideal way to eat with the following simple modifications:
Consume an unlimited variety of vegetables.
Choose dense, whole grains and avoid processed carbs.
Eat two to four half-cup servings of unsweetened fruit each day. (Most
low-carb diets eliminate fruit, but fruit contains many vitamins and minerals that are important to consume.)
Substantially reduce your intake of saturated fat and trans fats, which
many popular low-carb diets don’t limit.
Chapter 7: Nutrition Basics
Eating a wide variety of foods
Ever notice that you stroll down the same aisles
of the grocery store every week and fill your
basket with almost the exact same items?
People who have researched these things have
found that most of us are in a serious rut, eating
only 20 to 25 different foods on a regular basis.
Not only does this repetition take a lot of the
adventure out of eating, but eating the same
foods over and over again limits the nutrients
you get.
Even if you consume adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals, you may be missing out on
thousands of phytochemicals, substances in
fruits and vegetables that appear to help fight
heart disease and cancer, strengthen the
immune system, and slow the aging process.
These substances have catchy names like
quercetin, genistein, ferulic acid, and inositol
hexaphosphate. Research into phytochemicals
is relatively new, so nutrition experts don’t yet
know how much of them we need or which
ones are most important. The best strategy
is to eat as wide a variety of foods as possible.
If you’re a big fan of broccoli and eat it several
times a week, the next time you’re in the grocery store, instead of choosing only broccoli (high in organosulfides, flavonoids, and
indoles — to name a few), go for asparagus, too
(high in lutein, zeaxanthin, and glutathione).
Get Enough Protein, but Don’t Fall
for High-Protein Propaganda
Protein is crucial because it’s made up of amino acids, which your body uses
to build and repair your muscles, red blood cells, enzymes, and other tissues.
Are you a protein overeater or undereater? Or are you right on target? The
general rule of thumb for inactive people is to eat 0.4 grams per 1 pound of
body weight. For example, a 180-pound couch potato multiplies 180 by 0.4.
He needs about 72 grams of protein a day; a 130-pound person needs about 52.
Exercisers need a bit more protein, although not nearly as much as many
protein advertisements would lead you to believe. A recreational exerciser
should aim for 0.5 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. A competitive athlete may need as much as 0.9.
To get an idea of how easy it is to rack up protein, consider that a Philly
Cheese steak (36 grams), a side of fries (6 grams), and an 8-ounce glass of
chocolate milk (8 grams) provide 50 grams of protein. In general, about 15
to 20 percent of your total calories should come from protein.
You can assess your protein needs by following the tips in the “Analyze Your
Eating Habits” section later in this chapter. If you find that you’re overshooting the mark on protein, cut back by using high-protein foods as a side-dish
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
rather than as your main course. Sprinkle meat on your spaghetti or top your
salad with strips of grilled chicken rather than planning your entire meal
around a slab of steak. If you find that you’re not getting enough protein
because you fear the fat, focus on the plant sources, such as dried peas and
beans, lentils, soybeans, and black beans. Also, turn to dairy foods like fatfree cottage cheese and fat-free plain yogurt. If you’re a vegetarian, even a
vegan, you have plenty of protein-rich choices.
Analyze Your Eating Habits
Do you have any idea whether you’re even in the ballpark for how much
saturated fat, protein, and other nutrients you need each day? Do you know
whether you’re consuming enough fiber or calcium or carbohydrates? One
of the best ways to enlighten yourself about your diet is to track it for a while.
Now, we’re not suggesting that you write down every morsel you eat on a
daily basis for the rest of your life. But we do recommend that you keep a food
and beverage diary for a few days every now and then to get a handle on
where your eating habits need improvement.
The simplest, low-tech way is to buy books that list how many calories and
how much fat, saturated fat, protein, fiber, and other nutrients are contained
in pretty much every food or drink you can think of, from Brussels sprouts to
Japanese fish paste cake — whatever that is. (You can also find several online
sources, but their locations change frequently. Search on “calorie counter”
and see what pops up.)
If you want to compare the number of calories you’re eating with the number
of calories your body burns each day, you can use the following formula. In
general, the number of calories you need to eat each day depends on how big
your body is and how active you are.
We carry through the math for a man who’s 5'10" and weights 180 pounds
and is trying to maintain his current weight, not lose anything:
1. Change your weight to kilograms by dividing your weight in pounds
by 2.2.
For our sample man, we divide 180 by 2.2 and get 82.
2. If you’re a man, don’t do anything. If you’re a woman, multiply the
result of Step 1 by 0.9.
3. Multiply the result of Step 2 by 24.
This calculation estimates your resting metabolic rate, the number of
calories you’d need to consume if you did absolutely nothing but lie
motionless in bed 24 hours a day.
For our sample man, we multiply 82 by 24 and get 1,968.
Chapter 7: Nutrition Basics
4. Add a percentage of Step 3 to account for your activity.
For a relatively sedentary day — say, a day lying around the pool — tack
on 20 percent of your Step 3 result. For our sample man at the pool, we
perform this calculation: 1,968 × 0.20 = 394; 394 + 1,968 = 2,362 calories.
On days when you exercise, you may need to add 30 to 50 percent of
your resting metabolic rate, depending on how long and how hard you
work out.
You may also want to make an appointment with a registered dietitian every
so often. A visit with an R.D. can be very enlightening. He can not only tell
you where you’re falling short but also offer concrete suggestions on how to
boost your iron intake, reduce your calorie consumption, or sneak more fiber
into your diet.
Follow a Food Pyramid
Back in the days of Wonder Bread and Bosco, you and your fellow fourthgraders probably were treated to an educational film about the basic four
food groups: meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and cereals and grains (in
case you forgot). The idea was that if you got enough servings from each
group, you’d cover all your nutritional bases.
In 1992, the federal government exiled the four food groups and unveiled the
food guide pyramid (see the following section). Nutrition experts applauded
the basic concept — that plant foods should form the base of our diet while
animal products, perched near the top of the pyramid, should be eaten less
often. But to many nutritionists, the pyramid does not reflect the latest nutrition research and may, inadvertently, promote a diet linked to heart disease
and cancer. In the last several years, experts have erected more than a dozen
competing nutritional structures, including various vegetarian pyramids, a
Latin American pyramid, an Indian pyramid, and several Asian pyramids.
There’s even a vegan trapezoid. (A geometry refresher course, anyone?)
We’re not going to analyze each and every pyramid in existence, but here’s a
brief look at the government’s pyramid, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, and
a newer pyramid from Harvard University. You can take the best of these
structures and create a model of nutritious eating that works for you.
The USDA Food Guide Pyramid
Does three glasses of whole milk and a half-pound of hamburger per day sound
like a healthy eating plan? Of course not. But that scenario is technically
permitted under the USDA Food Guide Pyramid (shown in Figure 7-1), and it
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
illustrates one of the pyramid’s main flaws: failure to distinguish healthful fats
from disease-causing fats. The pyramid lumps together meat, poultry, fish,
dry beans, eggs, and nuts, and recommends two to three daily servings from
this group of protein-rich foods. (One meat serving is 3 ounces, thereby
allowing for the 8-ounce burger.) But these foods aren’t equally healthful.
Some cuts of red meat are loaded with saturated fat, while nuts, which contain
vitamin E and heart-healthy (monounsaturated) fat, are very nutritious.
As for that whole milk: The pyramid recommends two to three daily servings
of milk, yogurt, or cheese but doesn’t specifically recommend low-fat or
nonfat versions of these high-calcium foods. (Full-fat varieties are loaded with
saturated fat.) At the same time, the pyramid groups fats, oils, and sweets at
the top of the pyramid, with the admonition to “use sparingly.” Yet research
clearly shows that the fats found in olive oil and canola oil may protect
against disease.
One benefit of the USDA Food Guide Pyramid is that it specifies a range of
daily servings for each food category. Still, the numbers can be confusing.
The pyramid recommends two to four fruit servings a day, but this is
intended as a minimum. On the other hand, two to three servings from the
protein-rich group is intended as a maximum.
Figure 7-1:
Food Guide
Chapter 7: Nutrition Basics
A final gripe: The base of the pyramid — which includes bread, cereal, rice,
and pasta — fails to distinguish between whole grains (thought to decrease
risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers) and refined grains (which
are essentially stripped of vitamins, minerals, and fiber). For this reason, the
federal government is now putting together panels to update its pyramid. As
we went to print, the new pyramid wasn’t ready, but check the Internet to see
whether the USDA has made the radical revisions to the food pyramid that
they’ve proposed.
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid
Many of the USDA pyramid’s problems are addressed by the Mediterranean
Diet Pyramid (shown in Figure 7-2). Although refined in light of current nutrition research, the Mediterranean diet pyramid essentially reflects the eating
habits of certain Greek and Italian populations around 1960, when their chronic
disease rates were among the world’s lowest and adult life expectancy was
the highest despite limited medical services.
Mediterranean Diet Pyramid
Daily beverage
6 glasses of water
Cheese and yogurt
Wine in
Olive oil
Figure 7-2:
Mediterranean Diet
and nuts
Bread, pasta, rice, couscous, polenta,
other whole grains, and potatoes
Daily physical activity
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The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid prioritizes the high-protein foods that are
lumped together in the USDA model. Beans and nuts sit near the base of the
pyramid, recommended daily. Fish, poultry, and eggs are permitted a few
times per week, but fish is given more emphasis than poultry, which is favored
over eggs. That’s because fish, high in omega-3 fatty acids, may protect against
heart disease, whereas the skinless white meat of poultry appears to be neutral, neither increasing nor decreasing disease risk. Eggs may raise cholesterol
levels but don’t appear to be a problem (for non-diabetics) if no more than
seven eggs are consumed per week. Red meat is relegated to the tip-top of
the pyramid, recommended only a few times per month. (Although red meat
consumption is clearly linked to deadly disease, there’s no evidence that eating
12 to 16 ounces a month is actually more harmful than eating none at all.)
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid also scores points for highlighting legumes,
a term that doesn’t roll off the tongue of most Americans. Legumes — basically
edible seed pods — include chick peas, lentils, garbanzo beans, and soybeans.
They’re not only high in protein but also free of saturated fat and crammed
with disease-protective nutrients.
Is the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid perfect? No. Like the USDA version, it
doesn’t distinguish between whole grains and refined grains.
Harvard School of Public Health’s
Healthy Eating Pyramid
When the folks at Harvard’s School of Public Health decided to build their
own food pyramid (shown in Figure 7-3), they came up with one that
addressed the deficiencies of the USDA and Mediterranean Diet models.
Specifically, the Harvard model specifies whole grains at the base of the pyramid, with plant oils sharing the stage. Plant oils? Sure. Healthy, unsaturated
oils like olive, canola, soy, and so on can lower cholesterol levels and protect
the heart. The Harvard pyramid then stresses vegetables in whatever quantity
is desired and some fruits. Going up the pyramid, you find a recommendation
for nuts, fish, poultry, and eggs, but in moderation. Also recommended is a
daily supplement, one specifically providing calcium. The top of the pyramid
includes refined grains, sweets, red meat, and butter.
This pyramid does address many of the weaknesses of the other two pyramids.
Its deficiency is in calcium intake, which is relegated to a supplement. Low-fat
and nonfat dairy products, especially those low in sugar, are a good source
of calcium. Supplements are a potential substitute for food sources (see the
“Don’t Waste Money on Useless Supplements” section for details), but getting
your vitamins and minerals from food is always a better goal than relying on
Chapter 7: Nutrition Basics
Healthy Eating Pyramid
Use sparingly
Multiple vitamins
for most
and pasta,
Dairy or calcium
supplement, 1-2 times/day
Fish, poultry, eggs,
0-2 times/day
Alcohol in
Figure 7-3:
The Healthy
Nuts, legumes, 1-3 times/day
(in abundance)
Whole grain foods
(at most meals)
Fruits, 2-3 times/day
Plant oils, including olive,
canola, soy, corn, sunflower,
peanut, and other vegetable oils
Daily exercise and weight control
Fuel Up for Your Workouts
Don’t underestimate the power of food to get you through a workout and
beyond. This goes for novices and athletes alike. Several years ago, professional triathlete Brad Kearns went on a wacky diet that had one rule: Eat
nothing but fruit until noon. “I’d have a melon, a banana, and some berries,
then I’d go ride my bike for three hours and swim for an hour and a half,”
Brad told us. Three months later, he hadn’t lost any weight and was struggling to finish his races. “I was so starved that I was eating peanut butter
straight from the jar,” he recalls. “It made me realize that your body doesn’t
like your messing with it. You have to eat.” You also need to drink — before,
during, and after your workout. (See the “Drink Lots and Lots of Fluids” section later in this chapter for more about staying hydrated.) Here are some
strategies for maintaining the energy to perform your best.
Before you work out
Your mom may have told you not to go swimming until at least an hour after
you eat, but we tell you the opposite: If your stomach can handle it, eat
within an hour of your workout. (For some activities, such as running, you
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
may need two or three hours between eating and working out.) We recommend
a couple hundred calories of (primarily) complex carbohydrates, such as a
bagel or a couple pieces of fruit. A little protein may help if you’re going for a
long workout lasting a few hours or more.
During your workout
During most workouts, you don’t need to eat anything unless you feel a major
dip in energy. But if you’re going for a three-hour bike ride or an afternoon
hike, bring along snacks. Energy bars like PowerBars and Clif Bars or frostinglike gels such as GU or Power Gel are convenient choices. They easily slip
into your pocket or fanny pack and don’t get smashed like Fig Newtons or
For workouts that last longer than about an hour, sports drinks such as
Gatorade and Cytomax are a good idea. They provide fluid as well as sodium
and easily-digestible energy. Water is preferred for shorter workouts.
After your workout
Some people are under the impression that if they eat right after exercise,
they somehow negate the benefits of their hard work. Just the opposite is
true. If you eat within an hour of your workout, your body is more receptive
to replenishing your energy stores. A post-workout snack that combines lots
of carbs and some protein is ideal.
Don’t go too long without eating
At one of the gyms that Liz used to manage, the staff members witness at
least one fainting a month. Usually it’s someone who shows up for a
lunchtime workout without having eaten anything since an English muffin
at 6 a.m. To maintain a consistent energy level throughout the day — and to
prevent fainting episodes — make an effort to eat small, frequent meals.
Even on days when you don’t exercise, eating frequently throughout the day
is important. Waiting long periods between meals can cause wide swings in
your blood sugar levels, which in turn can zap your energy, disturb your concentration, and turn you into a crankpot. Plus, if you let yourself become ravenous, you’re likely to overeat at your next meal, a pattern that can lead to
weight gain.
Chapter 7: Nutrition Basics
So, start your engines in the morning with a good breakfast — plenty of
complex carbohydrates with an accent of protein and a dash of fat. A good
example: hot oatmeal with skim milk, half a banana, walnuts, and a glass of
orange juice. Then graze through the day, eating up to six small meals, aiming
for a mix of carbs and protein each time — the combination will keep you
satisfied longer than carbs alone. Eating breakfast can boost your metabolism
25 percent for the day!
Drink Lots and Lots of Fluids
Staying hydrated isn’t just important for when you work out. More than 75
percent of your body is made up of water — even bone is more than 20 percent water. When you don’t drink enough water, your blood doesn’t flow
properly, and your digestive track doesn’t run smoothly. New research even
suggests that drinking plenty of water can reduce the risk of breast, colon,
and urinary tract cancers.
You’ve probably heard that you need to drink 8 glasses of water a day — 9 to
13 if you exercise. Here’s where that number comes from: You typically lose
about 10 cups of water per day — 2 cups to sweating and evaporation, 2 cups
to breathing, and 6 cups to waste removal. You can replace up to 2 cups
through the water in the foods you eat, but you have to make up the remaining 8 cups by drinking fluids, water being the best choice.
Recent research suggests that you need a much higher fluid intake, from 3 to
6 quarts per day (and because there are 4 cups in a quart, that’s 12 to 24 cups
per day). The low end is if you’re eating lots of fruits and vegetables (and you
are, aren’t you?), because those foods are high in fluids. The high end is if
you’re working out for many hours per day, in hot weather (which we, incidentally, don’t recommend). Your fluid intake can come from many sources,
as outlined in the following list:
Water: Good old-fashioned water is far and away the best way to get your
fluids. Water is critical for proper functioning of your organs, so you
want to get the majority of your fluids by drinking water. Keep a water
bottle with you at all times: on your desk, in your purse, and in your car.
If you don’t like the taste of water, you may have substances in your
water that create an off-taste. Note, however, that most bottled water is
just a bottled version of whatever’s in your tap, so you need to decide
whether it’s worth the extra expense. You can try filtering your water:
Brita and other companies make low-cost filter systems that attach to
your kitchen or bathroom faucet. If you’re still not thrilled with the taste
of water, trying squeezing a slice of lemon into each glass.
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
Sports beverages: Sports beverages include Gatorade, Powerade,
Accelerade, and so on, and if you’ve never tried them, they’re actually
quite palatable — most taste just like Kool-Aid. The advantage of a
sports beverage over water is that it includes electrolytes like potassium,
magnesium, calcium, and sodium that you lose as you sweat. Sports beverages can also keep you from getting a stomachache after exercising.
The disadvantage is that sports beverages are pretty high in calories,
and if you get in the habit of thinking of sports beverages like water, you
can easily gain weight. If you really feel you need to include a sports beverage after workouts, try to limit your daily intake of sports beverages to
12 ounces, just after you finish exercising.
Sports drinks are expensive if you buy them in individual bottles. To
save money, buy the powdered version at your local grocery store. You
simply mix the powder with water, and you pay less than one-tenth the
price with the exact same flavor. You can dilute sports beverages in
extra water to reduce calories and sugar content.
Carbonated sodas and carbonated sports drinks: Carbonated beverages,
including sugary sodas, add calories to your diet without adding any
vitamins or other nutrients, and they don’t contain the electrolytes that
sports beverages offer. One alternative is the new variety of carbonated
flavored water. However, all carbonated beverages, even carbonated
water, also contain phosphates, which can interfere with calcium absorption and may lead to bone-density problems. A treat now and then isn’t
going to hurt you, though.
Juice: One-hundred-percent orange juice is rich in potassium, vitamin C,
and other important vitamins. However, it’s high in calories and doesn’t
really fill you up, so go easy on it. One small glass per day (6 to 8 ounces)
is about all you need. You get a better bang for the buck by eating the
whole fruit, so if you’re choosing between the fruit and the juice, go with
the fruit — it’s more filling than juice and provides additional nutrients.
Low-fat or nonfat milk: Two or three 8- to 12-ounce glasses of low-fat or
fat-free milk are an excellent source of calcium, but you may not be able
to stomach a glass of milk right after working out. If not, try drinking a
glass of skim milk just before bed (warm it up in the microwave, if you
like). In addition to helping you get much-needed calcium, milk has protein, which may help you fall asleep quickly.
Coffee and tea: Coffee and tea are hot, tasty beverages, but a better
choice is water. However, coffee and tea are fluids that count in your daily
total of 8 cups, and if you look forward to your mug(s) of coffee or tea
everyday, you don’t need to stop drinking it completely. Just limit the
total number of mugs, because caffeine can have a dehydrating effect,
negating some of the benefits of drinking the fluids in the first place.
Chapter 7: Nutrition Basics
Don’t rely on thirst to tell you when to drink. By the time your mouth feels
parched, you’re already mildly dehydrated. Prevent dehydration by drinking
all day long. Keep a water bottle at your desk, and always carry a bottle when
you work out. See Chapter 26 for some innovative products that make drinking water more convenient. You know that you’re not drinking enough if your
urine is dark and scanty rather than clear and plentiful. Keep in mind that
vitamin supplements can make your urine dark or fluorescent yellow; in this
case, volume is a better indicator.
Don’t Waste Money on
Useless Supplements
Supplements are promoted everywhere these days — on infomercials, in
health-food stores, and at health clubs. Whether they claim to build muscle,
burn fat, or boost your metabolism, the vast majority of supplements —
including pyruvate and chitin — aren’t worth the cost of the plastic bottles
they come in. That’s why we include them in our list of fitness rip-offs in
Chapter 27.
Are any supplements worth taking? Actually, yes. A multivitamin/mineral
supplement isn’t a necessity, but for many people, it may be a good idea.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, about 90 percent
of us fail to get enough magnesium, chromium, vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin
E, zinc, and many other nutrients. The typical woman gets less than two-thirds
the calcium she needs to help prevent osteoporosis. In a typical four-day
period, nearly half of all women fail to eat a single piece of fresh fruit, and the
vast majority fail to eat even one dark green leafy vegetable. This explains
why women are so deficient in vitamin C, folic acid, and other vital nutrients.
The second reason we recommend supplements is that even if you make all
the right food choices, getting optimal amounts of a few particular vitamins
and minerals is tough. For instance, research suggests that vitamin E may
lower your risk of cancer and heart disease, but only when you consume at
least 100 IU (international units, a way of measuring tiny amounts). To get
this much vitamin E from your diet, you’d have to eat 25 cups of cooked
spinach or drink 11⁄4 cups of vegetable oil (not recommended, by the way).
Unlike with vitamin C, there’s no easy way to get vitamin E from food.
However, none of this means that you should rely on supplements for your
vitamins and minerals. Scientists are learning that the vitamins or minerals
alone may not prevent certain diseases; instead the benefit may come from
the way these nutrients mingle with other components in food. Aim to get the
Part II: Enjoying Total-Body Health: Eating Well and Staying Injury-Free
vast majority of your vitamins and minerals from food and take the word supplement literally. No pill will compensate for a diet of Doritos and Budweiser.
When you eat healthy foods, you not only get vitamins and minerals, but you
also get protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and other nutrients.
Choose a multivitamin (rather than individual pills) with doses that don’t go
much beyond 100 percent of the U.S. RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance).
Don’t bother with super potency megavitamins, which often contain more
than ten times the U.S. RDA (and cost you bundles). Your body can absorb
only so much of each nutrient; if you go overboard, most of the excess is just
excreted when you go to the bathroom. As one doctor told us, “You’ll have
very expensive urine.” Also, some vitamins are stored in your body, so megadoses can lead to dangerous outcomes.
Also, forget those designer vitamins hawked infomercial-style by has-been
celebrities and former athletes. Generic drugstore brands are identical.
Manufacturers have yet to come up with the magical combination of dosages
to banish wrinkles or to make you live to 196, although a telemarketer once
called to inform Liz that every single Olympic athlete today swears by her
particular brand of supplements. “Really, every single one?” she asked. Yes,
she said. She was quite sure — every single one.
Part III
Getting to the
Heart of the Matter
In this part . . .
e explain what the heck aerobic and cardiovascular
mean and tell you everything you need to know
about this type of exercise, also known as cardio exercise.
In Chapter 8, we give you a crash course on cardio basics,
explaining terms such as target heart rate and anaerobic
threshold. We also help you design a cardio workout program suited to your goals and fitness level. In Chapter 9,
we explain how to use indoor cardio equipment such as
elliptical trainers, stair-climbers, treadmills, and other
machines. Chapter 10 covers tips and equipment for popular outdoor cardio activities — such as walking, running,
in-line skating, cycling, and swimming — along with upand-coming activities such as snowshoeing.
Chapter 8
Cardio Crash Course
In This Chapter
Warming up and cooling down
Knowing how hard you need to push to achieve cardio benefits
Following a cardio workout for good health
Using a cardio program to help you lose weight
Getting in your best cardio shape ever
Deciding whether to take a day off
f you hang around people who exercise, you’re going to hear the word
cardio pretty often. Someone may say, “I prefer to do cardio after I lift
weights” or “My gym has awesome cardio equipment.” Cardio — which means
“for your heart” in medical jargon — is short for cardiovascular exercise, the
kind that strengthens your heart and lungs and burns lots of calories.
In Chapter 24, we list all kinds of reasons to pursue this sort of exercise —
everything from lowering your blood pressure to sleeping more soundly
to trimming that spare tire. This chapter explains how exactly to get those
benefits — in other words, what type of exercise counts as cardio. We introduce you to terms such as aerobic, anaerobic, and target heart rate zone, which,
in case you were wondering, has nothing to do with what happens to your
heart when there’s a sale at Target. After you understand the basic concepts
involved in cardio exercise, use the cardio plans near the end of this chapter
to design a cardio workout program based on your goals.
Two Cardio Rules That You Can’t Break
You wouldn’t try to sell someone a stereo without a few pleasant introductory words to your potential customer, right? You need to ease her into
things with a couple of jokes or at least a “Good morning. How can I help
you?” And certainly you wouldn’t turn your back on her the minute she
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
handed over her credit card; you’d congratulate her on the purchase and
wish her a nice day. Well, the same principles apply to exercise. No matter
what type of cardio workout you do — whether it’s walking, playing basketball, or cross-country skiing — you need to ease into it with a warm-up and
ease out of it with a cooldown. (Weight-training workouts also require a
warm-up, as we explain in Chapter 14, although they typically don’t require
a cardio cooldown.)
Warming up
A warm-up simply means 5 to 15 minutes of aerobic exercise at a very easy
pace. For example, runners may start out with a brisk walk or a slow run. If
you’re going on a hilly bike ride, start with at least a few miles on flat terrain.
Be aware that stretching is not a good warm-up activity (see Chapter 6).
What does aerobic mean, anyway?
The term cardio is often used interchangeably
with aerobic. Aerobic exercise is any repetitive
activity that you do long enough and hard
enough to challenge your heart and lungs. To
get this effect, you generally need to use your
large muscles, including your butt, legs, back,
and chest. Brisk walking, bicycling, swimming,
and stair climbing count as aerobic exercise.
Movements that use your smaller muscles,
like those leading into your wrists and hands,
don’t cut it. Channel surfing with your remote
control can certainly be repetitive, sustained,
and intense — particularly when performed by
certain husbands and boyfriends we know —
but it’s not aerobic.
Aerobic means with air, and cardio was coined
in the late 1960s by fitness pioneer Dr. Kenneth
Cooper, and it means heart. When you exercise
aerobically, your body needs an extra supply of
oxygen, which your lungs extract from the air.
Think of oxygen as the gas in your car: When
you’re idling at a stoplight, you don’t need as
much fuel as when you’re zooming across
Montana on Interstate 90. During your aerobic
workouts, your body continuously delivers
oxygen to your muscles.
However, if you push yourself hard enough,
eventually you switch gears into using less
oxygen: Your lungs can no longer suck in
enough oxygen to keep up with your muscles’
demand for it. But you won’t collapse, at least
right away. Instead, you begin to rely on your
body’s limited capacity to keep going without
oxygen. During this time, you’re exercising
anaerobically, or without air.
Anaerobic exercise refers to high-intensity
exercise like all-out sprinting or very heavy
weight lifting. After about 90 seconds, you begin
gasping for air and you feel a burning sensation
in your legs. That’s when your body forces you
to stop.
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course
People who are out of shape need to warm up the longest. Their bodies take
longer to get into the exercise groove because their muscles aren’t used to
working hard. If you’re a beginner, any exercise is high-intensity exercise. As
you get more fit, your body adapts and becomes more efficient, thereby
warming up more quickly.
Many people skip their warm-up because they’re in a hurry. Cranking up the
LifeCycle or hitting the weight room right away seems like a more efficient
use of time. Bad idea. Skimp on your warm-up, and you’re a lot more likely to
injure yourself. Besides, when you ease into your workout, you enjoy it a lot
more. A trainer we know says, “If you don’t have time to warm up, you don’t
have time to work out!”
What exactly does warming up do for you? Well, for one thing, a warm-up
warms you up — literally. It increases the temperature in your muscles and
in the tissues that connect muscle to bone (tendons) and bone to bone (ligaments). Warmer muscles and joints are more pliable and, therefore, less likely
to tear. Warming up also helps redirect your blood flow from places such as
your stomach and spleen to the muscles that you’re using to exercise. This
blood flow gives you more stamina by providing your muscles with more nutrients and oxygen. In other words, you tire more quickly if you don’t warm up.
Finally, warming up allows your heart rate to increase at a safe, gradual pace.
If you don’t warm up, your heart rate will shoot up too quickly, and you’ll feel
like you’re walking through a knee-high snowdrift.
Cooling down
After your workout, don’t stop suddenly and make a dash for the shower
or plop on the couch. Ease out of your workout just as you eased into it, by
walking, jogging, or cycling lightly. If you’ve been using a stair-climber at
Level 5 for 20 minutes, you could cool down by dropping to Level 4 for a
couple minutes, then to Level 3, and so on. This cooldown should last five
to ten minutes — longer if you’ve done an especially hard workout.
The purpose of the cooldown is the reverse of the warm-up. At this point,
your heart is jumping, and blood is pumping furiously through your muscles.
You want your body to redirect the blood flow back to normal before you
rush back to the office. You also want your body temperature to decrease
before you hop into a hot or cold shower; otherwise, you risk fainting. Cooling
down prevents your blood from pooling in one place, such as your legs. When
you suddenly stop exercising, your blood can quickly collect, which can lead
to dizziness, nausea, and fainting. If you’re really out of shape or at high risk
for heart disease, skipping a cooldown can place undue stress on your heart.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
How Hard Do You Need to Push?
To reap the benefits of cardio exercise, how much huffing and puffing do you
need to do? Not as much as you probably think. Sure, you won’t benefit much
from walking on the treadmill at the same pace you stroll down the grocery
store aisles; they don’t call it working out for nothing. On the other hand,
exercising too hard can lead to injury and make you more susceptible to
colds and infections; plus, you may get so burned out that you want to set
fire to your stationary bike. Also, the faster you go, the less time you can
keep up the exercise. Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you
may gain just as much, if not more, from slowing things down and going farther.
To get fit and stay healthy, you need to find the middle ground: a moderate,
or aerobic, pace. You can find this middle ground in a number of different ways.
Some methods of gauging your intensity are extremely simple, and some
require a foray into arithmetic. This section looks at three popular ways to
monitor your intensity.
The talk test
The simplest way to monitor how hard you’re working is to talk. You should
be able to carry on a conversation while you’re exercising. If you’re so out of
breath that you can’t even string together the words “Help me, Mommy!” you
need to slow down. On the other hand, if you’re able to belt out “Livin’ La
Vida Loca” at the top of your lungs, that’s a pretty big clue you need to pick
up the pace. Basically, you should feel like you’re working, but not so hard
that you feel like your lungs are about to explode.
Perceived exertion
If you’re the type of person who needs more precision in life than the talk test
offers, you may like the so-called perceived exertion method of gauging intensity. This method uses a numerical scale, typically from 1 to 10, that corresponds to how hard you feel you’re working — the rate at which you perceive
that you’re exerting yourself.
An activity rated 1 on a perceived exertion scale would be something that you
feel you could do forever, like sit in bed and watch Chariots of Fire. A 10 represents all-out effort, like the last few feet of an uphill sprint, about 20 seconds
before your legs buckle. Your typical workout intensity should fall somewhere
between 5 and 8. To decide on a number, pay attention to how hard you’re
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course
breathing, how fast your heart is beating, how much you’re sweating, and how
tired your legs feel — anything that contributes to the effort of sustaining the
The purpose of putting a numerical value on exercise is not to make your life
more complicated but rather to help you maintain a proper workout intensity.
For example, suppose you run 2 miles around your neighborhood, and it feels
like an 8. If after a few weeks running those 2 miles feels like a 4, you know it’s
time to pick up the pace. Initially, you may want to have a perceived exertion
chart in front of you. Many gyms post these charts on the walls, and you can
easily create one at home. After a few workouts you can use a mental chart.
Table 8-1 shows a sample perceived exertion chart.
Table 8-1
Perceived Exertion Chart
Numerical Rating
Subjective Rating
Sample Activities
Nothing at all
Sitting still, reading
Very light
Standing in line
Taking a leisurely stroll
Walking at a moderate pace,
Jogging briskly, cycling over
rolling hills
Very hard
Extremely hard
Sprinting up a steep hill
Measuring your heart rate
The talk test and the perceived exertion chart are both valid ways to make
sure that you’re exercising at the right pace. But there’s a more precise way:
measuring your heart rate, the number of times that your heart beats per
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
minute. (Your heart rate is also called your pulse.) You can determine this
number either by counting the beats at your wrist or neck or by wearing a
gadget called a heart-rate monitor. This section discusses both and also lets
you know why you want to measure your heart rate and how you can determine your own target heart-rate zone.
Why monitor your heart rate?
Keeping track of your heart rate, by whatever method, sounds like an incredibly advanced thing to do — something way beyond a beginner’s needs. But
even if you’re just starting out, heart-rate monitoring is abundantly effective.
When you’re just starting to work out, you may not have a good sense of how
hard to push yourself. And with all that “no pain, no gain” propaganda, you
may be working harder than you really need to. Actually, this happens to
advanced exercisers and athletes all the time. Left to their own devices, they
try to outdo themselves every day. The smart ones use a heart-rate monitor
to remind them to slow down. However, for most people, the problem is getting
into a higher gear.
Knowing how hard you’re working during a workout is far more helpful than
simply knowing how fast you’re going. For example, running nine-minute
miles on a hot, humid afternoon takes a lot more effort than running at the
same pace on a cool, overcast morning. If you rely only on your stopwatch,
you may push yourself to run nine-minute miles in the heat, when that pace
may put excess stress on your body. If you pace yourself according to your
heart rate instead, you know when you need to back off.
The same goes for when you’re tired. If you’ve had a particularly hard week
at work, your body may not be up to your usual workout. Without checking
your heart rate, you may force yourself to do Level 4 on the stair-climber,
when, in fact, your body isn’t up to the task. If you monitor your pulse, you
may find that, in order to keep up with Level 4, you have to exceed the high
end of your training zone — a signal to drop down a notch or two.
By keeping track of your heart rate over a long period of time, you discover
some interesting things about your progress. When you’re a beginner, your
heart has to work a lot harder to keep up with your body’s demands for
blood and oxygen. If you work out on a regular basis, your aerobic system
gradually becomes more efficient. Suppose when you started, Level 1 on the
exercise bike used to get your heart up to about 140 beats per minute; now,
two months later, your heart rate is 125 beats per minute. This drop means
that you need to step up the difficulty of your workout. You can see why
keeping good records of your workouts is a good idea.
To find out how much your fitness level is improving, watch how fast your
heart rate drops after a workout. Measure your heart rate immediately upon
finishing your exercise session and then one minute later. The better shape
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course
you’re in, the faster your heart rate drops. Ideally, your heart rate should
plunge at least 20 beats in the first minute. People in really good shape drop
40 beats or more. Keep track of this measure. You’ll see a gradual improvement over a period of weeks and months. (Taking prescription or over-thecounter medication may affect the way your heart and blood pressure
respond to exercise. Check with your doctor about this.)
As we mention in Chapter 2, monitoring your resting heart rate is also a good
idea. Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per
minute when you’re just sitting around. When you start exercising, your resting heart rate may be as high as 90. But after a few months of exercising, your
resting heart rate may drop 10 or 20 beats. Some top athletes in endurance
sports have resting heart rates as low as 30 beats per minute. However, don’t
compare your heart rate to anyone else’s. Your resting heart rate is partly
determined by heredity.
Your resting heart rate also can tell you a lot about your recovery from day to
day. Keep your monitor by your bed and strap it on first thing in the morning,
on a daily basis. Or, take your pulse manually. If your heart rate is ten beats
higher than usual, you probably haven’t recovered from yesterday’s workout.
Your target heart-rate zone
Your heart rate can tell you so much about your body — how fit you are, how
much you’ve improved, and whether you’ve recovered from yesterday’s
workout. But how do you know what heart rate to aim for? There’s no magic
number. Rather, there’s a whole range of acceptable numbers, commonly
called your target heart-rate zone. This range is the middle ground between
slacking off and knocking yourself out. Typically, your target zone (as it’s
called for short) is between 50 percent and 85 percent of your maximum
heart rate, the maximum number of times your heart should beat in a minute
without dangerously overexerting yourself.
The point at which your body switches from using oxygen as its primary
source of energy to using stored sugar is referred to as your anaerobic threshold. (You may also hear this referred to as the point at which lactic acid builds
up.) When you’re in poor physical shape, your body isn’t very efficient at
taking in oxygen, and you hit your anaerobic threshold while exercising
at relatively low levels of exercise. As you become more fit, you’re able to go
farther and faster, yet still supply oxygen to your muscles. If a couch potato
tries to run an eight-minute-mile pace, he’s going to go anaerobic pretty darned
fast. An elite runner can run an entire marathon at about a five-minute-mile
pace and still stay primarily aerobic.
At the low end of your zone, you’re barely breaking a sweat; at the high end,
you’re dripping like a Kentucky Derby winner. If you’re a beginner, stick to the
lower end so you can move along comfortably for longer periods of time and
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
The Karvonen method for target heart rate
One of the problems with the standard formula
for finding your target heart rate is that it takes
only your age into consideration. This is a valid
consideration because your recommended
maximum heart rate declines as you age.
However, the following formula, called the
Karvonen method, is somewhat more accurate
because it also factors in your resting heart
rate, the number of times your heart beats when
you’re sitting still. Typically, as you become
more fit, your heart rate drops.
The Karvonen method requires a bit more math,
but don’t let that intimidate you. In this example,
we use the case of a 40-year-old man who has
a resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute and
wants to work at between 50 percent and 85
percent of his maximum heart rate. Grab your
calculator and follow these step-by-step
1. Subtract your age from 220.
Using our example, 220 – 40 = 180.
This is our subject’s estimated maximum.
3. Multiply the number you arrived at in Step
2 by 50 percent. Then add your resting heart
rate back in.
120 × 0.50 = 60
60 + 60 = 120
120 is the low end of the man’s target zone.
4. Multiply the Step 2 result by 85 percent.
Then add your resting heart rate back in.
120 × 0.85 = 102
102 + 60 = 162
162 is the high end of the man’s target zone.
Okay, now that you feel like you’ve earned your
Ph.D. in calculus, you can compare the results
of this formula with those of the traditional formula. Using the age-related formula, this 40year-old’s target zone is 90 to 153 beats. But
when you factor in his resting heart rate, this
allows him to work up to 162 beats per minute.
And he knows that if he drops below 102 beats,
he probably needs to pick up the pace.
2. Subtract your resting heart rate from your
estimated maximum.
180 – 60 = 120.
with less chance of injury. As you get more fit, you may want to do some of
your training in the middle and upper end of your zone. In Chapter 7, we offer
examples of ways to mix up your training.
So how do you know what your maximum heart rate is? Well, we don’t recommend running as hard as you can until you keel over, and then counting your
heartbeats for one minute. A safer and more accurate way is to have your
max measured by a professional such as a physician or exercise specialist.
(See Chapter 2 for details on exercise testing.) You can also use a number of
mathematical formulas to estimate your max.
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course
The most time-honored method for determining maximum heart rate is for
men to subtract their age from 220 and for women to subtract their age from
226. Keep in mind that this formula gives you only an estimate. Your true max
may be as many as 15 beats higher or lower. Also, this formula is generally
used for activities during which your feet hit the ground. (To estimate your
max for bicycling, subtract about five beats from the final result; for swimming, subtract about ten beats.)
Using that easy formula to find your max, find your target heart-rate zone by
calculating 50 percent and 85 percent of your maximum. Here’s the math for a
40-year-old man:
220 – 40 = 180
This is his estimated maximum heart rate.
180 × 0.50 = 90
This is the low end of his target zone. If his heart beats less than 90 times per
minute, he knows that he’s not pushing hard enough.
180 × 0.85 = 153
This is the high end of his target zone. If his heart beats faster than 153 beats
per minute, he needs to slow down.
Okay, so now you know how to figure out your target heart-rate zone. But
how do you know if you’re in the zone? In other words, how do you know
how fast your heart is beating at any given moment? As we mention earlier in
this chapter, you can check your heart rate in two ways: taking your pulse
manually or using a heart-rate monitor.
Taking your pulse manually
Watch any quality aerobics video or take any decent cardio class at the gym,
and you hear the instructor yell out, “Okay, everybody, time for a heart-rate
check.” On this cue, the participants place their fingers on their necks or on
their wrists. Taking your pulse manually can be wildly inaccurate, so concentrate when you do it.
To use the neck method, place your index and middle fingers (not your thumb)
in the groove on either side of your throat pipe. When you feel a beat, you’ve
found your carotid artery. The neck method isn’t our favorite because your
heart rate is harder to find on your neck and because some experts feel that
the act of pressing against this artery may actually shut off blood and oxygen
supply to the brain, causing you to faint. If you use this method, be careful not
to push too hard. We prefer the wrist method, which we explain in Chapter 2.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Whichever method you choose, you don’t need to keep your fingers on your
neck or wrist for an entire minute while you count the beats. Feel the steady
pounding of blood flowing through your arteries. When you’re fairly comfortable with the rhythm, count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds. Then
multiply this number by four — voilá, your heart rate.
If you flunked Mr. Dyshuck’s fifth-grade math class and multiplying by four
proves to be out of your range of talents, that’s okay. Just take your pulse for
6 seconds and add a zero onto the number of beats you count; this, in effect,
is multiplying by 10. For example: You take your pulse for 6 seconds and
count 14 beats. Add a zero and you get 140 — that’s approximately how many
times per minute your heart is beating. Just know that this shortcut method
can be extremely inaccurate. If you miss a single beat, you miscalculate your
heart rate by 10 beats per minute. We mention this method only because it’s
commonly used in health clubs.
During your workout, take your pulse about every 15 minutes and be sure to
concentrate. Otherwise, you may end up counting the number of steps you
take on the stair-climber rather than the number of pulses in your wrist. You
may want to slow down or even stop while you take your pulse. True, this is
disruptive to your workout, but it’s not nearly as disruptive as getting launched
off the treadmill.
Using a heart-rate monitor
You can eliminate the inaccuracy and inconvenience of taking your heart rate
by wearing a heart-rate monitor. With a monitor, you don’t need to stop exercising or take the time to count anything. At any given moment you can find
out your heart rate by glancing at your wrist. A good monitor can cost less
than $60. The really fancy ones cost up to $400. They offer features such as a
clock, a timer, and an alarm that you can set to beep when you wander out of
your target zone.
Most of the cardio equipment in gyms is now “heart-rate-monitor compatible.”
The machines pick up the signal from the monitor, and your heart rate pops
up on the display console, so you don’t have to wear the wrist watch. This
saves you the trouble of bringing your wrist up to your eyeball while you’re
The most accurate type of monitor is the chest-strap variety, which operates
on the same principle as a medical electrocardiogram (ECG). You hook an
inch-wide strap around your chest. This strap acts as an electrode to measure the electrical activity of your heart. This information is then translated
into a number, which is transmitted via radio signals to a wrist receiver that
looks like a watch with a large face. All you have to do is look at your wrist,
and you instantly know how many times your heart is beating that moment,
whether it’s 92 or 164. Turn to Chapter 25 for more details on purchasing a
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course
Chest monitors are very accurate, but some are subject to interference from
electromagnetic waves like those given off by some treadmills and stairclimbers. (Better, newer models come equipped with coded signals that
prevent this interference.) Exercising next to someone else who’s wearing a
monitor may also scramble signals, a sort of electronic equivalent of getting
your braces locked with someone else’s when you’re kissing. You may need
at least 4 feet between users for monitors to function properly, although
several companies now offer models with a special device to eliminate
Less accurate than chest monitors are photo-optic models, often sold with
home equipment. These clip onto your earlobe or fingertip and detect the
heartbeat there. Your heart rate shows up on a handheld or clip-on digital
screen or special wristwatch. Those models cost only about $30, but any
movement of your wrist, hand, or fingers can cause highly erratic or false
readings. Daylight, poor circulation, and high-intensity exercise may also
skew the results.
How Much Do You Need to Do?
Unless you’re a professional athlete or wealthier than the average Third World
dictator, you probably don’t have unlimited time to work out. So you may be
wondering: Just how much cardio exercise does it really take to get fit?
The answer depends on your goals. Exercise is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can be fit to live a long life, fit to bicycle 30 miles, fit to run the
Mount Everest Marathon (there really is such a thing) — or anywhere in
between. In the cardio plans near the end of this chapter, we discuss how
long, how often, and how hard you need to exercise in order to achieve three
general goals: good health, fat loss, and maximum fitness. We also explain how
you can cut back on your workouts during a serious time crunch without
losing your fitness.
That said, recent research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine
attempted to answer the question of how much exercise is needed to maintain
body weight by placing subjects into four categories:
No exercise at all
Low amount of exercise (12 miles per week of walking or running) with
moderate intensity (equivalent to 4 to 5.5 in Table 8-1)
Low amount of exercise (12 miles per week of walking or running) with
vigorous intensity (also 6.5 to 8 in Table 8-1)
High amount of exercise (20 miles per week of walking or running) with
vigorous intensity (6.5 to 8 in Table 8-1)
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
The subjects did not change their total caloric intake or alter the makeup of
their diets. Researchers discovered that 73 percent of subjects in the control
group (who didn’t exercise at all) gained weight during the study, indicating
that some exercise is absolutely essential for maintaining weight. Perhaps not
surprisingly, 75 percent of the other three groups lost weight and decreased
in size. But here’s the best news: The high-amount/vigorous-intensity subjects
lost far more weight and body fat and had the largest reductions in size
(namely, waist circumference) of the four groups. Although the issue of how
much exercise is enough won’t be resolved anytime soon, this study suggests
that the most benefits are gained from combining a high amount of exercise
with vigorous intensity.
Following a Cardio Plan for Good Health
If your goal is to feel better and live longer, a little aerobic exercise goes a
remarkably long way. Research shows that the people who gain the most
from aerobic exercise are those who go from being completely slothful to
only marginally slothful — not the ones who go from being fit to super fit.
The people in the bottom 20 percent of the population, fitness-wise, are 65
percent more likely to die from heart attack, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than
the highly fit people in the top 20 percent. However, when those couch potatoes move up just one notch on the fitness scale, by simply adding a daily
30-minute walk, they’re only 10 percent more likely to die from these causes
than super-fit people.
If you have no designs on hiking the Appalachian Trail or losing 50 pounds,
you may want to know the minimum amount of exercise that can make a difference in your health. Here are some answers.
How often you need to do
cardio for good health
Research suggests that you can lower your risk of heart disease just by walking for 20 minutes three times a week. This typically is enough exercise to
increase your energy level and stamina, too, although not enough to cause
much in the way of fat loss. If you’re a beginner, we recommend working out
five or six days rather than three days a week (keeping the workouts short)
simply so you get in the habit of exercising.
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course
How long your workouts should
last for good health
If your goal is to improve your health, you do not need to do all your exercise
in big chunks. Nowhere is it written — in the U.S. Constitution, the Talmud, or
the California Penal Code — that in order to benefit from aerobic exercise,
you need to do it for 30 consecutive minutes. Studies show that doing three
ten-minute bouts of aerobic exercise has nearly the same health benefits as
doing one half-hour session.
How hard you need to
push for good health
If you’re simply looking to feel better and improve the quality of your everyday life, being active is the key, even if you don’t always reach your target
zone (see the “Your target heart-rate zone” section earlier in this chapter).
However, to realize the maximum health benefits — significantly lowering
your heart-disease risk, for example — it’s wise to work out in your target
zone the majority of the time. Plus, even if you have modest goals, you may
want to crank up your intensity just to keep things interesting.
Realize that, when you’re a beginner, any exercise you do is high-intensity
exercise. As you get more fit, you need to adapt your routine to match your
increasing strength and lung power. When Liz’s mom started working out, she
couldn’t complete 10 minutes on the treadmill at 2 mph. After three months,
she was able to do 20 minutes at 4 mph — an improvement that in the beginning would have seemed inconceivable.
Following a Cardio Plan for Weight Loss
If your goal is permanent fat loss, the “cardio plan for good health” isn’t going
to cut it. You simply won’t burn enough calories to make a significant impact.
Here’s why: In order to lose a pound in one week, you need to create a 3,500calorie deficit; in other words, you need to burn off 3,500 more calories than
you eat. A 30-minute power walk on flat ground burns about 120 calories.
(See the “Which activities burn the most calories” section later in this chapter.) So, to burn off 1 pound of fat by walking, you’d have to hoof it for more
than 2 hours a day.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Don’t worry — we’re not suggesting that you exercise two hours every day! In
fact, we think the best way to lose fat is to create a calorie deficit by burning
calories through exercise and cutting calories you eat. For example, over the
course of a week, you may cut 250 calories per day by switching from mayo
to mustard on your sandwich at lunch and snacking on Yoplait Lite yogurt
instead of Columbo Fruit-on-the-Bottom. Meanwhile, you could burn an extra
250 calories a day by taking a one-hour walk or a half-hour jog.
Cardio exercise is only one part of a weight-loss plan. You also need to revamp
your eating habits (see Chapter 7 for tips) and embark on a weight-training
program (see Chapter 11 to find out why). Also, keep in mind that losing weight
is not as easy as it sounds on TV diet commercials. It takes a lot more commitment than just drinking that delicious shake for breakfast. And it takes time.
Don’t try to lose more than 1⁄2 pound to 1 pound each week, and don’t eat
fewer than 1,200 calories per day (preferably more). On a super-low-calorie
diet, you deprive your body of essential nutrients, and you have a tougher
time keeping the weight off because your metabolism slows down. Realize, too,
that genetics plays a large role in weight loss. It’s easier for some people to
lose weight than it is for others.
Here are some general cardio guidelines for weight loss. We suggest that you
consult a registered dietitian and certified fitness trainer to come up with a
plan best suited to your specific goals and schedule.
How often you need to do
cardio for weight loss
Here’s the cold, hard truth: You probably need to do five or six workouts
a week.
How long your workouts should
last for weight loss
Here’s another dose of reality: You should aim for at least 45 minutes of exercise, a mix of cardio and strength training, six days per week. Again, you don’t
need to do all this sweating at once, but for the pounds to come off, the calories you burn need to add up.
How hard you need to push for weight loss
To make a serious dent in your fat-loss program, we suggest that you work
out in your target zone most of the time. But keep in mind: If you’re pretty
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course
darned “deconditioned,” as the politically correct like to say, even exercising
at 50 percent of your maximum heart rate can help build up your fitness level.
You may have heard that exercising at a slow pace is more effective for
weight loss than working out more intensely. In fact, many cardio machines
have “fat burning” programs that keep you at a slow pace. But this is misleading. As it turns out, the concept of a fat-burning zone is no more real than the
Twilight Zone.
During low-intensity aerobic exercise, your body does use fat as its primary
fuel source. As you get closer to your breaking point, your body starts using
a smaller percentage of fat and a larger percentage of carbohydrates, another
fuel source. However, picking up the pace allows you to burn more total calories, as well as more fat calories.
Here’s how: If you go in-line skating for 30 minutes at a leisurely roll, you
might burn about 100 calories — about 80 percent of them from fat (so that’s
80 fat calories). But if you spend the same amount of time skating with a
vengeance over a hilly course, you might burn 300 calories — 30 percent of
them from fat (that’s 90 fat calories). So at the fast pace, you burn more than
double the calories and 10 more fat calories.
Of course, going faster and harder is not always better. If you’re just starting
out, you probably can’t sustain a faster pace long enough to make it worth
your while. If you go slower, you may be able to exercise a lot longer, so you’ll
end up burning more calories and fat that way.
Which activities burn the most calories
“Maximize your workout and burn over 1,000 calories per hour!” That’s a
claim you may see in advertisements for treadmills, stair-climbers, and other
cardio machines. And it’s true. You can burn 1,000 calories per hour doing
those activities — if you crank up the machine to the highest level and if you
happen to have bionic legs. If you’re a beginner, you’ll last about 30 seconds
at that pace, at which point you will have burned 8.3 calories, and the paramedics will be scooping you off the floor and hauling your wilted body away
on a stretcher.
There’s a better approach to calorie burning: Choose an activity that you can
sustain for a good while — say, at least 10 or 15 minutes. Sure, running burns
more calories than walking, but if running wipes you out after a half mile or
bothers your knees, you’re better off walking.
Table 8-2 gives calorie estimates for a number of popular aerobic activities.
The number of calories you actually burn depends on the intensity of your
workout, your weight, your muscle mass, and your metabolism. In general, a
beginner is capable of burning 4 or 5 calories per minute of exercise, while
a very fit person can burn 10 to 12 calories per minute.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
The table includes a few stop-and-go sports such as tennis and basketball.
Activities like these are not aerobic in the truest sense, but they can still give
you a great workout and contribute to good health and weight loss. The numbers in this chart apply to a 150-pound person. (If you weigh less, you’ll burn
a little less; if you weigh more, you’ll burn a little more.)
Table 8-2
Calories Burned during Popular Activities
15 min.
30 min.
45 min.
60 min.
Aerobic dance
Bicycling at 12 mph
Bicycling at 15 mph
Bicycling at 18 mph
Circuit weight training
Cross-country skiing
Downhill skiing
Golf (carrying clubs)
In-line skating
Jumping rope, 60–80 skips/min.
Karate, tae kwon do
Rowing machine
Running 10-minute miles
Running 8-minute miles
Ski machine
Swimming freestyle, 35 yds/min.
Swimming freestyle, 50 yds/min.
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course
15 min.
30 min.
45 min.
60 min.
Tennis, singles
Tennis, doubles
VersaClimber, 100 ft./min.
Walking, 20-minute miles, flat
Walking, 20-minute miles, hills
Walking, 15-minute miles, flat
Walking, 15-minute miles, hills
Water aerobics
Following a Cardio Plan to
Maximize Your Fitness
When you get the hang of this exercise thing, you may find that you want
more of a challenge. Instead of being satisfied with a boost in energy and a
decrease in heart-disease risk, you may want to test yourself in a 5K run or
a weeklong hiking tour of Canada.
Bernie Kalkbrenner, a funeral director we know from Duluth, Minnesota,
smoked 21⁄2 packs of cigarettes a day for 25 years. One day, Bernie realized
that if he didn’t get his act together, he was going to become one of his own
customers. So he quit smoking and took up bicycling. At age 51, he cycled
3,230 miles across the United States in less than seven weeks. “I’ve never felt
this good in my life,” Bernie said upon finishing. “To be able to pedal my butt
up a hill without any shortness of breath — that’s exhilarating.”
How can you get in shape like Bernie? In Chapter 10, we offer specific tips on
how to train for several outdoor sports, including cycling. The following sections also give you some general tips for getting in really good cardio shape.
Be sure to increase your training gradually; don’t go longer, more often, and
harder all at once. Otherwise, you really increase your chances of injuring
yourself. In other words, it’s not a great idea to do three 20-minute workouts
one week and then jump to three 45-minute workouts the next. It’s more sensible to increase the time of just one of your workouts to 25 minutes and keep
the others at 20.
The best approach is to increase no more than 10 percent each week. So, if
you walk 150 minutes one week, walk no more than 165 minutes the next.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Treat getting into good cardiovascular shape like a really important ongoing
project. You may struggle through the first session, maybe even the first five
to ten. But if you stick with it three times a week for at least six weeks, you’ll
start to notice dramatic changes. At that point, you’ll recover much more
quickly from your workouts. Instead of going home and crashing on the couch,
you may feel ready to go bowling or out for a walk.
How often you need to do cardio
for maximum fitness
Five days a week is a good goal to shoot for. Most people feel best with two
days off a week; everyone should take at least one day of complete rest. In
the “Giving It a Rest” section later in this chapter, we explain how to tell
whether you need more rest.
How long your workouts should
last for maximum fitness
Depending on your sport and your goal, you probably need to mix in at least
a couple long workouts — an hour or more — per week. Just make sure you
don’t increase the length of your workouts by more than 10 percent a week;
otherwise, your risk of injury shoots pretty high.
How hard you need to push
for maximum fitness
Even when you’re training to get in your best shape ever, you don’t want to
go all-out every day. (In fact, only serious athletes peaking for an event
should ever go all-out — and even then, only once or twice a week.) Your
target zone includes a large range of intensity levels. On some days, stay near
the bottom of the range and go for a longer workout; on other days, push
harder and go for a shorter workout. Try any or all of the training techniques
described in the next section.
Four ways to boost your fitness
You can play plenty of games to challenge your body. This section discusses
four training techniques that you can try after about a month or two of training at 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. The less conditioning you
start with, the more cautious you should be.
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course
Interval training: With interval training, you alternate short, fairly
intense spurts of exercise with periods of relatively easy exercise. For
example, say you’re out bicycling. After warming up for 15 minutes or
so, you may try cycling all-out for 30 seconds and follow this with a few
minutes of easy pedaling until your heart rate slows down a little, to about
120 or fewer beats per minute. Then you do another tough 30-second
interval, and so on. In essence, you’re switching between the low and
high ends of your target zone.
When you first try interval training, keep the high-intensity periods
short — 15 to 30 seconds. Follow these periods with at least three times
as much active rest (so, 45 to 90 seconds). Active rest means that you
keep moving between intervals instead of stopping dead. So after you do
that 30-second bike sprint, pedal slowly for about 90 seconds. You may
need even more recovery than that, especially if you’re a beginner. As
you become more accustomed to higher levels, you can increase the
length of the high-intensity intervals as you decrease the length of the
low-intensity intervals. Eventually, you can aim for a 1:1 hard-to-easy
ratio, measuring intervals in terms of time or distance.
Fartlek: This charming word means “speed play” in Swedish. Fartlek is
basically interval training without an exact measure of time or distance.
You just do your intervals whenever you feel like it. You may try sprinting
to every other telephone pole. Or set your sights on that horse standing
in the field down the road and pick up your pace until you reach him.
Uphill battles: You can add hills to walking, biking, running, or skating
workouts. You have to work harder when you come to a hill, but ultimately you’re rewarded with extra strength and stamina. As a bonus,
going uphill can burn twice as many calories as exercising on flat land.
One fun drill is to do hill repeats. Find a long, fairly steep hill and then
sprint up it and jog down it, repeating this sequence four to eight times.
Here’s a trick to make hill workouts seem easier: Pick a landmark that’s
partway up the hill, such as a bush or mailbox. Pretend that you have a
rope in your hands and cast it over your landmark. Now pull yourself up
the hill with your imaginary rope. When you reach your landmark, cast
your rope on something farther up the hill and keep doing this until you
reach the top.
Tempo workouts: Tempo workouts help you learn to move faster. During
a tempo drill, you move at a pace that you consider challenging but not
brutal, keeping that pace for four to ten minutes. Do that a couple of
times each workout. In between, exercise at your normal pace. If you’re
new to tempo training, begin with short tempos and gradually increase
their length. Anyone training for a local road race or a bike-a-thon will
find tempo work helpful.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Training for a specific event
Thinking of training for a 5K or 10K race, half-marathon, century bike ride, or
triathlon? Ideally, you want to spend at least 16 weeks (about 4 months)
preparing for your event. Take the first six to ten weeks just getting used to
running, cycling, swimming, and so on, slowly building your weekly mileage
at 10 percent each week. Starting at about 9 to 11 weeks, begin using the
techniques listed in the “Four ways to boost your fitness” section earlier,
mixing them into your routine. For example, one week, you might do uphill
training one day; the next week, you might try a tempo workout on a Monday
and a fartlek on a Thursday. In between, you run, cycle, or swim at a more
moderate pace or take a day off, allowing your body time to recover before
your next workout. By 16 weeks, you should be ready for the big day.
For more specific information about training for a running event, check out
Wiley Publishing’s Running For Dummies, by Florence Griffith-Joyner and Jon
Hanc, or Marathon Training For Dummies, by Tere Stouffer Drenth, which
includes information on racing at distances from 5K to marathons.
Giving It a Rest
For most people, exercising too much is about as big a problem as saving too
much money. However, some beginners — in their zeal to make up for 20 years
of neglecting their bodies — vow to exercise every day for the next 20 years.
This is not a good idea. If you’re trying to get fit, your workouts are only part
of the equation; rest is just as important.
Aim for a balance between hard days and easy days. If you do an intense
interval day on Monday, do an easy workout Tuesday. If you do two tough days
in a row, your legs may feel like someone inserted lead pipes in them while
you were sleeping. Everyone should rest at least one day a week. (Just don’t
let that one day off slip into three years.) And when we say take a rest day, we
mean no exercise. Nada. Zippo. An easy day does not count as a rest day. In
addition to taking a day or two off each week, you may also want to take an
easy week every month or two. So if you usually jog 15 miles a week, cut back
to 7 just for the week. Drastic cutbacks can help remotivate you and give
your body the vacation it may need.
There’s no magic formula to determine exactly how much rest is best for
your goals and fitness level. But here’s a good rule: If you’re doing everything
right, you should be able to wake up in the morning and say, “I know my
workout’s going to be really good,” rather than, “How the heck am I gonna
drag my butt to the gym?”
Chapter 8: Cardio Crash Course
What happens if you stop exercising?
Aerobic conditioning is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. A couple of days of inactivity won’t set
you back, but if you continue to slack off, your
improvements fade in a matter of weeks.
Research indicates that most of the benefits
from aerobic training are lost within two weeks
to three months.
suddenly, tax time arrives, and for two months
you’re buried in 1099s, IRS long forms, and
401(k) plans. Well, instead of abandoning exercise altogether, which would practically guarantee that you lose all your conditioning, you
can cut back and still maintain your fitness for
up to 12 weeks.
But there’s good news, too. You can preserve
your hard-earned fitness even if you go through
a period when you don’t exercise as much as
usual. Suppose you’re a CPA. You get into a
really good routine of jogging on the treadmill
four days a week for a half-hour, and you keep
up the routine for four straight months. Then,
Instead of running 30 minutes 4 days a week,
you could get by with 30 minutes twice a week
or 15 minutes 4 times a week. The only requirement is that you keep up your usual pace. When
you get back to your regular routine after tax
time, you may find that you’ve lost no fitness at
all — or maybe just a tiny bit.
Exercisers of all levels are susceptible to overtraining. For an elite athlete,
overtraining might be running 80 miles in a week; for a beginner, running 8
miles might be too much. Here are some signs that you’ve overdone it:
Your resting heart rate sounds like a jackhammer drilling through
concrete. In other words, if your heart rate is way above what it normally
is — say, about 10 beats — take it very easy or take a day or two off.
(For details about your resting heart rate, see Chapter 2.)
You feel chronically sore or weak. If you lift a ketchup bottle and it
feels like a 10-pound dumbbell, stay home.
You get chronic colds and infections.
You’re not sleeping well.
You’re irritable, anxious, or depressed. It’s not a good sign if you lock
your keys in your car and smash the window to retrieve them instead of
calling the auto club.
You can’t concentrate or you feel disoriented. If you make a left-hand
turn signal while you’re on a stationary bike, it’s time for a rest.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Chapter 9
Using Cardio Machines
In This Chapter
Knowing whether to trust calorie counters on cardio machines
Fighting boredom in your cardio workout
Using an elliptical trainer, treadmill, stationary bike, stair-climber, VersaClimber, or
rowing machine
alk into a health club or fitness-equipment store and you’re likely to
encounter rows of high-tech contraptions that appear to be part video
game, part escalator, and part lawn mower. Don’t be alarmed. The consoles of
these machines may resemble the control panel of Apollo 13, but with a little
help, even a rookie can understand all the flashing red dots and beeping green
arrows. Be thankful for all this technology because it makes indoor aerobic
exercise a lot more fun than it used to be. For all your sweat, the screen offers
you instant gratification — the number of miles that you walk, steps that you
climb, minutes that you cycle, and calories that you burn.
Cardiovascular machines tend to come and go. Since the first edition of this
book, we’ve seen the rise and fall of various riders, gliders, and skaters. So
we’re not going to give you a rundown of every crazy invention that’s made
its way onto an infomercial. Instead, this chapter covers the solid, proven
machines, such as treadmills, rowers, bikes, and stair-climbers, as well as a
relative newcomer that we believe is here to stay: the elliptical trainer. We
tell you how to take the drudgery out of exercising in place and how to position your body on each machine so that you burn the most calories and
avoid injury.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Can You Trust Those Calorie Counters?
At the gym one day, Suzanne was pumping away on the stair-climber next to a
very fit woman. For a brief moment, the woman looked away from her machine
to say hello to a friend. When she looked back, her 45-minute workout had
ended, and she had missed the final calorie readout. Horrified, the woman
uttered several curse words and then stormed into the locker room — as if
not knowing her exact calorie burn negated the entire 45 minutes of effort.
That may be an extreme case, but most of us do get a psychological boost
from knowing how many calories we just burned. There’s just one problem:
The information may not be accurate.
For the most part, the formulas used to calculate calories burned are derived
from tests done on healthy young males — and in some cases, elite athletes
working near their maximum effort. This does not always translate accurately
for the rest of us. For instance, a recent study conducted found that fitness
equipment readouts may overestimate calorie count for obese women by as
much as 80 calories for 30 minutes of moderate intensity walking.
Other research has found that calorie predictions are skewed even further
if you lean your body weight against the handrails, grip tightly, or otherwise
position your body on a machine in a way that makes the exercise less strenuous. Some studies have shown that calculations can be off by as much as 50
Sometimes it’s not the formulas or your technique that skew the calorie
count; it’s the deceptive marketing strategy of the machine’s manufacturer.
A researcher for one cardio-equipment manufacturer admitted to us that his
company intentionally boosts the calorie information by as much as 30 percent
so that people may, subconsciously, prefer their machines over other brands.
We suspect that elliptical machines (described in the “Elliptical trainer” section
later in this chapter) have particularly generous calorie readouts. Case in
point: When Liz does a fairly easy elliptical workout, the machine tells her
that she burns 12 calories per minute — a number that seems suspiciously
high. In fact, in order to achieve the same calorie burn on the treadmill (known
to be an accurate machine), she needs to run at a brisk 8 mph, a pace that
shoots her heart rate way up into the huff-and-puff zone. We’re skeptical that
these two workouts are equivalent.
The most accurate machines tend to be the treadmill and the stationary bike
because the contraptions have been so well studied. In recent years, stairclimbers have adjusted calorie estimates drastically downward to better
reflect reality.
The bottom line: Realize that the calorie figures are simply estimates.
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines
Use the calorie information to motivate you, but don’t be a slave to it, and
don’t rely on the numbers to validate your efforts.
Combating Boredom on
Aerobic Machines
It’s no coincidence that “treadmill” is listed under “tedium” in Roget’s
Thesaurus; imitating a laboratory rodent is not among life’s thrills. No matter
what type of exercise machine you use and no matter how many flashing dots
you’re rewarded with, boredom is bound to hit you at some point. In this
section, we suggest ways to divert your attention so that your 20, 30, or 40
minutes pass before you know it. Eventually, you may actually begin to enjoy
the sensations of sweat and fatigue, and using these machines won’t seem
like a chore.
Take a cardio-machine class
It used to be that if you wanted a cardio workout in the company of a perky
instructor and enthusiastic classmates, you had to take step aerobics or
some type of dance class. But now the group-exercise concept includes
machines, too. The trend started with indoor cycling classes known as spinning or studio cycling and has since expanded to treadmills, stair-climbers,
and rowing machines. Group cycling has become so popular that most new
clubs now build separate rooms for these classes. (See Chapter 4 for more
details about group cycling.) Treadmill classes that go by the name of Treading
and Trekking are also catching on. Concept II, a top rowing machine brand,
has developed a half-hour group class called Boathouse, and StairMaster has
introduced a 20-minute climbing class called Stomp.
Instructors of these cardio classes guide you through a workout as if you’re
running, climbing, or rowing outdoors. You imagine bounding up pristine
mountain hills, sprinting through meadows, or finishing the Tour de France.
A good instructor can make the experience so much fun that you almost forget
you’re in a room with a dozen other stinky, sweaty people going absolutely
Vary your workouts
If you don’t want to take a class or you work out at home, you can make your
workouts more entertaining simply by varying your pace. Most machines
have a manual mode that allows you to control the intensity of the workout.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
You push one arrow to speed up the pace, another to slow it down. Use the
manual mode to design your own workouts, incorporating the training techniques that we describe in Chapter 8.
You should also experiment with the various programs already entered in the
computer’s memory. These programs are great because you don’t have to
decide what to do next. Most programs have built-in warm-up and cooldown
periods; in between, you vary your pace. For instance, many machines offer
a random program; every 10 to 30 seconds, the machine surprises you by
changing the tension. Most treadmills offer programs like “A Romp in the
Park,” which may be a 3-mile walk or jog over rolling hills. The treadmill
automatically inclines and declines during these workouts.
Listen to music or a book on tape
Rock, rap, pop, or country — go with whatever gets your adrenaline pumping.
If Shania Twain works for you, so be it. A tape that mixes fast and slow songs
can add variety to your workout, because your pace tends to be in sync with
the music. One study showed that women who exercised to music lasted 25
percent longer than those who worked out in silence. At some gyms you can
plug your headphones into a system that offers dozens of CD selections and
audio channels.
Or try listening to a book on tape. You may prefer to get wrapped up in a good
story or learn how to manage your love life. If you rely on a tape or CD player
to keep you going, make sure that you keep a load of extra batteries in your
gym bag. We can’t count the times we’ve shown up at the gym with our tape
players only to find that the batteries are dead — along with our motivation.
At some gyms, you can listen to music without the need for batteries, or even
a tape or CD player. At these clubs, the cardio machines are equipped with
high-tech systems: Attached to each treadmill, bike, or other machine is a
tape and CD player, along with a small TV screen that even offers Internet
access. The only catch is you have to buy special wireless headphones that
cost up to $100. These systems require you to bring your own headphones
and plug them into a small box attached to the machine. Or, you need your
own personal stereo and must tune into an FM frequency to pick up the various TV stations.
Watch TV or a video
Park your stationary bike in front of your TV and tune in to whatever you
consider entertaining, whether it’s Truckin’ USA on Country Music Television
or British Parliament debates on C-SPAN. You can also pop in a video designed
for indoor exercise workouts. For example, you can buy videos that simulate
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines
a group cycling class, including hill sprints and interval drills. Other videos,
designed for bikes, treadmills, and stair-climbers, transport you to the Grand
Canyon, a Hawaiian rain forest, or the Swiss Alps. You can find a selection of
these videos in the resources we describe in Chapter 19.
If you work out at a gym, plug into the TVs that are either suspended in front
of the cardio machines or attached to each individual contraption. (We’re
fond of all this new technology; gone are the days when you had to negotiate
with your fellow gym members to find a mutually agreeable show. Suzanne
once had to miss a crucial episode of Melrose Place because two guys on the
bikes next to her insisted on watching a basketball game. The nerve. . . .)
Read a magazine
Kill two birds with one stone: Burn calories while you catch up on your reading. Suzanne is a much more informed citizen during the winter, when she
spends a fair amount of time on the stair-climber, than she is during the
summer, when she’s outside on her road bike.
This is a good time to read the fitness magazines we talk about in the
Appendix. Exercise magazines offer lots of encouragement and tend to
contain easy-to-skim lists. When you’re drenched in sweat on the elliptical
trainer, taking in “Ten Ways to Boost Energy and Get Stronger” is a lot easier
than concentrating on an essay about Indonesian politics. Note: As we explain
in the “Treadmill” section later in this chapter, don’t read while you’re walking
or running on the treadmill.
Exercise in short spurts
To break up the monotony, do ten minutes on the treadmill, followed by ten
minutes on the bike, and then ten minutes on the rowing machine. Or try short
bouts on a cardio machine with five minutes of weight lifting. As we explain
in Chapter 8, it’s a myth that you must exercise for 20 or 30 consecutive minutes. Breaking up your workout into small chunks isn’t a good strategy to use
every day if you’re training for a marathon, but if your goal is simply to burn
calories and improve your health, the total time you spend exercising is what
matters most.
Think, but not too hard
People tend to have their most creative ideas when they’re doing something
repetitive that doesn’t involve their mind completely. But don’t set out to
solve the U.S. health-care crisis during your workout. Instead, use your time
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
to ponder more solvable dilemmas, like how you can get your boss off your
back. You may even want to keep a tape recorder handy, in case a flash of
brilliance comes along.
Monitor your heart rate
To keep yourself occupied, use a heart-rate monitor to create an interval program. For instance, after warming up, alternate five minutes at the low end of
your target zone with five minutes at the high end. (If all this talk about monitors, intervals, and target zones is complete gibberish to you, read Chapter 8.)
Many machines have heart-rate monitors built into them. Your heart rate
registers when you grasp the handles. Or, you can wear a strap around your
chest; the machine picks up the signal from the strap and beams it to the
console so that your heart rate is displayed right alongside your speed and
distance. The strap is more accurate than the handles, but you do have to
bring your own heart-rate-monitor chest strap from home, if your gym doesn’t
provide them. Chapter 8 includes tips on buying a heart-rate monitor.
Talk to a friend
Some people think that if they’re able to speak while exercising, they must
not be working hard enough to do their body any good. As we explain in
Chapter 8, that’s not true. In general, your breathing should be light enough
so that you can hold up your end of a conversation.
One health club in L.A. has started a book club. Members of the “Brains and
Brawn” workout group do their reading at home and then convene on the
treadmills and stair-climbers to discuss the latest murder mystery or popular
novel. (Tolstoy and Dickens aren’t popular in this book club.)
Exercising in the Great Indoors
Most exercisers have a favorite cardio machine and one that they probably
can’t stand. Some people find the treadmill invigorating; others consider it
more tedious than peeling potatoes. We suggest you try all the machines at
your gym or at an equipment store before you buy one. No single cardio
machine is better than the rest. What matters most is how often you use
the thing.
No matter what machine you use, always keep a water bottle and a towel
within reach. Many gym machines have water bottle holders, and you can
buy them cheaply for your home equipment. Also, stay tuned to how your
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines
body feels. If your knee hurts or you start to feel faint, don’t ignore the pain
or try to drown it out by cranking up the volume on your stereo headphones.
You may be damaging muscles or joints.
That said, here’s a look at the most popular cardiovascular machines.
Treadmills are the motorized equivalent of walking or running in place. You
simply keep up with a belt that’s moving under your feet. Treadmill workouts
burn about the same number of calories as walking or running outdoors. The
only exception seems to be running uphill. When you incline the treadmill to
simulate running uphill, it’s somewhat easier than running up real-life hills of
the same grade. But walking uphill on a treadmill is virtually the same as
walking uphill outdoors.
Who will like it
Treadmills are especially popular in crowded cities, where you need to be
part cutting horse, part smog filter to run or walk through the streets.
Treadmills are great for beginners because they require little coordination to
use. Plus, treadmills can move at a slow enough pace to accommodate even
the most out-of-shape exercisers. People with back pain, bad knees, or weak
ankles often find treadmills kinder to their joints than concrete or cement.
Today’s treadmills are springier and more shock-absorbing than ever. Many
have added flashy new features, such as Internet hookups so that you can
run and walk with other treadmillers from all over the globe. Some treadmills
can store up to 100 personal programs.
Who will hate it
You need a very strong or very blank mind to do long workouts on a treadmill. Most people find more than a half-hour on this machine mind-numbing,
even with entertainment. If you crave the wind whipping through your hair
and scenery flashing by, reserve the treadmills for emergency aerobic situations only. Running also places more impact on your joints than most other
exercises and may not be a favorite if you have a bad lower back, achy knees,
or weak ankles.
Treadmill user tips
Treadmills are among the easiest cardio machines to use. Still, treadmill
users are not immune to poor posture. And if you’re not paying attention,
you can stumble. On occasion you may see someone slide off the treadmill
like a can of beans on a supermarket conveyor belt. Here are some tips to
make sure this doesn’t happen to you:
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Start slowly. Most treadmills have safety features that prevent them
from starting out at breakneck speeds, but don’t take any chances.
Always place one foot on either side of the belt as you turn on the
machine, and step on the belt only after you determine that it’s moving
at the slow set-up speed, usually between 1 and 2 miles per hour.
Don’t rely on the handrails. Holding on for balance when you learn how
to use the machine is okay, but let go as soon as you feel comfortable.
You move more naturally if you swing your arms freely. You’re working
at too high a level if you have to imitate a water-skier — in other words,
if you hold onto the front rails and lean back. This is a common phenomenon among people who incline the treadmill, and this position is bad
news for your elbows and for the machine. Plus, you’re not fooling
anyone; you’re burning far fewer calories than the readout indicates.
However, if you have balance issues, go ahead and grasp the handrails
lightly so that you feel steady and secure.
Look straight ahead. Your feet tend to follow your eyes, so if you focus
on what’s in front of you, you usually walk straight ahead instead of
veering off to the side. When you’re in the middle of a workout and
someone calls your name, don’t turn around to answer. This piece of
advice may seem obvious now, but wait until it happens to you.
Expect to feel disoriented. The first few times you use a treadmill, you
may feel dizzy when you step off. Your body is just wondering why the
ground suddenly stopped moving. Don’t worry. Most people only experience this vertigo once or twice.
Never go barefoot. Always wear a good pair of walking or running shoes
for your treadmill workout.
Don’t read on the treadmill. You risk losing your balance and stumbling
off the side or back.
Elliptical trainer
Just when we thought that all good cardio machines had been invented,
along came the elliptical trainer. Ellipticals have two large, fat foot pedals.
Your feet follow a path that’s sort of a stretched-out oval known as an ellipse
(hence, the name elliptical trainer) — see Figure 9-1. The motion feels like a
mix between fast walking, stair-climbing, and cross-country skiing. Precor,
Reebok CCS, Life Fitness, StairMaster, and Startrac make the most popular
models. The popularity of this machine has exploded in the past two years,
rivaling that of the treadmill. Newer models allow you to work your arms in
an opposite motion to your feet, which can get confusing if you think too
much about it while exercising! Working your arms allows you to burn additional calories, though.
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines
Figure 9-1:
trainers are
enough for
Photograph by John Urban
Who will like it
Runners who need a day off from the pounding gravitate toward this machine
like moviegoers to the concession stand. It’s also popular with walkers looking
for a more spirited workout and people who once used the cross-country
skier but can’t find one because NordicTrack has gone out of business. The
elliptical trainer is also popular among people who are bored with stairclimbing or find stair-climbing hard on their knees.
Who will hate it
Suzanne! She finds the elliptical motion unnatural. She feels that if your feet
are going to be moving in a circular-type motion, you should be sitting down,
like on a bike; and if you’re going to be standing, your feet should be going up
and down or back and forth. But then again, Suzanne may be a poor judge of
this machine — she can’t pat her head while rubbing her tummy in circles.
Also, Suzanne finds it tough to read while using the elliptical trainer, and
because she uses her machine cardio time to peruse the TV section of USA
Today, this is a problem.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Elliptical-trainer user tips
Elliptical trainers can take a bit of getting used to, but they don’t require
great skill. You’ll be up and running in no time by following these tips:
Limit backward pedaling. Contrary to popular belief, pedaling backward does not work your buttocks more than pedaling forward (and it
may even be hard on your knees). Both motions emphasize the front
thigh muscles, so do it once in a while, but not for any prolonged
amount of time.
Use the machine’s versatile features. To adjust the intensity of your
workout, you can pedal faster, raise the incline, increase the resistance,
or any combination.
Don’t lock your knees. Keep a slight bend in your knees, keeping the
motion smooth.
Remind yourself to stand up straight. Although the elliptical trainer
lends itself to better technique than the stair-climber, you can still
commit postural violations such as leaning too far forward and hugging
the console.
Stationary bicycle
Bikes come in two varieties: upright and recumbent. Upright bikes simulate a
regular bike, only you don’t go anywhere (see Figure 9-2). Recumbent bikes,
have bucket seats so you pedal out in front of you. Neither type is superior;
it’s a matter of preference. The recumbent does offer more back support and
may be more comfortable for people with lower-back pain. If you’re new to
exercise or heavyset, you may also find a recumbent bike more comfortable.
Who will like it
Bikes are great for toning your thighs (and recumbents are especially good
for your butt), and they give your knees a break while offering a terrific aerobic workout. Bikes also suit anyone who wants to read while working out.
Holding a book or magazine in place on a stair-climber or treadmill is much
tougher — and it’s impossible on a skier or rowing machine.
Who will hate it
Hard-core cyclists complain that most stationary bicycles don’t have the same
feel as outdoor bikes. They’re right: The pedal positions usually are different,
and the seats on a stationary bike usually are wider. Also, most indoor bikes
force you to sit upright rather than allow you to lean forward, like you do on
a regular bike. The exceptions are bikes specially designed for spinning and
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines
other versions of group indoor cycling; these contraptions are designed more
like road bikes, although they lack the high-tech computer programs that keep
many people motivated. Different bike brands offer very different positioning.
You may like some bike brands more than others.
Figure 9-2:
An upright
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Bikes give you less opportunity to use atrocious form than do most other
machines. Still, there’s room for injury or discomfort. Here are some tips to
help you avoid both:
Adjust the seat. When the pedal is at the lowest position, your leg should
be almost, but not quite, straight. You shouldn’t have to strain or rock
your hips to pedal. Your knees shouldn’t feel crunched when they’re
at the top of the pedal stroke. With a recumbent bike, you adjust the
seat forward and back, rather than up and down, but the principles are
the same.
Set the handlebars correctly (if your bike allows adjustments). You
should be able to hold the bar so that your arms extend out at shoulder
level. You shouldn’t have to squirm around to get comfortable. Handlebar
adjustment is especially important if you’re very tall or very short.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Get to know the display panel. For instance, notice how many levels
the bike has. Some bikes feature 12 levels; others have 40. So if you just
hop on and press Level 6, you’ll get two very different workouts. Also,
pay attention to your cadence — that is, how many revolutions per
minute (rpm) you’re cycling. Varying your cadence is a good idea. You
may want to hum along at 80 rpm for 5 minutes and then do 30-second
intervals at 100 rpm using the same tension level.
Adjust the pedal straps so that your feet feel snug — but don’t let the
straps cut off your circulation. Riding a bike with the foot straps is
much more comfortable and efficient than pedaling without them. Don’t
remove the pedal straps from your bike; this forces the next person to
waste time putting them back on.
Don’t pedal with just your toes. Otherwise you may bring on foot and
calf cramps. Instead, press from the ball of your foot and through your
heel as you pump downward on the pedal, and pull up with the top of
your foot on the upstroke.
Don’t hunch over. Rounding your back is the way to develop back and
neck pain. Don’t get your upper body into the effort, either. Instead,
keep your chest up, shoulders back and down, ears in line with your
shoulders, and belly button drawn in. Unlike some other machines,
riding a stationary bike is not a total-body workout; don’t try to make it
one. If you have to rock wildly from side to side, grit your teeth, or
clench the handlebars, you need to lighten your load.
Make sure the bike is sturdy. At one New York City gym, a guy was pedaling furiously when the frame collapsed and the bike shot forward and
out the second story window — with the guy still seated. Ironically, he
landed on a bike rack below. This being New York, the doorman said,
“Hey buddy, you can’t park that thing here.” Actually, we made the last
part up, but the rest of the story was reported on the news. Although
the guy was hospitalized, he walked away more or less unscathed.
We’re not thrilled about the trend of attaching arm handles to treadmills,
but we do like the so-called dual-action bikes, at least the brands that you
find in health clubs. On a good bike, it’s easy to keep upper- and lower-body
movements coordinated while still getting a smooth ride. Operating one of
these bikes looks complicated, but it’s not nearly as difficult as, say, rubbing
circles on your stomach while patting your head. We especially like the new
recumbent bikes with arm handles, particularly a brand called Cycle Plus,
the only such bike that allows you to adjust the arm and leg tension separately (see Figure 9-3). We’re also fond of the upright Schwinn AirDyne; the
flywheel fan generates a cool, gentle breeze as you pedal your legs and
pump your arms.
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines
Figure 9-3:
A recumbent bike
with arm
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
For bikes with arm handles, adjust the seat height as you would with a regular bike, and set the arm handles at shoulder height. Coordinating upper- and
lower-body motions can take some getting used to. Start by focusing on your
legs and then gradually add in more arm resistance. If you find that exercising
your arms and your legs at the same time is too tiring, alternate arm and leg
movements until you build more stamina. As long as you keep moving, you’re
still getting an aerobic workout. (For a definition of aerobic, see Chapter 8.)
Keep in mind that even if you use a dual-action bike regularly, you still need
to do upper-body strength training. The resistance on the bike is too low to
build significant strength in your upper body.
The most common type of stair-climber is the pedal stepper, which many
exercisers refer to as the StairMaster. In fact, StairMaster is a specific brand —
just one of many excellent makes that you find in health clubs and home
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
equipment stores. Stair-climbing on a machine is a big improvement over jogging up and down the bleachers at your local high school football stadium.
The machine eliminates most of the wear and tear on your joints.
Who will like it
Women in particular love stair-climbers because these machines do a good
job of toning the butt and thighs. People who want to get in shape for skiing,
climbing, hiking, and running also love steppers, as they’re often called.
This is a good time to clear up the myth that stair-climbing builds big, bulky
muscles in your legs. The truth is, virtually any type of activity will increase
the size of your muscles if you work very slowly against a lot of tension. And
if you have a genetic predisposition toward building muscular thighs, you’re
pretty much going to fight against that no matter what you do. But for most
people, this isn’t an issue. The fact is stair-climbing is a terrific way to burn
calories and tone your legs.
Who will hate it
Beginners may get frustrated because stair-climbing is no vacation in Maui. If
you’re a complete novice, you may not last five minutes even on the lowest
level. In this case, use other machines, such as the treadmill or stationary
bike, until you build up some stamina and strength. Also, stair-climbing can
be tough to get the hang of; novices sometimes find themselves sinking to
the floor before they’re able to get into the rhythm of stepping. Finally, stairclimbing bothers some people’s knees. If you’re one of those people but have
your heart set on stair-climbing, you may be able to eliminate the pain with a
solid weight-lifting program. Do exercises that strengthen your thighs, both
front and back, because those are the muscles that hold your knees together.
Stair-climber user tips
Proper form is butchered on the stair-climber more than on any other single
piece of machinery. We’ve seen people clutch the railings so tightly their
knuckles turn white — or hug the console like it’s a long-lost relative. Some
less-informed exercisers think it’s really cool to be able to climb at the
machine’s highest level, regardless of their form. It’s not. When you clutch
the rails (or lean forward), you transfer your weight from your legs to your
arms or the machine, which drastically reduces the number of calories
you burn.
Fortunately, many stair-climber manufacturers have rectified this problem by
designing handles that point straight up. This makes cheating more difficult.
Still, we see people hanging on these newer handles. Here’s how to use this
machine the right way:
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines
Rest your hands — or better yet, your fingertips — lightly on the bar
in front of you or on the side rails. Don’t grip the rails any tighter than
you’d grip a paper cup. And never reverse your wrists so that your fingertips are pointing toward the floor and your elbows are turned up to
the ceiling. You really should be able to use the stair-climber without
holding on to the railing at all, but using the railing for balance (within
reason) is okay. If you must hang on in order to keep up with the machine,
you’re going too fast. Believe us, nobody will think less of you if you
drop down a few notches. In fact, you’ll probably impress people with
your stellar posture and noncompetitive attitude.
Stand upright with a slight forward lean at the hips (see Figure 9-4).
Don’t overcorrect your form by standing upright like a Marine at inspection. A slight — and we mean slight — forward lean helps keep your
knees from locking and protects your lower back from overarching.
Figure 9-4:
good, bad,
and just as
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Take even, moderately deep steps. Don’t take short, quick hopping
steps, a technique known as shaking the machine. This technique is hard
on your calf muscles and cuts down on the number of calories you burn.
Keep your entire foot on the pedal. This helps your rear end and
thighs get a full workout and prevents you from overburdening your
calf muscles.
Rolling stair-climber
This machine looks like a section of a department-store escalator (only
it’s hardly a free ride). A set of stairs rotates in a circle so that you climb
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
continuously, like Sisyphus up the mountain, ever upward, but never getting
anywhere. You look straight ahead into the console, which allows you to
adjust the speed.
Rolling staircases have been around a lot longer than steppers. At the turn of
the century, federal prisoners were forced to climb on them to provide electrical power to the prison facility. When modern rolling staircases first came
out, there were a few kinks to work out, like the fact that they had a habit of
collapsing when in use. Liz had a client who came in for a workout on her
wedding day. The stairs folded underneath her and she slid to the ground,
breaking an arm and a leg in the process. We’re happy to report that this
defect has been fixed, and rolling staircases are as safe as any other piece
of equipment in the gym, as long as you use them correctly.
Who will like it
In many ways, the rolling stair-climber is a better workout than a regular
stair-climber. It’s harder to cheat, because you’re forced to take a fairly deep
stride to place your foot onto the next step. (However, you can still cheat
by clenching the side rails.) This machine gives you a tremendous butt and
thigh workout, and you work up one helluva sweat. Start at a very slow speed
until you can confidently navigate the height of the step.
Who will hate it
If you’re used to the stepper-type climbers, the rolling stair-climber takes
some getting used to. Also, if you’re just getting into shape, this contraption
may be a bit much for you. At some health clubs, this workout is referred to
as “climbing the stairway from hell.” If you have knee or back problems, this
form of exercise may not agree with you.
Rolling-stair-climber user tips
The rolling stair-climber is a good machine to try when you’re looking to
make stair-climbing even more challenging. We know one woman who used
this machine to train for a race up the Empire State Building — 102 flights
of stairs. She came in second place. Here are some tips to keep in mind
(whether or not you plan to climb tall buildings):
Start at a very slow speed. This is one machine you can definitely slide
off of if you can’t maintain the pace.
Start with just five or ten minutes. Even if you’re in great shape on the
traditional stair-climber, treadmill, or other machine, you may find this
contraption startlingly tough.
Try climbing every other step. This technique gives you a killer butt
workout and a good stretch in your legs — but this technique is not for
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines
In this case, we’re using a brand name to refer to a whole class of machines,
the ladder-climbing simulator. The VersaClimber is by far the best ladder
climber, and the one that you’re likely to encounter at gyms (see Figure 9-5).
The VersaClimber is a stick of metal or wood that’s about 8-feet high and
leans slightly forward. You step onto the foot pedals, grip the handles, and do
the vertical equivalent of crawling in place. Some models have handrails so
that you can omit the upper-body motion and simply move your legs in an
action similar to stair-climbing. Other models have detachable seats so that
you can do the upper-body motion by itself. Many VersaClimbers also have a
built-in heart-rate monitor.
Figure 9-5:
climbing a
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Who will like it
The VersaClimber has a reputation for being the exclusive domain of aerobic
animals, but actually, it’s ideal for beginners, too. You can easily adjust the
variables — step height, arm motion, speed, and tension — to customize the
workout for any level. People with bad knees who like to climb may have an
easier time on this machine than any other type of climber. Many athletes use
this total-body trainer, and in case you care, Madonna has one.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Who will hate it
We have a theory about why the VersaClimber isn’t more popular: People
don’t like to be up high with their butts on display for the rest of the world.
Some gyms put their VersaClimber off in a corner where exercisers tend to
forget about it. That’s a shame because the VersaClimber is a great piece of
equipment. Vanity aside, there are some good reasons to avoid it, like if you
have a bad back or poor circulation in your feet.
VersaClimber user tips
Don’t be scared off by this admittedly scary-looking contraption. The
VersaClimber is not as tough to operate as you think. Here’s how to look
like a pro:
Always warm up with small, quick strides for three to five minutes.
Then experiment with different speeds, stride lengths, and tension
levels. If you get tired, you can eliminate the arm movement by holding
onto the handrails, or eliminate the leg movements by sitting on the
seat, if there is one.
Practice good climbing posture. Keep your back straight and keep your
torso parallel to the machine. Don’t round your back or lean back away
from the machine. Even if you take long strides, don’t stretch out your
body so far that your foot hits the floor, your knees and elbows lock, or
you’re forced to overarch your back.
Don’t get fixated on the mileage. A vertical mile is not the same as a
mile on the treadmill or the road. A mile may still be 5,280 feet (1,609
meters), but we’re talking straight uphill.
Rowing machines
Good rowers consist of a flywheel, a fan, and a cable with a handle attached
to one end (see Figure 9-6). You pull the handle toward you as you slide the
seat backward. The fan creates air resistance, which makes the movement
feel pretty close to skimming across the water.
Who will like it
Anyone looking for a great total-body workout will love rowing. If you’re
trying to get in shape for a rowing or paddling sport, this is the way to go.
Contrary to popular belief, rowing isn’t bad for your back. If you row correctly,
you initiate the movement from your legs and buttocks, which eliminates
excess stress on your back muscles.
Chapter 9: Using Cardio Machines
Figure 9-6:
rowing is a
activity, its
makes it a
good fit for
Photograph by John Urban
Who will hate it
Some people get bored with rowing in a matter of seconds. Others are intimidated because rowing is not as natural as walking, running, or biking. We know
one guy who smacked the handle into his forehead over and over again until
some kind soul in the gym showed him the proper form.
Rowing-machine user tips
Experienced rowers make rowing look easy, but when you actually sit down
at the machine, you may find that it takes a fair amount of coordination. Here
are some tips to fine-tune the motion:
Think legs, legs, legs. Concentrate on initiating the movement with your
buttocks rather than your lower back. Don’t fully straighten your knees.
Even when you’re completely extended, your knees should be a little soft.
Don’t round your back. Hunching over is the way to give yourself back
pain. Don’t lean all the way back at the end of the stroke, either. You’re
in proper position when your upper body is leaning backward about 45
Pull the handle in a smooth, continuous stroke. Don’t stop at the most
stretched-out and bent positions.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Chapter 10
Exercising Outdoors
In This Chapter
Walking or running your way to fitness
Bicycling on a mountain bike or road bike
Getting buff with in-line skating
Swimming: A total-body workout
Snowshoeing: Fitness in the great white north
resh air: What a concept. With all the hoopla these days about space-age,
indoor exercise contraptions, it’s easy to forget you can get a great workout in the great outdoors. You may even get a better workout — burning
more calories per minute — because outdoor activities sometimes involve
more muscles than their indoor counterparts. For example, when you park
yourself on a stationary bicycle, your upper-body muscles basically get a free
ride — you can easily read a magazine as you pedal away. But when you take
your bike out for a spin, your chest, arm, abdominal, and back muscles are all
called up for active duty.
In this chapter, we cover some of the most popular and invigorating outdoor
aerobic activities. We discuss what gear you need and how much it costs, and
we offer training strategies and safety tips for rookies and klutzes alike.
Can you really get fit by walking? Absolutely — as long as you walk long
enough, hard enough, and often enough. (If you’re asking, “How long?”, “How
hard?”, and “How often?”, check out Chapter 8.) A recent study found that,
among people who are successful in maintaining long-term weight loss,
nearly 80 percent walk as their main physical activity.
The beauty of walking is, it’s simply a matter of putting one foot in front of
the other. Sure, walking burns fewer calories per minute than jogging, but
most people last longer on a walk than a run, so you can make up for the
deficit. Plus, compared to runners, walkers enjoy a relatively low injury rate.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
However, we’re not going to sugar-coat this: Some exercisers find walking to
be a big, fat bore. Suzanne hates walking so much that she’ll spend 15 minutes
searching for a good parking space at her gym before a one-hour workout on
the stationary bike. (She can’t help it; she grew up in Los Angeles, where you
drive to visit your next-door neighbor.)
Essential walking gear
Although the rest of the animal kingdom does fine without the benefit of special equipment, human feet don’t have adequate padding to meet the demands
of walking in the modern world. You need a good pair of walking shoes to
avoid foot, ankle, knee, hip, and lower-back problems. Expect to spend at
least $50 for good walking shoes, which should hold up for 1,000 to 1,500
miles. (Running shoes usually have to be tossed after 400 to 500 miles.)
Replace your shoes when the tread begins to wear thin or when the sides
start to cave inward or outward.
Walking shoes may sound like a marketing conspiracy hatched by shoeindustry executives. After all, it’s only walking — won’t any pair of sneakers
suffice? Actually, the concept of a walking shoe is a valid one. Walking shoes
need to be more flexible than running shoes because you bend your feet
more when you walk, and you push off from your toes with more oomph.
Also, because your heels bear most of your weight when you walk, you need
a firm, stable heel counter, the part of the shoe that wraps around your heel
to keep your foot in place.
If you plan to hike or walk over rugged terrain, look for a walking shoe with
treaded soles and added heel and ankle support. If you’re focusing on speed
walking or high mileage, go for a little more cushioning in the midsole, the
area between the tread and the inside of the shoe.
Walking the right way
Okay, we lied to you: There actually is more to walking than simply putting
one foot in front of the other. The biggest mistake walkers make is bending
forward, a sure way to develop problems in your lower back, neck, and hips.
Your posture should be naturally tall. You needn’t force yourself to be ramrod
straight, but neither should you slouch, overarch your back, or lean too far
forward from your hips. Relax your shoulders, widen your chest, and pull
your abdominals gently inward. Keep your head and chin up and focus
straight ahead.
Meanwhile, keep your hands relaxed and cupped gently, and swing your arms
so that they brush past your body. On the upswing, your hand should be
level with your breast bone; on the downswing, your hand should brush
Chapter 10: Exercising Outdoors
against your hip. Keep your hips loose and relaxed. Your feet should land
firmly, heel first. Roll through your heel to your arch, then to the ball of your
foot, and then to your toes. Push off from your toes and the ball of your foot.
Run through a mental head-to-toe checklist every so often to see how you’re
doing. To find out more about fitness walking (yep, there’s plenty more to
tell), read Liz’s book Fitness Walking For Dummies (published by Wiley).
Walking tips for rookies
Although walking is the most basic of all fitness activities, novice fitness
walkers can still benefit from the following pointers:
Increase your workout time gradually. Most people can start off with
five 10- to 20-minute walking sessions a week; after about a month, they
can increase each workout by 2 or 3 minutes per week until walking 30
to 45 minutes is comfortable. (Five days a week may sound like a lot, but
an almost-daily walk makes it easier to get in the habit.)
Walk as fast as you comfortably can. If you walk very fast — at a
12-minute-mile to 15-minute-mile pace — you can burn twice as many
calories as when you walk at a 20-minute-mile pace. You may not be able
to move at such supersonic speeds in the beginning, but as you get fit,
you can mix in some fast-paced intervals. (For details about interval
training, see Chapter 8.)
If you’re walking on the shoulder of a road, walk against traffic so
you can watch cars approach. On sidewalks or trails, walk any old
way you want.
Add some hills. Walking over hilly terrain shapes your butt and thighs
and burns extra calories (about 30 percent more calories than walking
on flat terrain, depending, of course, on the grade of the hills).
Sneak in a walk whenever you can. Leave your car at home and hoof
it to the train station. Take a 15-minute walk during your lunch break.
Traverse the airport on foot rather than on that automatic walking belt.
It all adds up.
Like walking, running is a workout that you can take with you anywhere. You
don’t need a rack on your car or a suitcase full of equipment; you just open
the door and go. Plus, as any pathological runner will tell you, nothing is
quite as satisfying as getting a good run under your belt. You work up a great
sweat, you burn lots of calories, and your muscles feel pleasantly invigorated
after you finish.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
No single type of exercise is better than all the rest. It’s merely a question of
what’s best for you. Many runners develop frequent, chronic injuries. Many
people have joints that simply will not tolerate all that pounding. If you’re not
built to run, don’t argue with your body. You can get in great condition in
other ways. And if you’re a beginner, hold off on running until you’ve built
up stamina and strength.
Essential running gear
Although you can spend hundreds of dollars on spiffy warm-ups, tights, and
tops, the only equipment that’s truly essential for running is a good pair of
shoes (although women will want a supportive jogging bra, too). Be prepared
to spend at least $50 to $60 a pair, but know that a hefty price tag doesn’t
always correspond to the best shoe.
The shoe that’s best for you depends on your weight, the shape of your foot,
your running style, and any special problems you may have, such as weak
ankles or bad knees. Try on several models at the store, and take each one
for a test drive around the mall or at least run a couple laps around the store.
Your running shoes should be fairly flexible, especially across the ball of the
foot. Hold the shoe at both ends and bend it; it should break right at the ball
of the foot. You want cushioning, but not so much that you can’t feel your foot
hitting the ground. Look for a stable heel counter (the part of the shoe that
wraps around your heel to keep your foot in place). If your foot slides around
a lot, that can mean trouble down the road.
Running the right way
Runners have a habit of looking directly at the ground, almost as if they can’t
bear to see what’s coming next. Keeping your head down throws your upperbody posture off-kilter and can lead to upper-back and neck pain. Lift your
head and focus your eyes straight ahead.
Relax your shoulders, keep your chest lifted, and pull your abdominal muscles
in tightly. Don’t overarch your back and stick your butt out; that’s one of the
main reasons runners get back and hip pain.
Keep your arms close to your body, and swing them forward and back rather
than across your body. Don’t clench your fists. Pretend you’re holding a butterfly in each hand; you don’t want your butterflies to escape, but you don’t
want to crush them, either.
Lift your front knee and extend your back leg. Don’t shuffle along like you’re
wearing cement boots. Land heel first and roll through the entire length of
your foot. Push off from the balls of your feet instead of running flat-footed
Chapter 10: Exercising Outdoors
and pounding off your heels. Otherwise, your feet and legs are going to cry
uncle long before your cardiovascular system does.
If you experience pain in your ankles, knees, or lower back, stop running for
a while. If you don’t, you could end up having to sit on the sidelines for months.
Running tips for rookies
These tips help you get fit and avoid injury.
Start by alternating periods of walking with periods of running. For
example, try two minutes of walking and one minute of running. Gradually
decrease your walking intervals until you can run continuously for 20
minutes. If you have the inclination, you can build from there. Of course,
sticking with a walk-run routine is fine; you’re less likely to injure yourself that way.
Vary your pace. Different paces work your heart, lungs, and legs in
different ways. Experiment with the techniques described in Chapter 8.
Always run against traffic when running on the shoulder of a road.
This allows you to see oncoming cars and dive for the side of the road, if
necessary. If you’re running on steeply banked (angled away from the
center line) country roads and the road is flat, you can run in the middle
of the road to save wear and tear on your legs. But as you head up or
down hills, get as far over on the shoulder (that is, away from the road)
as possible to avoid speeding cars mowing you down. Consider carrying
a lightweight cell phone for emergencies.
Don’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent a week. If you
run 5 miles a week and want to increase, aim to do 51⁄2 miles the following
week. Jumping from 5 miles to 6 miles doesn’t sound like a big deal, but
studies show that if you increase your mileage more than 10 percent,
you set yourself up for injury.
Bicycling: Road and Mountain
Talk to a group of cyclists and, chances are, you’re talking to a group of exrunners. Cycling is perfect for people who can’t take the relentless pounding
of running or find the slow pace a real drag. Cycling is the best way to cover a
lot of ground quickly. Even a novice can easily build up to a 20-mile ride.
Cycling can be a hassle. You can’t just grab your shoes and head out the door.
You need your helmet, water bottle, gloves, sunscreen, and glasses. And even
with all your protective gear, you can never be too cautious. Cycling is a lowimpact sport — unless you happen to impact the ground, a car, a tree, a rut,
or another cyclist.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Essential cycling gear
If you haven’t owned a bike since grammar school, prepare yourself for sticker
shock. Mountain bikes, the fat-tire bikes with upright handlebars, are somewhat
less expensive than comparable road bikes, the kind with the curved handlebars. In both categories, you won’t find many decent bikes under $500; many
cost more than $2,000. Don’t take out a second mortgage to buy a fancy bike,
but if you have any inkling that you may like this sport, don’t skimp, either.
You’ll just end up buying a more expensive bike later.
What distinguishes a $500 bike from a $2,000 steed? Generally, the more
expensive the bike, the stronger and lighter its frame. A heavy bike can slow
you down, but unless you plan to enter the Tour de France, don’t get hung up
on a matter of ounces. Cheaper bikes are made from different grades of steel;
as you climb the price ladder, you find materials such as aluminum, carbon
fiber, and titanium. The price of a bike also depends on the quality of the
components — the mechanics that enable your bike to move, shift, and brake.
Cheaper bikes come with toe clips (pedal straps) that enable you to pull up
on the pedal as well as push down. But you can pull up even more efficiently
with clipless pedals, which lock into cleats affixed to the bottom of your
cycling shoes. These pedal systems are like ski bindings: You’re locked in, but
your feet pop out easily when you fall. To clip out, you simply twist your foot
to the side.
Beginners usually have an accident or two with clipless pedals because they
haven’t developed the instinct to twist sideways. Suzanne once tipped over
with both feet clicked into her pedals. We’ll spare you the details of her
injury, but let’s just say that she ended up at the gynecologist.
Find a bike dealer you trust and know that bike prices are negotiable. Ask the
salesman to throw in a few free extras, like a bike computer to measure your
speed and distance or a seat bag to carry food and tools.
Don’t even think about pedaling down your driveway without a helmet snug
atop your noggin. Cycling gloves make your ride more comfortable and protect
your hands when you crash. Glasses are important to protect your eyes from
the dust, dirt, and gravel.
Buy a pair of padded cycling shorts and a brightly colored cycling jersey so
that you can easily be seen. Unlike cotton t-shirts, jerseys wick away sweat
so that you won’t freeze on a downhill after you worked up a big sweat climbing up. Plus, jerseys have pockets in the back deep enough to hold half a grocery store worth of snacks. Always carry a water bottle or wear a hydration
pack, a clever backpack-like water pouch that we describe in Chapter 25.
Chapter 10: Exercising Outdoors
Finally, carry gear to change a flat tire, and learn how to use it. There’s no
cycling equivalent of the auto club to come save you.
Cycling the right way
To protect your knees from injury, position your seat correctly (ask your
salesperson for advice) and pedal at an easy cadence. Cadence refers to the
number of revolutions per minute that you pedal. Inexperienced cyclists tend
to use a higher gear than they can handle, which forces them to turn the pedals
in slow motion; their legs tire prematurely, their knees ache, and they cheat
themselves out of a good workout. Set your bike’s gear so you’re pedaling at
a comfortable cadence.
Road cycling can wreak havoc on your lower back because you’re in a
crouched position for so long. Relax your upper body and keep your arms
loose. Grasp your handlebars with the same tension that you’d hold a child’s
hand when you cross the street. Pedal in smooth circles rather than simply
mashing the pedals downward. Imagine that you have a bed of nails in your
shoes, and you have to pedal without stomping on the nails.
Cycling tips for rookies
You can learn a lot about cycling — and get faster in a jif — by riding with
a club or friends who have more experience. Here are some pointers to start
your cycling career:
Remember that you are a vehicle and are required to follow the rules
of the road. Ride with traffic, not against it.
Stop at all signs and lights, and use those hand signals you learned in
driver’s ed. Don’t trust a single car, ever. Assume that the driver doesn’t
see you, even if he happens to be staring you in the face.
When you go off-road, start on wide fire roads rather than narrow
“single-track” trails that require technical skills. And don’t think that
you’re immune to injury because there are no cars. More crashes
happen on mountain trails than on the road because there are more
obstacles and riders get careless and cocky.
Head into a turn at a slow enough pace that you maintain control, and
never let your eyes wander from the road or trail. Never squeeze the
brakes — particularly the front brake — with a lot of pressure. You’ll go
flying over the handlebars, a maneuver known as an endo, and go right
into a face plant, a maneuver that we think is self-explanatory.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
In-Line Skating
In 1980, Rollerblade introduced a new kind of skate: Instead of two wheels at
the toe and two wheels at the heel, the four wheels were positioned in a
single-file line. This was the biggest innovation in skating since a 16th-century
Dutchman patterned the first pair of roller skates after ice skates. Now in-line
skating — often called Rollerblading — is the skate of choice for more than 15
million people.
Skating is fun because it isn’t as linear as running, walking, and cycling. You
can curve, turn, glide, sprint, and spin. Skating is also a terrific tush toner
because you push your legs out to the side, which works several seldom-used
hip muscles. Skating is a good calorie burner, too.
But in-line skating is also dangerous. About 270,000 skaters per year wind up
at the doctor or emergency room with injuries. Liz got a first-hand look at one
of these injuries not long ago. While running over the 59th Street Bridge in
New York City, Liz spotted a woman walking in bare feet and sobbing. The
woman’s entire left side was so bloody that she appeared to have been mauled
by a tiger. It turns out the woman had attempted to skate over sharp metal
teeth on the road — teeth designed to provide traction for cars during icy
conditions in winter.
Most skaters use more common sense than that, but injuries are still
common because the sport requires so much balance and concentration.
Plus, stopping on in-line skates is darn tough. (See “Skating the right way,”
later in this chapter, for stopping tips.)
Essential skating gear
Skating equipment isn’t cheap — a good pair of skates costs between $150
and $500. (We suggest you rent several times before you buy.) Try on several
pairs at the store and wear each for at least ten minutes, until your feet start
to get hot. Tilt your feet to the inside and the outside, putting plenty of pressure on your feet to make sure nothing hurts. Otherwise, you’re asking for
blisters. The boots should feel snug in the toe and heel. If your heel is loose,
you won’t have enough control when you skate.
In-line skates have more on conventional roller skates than just wheel placement. The wheels are faster, smoother, and more durable. Most skates have a
plastic shell and foam-lined bootie, so they breathe more easily and conform
to your feet much better than leather skates. You typically can get a more
comfortable fit with skates that buckle rather than lace. Be sure to wear synthetic socks; cotton fibers retain moisture, which can irritate your feet. (See
Chapter 25 for details about sports socks.)
Chapter 10: Exercising Outdoors
By the way, we don’t recommend that novices try off-road skates, which have
fat, nubby wheels similar to mountain-bike tires. Skating is dangerous enough;
we can’t see a reason to do it over gravel and tree roots. We do, however, like
skates with wheels that pop off, leaving you with decent walking boots.
Because many buildings ban skates, removable wheels are a nice convenience.
A helmet is as essential for skating as it is for biking. A cycling helmet will
suffice, but you can buy special in-line helmets with more protection at the
rear of the head. Also crucial: wrist guards, knee guards, and elbow guards.
Purchase safety equipment before you buy your skates so you won’t be
tempted to take a quick spin before suiting up.
Skating the right way
Keep your hands in front of your body at all times with your elbows in, your
forearms straight ahead, and your palms down, as if you’re placing your hands
on a table. If you move your hands off center, your body is likely to follow.
Keep your arms as still as possible — don’t pump them back and forth.
Travel in a modified squat position, bending at the knees as if you’re about
to sit down. Keep your weight on your back wheel and push off straight with
your heel. Pull your abdominal muscles inward and don’t round your back.
If you start to lose your balance, crouch lower — don’t stand up straighter. If
you veer off the pavement and onto mud or grass, run on your skates instead
of stopping cold.
Skating tips for rookies
To find out whether skating is the sport for you, take a few lessons. (You can
find an instructor through a skate shop, or call the International In-Line Skating
Association for a referral.) In the meantime, here are some suggestions to get
Practice balancing by walking on the skates on your living-room carpet
or your lawn. Head to a parking lot to practice skating, turning, and
stopping. Stick to bike paths until you’re quite comfortable skating, and
when you do head for the open road, always skate with — not against —
traffic. Remember: You’re responsible for abiding by the same rules as
Don’t expect brakes to bring you to a complete halt. The best a novice
can hope to do is slow down. To do this, simultaneously lean forward
from your waist, tilt the braking skate up, and exert pressure on the heel
pad while maintaining your balance. Skip hills until you master stopping,
and always skate slowly enough that you feel as though you could stop
at any time.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Don’t skate on the side of a busy road, where a cyclist might ride.
Stick to bike trails, sidewalks, and other smooth, well-maintained, notraffic areas.
Don’t skate while holding anything in your hand, even a can of soda.
When you fall, your reflex is to save what you’re holding, not to protect
your body.
Swimming is truly a zero-impact sport. Although you can strain your shoulders if you overdo it, there’s absolutely no pounding on your joints, and the
only thing you’re in danger of crashing into is the wall of the pool. You can get
a great aerobic workout that uses your whole body. Plus, water has a gentle,
soothing effect on the body, so swimming is helpful for those with arthritis or
other joint diseases.
Swimming is great for people who want to keep exercising when they’re
injured and for people who are pregnant or overweight. That extra body fat
helps you glide along near the surface of the water, so you don’t expend
energy trying to keep yourself from sinking like a stone.
Lap swimming has the reputation of being drudgery — after all, the scenery
doesn’t change a whole lot from one end of the pool to the other. The trick is
to use an array of gadgets that elevate swim workouts from forced labor to
bona fide fun. You can even buy an underwater tape player with pretty
decent sound.
Essential swimming gear
Obviously, a body of water is helpful — preferably one manned by a lifeguard.
And in most instances, you must wear a swimsuit. By the way, we said swimsuit, not bathing suit. You don’t want a suit that looks good while you’re sunbathing but creeps up your butt when you get in the water.
If you swim in a chlorinated pool, goggles are a must to prevent eye irritation
and to help you see better in the water. Buy goggles from a store that lets you
try them on. You should feel some suction around your eyes, but not so
much that you feel like your eyeballs are going to pop out. You also need a
cap so that your hair doesn’t get plastered on your face as you swim or turn
to straw from the chemicals.
As for the fun swimming gadgets: Many pools let you borrow equipment, but
you can buy a whole set for less than $75. We especially like rubber swimming fins which give you a lot more speed and power in the water and give
Chapter 10: Exercising Outdoors
your legs a better workout. If you’re a beginning swimmer, you may feel
like you’re going nowhere, and you may have trouble moving fast enough to
get your heart rate up.
You can use fins when you kick with a kickboard, a foam board that helps you
stay afloat. But don’t use fins so much that they become a crutch. As you get
in better shape, you may want to switch from long swim fins to short fins,
which make you work a lot harder. Don’t swim with scuba fins; they’re too big
and too stiff.
Swimming with plastic paddles on your hands gives your upper body an
extra challenge. Some paddles are flat and rectangular; others are shaped
more like your hand, with a comfortable contour in the palm area. With both
styles, you place your hand on top of the paddles and slip your fingers through
a thick rubber band that secures your hand to the paddles. Paddles can help
you perfect your stroke technique and increase the intensity of your workout,
but use them sparingly; overuse can lead to shoulder injuries. When you swim
with paddles, put a pull-buoy (a foam gadget) between your thighs. This keeps
your legs buoyant so that you can concentrate on paddling rather than kicking.
Swimming the right way
You’ll probably spend the bulk of your workouts doing the front crawl, also
called freestyle. It’s generally faster than the other strokes, so you can cover
more distance. Don’t cut your strokes short; reach out as far as you can, have
your hand enter thumb-first so it slices the water like a knife, and pull all the
way through the water so your hand brushes your thigh. Use an S-shaped
sculling movement, where you hand moves out, then in, then out again across
your body/thigh and out of the water. Elongate your stroke so that you take
fewer than 25 strokes in a 25-yard pool. The fewer strokes, the better. Top
swimmers get so much power from each stroke that they take just 11 to 14
strokes per length of a 25-yard pool.
Kick up and down from your hips, not your knees. Don’t kick too deeply or
allow your feet to break the water’s surface. Proper kicking causes the water
to “boil” rather than splash.
Breathe through your mouth every two strokes, or every three strokes if you
want to alternate the side that you breathe on. You need as much oxygen as
you can get. Beginners sometimes make the mistake of taking six or eight
strokes before breathing, which wears them out quickly. To breathe, roll your
entire body to the side until your mouth and nose come out of the water —
imagine that your entire body is on a skewer and must rotate together. Don’t
lift your head out of the water to breathe — you’ll spend a lot of energy doing
that, and it’ll slow you down in the water.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Swimming tips for rookies
Even if you’re the queen of your aerobics class or a champion at cycling
uphill, you may still tire quickly in the pool at first. More than almost any
other aerobic activity, swimming relies on technique. The following tips can
help you get the most out of your swimming workouts.
Take a few lessons if you haven’t swum in a while. Beginners waste a
lot of energy flailing and splashing around rather than moving forward.
Break your workout into intervals. For example, don’t just get into the
pool, swim 20 laps, and get out. Instead, do 4 easy laps for a warm-up.
Then do 8 sets of 2 laps at a faster pace, resting 20 seconds between
sets. Then cool down with two easy laps, and maybe a few extra laps
with a kickboard. Mix up your strokes, too. The four basic strokes —
freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly — use your muscles
in different ways.
If swimming is your bag, join a Masters swim club. These clubs, located
at university and community pools nationwide, are geared toward adult
swimmers of all levels. A coach gives you a different workout every time
you swim and monitors your progress. Best of all, you have buddies to
work out with. Don’t worry about being slow; the coach will group you
in a lane with other people your speed. If you have a competitive spirit,
you can compete in Masters meets, where you swim against others who
are roughly your speed.
If you find swimming a big yawn but enjoy being in the water, try
water running or water aerobics. Water running is a pretty tough workout because the water provides resistance from all directions as you
move your legs. It’s an excellent workout for injur0ed runners because,
even though it’s nonimpact and easy on your joints, it helps maintain
aerobic conditioning. Don’t assume that water aerobics is for little old
ladies in flowered caps. With the right instructor and exercise program,
you can get a challenging water-aerobics workout. Water running can be
even tougher.
Suzanne loves the snow but hates downhill skiing. She doesn’t understand
the point of standing in line for 45 minutes while icy wind whips through your
$400 parka — all so you can whoosh down the mountain in three minutes,
stand in line, and risk frostbite all over again. Plus, she’s a klutz, so she
navigates moguls with her skis pointed in that dorky V-shaped position.
Chapter 10: Exercising Outdoors
For these reasons, Suzanne was thrilled to discover snowshoeing — now her
favorite winter sport and one that’s booming in popularity nationwide.
Snowshoeing takes you into the woods and away from the crowds, burns lots
of calories, and generates enough body heat to keep you toasty. Plus, it
involves minimal spending, no risk of injury, and, best of all, no skill.
Snowshoeing has become so popular that 5K and 10K competitions have
sprung up nationwide.
Essential snowshoeing gear
The term snowshoeing may conjure up images of bearded Scandinavian trappers slogging across the tundra, their boots strapped to giant wooden tennis
racquets. Indeed, that’s what snowshoeing was all about — a thousand years
ago. Unlike the old 7-foot-long wood-and-cowhide shoes, today’s snowshoes
are just 2 feet long, and the oblong frames are made of lightweight aluminum.
High-tech fabric stretches across the frame, providing a surface area that keeps
you from sinking into the snow. (By the way, snowshoes don’t directly fit on
your bare feet; you strap the snowshoes onto any footwear that’s comfortable
for you — walking shoes, running shoes, or even lightweight hiking boots.)
Snowshoes run between $120 and $300, and they come in different sizes
(heavier people need larger frames) and designs (for casual walking, backcountry hiking, and running on packed snow). Before you make an investment,
rent them at a ski shop for $10 to $20. Rent poles, too. They help propel you
uphill and help you maintain balance going downhill, and you can decide
whether you like them enough to invest in a pair for yourself. (Poles cost
from $60 to $140 per pair.)
Be sure to dress in layers. Even in freezing temperatures, you can work up a
good sweat and then get chilly fast. Wear a lightweight, breathable top that
wicks away sweat. On top of that, wear a fleece pullover or vest. On supercold days, bring a lightweight, water-resistant jacket. (You’ll suffocate in a
ski parka.)
Snowshoeing the right way
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Suzanne did manage to fall on her face
her first day on snowshoes, but that’s because she forgot she was wearing
them; her stride was too short, and she stepped onto her own snowshoe and
tripped. But after you grasp the fact that snowshoes are longer than hiking
boots, you’re set.
Part III: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Still a few handy techniques can help you navigate hilly terrain. When you
climb a steep slope, kick the front of your snowshoe into the snow and stomp
down to compact the fluffy stuff. To avoid slipping, make sure that each new
step is distinct from the previous one. When snowshoeing downhill, keep your
knees slightly bent and lean back a bit so your weight is on your heel cleats.
Snowshoeing tips for rookies
Consider these tips before you head out the door:
Start on packed snow. Tromping through fluffy powder can leave you
breathless — it’s like heading away from the firm, wet shoreline and
slogging through deep, dry sand. The deeper the snow and the steeper
the terrain, the more exhausted you’ll feel.
When you’re in powder, go single-file, alternating positions to share
the burden of breaking trail (snowshoeing-speak for being the first
person to make a trail through fresh snow). You may find that you have
to take frequent breaks while snowshoeing in powder, because your
heart rate is likely to elevate rapidly.
Because snowshoeing is taxing and the air at high altitudes is dry, you
need to drink plenty of water. Wear a fanny pack with a water-bottle
holster or strap on a hydration pack designed for winter sports.
Part IV
Lift and Curl:
Building a
Stronger Bod
with Weights
In this part . . .
e give you the know-how to tone and strengthen
your muscles, whether you work out at home or at
the gym. Chapter 11 gives you five great reasons to lift
weights and answers important questions, like: “What if
I want to get muscle definition like Buffy the Vampire
Slayer or LaBron James?” In Chapter 12, we cover your
major muscle groups so that you know your lats from your
pecs from your delts. In Chapter 13, we explain the differences between barbells, dumbbells, and weight machines
and help you choose the best equipment for you. Chapter
14 helps you get started on a weight-training program. We
discuss how much weight to lift, how many exercises to
do, and how to use good form so you don’t get injured. We
also demonstrate a complete weight-training workout that
you can perform either at a health club or at home.
Chapter 11
Why You’ve Gotta Lift Weights
In This Chapter
Understanding five major reasons to lift weights
Busting some weight-lifting myths
Assessing your chances of looking like Jackie Chan or Demi Moore
aybe you’ve never considered yourself the weight-lifting type. Maybe
you suspect that the size of one’s muscles is inversely proportional to
the size of one’s brain. Maybe when you see a hulking guy on the street, you
think, “He may be able to bench-press my minivan, but I can read a menu in
The truth is, weight lifting is an incredibly smart thing to do. It’s not just a
form of narcissism, and it’s not just for body builders. Heck, these days, even
80-year-olds are pumping iron. In this chapter, we explain why you should,
too. We also dispel popular weight-training myths and tell you what kind of
results you can reasonably expect. If you think lifting weight seems too boring,
too dangerous, too troublesome, or too likely to transform you into Hulk
Hogan, we hope this chapter changes your mind.
First, a quick note: Throughout this book, we use the terms weight lifting,
weight training, and strength training interchangeably, even though you don’t
necessarily need weight to build strength. Resistance training means the same
thing, but we spare you that bit of verbiage.
Five Important Reasons
to Pick Up a Dumbbell
People who start lifting weights regularly will tell you how much more fit,
powerful, and energetic they feel . . . but enough about feelings. There’s plenty
of good, solid evidence that strength training does all that and more. We bet
that at least one of the following reasons will get you to hoist some iron.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Stay strong for everyday life
People who don’t exercise lose 30 to 40 percent of their strength by age 65.
By age 74, more than one-fourth of American men and two-thirds of American
women can’t lift an object heavier than 10 pounds, like a small dog or a loaded
garbage bag. These changes aren’t the normal consequences of aging. They’re
a result of neglect — of experiencing life from a La-Z-Boy recliner and the front
seat of a Winnebago. If you don’t use your muscles, they simply waste away.
This gradual slide toward wimpiness can begin as early as your mid-20s.
Fortunately, strength is one of the easiest physical abilities to retain as you get
older; certainly, you can do a lot more to halt strength loss than you can to prevent wrinkling skin, fading eyesight, or increasing affection for elevator Muzak.
One study, which included men up to age 96, found that by lifting weight, most
seniors can at least double — if not triple — their muscle power.
So if you rarely lift anything heavier than a cell phone, it’s time to build enough
brawn to get along in the real world. Increased strength is what you need to
unscrew the top off a stubborn jar of pickles, hoist your kid onto the mechanical horsy, and close a suitcase that’s too full. Even if you have the stamina to
sprint the full length of an airport to catch your plane, it’s not going to do you
much good if you can’t lug along that overstuffed luggage.
Keep your bones healthy
Twenty-five million Americans have osteoporosis, a disease of severe bone loss
that causes 1.5 million fractures a year, mostly of the back, hip, and wrist.
About half of those who break their hips never regain full walking ability, and
many of these fractures lead to fatal complications. When bones become
extremely weak — picture them like chalk, porous and fragile — it doesn’t
even take a fall to break them. Someone with osteoporosis doesn’t fall and
break a hip; she breaks a hip and falls.
Osteoporosis isn’t something that happens to you overnight, like becoming
eligible for a senior discount at the movies. Most people start out with strong,
dense bones — imagine them as poles of steel. But around age 35, most
people — men included — begin to lose about 12⁄ to 1 percent of their bone
each year. (For women, bone loss accelerates after menopause — 1 to 2 percent a year for the first five years and then about 1 percent annually until age
70. Then the loss slows back to 12⁄ percent a year.) If you do everything right,
however, you can decelerate this bone loss significantly — by about 50 percent. If you’ve already lost a lot of bone, you may even be able to build some
of it back. Strength training alone can’t stop bone loss, but it can play a big
role. Also important are calcium, vitamin D, and aerobic exercise such as walking and jogging. (Swimming and cycling don’t work because your body weight
is supported, either by the water or the bike; when you have to support your
own self, your bones respond by building themselves up.)
Chapter 11: Why You’ve Gotta Lift Weights
Strong muscles and strong bones go hand in hand. The more weight you can
lift, the more stress you can put on your bones; this stress is what stimulates
them. The first astronauts to spend time in space experienced significant
bone-density loss. In space, not only does no one hear you scream, but you’re
weightless — there’s no load placed on your muscles and bones. Today’s
astronauts prevent bone loss by exercising several hours a day.
Prevent injuries
When your muscles are strong, you’re less injury-prone. You’re less likely to
step off a curb and twist your ankle. Plus, you have a better sense of balance
and surefootedness, so you’re less apt to take a tumble during a weekend game
of touch football. Research shows that one out of every three people over age
65 falls at least once a year. Almost 10 percent of older people who fall are
hospitalized for an injury, and about half of those cases involve broken bones.
Look better
Now let’s talk about pure, unadulterated vanity. Aerobic exercise burns lots
of calories, but weight lifting firms, lifts, builds, and shapes your muscles. A
marathon runner may be able to go the distance, but he won’t turn any heads
on the beach if he has a concave chest and string-bean arms. (He might also
be a faster runner if he pumped up a bit.)
We want to be clear here: There’s no such thing as spot reducing — that is,
selectively zapping fat off a particular part of your body. But you can pick
certain areas, such as your butt or your arms, and reshape them through
weight training. And if you have wide hips or a thick middle, you can bring
your body more into proportion by doing exercises that broaden your shoulders and back.
Weight training also makes you look better by improving your posture. With
strong abdominal and lower-back muscles, you stand up straighter and look
more svelte even if you haven’t lost an ounce.
Speed up your metabolism
Metabolism is all over the news these days. At gyms, health-food stores, and
juice bars, you can buy pills, powders, and “thermogenic herbs” touted to rev
up your metabolism (and thereby help you burn extra calories without trying).
Suzanne’s own parents, despite their daughter’s eye-rolling and sarcastic
snorts, even tried a meat-and-grapefruit diet purported to boost metabolism.
All these claims are bogus. The only way to increase your metabolism is to
build muscle, which you can best accomplish by lifting weights.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
How does this work? First, a couple of definitions: Your metabolism refers to
the number of calories you’re burning at any given moment, whether you’re
watching The Weather Channel or riding a bike. But when most people use
the term, they’re referring to your resting metabolism, the number of calories
your body needs to maintain its vital functions. Your brain, heart, kidneys,
and other organs are cranking away 24 hours a day, and your muscle cells are
constantly undergoing repair. All these processes require energy in the form
of calories simply to keep you alive.
But here’s the key: Your resting metabolic rate depends primarily on your
amount of fat-free mass — everything in your body that’s not fat, including
muscle, bones, blood, organs, and tissue. The more fat-free mass you have,
the more energy your body expends in order to keep going. So, you want to
be muscular. You can’t do anything to increase the size of your liver or brain,
but you certainly can make yourself more muscular, and lifting weights is the
primary way to do just that.
Keep in mind, however, that packing on a few more pounds of muscle isn’t
going to turn your body into a calorie-burning inferno. For every 1 pound of
muscle you gain, your body may burn an extra 30 to 50 calories per day.
That’s not a lot, especially if you compensate by eating one extra Hershey’s
Kiss (24 calories) per day. However, in the long run, even that small metabolic boost can be significant. If you burn an extra 25 calories per day, you
can burn 9,125 calories in a year — enough to lose nearly 3 pounds, or at
least prevent a 3-pound weight gain. And if you add 10 pounds of lean muscle,
you can burn an additional 300 to 500 calories per day!
If that’s not impressive, consider the flip side: If you don’t lift weights, your
metabolism will slow down every year, as your muscles slowly waste away.
And with a more sluggish metabolic rate, you’ll gain weight even if you eat
the same amount of food. How’s that for incentive to hit the weight room?
One final point: The metabolism-boosting benefits of weight lifting are particularly important if you’re cutting calories to lose weight. Dieting alone
tends to cause a loss in muscle as well as fat; if you lift weights while cutting
back on your calorie intake, you can preserve muscle — and maintain your
metabolism — while losing fat.
Building Muscle: Myths and Reality
There sure are a lot of misconceptions about weight training. Many people
have no idea what changes to expect when they begin lifting weights, so they
ask some not-so-dumb questions, like the ones that follow.
Chapter 11: Why You’ve Gotta Lift Weights
How long does it take to get stronger?
You may be able to lift more weight after just one weight-lifting workout. This
isn’t because you’ve built up more muscle; it’s mainly because your weighttraining skills have improved. The first time you try the bench press, you
waste a lot of energy trying to balance the bar, keep it steady, and move it
in a straight line. But after you get the hang of the process — typically after
one weight-lifting session — you’re able to put all your energy into lifting
the weight.
Another reason you develop strength after just a few weeks of working out is
that, in a sense, your muscles have memory. Your nerves, the pathways that
link your brain and muscles, learn how to carry information more quickly —
much like the speed-dial feature on your telephone. So after learning an exercise, your brain tells your muscles, “You know what this is. Go for it.”
During the first six to eight weeks you lift weight, most of the strength you gain
is due to skill and muscle memory. After that time, your muscles begin to grow.
In other words, the sizes of your muscle fibers increase — you don’t actually
grow more muscle cells. Realize that some muscles gain strength faster than
others do. In general, large muscles, like your chest and back muscles, grow
faster than smaller ones, like your arm and shoulder muscles. Most people can
increase their strength between 7 and 40 percent after about ten weeks of training each muscle group twice a week.
Do some people have greater strength
potential than others?
How much muscle power you develop depends on many things, including
your age, sex, and body type (and, of course, your diligence). Seniors generally can’t develop as much strength as young people, but it’s not clear
whether this is due to the normal aging process or years of inactivity.
However, look at Jack La Lanne, who worked out all his life. For his 80th
birthday, he towed a rowboat across a river with his teeth. Men typically
have the capacity for greater overall strength than women do because
their bodies have a higher proportion of muscle and more of the strength
hormone testosterone.
Every body type has a different capacity for building strength and muscle.
All the training in the world won’t change your body type. If you start out
short and narrow, weight training won’t miraculously make you tall and
broad. Weight training may, however, make you a more fit, muscular version
of short and narrow.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Strength is one thing, but how long will
it take before my body looks better?
Most people start to see changes after six weeks of weight lifting, but we can’t
give you an exact answer. Results depend on your body type, your starting
point, and the amount of time and effort you devote to lifting weight. In general,
those who have the furthest to go make the most dramatic changes.
Everyone notices the biggest improvements in the muscles that they use the
least. The triceps (the muscles at the rear of your upper arm; see Chapter 12)
are a classic example: You don’t use them much in everyday life, so when you
start targeting them with weight they become firmer fairly fast. The same goes
for shoulders. Most people don’t tend to carry much fat on their shoulders, so
shoulders shape and tone relatively quickly.
What if I want to get muscle definition
like Demi Moore or Jackie Chan?
Lifting weight diligently will help shape your body, but you’ll never see muscle
definition if you have a thick layer of fat covering your muscles. Muscle definition means that you have so little body fat that you can see the outline of your
muscles. You begin to see a hint of definition when your body fat dips into the
20 percent to 22 percent range. At around 18 percent, muscle definition is really
apparent. Below 15 percent, you develop an appearance that body builders
reverentially refer to as ripped. (We tell you all about body fat in Chapter 2.)
We’re not recommending that you try to get down this low, because it can be
dangerously unhealthy; we do, however, want you to be aware that the buff,
ripped look doesn’t happen for most people. Also, keep in mind that you can
still look firm, fit, and sexy even if you aren’t ripped to shreds.
Will weight lifting turn me
into a WWE contender?
No. About 99 percent of women — and a significant percentage of men —
can’t develop huge muscles without spending hours a day in the gym lifting
some serious poundage. Even then, most women don’t have testosterone to
add major bulk to their frames unless they take steroids — in which case,
they may also end up with acne, a beard, liver cancer, uterus shrinkage, and
a voice like Darth Vader’s. Just the look you’re going for, right?
Lifting may actually make you smaller. Because muscle is a very compact,
dense tissue, it takes up less room than fat. At first, you may not lose any
Chapter 11: Why You’ve Gotta Lift Weights
weight. You may even gain a few pounds, because muscle weighs more
per square inch than fat, but your clothes may fit better. As we explain in
Chapter 2, that number on your bathroom scale is an incomplete number.
But what if I want to increase bulk?
Developing huge muscles is difficult for people with certain body types, and
usually comes only with a high-calories diet mixed with intensive, consistent
training. If you’re lean and wiry to begin with, you’ll probably add definition
but not much size. The people most likely to build up their frames are those
who have a muscular body type even before they start lifting.
To bulk up without risking the dangers of steroids, many athletes and recreational exercisers are turning to creatine, the apparently more benign substance that was touted by baseball’s homerun king Mark McGwire. Some
research shows that creatine may indeed make you bigger and stronger;
however, the research isn’t conclusive, and no one has studied the substance
long enough to know if there are long-term side-effects. We also advise against
taking androstenedione — also known as andro — another muscle-building aid
that McGwire used. Evidence suggests that andro lowers levels of HDL cholesterol, the good kind, increasing the risk for heart disease, and it’s now banned
by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Apparently, an increasing number of men are harboring unrealistic expectations about their potential to get huge. A few years ago, a Harvard psychiatrist
came up with an interesting theory to explain why: outlandishly muscular
toys. Over the last 30 years, G.I. Joe action figures have inflated into hulks
with physiques that even top bodybuilders can’t attain. The professor measured the waist, chest, and biceps of the action figures and then adjusted
the numbers for a 6-foot man. In 1964, G.I. Joe had 12.2-inch biceps; ten years
later his “guns” had grown to 15.2 inches. By 1998, G.I. Joe’s biceps measured
a whopping 26.8 inches — nearly 7 inches larger than Mark McGwire’s. For
decades, Barbie — with her impossibly small waist and huge chest — has
created unrealistic expectations for women and girls; now, it seems that G.I.
Joe is doing the same sort of damage in boys and men.
If I stop lifting weight, won’t
my muscle turn to fat?
Only if silver can be transformed into gold. Fat and muscle are two distinctly
different substances. When you look at them under the microscope, fat looks
like chicken wire, and muscle looks like frayed electrical wiring. If you stop
lifting weight, your muscles simply atrophy, a fancy word for shrink. The main
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
reason people may gain fat when they stop lifting weights is that they keep
their calorie intake the same but are no longer burning as many calories
throughout the day. Those extra calories are stored as fat.
Should I lose weight before
I start lifting weights?
Actually, no. Start weight training right away. Weight training can speed up
your metabolism and give you more muscle tone, better posture, and better
body proportions. In addition, lifting weight enhances your aerobic efforts.
With stronger muscles, you have more staying power on the stair-climber,
and you’re less apt to have a setback due to injury from your aerobic workouts. For example, you may be working out like gangbusters when, suddenly,
you feel a little twinge in your knee. You lay off for a couple days, which turns
into a couple years. You may be able to prevent this whole incident by
strengthening your knees. Plus, adding weight training to your new exercise
program gives you more variety and helps keep you motivated.
Chapter 12
Your Muscles:
Love ’Em or Lose ’Em
In This Chapter
Discovering the formal names — and the slang — of your muscles
Looking at nifty muscle illustrations
Finding out our favorite exercises for each muscle
here are 650 muscles in your body. We are happy to report that you don’t
need to memorize all of them. Consider, for example, the inferior retinaculum of the long extensor of your big toe. We don’t want you to remember
that one. In fact, we don’t even know that one — we had to look it up in our
anatomy book. If you have any desire to find out more about that muscle,
shut this book and apply to medical school.
Meanwhile, in this chapter, we tell you about the 20 or so muscles that any
conscientious exerciser should know. What’s the point? For one thing, you
won’t need an interpreter when a trainer, video instructor, or fellow gym
member says, “Let’s do lats and pecs today.” Before you know it, you may be
saying stuff like that, too. And you’ll sound really impressive — like wine aficionados who say, “This chardonnay has a superior bouquet.”
But more importantly, if you can name your major muscles and understand
how each one operates, you can get better results from your workout program. You’ll understand, for example, how certain exercises can help you prevent lower-back pain. You’ll understand why you should do several different
shoulder exercises, rather than just one. And you’ll be sure to perform your
exercises properly. For example, if you know where your biceps are, you’ll
realize exactly where you should feel the tension — and you can adjust your
form if you don’t feel tension in the right spot. With many weight-training
exercises, it’s easy to emphasize the wrong muscle if you don’t understand
the purpose of the move. If you simply hop on a machine and pull some lever
without knowing which muscle to focus on, you may be cheating yourself out
of a good workout. Finally, knowing about all your major muscle groups helps
you get a more complete and balanced workout. You’ll know not to leave any
muscle group out. (See Figures 12-1 and 12-2 for a full view of your muscles.)
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
External Obliques
Internal Obliques
Rectus Abdominis
Tibialis Anterior
Figure 12-1:
muscles —
front view.
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em
Erector Spinae
Latissimus Dorsi
Gluteus Medius
Gluteus Maximus
Figure 12-2:
muscles —
back view.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
This section simply discusses the major muscles of the body; it doesn’t show
you a weight-lifting technique for that muscle group. However, we do list our
favorite exercises for each muscle group, and each exercise is described in
Chapter 14. To find out about other exercises that we don’t list here, consult
a trainer or our book, Weight Training For Dummies (published by Wiley).
Strong shoulders are the key to building a strong upper body. Just about every
exercise you can do for your chest and back involves your shoulders, too. If
your shoulders are weak, you really limit the amount of weight you can use in
the rest of your upper-body repertoire.
Given name: Deltoids
Street name: Delts
Whereabouts: Your delts wrap completely around the tops of your arms (see
Figure 12-3). Cup your hand over your shoulder and you get the idea. Now
swing your arm around in a circle, raise it up above your head, and then
swing it forward and backward. You can see what a versatile muscle your
shoulder is. The front portion of the shoulder muscle is referred to as the
anterior delt, the side is called the medial delt, and the back is called the rear
or posterior delt. Go ahead, toss those terms around and amaze your friends.
Figure 12-3:
muscles are
the key to
building a
upper body.
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em
Job description: Your delts help your arms move in a wide range of directions.
The training payoff: You’ll never have to wear shoulder pads if, heaven
forbid, they ever come back in style. Also, strengthening your shoulders can
help you avoid injuries such as shoulder dislocations or muscle tears. And
with strong shoulders, you have no trouble putting that useless “waist trimmer” gadget that you bought for $19.95 on the top shelf in the closet.
Special tips: We tend to like free weights better than machines for strengthening the shoulders. Although most shoulder-press machines have improved in recent years, many other shoulder contraptions, especially lateralraise machines, tend to be difficult to adjust and uncomfortable to use.
Also, machines aren’t made for every shoulder movement. For example,
no specific machine mimics the front shoulder raise. It’s important to target
the front, middle, and back of your shoulders, as well as the delts as a whole,
so make it a point to master several dumbbell exercises.
Our favorite exercises: Dumbbell shoulder press, dumbbell lateral raise,
dumbbell front raise, and dumbbell back delt fly
Rotator cuff
Given name: Rotator cuff
Street name: Rotators
Whereabouts: Four small muscles beneath your shoulder (refer to Figure 12-3);
together, they’re called your rotator cuff.
Job description: Your rotator-cuff muscles hold your arm in its socket. You
use these muscles to rotate the shoulder joint, such as when throwing and
catching. Baseball pitchers are constantly sidelined with rotator-cuff injuries.
The training payoff: If you have weak rotators, you can damage them simply
by carrying a briefcase or reaching across the table for Rice Krispies Treats —
throwing a 90 mph fastball is not a prerequisite for injury (see Chapter 5). By
making a special effort to strengthen these commonly injured muscles, you’re
far less likely to tear or strain them.
Special tips: In addition to doing rotator-cuff exercises, work your shoulders
in a variety of directions. Your rotators are put into action whenever your
deltoids are working; if your delts are weak and you do a heavy upper-body
lift, you may do some serious rotator damage. If you have chronic shoulder
pain, check with your orthopedist to see if you’ve injured your rotator cuff.
Sometimes rotator tears can be corrected with exercise; other times, they
require surgery.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Our favorite exercises: Internal and external rotation, performed with an
exercise band, a dumbbell, or a weight plate, or on a cable crossover
Neglecting your back muscles is tempting because you don’t face them in the
mirror every day. But these muscles are just as important as the muscles in
the front of your body, particularly when it comes to injury prevention.
We know a man who injured his back while putting on his underwear in the
health-club locker room. He was lying on the floor stark naked for a few hours
before he let the staff members call a nurse. Trainers had repeatedly
reminded him to strengthen his lower-back muscles and abdominals. After
that incident, he finally listened.
Given name: Trapezius
Street name: Traps
Whereabouts: Your trapezius is a fairly large, kite-shaped muscle that spans
up into your neck, across your shoulders, and down to the center of your
back (see Figure 12-4).
Figure 12-4:
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em
Job description: Your trapezius enables you to shrug your shoulders. This
muscle is also involved when you lift your arm, such as when hailing a cab.
The training payoff: A toned trapezius adds shape to your shoulders and
upper back. Strengthening this muscle may also alleviate the neck and shoulder pain you may get if you sit at a desk all day or if your phone is a permanent
appendage to your ear.
Special tips: Give your trapezius extra attention if you often carry a knapsack
or heavy bag over your shoulder.
Our favorite exercises: Shrug or shoulder roll with a barbell, two dumbbells,
or — if your neck is extremely weak and tight — no weight at all
Latissimus dorsi
Given name: Latissimus dorsi
Street name: Lats (Note: Don’t make the mistake of saying “laterals,” as some
less-informed, bookwormish exercisers do.)
Whereabouts: Feel the widest part of your back just behind your armpit —
you’ve just found your latissimus dorsi, your largest back muscle. This muscle
runs the entire length of your back, from below your shoulders down to your
lower back (refer to Figure 12-4).
Job description: Your lats enable you to pull, like when you open a door
against the wind or drag your Great Dane into the vet’s office.
The training payoff: Well-toned lats make your hips and waist appear smaller
by adding shape and width to your upper body. If you play sports — especially
a racquet sport, golf, or hockey — strengthening your lats will enable you to
power the ball or puck quite a bit further. Runners, walkers, and cyclists also
should focus on their lats to help counteract that tendency toward rounded
shoulders, which are the result of weak rhomboids (see the following section)
and other muscles of the upper and middle back, as well as the result of tight
delts (discussed in the “Deltoids” section) and pecs (see the “Chest (the
Pectorals)” section).
Special tips: When you do lat exercises, think of your arms simply as a link
between your back and the bar or dumbbell. Focus on working your lats, not
your arms.
Our favorite exercises: Lat pull-down machine, dumbbell row, dumbbell
pullover, T-bar row, seated cable row, chin-up, and pull-up
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Given name: Rhomboids
Street name: None. Almost no one talks about them. (However, we did once
hear them referred to as the “rheumatoids,” a term we thought was better
suited for an octogenarian garage band.)
Whereabouts: Your rhomboids are a small, rectangular group of muscles at the
center of your back, hidden beneath your lower trapezius (refer to Figure 12-4).
Job description: Your rhomboids pull your shoulder blades together so you
maintain good posture.
The training payoff: With strong rhomboids, you’re less likely to hunch your
shoulders forward.
Special tips: Focus on your rhomboids to avoid poor posture and potential
Our favorite exercises: Chin-up and dumbbell back delt fly
Erector spinae
Given name: Erector spinae
Street name: Lower back
Whereabouts: Your erector spinae run the entire length of your spine, but
it’s the lower third of this muscle group that you strengthen when you perform
the exercises we mention later in this section. The rest of this muscle group
gets worked when you do upper-back exercises. Figure 12-5 shows where your
erector spinae are located.
Job description: Your lower-back muscles are responsible for straightening
your spine — for example, when you stand up after tying your shoes. They
also work in tandem with your abdominals to keep your spine stable when
you move the rest of your body, like when you’re sitting in your car and you
reach around for something in the back seat.
The training payoff: About 80 percent of adult Americans experience back
pain at some point in their lives. You can prevent much of this pain by devoting
equal time to strengthening your lower back and abdominal muscles. Strong
lower-back muscles are also very important for posture. (Flexibility of the back
is also key; see Chapter 6.)
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em
Figure 12-5:
A look at the
lower back.
Special tips: The lower back is an injury-prone area. If you have constant
lower-back pain, ask your doctor to recommend exercises for your specific
Our favorite exercises: Pelvic tilt and back extension on the floor or on a
hyperextension bench
Chest (the Pectorals)
The fibers of your chest muscles spread out like a fan, connecting to your
arms, ribs, collar bone (clavical), and breast bone (sternum). For this reason,
your chest muscles respond well when you work them from a variety of angles.
For example, you can do chest exercises while lying flat on your back on a
bench, reclining at various angles, sitting upright, standing, or lying facedown
(like when you do push-ups). Ask a trainer to show you several chest exercises
so you can vary your workouts.
Given name: Pectorals
Street name: Pecs
Whereabouts: Place your hand on your chest as if you’re pledging allegiance
to the flag. You’ve found your pecs. (See Figure 12-6.)
Job description: Thanks to your pecs you can push — a shopping cart, a
lawn mover, or some jerk standing in your way. You also use your pecs to
wrap your arms around something, like when you give your mom a bear hug.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Figure 12-6:
You work
when you
do chest
The training payoff: With strong pecs, you look great in tight t-shirts. You
also need strong chest muscles for sports like tennis, golf, and football.
Special tips: For women — it’s important to understand that your pecs are
not your breasts; in fact they reside directly underneath your breast tissue.
However, toning your pecs can lift your breasts and make them appear firmer.
For men — don’t become obsessed with bench pressing to the point of
excluding all other exercises. Men with overdeveloped chest muscles and
wimpy legs resemble hard-boiled eggs on toothpicks. Besides, doing too
much chest work sets you up for shoulder injuries.
Our favorite exercises: Bench press, dumbbell fly, push-up, and incline
dumbbell press
Take a survey of today’s TV stars, fashion models, and music artists, and you
can see that firm arm muscles are in style. Even department-store mannequins now have toned arms. Be sure to give your front and rear arm muscles equal time; if one of these muscle groups is disproportionately stronger
than the other, you’re at greater risk for elbow injuries.
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em
Given name: Biceps
Street name: Bi(s) or guns
Whereabouts: Your biceps are the two muscles at the front of your upper arm
(see Figure 12-7) — the ones that pop up when you flex like a bodybuilder.
Job description: Your biceps are responsible for bending your elbow. When
you pick up this book or when you turn the pages, you use your biceps.
The training payoff: With strong biceps, lifting a stack of newspapers or carrying an armload of wood is easier. Your biceps also help out your back muscles
when you pull a really stubborn weed out of your garden. Plus, strong biceps
make you look buff.
Figure 12-7:
Your arm
(front and
rear view).
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Special tips: Many people have sloppy posture when they do biceps
exercises — they rock their bodies back and forth to hoist the weight up.
Not only is this posture dangerous for your lower back, but it also makes
life too easy for your biceps. Pay special attention to form on bicep exercises, and don’t use more weight than you can handle.
Our favorite exercises: Dumbbell biceps curl, concentration curl, barbell
biceps curl, and machine arm curl
Given name: Triceps
Street name: Tri(s)
Whereabouts: Your triceps are located at the back of your upper arm (refer
to Figure 12-7).
Job description: Your triceps do the opposite of what your biceps do; that is,
your triceps straighten your elbow. Your triceps help out your chest muscles
when you push something, like your 1966 Volkswagen Bug that has stalled at
an intersection.
The training payoff: Triceps exercises help firm up bingo arms. That’s when
the backs of your arms flap loosely away from the bones — a condition
common among people whose main form of physical activity is playing bingo.
Special tips: The triceps make up two-thirds of your upper-arm size, so if
you want a nice pair of arms, work these muscles. Working your triceps is
especially important if you often hold a briefcase or handbag while your
arm is straight. If your triceps are weak — and that’s common because these
muscles don’t get much work in daily life — you may be prone to elbow pain.
Our favorite exercises: Triceps kickback, bench dip, triceps press-down, and
triceps-extension machine or dumbbells/barbells.
Forearm muscles
Given name: Wrist extensors and flexors
Street name: Wrist or forearm muscles
Whereabouts: These muscles run from the bottom of your elbow to your
wrist (refer to Figure 12-7).
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em
Job description: Your forearm muscles bend and move your wrists. They’re
also a link between your upper body and any barbell, lever, or dumbbell you
move. If you don’t have the wrist strength to grip a barbell, you’re certainly
not going to be able to bench-press, even if your chest muscles are strong.
The training payoff: Powerful wrist muscles give you a stronger grip for
weight lifting. Wrist strength also can help prevent or alleviate tennis elbow
(see Chapter 5) and carpal tunnel syndrome — a painful irritation of wrist
nerves resulting from repetitive motions such as typing or certain assemblyline tasks, such as tightening a bolt with a wrench.
Special tips: To ensure that you develop adequate wrist strength, wrap your
hand firmly around the barbells or dumbbells you use.
Our favorite exercises: Dumbbell wrist curl and reverse wrist curl
Developing a toned, flat abdomen has become somewhat of a national obsession. Most fitness magazines don’t let a month go by without an article titled
“Midriff Madness!” or “Flatten Your Tummy in 3 Minutes a Day!” But don’t
delude yourself: All the abdominal exercises in the world won’t make your
tummy pancake flat; in order to whittle your middle, you need to lose the
extra body fat stored on top of your abdominal muscles. Still, ab training is
a must, both for good posture and for the prevention of lower-back pain.
Rectus abdominis
Given name: Rectus abdominis
Street name: Abs (Note: Don’t refer to your abdominals as your stomach,
which is the organ responsible for digesting food.)
Whereabouts: Your rectus abdominis is a flat sheet of muscle that runs from
just under your chest down to a few inches south of your belly button (the
top of your pelvis) (see Figure 12-8). This is one long, continuous muscle;
you don’t have “upper abs” and “lower abs,” as many people mistakenly
think. Although you can do exercises that emphasize the upper or lower
portions of your rectus, all abdominal exercises do involve the entire muscle.
The muscle just below the rectus abdominis is the transverses abdominis, the
deep stabilizer of the trunk. It’s responsible for protecting the trunk and spine;
think of it as the body’s internal weightlifting belt.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Figure 12-8:
These are
your main
Job description: Your rectus allows you to flex your spine and pull your torso
or chest toward your hips, and it works with your lower-back muscles to keep
your torso stable while you move the rest of your body. For example, when
you’re shoveling dirt in your garden, your arms are moving, but you have to
brace your body to get enough leverage and to protect your lower back.
The training payoff: The obvious reason to train your abdominals is to firm up
your midsection. If your abs are really toned and you don’t have much excess
fat around your middle, you can see six distinct sections of the muscle. This is
known as washboard abs or the six pack. But having such a firm midriff is not
worth fixating on — for most people, washboard abs are not a realistic proposition. Even people with relatively low body fat tend to store at least some fat
around the middle. Appearances aside, strong abs improve your posture by
making it easier to stand up straight. Plus, they’re important for guarding
against lower-back pain.
Special tips: Those full sit-ups you did back in high school gym class won’t
do the job — plus they’re hard on your back, especially if you lock your feet
under a couch. Although many gyms have abdominal machines, we feel that
floor exercises, including the ones we name later in this section, are more
effective. We also like doing abdominal exercises while leaning against an
oversized plastic ball known as a physioball. To prevent yourself from sliding
off the ball, you have to keep adjusting your body position; this forces you
to work your abs more completely, hitting some deeper muscle fibers that
don’t get much of a workout while doing conventional crunches. As for those
ab-strengthening gadgets advertised on TV infomercials, you’re better off
spending your money on a Miracle Mop.
Our favorite exercises: Abdominal crunch, reverse crunch, and physioball
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em
Internal and external obliques
Given name: Internal and external obliques
Street names: Obliques or the waist
Whereabouts: Your internal and external obliques run diagonally down the
sides of your rectus abdominis (refer to Figure 12-8).
Job description: Your obliques enable you to twist from the waist or do a
side bend.
The training payoff: Strong obliques are essential for preventing lower-back
pain. They work with your rectus abdominis and lower-back muscles to
support your spine.
Special tips: Doing side bends while holding a weight in each hand is not a
good idea unless you want to build a thicker waist. In addition, placing a pole
across your shoulders and twisting from side to side can wreak havoc on
your lower back, especially if you do this movement a zillion times.
Our favorite exercise: Crunch with a twist, plus side bends with an exercise ball
Butt and Hips
If your rear end and hips are larger than you’d like them to be, don’t be afraid
to strengthen these muscles with weights. With the right workout program,
these muscles can look firmer and more shapely, not bigger and bulkier. Also,
strengthening your butt and hip muscles can help prevent hip and lower-back
injuries. If your job requires you to sit on your rear end all day, doing exercises
that target these muscles is a good idea.
Gluteus maximus
Given name: Gluteus maximus
Street name: Glutes, buns, or butt
Whereabouts: The largest muscle in your body — as if you need anyone to
tell you that. Your two glutes (left and right cheeks) span the entire width of
your derriere (see Figure 12-9).
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Job description: Your glutes extend your hips and help you jump, climb
stairs and hills, and straighten your leg behind you. You also use your gluteus
maximus when you stand up from a sitting position.
The training payoff: Training your glutes can lift your butt, make it rounder,
and give it more shape. You also need your glutes to get off the couch so you
can go work out.
Special tips: Some glute exercises, such as the squat and the lunge (elongated variations of deep knee bends), can be hard on your knees, so pay
extra attention to your form. When you bend your knees, your kneecaps
should move in the direction that your toes are facing, and they should not
shoot out past your toes.
Our favorite exercises: Squat, lunge, and leg-press machine
Hip abductors
Given name: Hip abductors
Street name: Outer thighs or outer hip
Whereabouts: The meatiest part of the side of your hips (refer to Figure 12-9)
Job description: Your abductors help you slide your leg out to the side, like
when you go skating or step aside so someone can get past you. These muscles
also help your gluteus maximus (or butt) rotate your hips outward.
Figure 12-9:
Your butt
and upperleg muscles.
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em
The training payoff: Working your abductors can firm up your outer thighs
and prevent hip injuries. Athletes and seniors should pay special attention
to strengthening their hip muscles. You need strong abductors for running,
jumping, pedaling, kicking, and skating — just about any movement that
involves your lower body. Strong abductors also are important for maintaining a natural walking stride. If your hip abductors are weak, you tend to
shuffle along.
Special tips: Some exercise programs advise you to do hundreds of leg lifts
to tone this area. But as we explain in Chapter 14, following this advice won’t
get you anywhere. Work your outer thighs as you would any other muscle
group — by doing 8 to 15 moderately challenging repetitions.
Our favorite exercises: Outer-thigh machine and internal hip rotation
Leg adductors
Given name: Leg adductors
Street name: Inner thighs
Whereabouts: Your adductors are several muscles that run from inside your
hip to various points along your inner thigh (refer to Figure 12-9). You don’t
need to know each by name.
Job description: Your adductors help you move one leg in front of the other,
especially moving your leg to the midline of your body.
The training payoff: When you sit astride a horse or motorcycle, your inner
hips squeeze inward to keep you from sliding off. You also use your innerthigh muscles for skating, soccer, and swimming the breaststroke.
Special tips: Forget the ThighMaster and the other “thigh toner” gadgets you
see advertised on TV. You can work your inner-thigh muscles more effectively
by adding exercise bands to floor exercises or by using machines in the gym
specially designed to focus on these muscles. Don’t become fixated on toning your inner thighs; the New England Journal of Medicine reported about
a woman who had overused a thigh-toning gadget to the point that all the
tendons of her inner thighs became inflamed. Ouch.
Our favorite exercises: Inner-thigh machine and side-lying inner-thigh lift
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Keep in mind that, if all goes well, your legs will be carrying you from here to
there for the rest of your life. So treat them with respect. By strengthening
your leg muscles, you can head off many common knee and ankle injuries.
And by staying healthy, of course, you can stay active. You can work out more
and develop lean, toned legs that power you up a hill and look good in shorts.
Given name: Quadriceps
Street name: Quads
Whereabouts: Your quadriceps are the four muscles at the front of each thigh
(refer to Figure 12-9).
Job description: Your quadriceps straighten your knee.
The training payoff: You need strong quads for walking, running, climbing,
skiing, skating, hopping, skipping, and jumping. Keeping your quads strong
can help prevent knee problems. (If you already have knee pain, check with
your doctor to find out which exercises are best for you.)
Special tips: Don’t worry if you feel an intense burning sensation when you do
the leg extension, shown in Chapter 14. This is one of the few exercises that
completely isolates the quads, which causes them to tire quickly. Waste products like lactic acid flood into the muscles, causing you to really feel the burn.
Our favorite exercises: Squat, lunge, leg press, and leg-extension machine
Given name: Hamstrings
Street name: Hams
Whereabouts: Your hamstrings are the three muscles at the back of your
thigh (refer to Figure 12-9).
Job description: Your hamstrings work in opposition to your quadriceps; in
other words, your hamstrings bend the knee. They also help out your glutes
when you move from a sitting to a standing position (see the “Gluteus maximus” section earlier in this chapter).
Chapter 12: Your Muscles: Love ’Em or Lose ’Em
The training payoff: Hamstring injuries are pretty common (if not properly
strengthened and flexible) because hamstrings tend to be weak compared
to quads. Weekend warriors are especially prone to hamstring pulls, usually
when they sprint or jump suddenly, like when they leap for a fly ball during
a game of pick-up softball. Suzanne even had a friend who pulled a hamstring
muscle while bowling, just as he released the ball.
Special tips: Because your hamstrings are susceptible to pulls, make sure
they’re adequately warmed up before you perform strengthening exercises,
and always stretch them after a workout. For tips on warming up, see
Chapter 8.
Our favorite exercises: Seated-leg-curl machine, lying-leg-curl machine,
lunge, and dead-lift. For a good hamstring stretch, see Chapter 5.
Gastrocnemius and soleus
Given names: Gastrocnemius and soleus
Street name: Calves
Whereabouts: Your gastrocnemius, also called your gastroc, is the large diamond-shaped muscle that gives shape to the back of your lower legs. (To see
precisely what the gastroc looks like, pedal behind any top-notch cyclist.)
The soleus resides underneath the gastroc (see Figure 12-10).
Job description: Your calf muscles allow you to stand on your tiptoes and
spring off the ground whenever you jump for joy.
Figure 12-10:
Your lowerleg muscles.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
The training payoff: Strong and shapely calves don’t just look good; they
also give you staying power when you take those long, romantic walks or wait
in a three-hour line for Garth Brooks tickets. Plus, you need strong calves for
dancing, jumping, running, and hopping.
Special tips: With calf exercises, some people find it more effective to use
slightly lighter weights and do a few more repetitions — say, up to 25 — than
with most other muscle groups. The muscle tissue in your calves is made
specifically for endurance (walking and standing), so it takes more repetitions
to reach the deepest fibers.
Our favorite exercises: Standing calf raise, seated calf raise, and standingcalf-raise machine
Tibialis anterior
Given name: Tibialis anterior
Street name: Shins
Whereabouts: The tibialis anterior is the largest of several muscles that run
from the top of your foot up the lower leg to the outside of the shin bone,
near the knee (refer to Figure 12-10).
Job description: Your shin muscles enable you to pull your toes toward your
shin, as when you pick up your foot when walking or running.
The training payoff: Shin splints — throbbing pain at the front of your ankles
caused by any sort of irritation or inflammation in the shins — are fairly
common among walkers, runners, dancers, and aerobicizers who overdo it
(see Chapter 5). You’re especially prone to this injury if your shin muscles
are weak compared to your calf muscles.
Special tips: If you do get shin splints, stay off your feet for a few days until
the pain subsides. Icing and stretching can help speed recovery. For tips on
icing, see Chapter 5.
Our favorite exercises: You’re not likely to find a special machine at the gym
to work your shins, so try the following exercise, called the toe lift: Stand flat
on your feet and lift your toes off the floor 8 to 15 times. If you don’t have
access to this machine, you can stand on a step or a stair, balancing on your
heels and arches, with your toes hanging off the edge of the step. Hang on for
support, and lift your toes 8 to 15 times.
Chapter 13
Demystifying Strength Equipment
In This Chapter
Figuring out weight machines
Using dumbbells and barbells: The pros and cons
Mastering cable pulleys
Toning with rubber tubes and bands
Using your body as weight equipment
ome weight-lifting contraptions look like the convergence of a gynecological examination table, a minimalist sculpture, and an all-terrain vehicle.
It’s only natural to stare at them and think: Where do I sit? What do I push?
Has anyone ever been killed on one of these things?
As far as we know, no one has ever exploded on the Butt Blaster or been
mashed into lunchmeat by the leg-press machine. Weight equipment is not
as complicated as it appears. Still, you need to know what the heck you’re
looking at and how to use each machine safely. In this chapter, we cover
the vast array of strength-training equipment that you can use at home or
at health clubs, including the latest developments in gym machines and free
weights. We explain the pros and cons of each type of device and help you
choose the right equipment for your goals. For advice on buying strength
equipment for your home, see Chapter 20.
Weight Machines
If you can unfold a lawn chair, you’re more than qualified to operate a weight
machine. It all comes down to two relatively simple acts: You adjust your seat
and then you either push or pull a bar or a set of handles. These handles are
connected to a cable, chain, or lever, which, in turn, is attached to a stack of
rectangular weight plates. Each plate in the stack weighs between 5 and 20
pounds, depending on the make and model, and has a hole drilled in the center.
If you want to lift 30 pounds, you stick a metal peg, called a pin, into the hole
on the plate marked “30.” When you pull the machine’s handles, the cable picks
up 30 pounds.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
You may also come across machines that don’t have a weight stack. Instead,
you adjust the poundage by sliding donut-shaped weight plates onto a thick
peg. Jargon-heads call these plate-loaded machines. The weight plates are the
same ones used for loading up barbells. (See the “Free Weights” section later
in this chapter for details about weight plates.) The two most popular brands
of plate-loaded machines are Hammer Strength and CYBEX. Many plate-loaded
machines are designed so that each arm or leg works independently of the
other, a feature we like because it forces your weaker side to work hard.
Weight machines have been around for more than a hundred years. Back in
the ’60s, Arthur Jones, inventor of the Nautilus machines, created the most
significant innovation in weight machines to date. Jones realized that when
you lift a barbell or dumbbell, there are certain points during the exercise
that feel very heavy and certain points that feel light. (Try a biceps curl with
a dumbbell, and you see that the dumbbell is hardest to move when your
forearm is parallel to the floor.) Because your muscle is only fully working at
the instances where the weight is difficult to lift, Jones concluded, traditional
exercises don’t give your muscles a complete workout. Then Jones realized
that if you use a machine with a kidney-shaped pulley rather than a round
one, your muscles feel resistance during the entire exercise and can be
strengthened more completely.
Most of today’s weight machines still work under the same principles that
Jones discovered, but they have become smoother, safer, and more comfortable to use. Most of the top brands, including Body Masters, CYBEX, Hammer
Strength, Nautilus, LifeFitness, and ICARIAN do an excellent job. The brands
generally differ in the size and shape of the pulleys; the angles of the bars,
seats, and weight stacks; and the type of seat and handle adjustments. You
may like the Nautilus chest press but prefer the CYBEX back machine. Try
every machine in your gym at least once. Even if the machines are all the
same brand, you may feel more comfortable using, say, the vertical chest
press rather than the horizontal one.
The weight machines designed for home use — called multi-gyms — generally
aren’t as sophisticated as health-club machines, but in many cases, your
muscles won’t know the difference.
The advantages of machines
Machines are ideal for beginners, because they’re quite safe. If you can’t
muster the strength to finish an exercise, you don’t have to worry about
dropping a bar on your chest. But one caveat: Don’t stick any body part near
a weight stack that is being lifted or lowered. Liz saw a woman place her
hand on a weight stack as she pulled out the pin. Sixty pounds of weight
came crashing down on the woman’s palm. She was rushed to the hospital,
where her hand was repaired with eight stitches. Liz also saw a woman with
long hair lean over to pull out a pin before lowering the weight stack; the last
Chapter 13: Demystifying Strength Equipment
4 inches of her hair got pressed between the weights. Fortunately, Liz and
other staff members were able to rectify the situation without giving the
woman a new hairstyle.
Most machines require little coordination; they basically hold your body in
position and guide you through the motion. Consider the shoulder-press
machine. You simply sit in a chair and push the handles up — all your effort
goes into lifting those handles. But if you’re shoulder pressing with a barbell
(defined in the “Free Weights” section later in this chapter), you not only have
to push the bar up but also have to keep it balanced and steady. Initially, your
arms may wobble back and forth. Even after you get the hang of it, the exercise
always requires a certain amount of balance and coordination.
You may come across one type of machine that does require coordination.
These “free-floating” machines look like regular weight machines, but the
levers don’t move in a fixed pathway. You have to control the motion so the
bar doesn’t wobble. These machines are designed to give machine users a
free-weight feel while retaining the safety aspect of machines. But we’re not
high on the concept. We think these machines are too complicated for beginners and not very satisfying for advanced lifters. If an experienced lifter
wants the feel of free weights, he’ll likely prefer the real McCoy.
Another plus for traditional machines: They’re helpful for isolating a particular
muscle group. Isolating is just gymspeak for zeroing in on one muscle (actually,
using a single joint in a motion) rather than getting several muscles or joints
into the act. This is helpful if you’re trying to correct a specific weakness. For
example, if your hamstrings (rear-thigh muscles) are underdeveloped, you can
use a machine that holds your whole body still while you bend your legs to
target your hamstrings. With free weights, you’ll have a harder time strengthening your hamstrings without working your front-thigh and butt muscles, too.
Finally, machines — at least those with weight stacks — let you get in a faster
workout with less stopping and starting to adjust the weights. Instead of
sliding weight plates on and off or removing free weights from the rack, you
simply place a pin in a hole and adjust the seat. If your gym has 10 or 12
machines grouped in a circle, square, or similar shape, you can move from
one right to the other, exercising your whole body in less than 20 minutes.
Typically, machines that work your larger muscle groups (chest, back, butt,
and thighs) come before machines that work your shoulders and arms.
The drawbacks of weight machines
You may want to stick to machines initially, but plan to mix in some free
weights after a month or two of working out two or three days a week.
Machine circuits can get pretty boring — for you and your muscles. You need
to stimulate your muscles with at least occasional changes in your workout.
Typically, a gym has only two or three machines for each muscle group; with
free weights, you can strengthen each muscle with dozens of exercises.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Weight machines for women
Many women don’t fit into conventional weighttraining machines. Either their legs dangle off
the floor when they hop up into the seats, or
their arms are too short to reach the bar they’re
supposed to grab.
About ten years ago, Nautilus recognized
these problems and designed weight-training
machines especially for women. Today you can
find these machines in women-only gyms and in
many large gyms that have several lines of equipment. Some gyms carry only one or two pieces,
usually chest machines because they’re the ones
smaller women have the most trouble using.
In addition to downsizing the frames, Nautilus
researchers studied the way women lift weights.
They found that, like men, women are stronger at
certain points in an exercise and weaker at other
points; however, they also discovered that for
men and women these points are not the same.
So, they set up the machines’ pulleys differently
from conventional machines to give women a
better workout. They also made the weight
increments smaller — you can go up by 5
pounds instead of 10.
Liz likes the Nautilus women’s line a lot because
she is, shall we say, not anyone’s first choice to
play center on a basketball team. The line
includes the only pec deck (a type of chest
machine with a butterfly motion) she has ever
used that didn’t make her feel as if her shoulder
was going to be ripped out of its socket.
Realize, too, that every weight machine won’t fit every body. Most machines
are designed for people of average height, so if you’re shorter than 5'4" or taller
than 6'2", you may not be able to adjust the seat to fit your body. (Figuring out
which machines don’t fit may take you a while, however. Unlike amusement
parks, gyms don’t post height-requirement signs.) Manufacturers have tried to
get around the height problems by offering a variety of pads to sit on or stick
behind you, but they don’t work for everyone. If a machine feels uncomfortable
to you — even if you’re of average height — try another machine that targets
the same muscle group or head for the free-weight area. As we describe in the
“Weight machines for women” sidebar, Nautilus makes a line of machines
scaled for women’s bodies.
Another drawback of machines is that many of them isolate each muscle
group. We know we said this was an advantage, but it can be a flaw. Because
you rarely isolate your muscles in everyday life, some experts believe it
doesn’t make sense to train them that way in the gym. If muscles become
used to working as separate entities, the theory goes, they don’t cooperate
with one another to the extent they should — a situation that may set you
up for injuries.
Chapter 13: Demystifying Strength Equipment
Consider the lying leg curl, a popular hamstring machine. You lie flat on your
stomach and then bend your knees until your heels approach your rear end.
This exercise does a nice job of focusing on your hamstrings, but when in real
life do you lie on your stomach and kick yourself in the butt? (Actually, we
have relatives who do this when they throw tantrums, but apparently they
don’t need to train for them.) Some experts believe you’re better off strengthening your hamstrings with exercises such as squatting, a motion you use
often in daily life, like when you pick up a heavy box. Because each has its
advantages, we recommend doing both free-weight and machine exercises.
One final reason to venture beyond machines: You can’t take ’em with you.
If you’re on vacation and your hotel gym has nothing more than a pile of
dumbbells, you need to know what to do with them. Don’t give yourself
another excuse to blow off a workout.
Special tips for machines
Don’t let weight machines scare you. Use the following tips to look like an old
pro next time you go to the gym:
Make the adjustments. Don’t just hop on a machine and start pumping
away. If the last guy who used it was a foot taller than you are, you may
find yourself suspended in midair in the middle of the exercise.
To adjust a machine, you usually have to pull out a pin, shift the seat up
or down, and then reinsert the pin. Adjusting the seat is a hassle at first,
but if you don’t do it, you set yourself up for an injury. Also, you cheat
yourself out of a good workout. For instance, if you don’t adjust the
biceps-curl machine correctly, you may compensate by using your back
muscles, thereby defeating the purpose of the exercise.
Let a trainer show you how to adjust each machine to fit your body. In
general, line up the joint that you’re trying to move (your knees, for
example) with the joint of the machine that’s moving. You shouldn’t
have to strain in any way to do the movement. If you begin to feel any
discomfort, particularly in your joints, stop the exercise and readjust the
set or position, as needed.
Check the weight stack before you lift. Never begin the exercise without checking where the pin has been inserted. If someone has racked the
machine (put the pin all the way on the bottom so the entire weight
stack is captured), either your eyes are going to pop out of your head or
you’re going to be mighty embarrassed when you can’t budge it. When
you first learn to use a machine, write down the weight and seat adjustment (“leg extension: 30 lbs., second setting”) on a card or in a workout
log. Carry these notes with you and update them regularly.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Remember the name of each machine. You should not refer to the lat
pull-down as “that one where you pull down that bar thingy.” Knowing
what to call each contraption reminds you what the heck you’re doing —
you’ll remember that you’re working your lats, assuming you remember
what those are. (If you don’t, see Chapter 12.) Most machines have some
sort of name plaque or label. Check that the name of the machine you’re
using corresponds to the name of the machine on your workout card.
Stay in control. If the weight stack bangs and clangs like a junior-high
marching band, you’re probably lifting too fast, and you’re definitely
annoying the guy on the machine next to you. Many machine manufacturers recommend taking two slow counts to lift the weight stack up and
four slow counts to lower the weight stack down. You may feel more
comfortable speeding it up to a 2-2 count. When you become a more
advanced lifter, you may want to try SuperSlow training, a method that
involves a full 20 seconds per repetition. We describe this controversial
technique in Chapter 14.
If the machine has a seat belt, use it. We’re not aware of any gyms that
enforce seat-belt laws, but that belt is there for a reason: to keep you
stable while you move through an exercise. Not every machine has one,
so check carefully.
Change the weight in the smallest increment possible. Most machines
have half plates hanging on the frame. Instead of increasing your weight
by an entire plate, you can place this thin rectangle on top of the stack.
CYBEX and other equipment manufacturers have come up with an ingenious way to increase weight by one-third of a plate, a system used on
some of its machines. Each machine has an abacus-like apparatus linked
to the stack of 20-pound weight plates. To increase the weight, you slide a
weighted disk toward the stack, increasing the weight by 5 pounds. There
are three disks per abacus, allowing you to go from 10 pounds to 15
pounds to 20 before moving on to a new plate.
Free Weights
Free weights are nothing to be afraid of. They’re simply bars with weight
plates on each end, and they’re perfectly suitable for people who don’t envision a Mr. Olympia title in their future. The long bars are called barbells, and
the short bars are called dumbbells (see Figure 13-1). It takes two hands to
hoist a barbell. You can lift a dumbbell with one hand, although you may do
some exercises using two hands on a single dumbbell.
Barbells and dumbbells are called free weights because they’re not attached
to any chains, cables, or weight stacks. You’re free to do with them whatever
you want, although we recommend using them for strength training rather
than, say, banging nails into a wall.
Chapter 13: Demystifying Strength Equipment
Figure 13-1:
You can use
hundreds of
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
At most gyms, you find a wide array of dumbbells, lined up from lightest, usually 3 pounds, to heaviest, as much as 200 pounds. At larger gyms, you also
find a selection of bars with plates welded to each end, starting with 20
pounds and increasing in 10-pound increments.
Virtually every gym has bars without weight plates on each end. The long
bar (also called an Olympic bar) alone usually weighs 45 pounds. To increase
the poundage, you slide weight plates — round plates with a hole through the
center — to each end. You then secure the plates with clips called collars.
An assortment of these weight plates, typically from 21⁄2 pounds to 45 pounds,
sits on a rack near the bars. If you want to lift 75 pounds, you add a 10-pound
plate and a 5-pound plate to each side of the 45-pound bar. After you finish,
be sure to remove these plates and put them back in their proper place.
Otherwise, you risk unfriendly stares from the staff and the guy or gal who
uses the bar after you.
If you’re lucky, your gym will have weight plates made by Iron Grip. These
plates are easier to carry than the traditional ones because they have handles built in. Imagine the difference between carrying a suitcase with a handle
and without. We suspect they prevent back problems caused by improperly
lifting standard weight plates. The handles also keep the plates from slipping
and dropping to the floor. A few other brands have copied this concept, but
we like Iron Grip the best.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
How to spot and be spotted
If you spend enough time in the gym, sooner or
later someone is going to ask you, “Hey, mind
giving me a spot?” He’s not asking you to buy him
a puppy; he would like assistance with his next
set. You should be flattered at the request, but be
aware that spotting is an awesome responsibility. It falls on your shoulders to prevent the
weight from, well, falling on the guy’s shoulders.
By the way, don’t hesitate to ask for a spot yourself if you think you may have trouble completing
a set. A spotter is particularly helpful when you
graduate to a heavier weight. You can enlist help
from a health-club staff member; or better yet, ask
anyone nearby who doesn’t look too busy. (This
is a good way to make friends at the gym, too.) Fill
your spotter in on your game plan. Mention how
many reps you think you can do and on which rep
you think you’d like to call in the cavalry.
Here’s how to handle the job of spotting a fellow
weight lifter:
Pay attention at all times. Don’t get into a
heated discussion about the war in Iraq. You
need to be ready, on a split-second’s notice,
to lift the bar off your spottee’s chest if his
arms give out. Politely tune out the rest of the
world until your spottee completes his set.
Ask your spottee where he’d like you
to place your hands. There are several
schools of thought on this subject. You can
rest a fingertip or two on the bar at all times
so you can give instantaneous help when
your spottee calls for it — usually during the
last repetition or two. Some people, including us, find that position annoying, because
it diminishes the feelings of glory you experience when you complete a set by yourself.
We prefer the ready-willing-and-able spotting technique. That is, have your hands
poised a couple inches from the bar; touch
the bar only when your spottee begins to
struggle. Some spotters also place their
hands on the joint or limb doing the movement, as close to the bar as possible (for
example, on the wrists).
If you don’t think you can handle spotting
someone, say so. This is no time for heroics.
In order to spot someone bench-pressing 100
pounds, you need not be able to bench
100 pounds yourself — you’re just there to
help out. However, if you have trouble lifting
the 5-pounders off the rack, you’re not a candidate for this job.
Use proper posture. This means not rounding
your spine, keeping a good center of gravity,
and making sure you’re in a stable position.
Don’t over-spot. You’re there to help the guy,
not do the work for him. When you’re spotting someone on the bench press, don’t lean
directly over the bar, grip it with both hands,
and pull it up and down. With a little experience, you’ll be able to provide just the right
amount of additional effort that the person
needs to complete the exercise. (If you’re
the one being spotted, you may want to say
something like, “Don’t help me until I really
need it.” You can also scream, “I got it! I got
it!” if it looks like your spotter is going to
prematurely swoop in to help.)
Always offer encouraging words. Say
things like “It’s all yours! You got it! You got
it! All you!” This gives your spottee inspiration to squeeze out that last repetition. Plus,
it makes everyone else in the gym glance
over in admiration.
No matter which end of the spot you’re on,
pleasant breath is a must. Remember, you’ll
be breathing forcefully right into someone’s
face. You don’t want to find a bottle of
Scope waiting for you in your locker.
Chapter 13: Demystifying Strength Equipment
The advantages of free weights
Free weights are much more versatile than machines. Whereas a weight
machine is designed for one particular motion, a single pair of dumbbells can
be used to perform literally hundreds of exercises. For instance, you can
push dumbbells overhead to work your shoulders, press them backward to
tone your triceps, or hold one in each hand while you squat to strengthen
your thighs and butt muscles. You can change the feel and emphasis of an
exercise by simply altering the way you grip the bar.
Another important benefit of free weights is that they work your muscles in a
way that closely mimics real-life movements. Machines tend to isolate a particular muscle so the rest of your muscles don’t get any action. But freeweight training requires several muscles to move, balance, and steady a
weight as you lift and lower it. Free-weight exercises allow you to strengthen
muscles that wouldn’t get much work if you were doing isolation exercises
with machines. Some people find they gain strength and increase in size
faster when they do the majority of their exercises with free weights.
The drawbacks of free weights
For some novices, free-weight exercises are hard to get the hang of. You need
more instruction than you do with machines — there are a lot more mistakes
to make and injuries to avoid. Also, free-weight exercises require more balance than machine moves. If you’re short on time, a free-weight workout
probably will take you longer than a machine workout. Instead of simply
putting a pin in a weight stack, you may have to slide weight plates on and off
a bar. But if a gym has various free weights available without having to
change plates, this may not be the case.
Special tips for free weights
Anyone using free weights needs to be very careful, even with light weights.
Debbie Bacon of Phoenix, Arizona, learned this lesson the hard way. While
waiting for her husband to come home late one night, Debbie decided exercising might help her stay awake. She was doing shoulder exercises with 7pound dumbbells when she got so tired that she lost control of the weights
and they crashed together. Unfortunately, her right index and ring fingers got
in the way. The incident involved a fractured fingertip and a piece of acrylic
nail that got lodged where it shouldn’t have been. But we’ll spare you the
gory details. Suffice it to say that free weights require your full attention.
Here are a few other tips to make free-weight training safe and fun:
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
If you’re using very heavy weights, enlist a spotter. (See Figure 13-2
and the sidebar “How to spot and be spotted” in this chapter.)
Be careful when you lift a weight from a rack and when you put it
back. Never pick up a weight off the floor without bending your legs.
Never drop the weights carelessly when you’ve completed a set. The
loud clang is sure to annoy your fellow lifters, and the weights may roll
away and land on someone’s toes.
Use two hands when lifting weight plates. Remember that plates are
weight, too, and you can just as easily hurt yourself placing a weight on
a bar as you can performing an exercise. Don’t attempt to lift a weight
plate onto a bar if it’s too heavy for you.
Figure 13-2:
the bench
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
A word about benches
A bench can help you get a better workout. Some benches are flat, and
some are upright, like narrow chairs with high, padded backs. Others are
adjustable so you can slide them to an incline or decline position. Here are
some tips for using benches:
Chapter 13: Demystifying Strength Equipment
Experiment with the angle of the bench, especially for chest exercises.
Inclining the bench a few degrees allows you to work the muscle fibers of
your upper chest. (But attempting chest exercises at too high an angle
can put your shoulder joint in jeopardy.) Declining the bench emphasizes
your lower chest. You can use a slightly different angle each workout if
you want.
Use a bench for support. When you’re doing overhead lifts or bicep
curls, adjust the seat so it’s upright, and sit snugly against it. This position protects your back and prevents you from cheating. You won’t be
able to rock your body back and forth to build momentum to hoist the
dumbbell. You have to rely solely on the muscle power of your biceps.
However, you’ll still have to stop yourself from arching the small of your
back off the bench when the weight gets heavy.
Use weight-lifting benches for one activity only: lifting weights. Don’t
use a bench to change a light bulb at home and don’t use it at the gym to
take a nap. Never use a weight bench for step aerobics. You can, however,
use your step bench as a weight bench as long as you’re not lifting dumbbells heavier than, say, 30 pounds.
Keep your feet flat on the floor or flat on the bench — whichever is
more comfortable.
Don’t put your feet up in the air, especially if you’re a beginner. This
creates an unstable position and looks like you want your stomach
scratched. Instead, keep your feet firmly planted on the floor.
Cable Pulleys
At most gyms, you see a box full of ropes, straps, handles, short bars, long
bars, V-shaped bars, and bars shaped like a handlebar mustache. This paraphernalia looks like a pile of junk excavated from someone’s garage. But in
fact, these are the attachments you can clip onto a cable machine to do a
wide variety of exercises. The cable machine consists of a cable and a round
pulley attached to a metal frame.
To strengthen your back, you can pull down a bar clipped to a high pulley —
one that’s attached all the way at the top. To strengthen your biceps, you can
pull up on a low pulley — attached near the bottom of the frame, typically a
few inches from the floor. To strengthen your chest, you can grab a high
pulley on each side of the frame and pull both handles toward your chest, as
if you’re going to wrap your arms around someone.
Cable pulleys are a cross between machines and free weights. On the one
hand, the cable is hooked up to a stack of weights, so nothing can come
crashing down. On the other hand, the motion isn’t guided — you’re free to
pull the bar down the way you want to, and you’re free to make lots of mistakes. Like free weights, cable machines require a certain amount of control.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Don’t be afraid to play around with the different types of adjustments. Attaching a new bar is easier than it looks, and you may find that, when working your
triceps, a V-shaped bar feels more comfortable than a straight bar. When you
do make the switcheroo, you may need to adjust the amount of weight you’re
using. Even if you’re doing the very same exercise, you may use more weight
pulling down the V-shaped bar than you would pulling down the straight bar.
Tubes and Bands
Exercise tubes are like the thick rubber tubes you can find in a medical-supply
store — they just come in brighter colors. Some exercise tubes have handles
or buckles attached to each end (see Figure 13-3), or they come in a kit with
attachable plastic bars and door attachments. You also can buy exercise
bands, which are long, flat sheets of strong rubber.
Figure 13-3:
You can use
tubes to
muscle in
your body.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
You can exercise virtually every muscle group in your body with bands and
tubes, although tubes work better for some exercises, while bands work
better for others. You just have to experiment. Here’s how you can use bands
to work both of your biceps at once: You stand on the center of the band and
hold an end in each hand, with your elbows by your sides. Bend your arms
Chapter 13: Demystifying Strength Equipment
and curl your hands up toward your shoulders. Lower your arms slowly so
the band doesn’t just snap back into place. (You can find a whole chapter
full of band exercises in our book Weight Training For Dummies, published
by Wiley.)
The advantages: Bands and tubes take up zero space, and they’re portable.
They give you an instant strength workout, whether you’re in a small studio
apartment, in a hotel room, or on a camping trip in the Mojave Desert. Bands
and tubes are easy to adjust, too; to make an exercise tougher, just use a
shorter or thicker band or step farther away to stretch the band further and
increase the level of resistance. They’re also cheap: You can purchase a
couple of bands for around $10. Even if you go hog wild, you’d have trouble
spending more than $60 on a set of bands, a travel bag, and a video explaining how to use the bands.
The drawbacks: If a band or tube slips, you can get snapped in the face or
groin. Ouch. Also, reproducing the same amount of work from one workout to
the next is difficult. You know when you’re lifting a 20-pound dumbbell or a
50-pound weight stack, but bands and tubes have no comparable measuring
system. They simply come in different resistances: usually light, medium,
heavy, and extra-heavy. (There’s no universal code for color. One company’s
yellow band may be the easiest resistance, whereas another company’s
yellow band may be the most difficult. Look for band thickness.) Also, know
that there’s a limit to how much strength you can gain with bands.
When you’re using bands and tubes, keep the following tips in mind:
Lift and lower the band or tube slowly. If you move carefully, you’ll feel
your muscles working in both directions.
Don’t wrap the band or tube so tightly around your palms or feet that
you cut off the circulation to your hands or feet. Instead, wrap it
loosely several times so that it forms loops, the way you wind a dog’s
leash around your hand.
When you wrap a band or tube under your feet, make sure that it’s
secure. You don’t want a band to slip out from under you.
Use bands or tubes that are specifically designed for exercising. Inspect
them frequently for holes and tears and replace them when they’re worn.
Your Body
Yes, your very own body can function as strength equipment. You can lift it,
lower it, curl it, twist it, and bend it in all sorts of ways that are designed to
increase your strength. We’re talking leg lifts, push-ups, pull-ups, and the like.
When you move your body weight, you’re fighting gravity — and that can be
a considerable fight.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
The advantages: You don’t require any storage space and you certainly can
take yourself anywhere. Plus, push-ups and pull-ups are impressive, and they
call upon just about every muscle in your upper body. If you’re really serious
about building upper-body strength, add push-ups and pull-up-type exercises
to your strength-training routine.
The drawbacks: Ever try a pull-up? They’re darned hard. Most people can’t
do pull-ups until they’ve spent at least a few months lifting weights. And then,
eventually, they have the opposite problem: The pull-ups become too easy.
To continue making progress, you may need to invest in equipment or join
a gym.
Chapter 14
Designing a Strength-Training
In This Chapter
Defining sets and reps
Knowing how often and how much to lift
Maintaining proper form
Targeting your abdominals
Trying exercises for all the major muscle groups
can the fitness aisle in any bookstore or video store and you find fitness
experts who claim to have discovered the Secret, the Answer, the world’s
best solution to building a new you. “I can’t stand to know a secret that can
help others without telling them about it,” says one popular instructor.
Well, we have a secret, too: There are no secrets to weight training. To find a
program that works for you, you need to experiment with a variety of training
methods. Lifting weight is an art, not an exact science.
In this chapter, we present an array of tools you can use to custom-design a
strength-training program. We address questions such as, “How much weight
should I lift?”, “How many exercises do I need to do?”, and “How many days a
week should I work out?” There’s no single answer to any of these questions.
You need to decide what your goals are, which techniques you like best, and
which ones your body responds to. Also, we recommend consulting with a
qualified trainer at least once before you embark on a strength-training program. (See Chapter 4 for tips on finding a competent trainer.)
The Building Blocks of a Weight Workout
You can’t begin to design a strength-training program without knowing two
terms: rep and set.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Rep is short for repetition — one complete motion of an exercise.
Suppose you’re doing a leg lift. When you lift your leg and then lower it
back down, you’ve completed one rep.
A set is a group of consecutive repetitions. For example, you can say, “I did
two sets of ten reps on the chest press.” This means that you did ten consecutive chest presses, rested, and then did another ten chest presses.
How many reps should I do?
The number of reps you should do depends on where you are in your training
(new, experienced, coming back from a long layoff) and your goals. To become
as strong and as big as your body type will allow, do fewer than eight or ten
reps per set. To tone your muscles and develop the type of strength you need
for everyday life — moving furniture or shoveling snow — aim for 10 to 12 repetitions. Doing dozens of reps with ultralight weights (weights you can barely
even feel) doesn’t bring good results of any kind, because you’re not stressing
your muscles enough.
No matter how many repetitions you do, always use a heavy enough weight
so that the last rep is a struggle, but not such a struggle that you compromise
good form. After about a month of strength training, you may want to go to
muscular failure (that is, your last repetition is so difficult that you can’t
squeeze out one more).
If you have a few different goals in mind, you can mix and match the number
of reps you do per workout. If you want to get bigger and stronger and also
improve the endurance of those muscles, you can do a heavy workout one
day and a lighter workout the next time out. Keep track of how you feel; your
body may respond better to one type of training than another.
Be sure to adjust the amount of weight you use for each exercise. In general,
use more weight to work larger muscles like your thighs, chest, and upper
back, and use less weight to exercise your shoulders, arms, and abdominals.
But even when doing different exercises for the same muscle group, you’re
likely to need a variety of weights. For example, you typically can handle
more weight on the flat chest-press machine than you can on the incline
chest-press machine.
Write down how much weight you lift for each exercise so that next time
around, you don’t have to waste time experimenting all over again. But don’t
lock yourself into lifting a certain amount of weight every time. Everyone
feels stronger on some days than on others. Just because you can benchpress 80 pounds on Monday doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it on
Wednesday. Listen to your body. It’ll tell you what it can and can’t handle.
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
How much should I lift?
To increase strength, you need to lift an amount that stresses your muscles. So,
although we can’t tell you a specific amount to lift, we can tell you that it has to
be enough so that you feel challenged as you’re lifting, and so that the last rep
is difficult to complete (difficult, but still possible and still using good form).
After about age 30, you lose bone mass for the rest of your life. But don’t let
that frighten you, because there is a solution. To maintain bone density (that is,
to build enough bone density to offset the loss of bone density that occurs as
you age), you need to perform weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing exercise
means that your skeleton is supporting any sort of weight, as it does when you
walk, run, or — yes — lift weights. Theories abound as to why weight-bearing
exercise builds bone density, but the most probable is that your body creates
osteoblasts, or cells that form more bone when muscles are stressed. This phenomenon occurs when muscles flex and the tendons to which they’re attached
pull on the bone to which they are connected. This means that when your
muscles (and, thus, your bones) are placed under pressure, as they are during
weight-bearing exercise, your bones adapt to the pressure and become more
dense (and that means they’re stronger). Weight lifting is one of the best ways
to build bone density, because you’re loading your muscles (and, therefore,
your bones) with weights. But keep in mind that as your muscles gain strength,
you need to gradually increase the load on them by increasing the amount of
weight you lift.
How do I know when I’m ready
to lift more weight?
It won’t take long to outgrow the weights you use during your first workout.
When you can easily do the maximum number of reps you’re aiming for,
increase the weight by the smallest increment possible and drop down to
fewer reps. You know you’re lifting too much weight if you can’t complete
your repetitions with good form and if you feel the need to grunt.
Not all muscles improve at the same rate. After a month of weight training,
you may jump up 20 pounds on a chest exercise but only 5 pounds on a
shoulder exercise.
How fast should I do my reps?
Take a full 2 seconds to lift a weight and 2 to 4 seconds to lower it. If you lift
more quickly than that, you may hear a lot of clanging and banging (of the
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
weights). Plus you’ll end up relying on momentum rather than muscle power.
Going slow and steady yields better results because more of your muscle gets
into the act.
Some trainers take this notion even further, advocating repetitions that last
an excruciating 20 seconds or more, a technique called SuperSlow training.
We think that SuperSlow workouts may have a place in advanced exercise
routines but are too challenging and result in too much muscle soreness for
novice exercisers.
SuperSlow works like this: You take 20 more seconds (which means moving in
super-slow motion) to do each repetition and perform 3 to 5 reps. Although
the number of reps may seem low, keep in mind that SuperSlow lifters spend
about twice as much time on each exercise as do traditional weight lifters,
and some swear they see more rapid improvements in strength, although
those improvements haven’t been borne out in studies.
This technique can be done with machines, free weights, or body weight
(such as push-ups), and it’s very, very hard, because you can’t use any
momentum the way you can with traditional weight lifting. In fact, SuperSlow
is so exhausting that at one New York gym that advocates this approach, a
sign on the wall warns exercisers not to drive for at least 30 minutes after a
workout. SuperSlow training requires more patience than most people have,
and even people who try it and like it rarely continue with the training. If you
decide to try SuperSlow, it’s best if you’re coached through your reps by a
trainer with experience using this technique.
We also disagree with many of the beliefs promoted by a group of trainers
called the SuperSlow Exercise Guild. These trainers maintain that one or two
weekly SuperSlow workouts are the best way to achieve fitness and that cardiovascular exercise is not a necessary part of fitness training, even to prevent conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure. We couldn’t
disagree more! As we explain throughout this book, the ideal fitness program
includes a combination of cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength workouts.
How many sets should I do
for each muscle group?
There’s no simple answer. Several studies show that doing one set per muscle
builds just as much strength as doing three sets per muscle, at least for the
first three or four months of training. So here’s our advice: If you’re a novice
or if you’re starting again after a layoff, begin with one set of 10 to 12 repetitions, and make sure your last rep feels challenging. You should feel like you
have control of the weight but if you did one more rep, you may not be able
to make it all the way. Most people can increase their initial weights after two
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
to four weeks of training; at that point, consider adding a second or even
third set for each muscle group. However, if your goal is simply to build
enough strength for good health, one challenging set may be sufficient.
If you’re aiming for maximum strength or a physique like the ones you see on
ESPN body-building competitions, you need to do at least 10 to 20 sets per
muscle group!
How long should I rest between sets?
The amount of rest you take in between sets is another variable that you can
toy around with. If you’re a beginner, rest about 90 seconds between sets to
give your muscles adequate time to recover. As you get in better shape, you
need less rest — only about 30 seconds — before your muscles feel ready for
another set. If you follow a chest exercise with, say, a thigh exercise, you typically need less rest than if you do consecutive exercises for the same muscle
group, such as two chest exercises in a row.
After the first few weeks of training, you can fine-tune the amount of rest you
take between sets according to your goals. If you’re using really heavy weights
and doing fewer reps in order to bulk up, you can take up to 5 minutes between
sets so that your muscles can pump out their greatest effort each time.
If you’re short on time or you like a fast-paced workout, try circuit training:
You move quickly from exercise to exercise with little or no rest at all. Circuit
training does a decent job of building strength, and can be a good substitute
for an aerobic workout, especially if you start and end with a fairly long aerobic warm-up and cooldown. See Chapter 15 for details.
In what order should I do my exercises?
In general, exercise larger muscles before smaller ones. Work your back and
chest before your shoulders and arms, and your butt before your thighs and
calves. Smaller muscles assist the larger muscles. If the smaller muscles are
too tired to pitch in and do their job, they give out long before your big muscles get an adequate workout. For example, your biceps help out your upper
back when you do a lat pull-down, an exercise where you pull a bar down to
your chest. If you work your biceps first, they’ll be too tired to do their job
during the pull-down, and your back muscles won’t get as good a workout.
As for which muscles to start with — chest, back, or legs — that’s up to you.
You may want to begin with all your chest exercises and then move on to your
back. Or you can alternate chest and back moves. You can fit your abdominal
exercises in whenever you like, as long as you remember to do them. (See the
“All about Abs” section for more on exercising your abdominals.)
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
How many times a week do
I need to lift weights?
Start by lifting two or three days per week for several weeks, completing one
set of 10 to 12 reps. Increase to two or three sets. If your aim is maximum
strength, targeting each muscle three times a week may not give your muscles enough chance to rest. In that case, cut back to two workouts per muscle
group per week.
If you really get into weight training, consider doing a split routine, in which
you exercise some of your muscles during one workout, and then come back a
day or two later to exercise the others. You still work each muscle at least
twice a week, but because you don’t train every muscle during every workout,
you can devote more energy to the muscles you’re focusing on that day — and
each of your muscles still gets enough rest.
Splitting your routine is a good idea, especially if you’re serious about building muscle and if you have free time in small chunks. You may be fresher and
more motivated if you walk into the gym knowing that, today, you have to
work only your chest, triceps, and shoulders. You probably work these muscles harder than if you try to fit all your muscle groups into one workout.
Here are the two most popular ways of splitting a routine:
Push/pull: Work your pulling muscles (your back muscles and biceps) on
one day, and during the next session, work your pushing muscles (your
chest and triceps). You can fit in your leg, shoulder, and abdominal exercises whenever you want. Following is an example of a push/pull routine.
In Chapter 12, we list several exercises for each muscle group; you can
learn them from a trainer or a book.
Muscles Worked
Push (chest, triceps, shoulders, lower-body exercises)
Pull (back, biceps, abdominals)
Push (chest, triceps, shoulders, lower-body exercises)
Pull (back, biceps, abdominals)
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
Upper body/lower body: You work your upper body one day and your
lower body the next. You fit in your abs two to four times a week whenever it’s convenient. (See Chapter 12 for definitions of gluteals, quadriceps, and the like.)
Muscles Worked
Upper body (back, chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps)
Lower body (gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves,
Upper body (back, chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps)
Lower body (gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves,
Whatever workout schedule you design, make sure each muscle group gets at
least one full day of rest between sessions. You can lift two days back to back,
but you don’t want lift with your upper body, for example, two days in a row.
Lifting weight literally creates tiny little tears in your muscles. They need those
48 hours to recover and rebuild. (You can do aerobic training on consecutive
days because it’s much easier on your muscles than weight training.) If you
don’t rest in this way, you may wind up sore and more prone to overuse
injuries. (Keep in mind that perpetual soreness can be a sign of overtraining.)
Besides, overworking a muscle may weaken it, defeating your purpose for
How often should I change my routine?
Some people change some or all of their exercises every time they work out.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule on this subject, but we recommend that you try
at least one new exercise every month. After you learn a basic routine, such
as the one we demonstrate in the last section of this chapter, expand your
repertoire so that you have more options to choose from. Varying your exercises keeps you more interested and can help you get better results. If you
stick with the same routine month after month, year after year, your muscles
adapt to those exercises; but by working your muscles from a variety of
angles, you involve more muscle fibers and keep your muscles challenged.
Changing your exercises isn’t the only way to keep you — and your muscles —
stimulated. You also can play with other variables, such as how many sets and
reps you perform and how much rest you take between sets.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Advanced weight-training techniques
We call the following techniques advanced, but
novices can use them, too (most of them,
anyway — we let you know which ones are off
limits for beginners).
Super set: You do two consecutive sets of different exercises, preferably ones that exercise opposite muscle groups (like quadriceps
and hamstrings) without resting in between.
For example, you can do one chest exercise
immediately followed by a different chest
exercise and then take a rest. The idea is to
completely tire out the muscle — to work it
so hard that you reach the deepest muscle
fibers. You also can do a super set with exercises that target different muscle groups, like
a chest exercise followed by a leg exercise.
With this type of super set, you don’t rest
between exercises — the purpose is simply
to save time.
Pyramids: You do multiple sets of an exercise, increasing the weight for each set
while decreasing the number of reps. You
may do a light warm-up set for ten reps,
then a heavier set for eight reps, then an
even heavier set for six reps, and so on,
until you reach a weight at which you can
do only one rep. You don’t have to go all the
way down to one rep for your workout to be
considered a pyramid. The idea is to work
up slowly and fatigue the muscle.
Negatives: Someone helps you lift a weight,
and then you’re on your own for the lowering, or negative, phase of the lift. Your muscles generally can handle more weight
when you lower a weight than when you lift
it, so this technique gives you a chance to
really tire out your muscles. Note: If you’re
a beginner, don’t try negatives. They can
cause significant muscle soreness.
Breakdowns (also called drop sets or
descending sets): You lift a heavy weight,
and as soon as you exhaust the muscle —
however many reps it takes — you pick up a
lighter weight and squeeze out a few more
reps. You might do ten reps of an exercise
and then drop 5 pounds and try to eke out
three or four more reps. The theory is that you
use more of your muscles this way. You have
to dig deeper because the muscle fibers you
normally use are already pooped out.
SuperSlow training: See the “How fast
should I do my reps?” section earlier in this
chapter for details. Note: It’s generally not
for beginners.
Consider trying periodization, a method of organizing your workout program
into several periods, each lasting about four weeks. Each phase has a different
The first month you may do a basic routine, using moderate weights and
performing one set of eight to ten reps of each exercise.
In the next period, you may go for more strength, lifting heavier weights,
doing six to eight repetitions and taking more rest between sets.
In the third phase, you may focus on building stamina, doing 10 to 12
repetitions and taking less rest between sets.
Periodization is great if you’re a beginner, because it helps you focus on one
goal at a time.
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
All about Abs
Abs are everywhere these days, from infomercials featuring “ab-flattening”
products to the covers of fitness magazines, promising ten steps toward washboard abs. To have great-looking abs — and who doesn’t want that? — you
need to develop the abdominal muscles through strength training. But keep
in mind that even rock-hard, six-pack abdominal muscles won’t look like a
washboard if they have a layer of fat over them. If you’re overweight, abdominal strength training will hone your abs, but you won’t see those ab muscles
until you lose body fat.
There are more theories about abdominal strength training than there are
about the Kennedy assassination. Here’s our take on getting your midsection
into shape. (Read Chapter 12 to discover the names and functions of your
four abdominal muscles; see “The strength workout” section in this chapter
for step-by-step instructions for the exercises mentioned here.)
Don’t do abdominal exercises every day. Your abs, like all your other
muscle groups, need a day of rest between workouts. And be sure that,
just like strengthening any other muscle group, your last few reps are
difficult to complete.
Do up to 3 sets of 10 to 25 reps. If you’re able to whip off 100 ab exercises without breaking a sweat, chances are you’re doing the exercises
too quickly or are engaging muscles other than the abs to complete the
exercise. See the following section for two exercises (Basic Crunch and
Ball Crunch) that isolate the abdominal muscles.
Stay away from abdominal machinery. Instead, stick with exercises
performed on the floor, such as the crunch and moves performed with a
physioball (both demonstrated in the following section). We’re not fond
of most abdominal weight machines because they tend to bring the
lower-back or hip muscles into the act. Nor do we like those abdominal
infomercial gadgets that you can strap over your knees or stick under
your butt; they force you to pay money for something you don’t need.
The only type of ab device we’re not entirely opposed to are ab-roller
contraptions. You’ve probably seen them on TV: You lie in the center of
a semi-circular metal frame, rest your head on a foam pad, place your
arms atop the curve of the frame, and curl upward in a crunching
motion. An ab roller can function like training wheels on a bike, guiding
you through the correct path of motion until you’re strong enough and
skilled enough to perform it on your own. Also, it supports your head to
reduce neck pain. However, when you’re past the remedial stage of ab
training, foregoing the ab roller and performing crunches under your
own power is more effective. (Still, some trainers like to use the ab roller
on occasion for the sake of variety.)
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
If you can do more than 12 reps of an abdominal exercise, you’re
either doing the reps too quickly or with poor form, or the exercise is
too easy for you. As with any other exercise, you should be struggling
on the last repetition. Doing 100 continuous reps of any ab exercise is
To make abdominal exercises more challenging, you can do them at a
slight incline, so that your head is lower than your legs. This is more
effective than holding a weight plate on your abdomen. However, don’t
fix your feet in place; this shifts the work from your abdominals to the
muscles in your lower back and at the front of your hips.
A Simple Functional Workout
In this section, we provide you with a total-body workout — a snazzy term
referring to a routine that covers all the major muscle groups in your body.
You can perform this routine either at home or at the gym. All you need for
this workout are dumbbells (four to eight pairs should suffice) and a weight
bench. In case you have access to health-club machines, we include a second
exercise, which we call a gym alternative, for each muscle group.
This section also offers general rules for lifting weights safely as well as tips
on how to progress after you master this workout.
Reading the exercise instructions
Don’t worry: Our directions are in plain English, not like those assemble-ityourself furniture manuals. For each exercise, we tell you which muscles the
move targets. Then, where appropriate, we include a Warning icon that identifies potential joint injuries and reminds you to pay special attention if
you’ve ever injured the joint in question. Never work through an injury; if you
feel pain, review your technique and slow down the pace to make sure you’re
performing the move correctly. If you’re using good form and you still hurt,
skip the exercise for now. You may want to try it again after you’ve been exercising for a few weeks. Or, you may need to try a different exercise that targets the same muscle.
You notice that in the exercise descriptions, we use a few phrases over and
over again. Here’s a brief explanation of these phrases, which you’re likely to
hear from trainers and group-exercise instructors:
“Pull your abdominals in.” This doesn’t mean to suck in your gut so
hard that you can’t breathe. Simply pull your abs slightly inward, a
movement also known as tightening or contracting your abs. You’re
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
pulling your belly button up and in toward your spine. Imagine that
you’re wearing a pair of underwear that’s one size too small; when you
pull your abs in, it’s like tightening the underwear another two sizes
down. This position helps hold your torso still while you exercise, protecting your lower back from injury and ensuring that you’re actually
using the muscle you’re intending to work.
“Stand up tall.” You don’t need to stand like a guard at Buckingham
Palace, but do lift your chest and keep your head centered between your
shoulders. No slumping allowed!
“Tilt your chin toward your chest.” Tilt your chin just enough to fit
your closed fist between your chest and chin. This position lines up the
vertebrae of your neck with the rest of your spine. If you tilt your chin
back or drop it toward your chest like you’re sulking, you put excess
pressure on your neck.
Lifting weights the right way
The way some people lift weights, you’d think they were in labor or impersonating a mountain gorilla. Grunting, screaming, and rocking back and forth
are not indications of proper weight-lifting technique. We’ve seen people
invent some pretty outrageous exercises. One guy bent over, picked up a
very heavy dumbbell, lifted it straight over his head so that he almost fell
backward, and then threw it to the ground so hard that it bounced and broke
a mirror. He seemed quite pleased with himself.
Whether you’re performing the exercises that we feature in this chapter — or
any other exercise you try — the following rules always apply:
Always warm up. Before you lift a weight, do at least five minutes of aerobic exercise to get your muscles warm and pliable. If you’re going to do
arm exercises and there aren’t any upper-body aerobic machines around
(such as a VersaClimber, rower, or cross-country skier), you can even do
a few minutes of arm circles.
Good form is always more important than lifting a lot of weight. Don’t
arch your back, strain your neck, or rock your body to generate momentum. Not only can these maneuvers cause injury, but they also make the
exercises less effective.
Increase your weight by the smallest possible increment. Jumping
from a 5-pound weight to a 10-pounder doesn’t sound like a big leap, but
think about it: You’re doubling the load on that muscle. If you’re using a
5-pound weight, move up to a 6-, 7-, or 8-pounder. If your health club or
home gym doesn’t have interim weights, buy a pair of PlateMates —
nifty magnets that you stick on each end of a dumbbell or barbell. (See
Chapter 25 for details.)
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Remember to breathe. In general, exhale forcefully through your mouth
as you lift the weight and inhale deeply through your nose as you lower
it. Just don’t overdo it because overly forceful breathing can leave you
feeling lightheaded. Although proper breathing is important for speeding
oxygen to your muscles, don’t get hung up on the mechanics. Some
people spend so much time trying to get the correct breathing pattern
down that they lose track of what they’re doing. Just don’t hold your
breath. You can bring about sharp increases in your blood pressure, and
you can even faint from lack of air.
Do, however, hold your breath during extremely heavy lifts. This protects your spine by bracing it with the pressure from the held breath. We
mention this information on the outside chance that some world-class
power lifter reads this section and becomes incensed by the omission of
it. Don’t hold your breath unless you’re aiming to lift world-record
amounts of weight.
Use a full range of motion. In other words, pull or push as far as you’re
supposed to. (If you’re not sure, a trainer can show you the correct
range of motion for each exercise. See Chapter 4 for tips on finding a
personal trainer.) Using the full range of motion enhances your flexibility. However, you don’t want to go past a natural range of motion
because this can cause injury to the joint. For example, lifting dumbbells
out to the side above shoulder level puts too much stress on the shoulder. Sitting down too far when you squat can cause knee injuries.
Pay attention. Remind yourself which muscle you’re working, and focus
on that muscle. It’s easy to do lat pull-downs without challenging your
lats. And it’s easy to do abdominal crunches without really working your
abs. Suzanne recently watched a guy perform abdominal crunches with
the sports section of the newspaper lying on his lap. He tried to steal a
glance at the paper every time he curled his torso up. We suspect his
abs aren’t getting much in the way of results.
A word about the exercises
The 18 exercises described in this section aren’t your only options. We could
write an entire book about strength training exercises. In fact, we did write
that book: Weight Training For Dummies (published by Wiley), which features
more than 130 exercises using a vast array of equipment. So how did we
choose the moves that we demonstrate in this book?
We emphasize dumbbell exercises because you can easily perform them at
home or at the gym. The particular dumbbell exercises that we show here are
all suitable for beginners; they don’t require the brawn of an NFL defensive
end or the coordination of an Olympic gymnast. Also, many of these moves
perform double or triple duty; for example, the squat works three lower-body
muscles — your front thighs, rear thighs, and derriere — in a single exercise.
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
The machines we show here generally mimic the dumbbell moves, working
your muscles with a similar movement and from similar angles. Virtually
every health club has these machines, in addition to other contraptions that
work your muscles in different ways, and we highly recommend exercising
each muscle group from a variety of angles. After you become familiar with
the basic exercises shown here — in about six to eight weeks — we suggest
you consult a trainer, a video, or other books to expand your repertoire.
The strength workout
In the following sections, we introduce you to some of our favorite strength
In addition to strengthening your butt muscles, the squat also does a good
job of working your quadriceps and hamstrings. If you have hip, knee, or
lower-back problems, restrict the distance your knees travel during this exercise by bending only part of the way down.
Getting set
With either your hands on your hips or holding dumbbells with your arms
down at your sides, stand with your feet as wide apart as your hips and place
your weight slightly back on your heels. Let your arms hang down at your
sides. Pull your abdominals in and stand tall with square shoulders. (See
Figure 14-1a.)
The exercise
Sit back and down, as if you’re sitting into a chair (refer to Figure 14-1b).
Lower as far as you can without leaning your upper body more than a few
inches forward. Don’t lower any farther than the point at which you’re parallel to the floor, and don’t allow your knees to shoot out in front of your toes.
Once you feel your upper body fold forward over your thighs, straighten your
legs and stand back up. Don’t lock your knees at the top of the movement.
Technique tips
Keep these tips in mind as you perform the squat:
Keep your head up and eyes focused on an object directly in front of
you. Your body tends to follow your eyes, so if you’re staring at the
ground, you’re more likely to fall forward. Imagine balancing a book on
top of your head.
When you stand back up, push through your heels rather than shifting
your body weight forward. Don’t let your heels (or toes) lift off the floor.
Try not to arch your back as you stand up.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Figure 14-1:
The squat
your butt
and works
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Gym alternative: Leg-press machine
This is an excellent squat alternative for those who have chronic knee problems or who don’t have good balance. Set the leg-press machine so that when
you’re lying on your back, your shoulders fit snugly under the shoulder pads,
and your knees are bent to an inch or so below parallel to the foot plate.
Place your feet as wide as your hips with your feet pointing forward. Grasp
the handles. (See Figure 14-2.)
Pull your abdominals in and keep your head and shoulders on the back pad.
Push upward until your legs are nearly straight, just short of locking. Then
bend your knees, controlling the weight as you go down, until your thighs are
parallel to the foot plate.
Standing calf raise
The standing calf raise targets your calf muscles, particularly the larger, outermost muscle that is responsible for the shape and size of your calves.
Getting set
Stand on the edge of a step. (Or, if you have a step-aerobics platform, place two
sets of risers underneath the platform.) Stand tall with your abdominals pulled
in, the balls of your feet firmly planted on the step, and your heels hanging
over the edge. Rest your hands against a wall or a sturdy object for balance.
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
Figure 14-2:
The legpress
machine is a
to the
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
The exercise
Raise your heels a few inches above the edge of the step so that you’re on
your tiptoes (see Figure 14-3a). Hold the position for a moment, and then
lower your heels below the platform, feeling a stretch in your calf muscles
(see Figure 14-3b).
Figure 14-3:
calf raise
your calf
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Technique tips
Keep these tips in mind as you perform the standing calf raise:
Lift as high as you can onto your toes and lower your heels down as
much as your ankle flexibility allows.
Push evenly through the entire width of your foot. Don’t push off from
your big toe or the outside edge of your feet.
Gym alternative: Toe press on the leg-press machine
Lie on the leg-press machine with your shoulders snugly underneath the pad.
To lift the weight stack, straighten your legs completely, and carefully walk
your feet down the foot platform until your heels hang off the end. Keeping
your legs straight, rise up on your tiptoes as high as you can (see Figure 14-4)
and then lower down until your heels are below the level of the foot plate.
After you complete all the reps, carefully walk your feet back to the center of
the foot plate before bending your knees and lowering the weights.
Figure 14-4:
As an
to the
calf raise,
try the toe
press on the
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
One-arm dumbbell row
Exercising your upper back without machinery isn’t easy, but this move is
one that does a good job. The one-arm dumbbell row also strengthens your
biceps and shoulders. Be especially careful if you have lower-back problems.
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
Getting set
Stand to the right of your weight bench, holding a dumbbell in your right
hand with your palm facing in. Place your left knee and your left hand on top
of the bench for support. Let your right arm hang down and a bit forward.
Pull your abdominals in and bend forward from the hips so that your back is
naturally arched and roughly parallel to the floor, and your right knee is
slightly bent. Tilt your chin toward your chest so that your neck is in line
with the rest of your spine. (See Figure 14-5a.)
The exercise
Pull your right arm up until your elbow is pointing to the ceiling, your upper
arm is parallel to the floor, and your hand comes to the outside of the ribcage
(refer to Figure 14-5b). Lower the weight slowly back down.
Figure 14-5:
The onearm
row is a
great way to
work your
upper back.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Technique tips
Keep these tips in mind as you perform the one-arm dumbbell row:
Concentrate on pulling from your back muscles (right behind and
below your shoulder). Don’t just move your arm up and down. Although
your arm is moving, this is a back exercise. Think of your arm as a hook
that connects to the weight and is pulled by the back.
Keep your abs pulled in tight throughout the motion.
Don’t let your back sag toward the floor or hunch up.
Pull your shoulders back and down to set the shoulder blades.
Gym alternative: Seated row machine
Set your seat height so that when you grasp the handles, your arms are level
with your shoulders (see Figure 14-6). Sit tall in the seat facing the weight
stack with your chest against the pad.
Remaining tall, pull the handles toward you to lift the weight stack. When
your hands are a few inches in front of your chest, slowly straighten your
arms to lower the weight.
Figure 14-6:
Try the
seated row
as an
to the
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Dumbbell chest press
The dumbbell chest press closely mimics the bench press — the all-time
favorite exercise among serious weightlifters everywhere. This exercise
works your chest muscles, along with your shoulders and triceps. If you
have shoulder, elbow, or lower-back problems, limit the range of motion.
You should lower and lift the dumbbells only a few inches to avoid overstraining these joints.
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
Getting set
Lie on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet flat on the floor
(or up on the bench if it’s more comfortable). Push the dumbbells up so that
your arms are directly over your shoulders and your palms up. Pull your
abdominals in, and tilt your chin toward your chest. (See Figure 14-7a.)
The exercise
Lower the dumbbells down and a little to the side until your elbows are slightly
below your shoulders (refer to Figure 14-7b). Roll your shoulder blades back
and down, like you’re pinching them together and accentuating your chest.
Push the weights back up, taking care not to lock your elbows or allow your
shoulder blades to rise off the bench.
Technique tips
Keep in mind the following tips as you perform the dumbbell chest press:
Let your back keep a natural arch so that you have a slight gap
between your lower back and the bench.
Don’t contort your body in an effort to lift the weight. Lift only as
much weight as you can handle while maintaining good form.
When pressing the dumbbells up, have them form a triangular
motion; they don’t need to touch each other.
Figure 14-7:
chest press
works your
and triceps.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Gym alternative: Vertical chest-press machine
Sit so that the center of your chest lines up with the center of the horizontal set
of handlebars. Press down on the foot bar so that the handles move forward.
Grip the horizontal handles and push them forward, straightening your arms.
Lift your feet from the foot bar so that the weight of the stack transfers into
your hands. Slowly bend your arms until your elbows are slightly behind your
chest (see Figure 14-8), and then push the handles forward until your arms are
straight. After you complete the set, put your feet back on the foot bar and let
go of the handles before you lower the weight stack all the way down.
Figure 14-8:
The vertical
machine is
our pick for
a gym
to the
chest press.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Dumbbell shoulder press
The dumbbell shoulder press targets your shoulders, placing some emphasis
on your triceps and upper back. Use caution if you have lower-back, neck, or
elbow problems.
Getting set
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and sit on a bench with back support. Plant
your feet firmly on the floor about hip-width apart. Bend your elbows and
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
raise your upper arms to shoulder height so the dumbbells are at ear level.
Pull your abdominals in so there is a slight gap between the small of your back
and the bench. Place the back of your head against the pad. (See Figure 14-9a.)
The exercise
Push the dumbbells up and in until the ends of the dumbbells touch lightly,
directly over your head, and then lower the dumbbells back to ear level.
(Refer to Figure 14-9b.)
Technique tips
Keep these tips in mind as you perform the dumbbell shoulder press:
Keep your elbows rigid without locking them at the top of the
Press your back against the back support without flattening out the
curve in your back.
Bring your arms and elbows down, keeping your elbow joints in line
with your shoulders.
If the bench is tall enough, keep your head against the back rest.
Don’t wiggle or squirm in an effort to press the weights up.
Figure 14-9:
press works
out your
triceps, and
upper back.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Gym alternative: Shoulder-press machine
Set your seat height so that the shoulder-press machine’s pulley is even
with the middle of your shoulder. Hold onto each of the front handles (see
Figure 14-10). Pull your abdominals in tight, but allow a slight natural gap to
remain between the small of your back and the back pad.
Press the handles up without locking your elbows. Lower your arms until
your elbows are slightly lower than your shoulders.
Figure 14-10:
Try the
as an
to the
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
External and internal rotation exercises
External and internal rotation exercises target your rotator-cuff muscles but
strengthen your shoulder muscles as well. If these movements bother your
neck, try resting your head on your outstretched arm.
Getting set
Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and lie on the floor on your left side. Bend
your right elbow to a 90-degree angle and tuck it firmly against your side so
that your palm is facing downward. Pull your abdominals in. Bend your left
elbow and rest the side of your head in your left hand (see Figure 14-11a).
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
Figure 14-11:
works your
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
The exercises
Keeping your right elbow glued to your side, raise your right hand as far as you
comfortably can. Slowly lower the weight back toward the floor. This exercise
is external rotation. After you complete all the repetitions, switch the weight to
your left hand and lie on your back (refer to Figure 14-11b). (You can also do
this exercise lying on one side on the bench, with your forearm hanging off the
bench.) Bend your elbow so your forearm is perpendicular to the floor and
your palm is facing in. Lower your hand down and out to the side as far as you
can, and then lift the weight back up. This exercise is internal rotation.
Technique tips
Keep these tips in mind as you perform external and internal rotation:
Use a very light weight.
Imagine that your shoulder is the hinge of a door that is opening and
Keep your wrist straight.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Gym alternative: Cable internal and external rotation exercises
Attach a horseshoe handle to the upper cable pulley and grasp the handle
with your right hand so that your right arm is alongside the cable tower.
Bend your arm so your forearm is in front of your body and parallel to the
floor, and your elbow rests against your side (see Figure 14-12). Pull the
handle across your body to lift the weight, and then slowly return your arm
to the starting position. This exercise is internal rotation.
After you complete your reps, do external rotation with your left rotator cuff:
Without changing position, hold the horseshoe handle in your left hand, so
your forearm is across your waist. Keeping your left elbow against your side,
pull the handle outward to lift the weight. To lower the weight, return to the
starting position. To complete internal and external rotation on both arms,
switch to the other side of the cable tower or turn your body around.
Figure 14-12:
internal and
target your
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Dumbbell biceps curl
The dumbbell biceps curl targets your biceps, the muscles you rely on to
hold heavy objects and look buff in sleeveless shirts. Use caution if you have
lower-back or elbow problems.
Getting set
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet as wide apart as
your hips. Let your arms hang down at your sides with your palms forward.
Pull your abdominals in, stand tall, and keep your knees slightly bent. (See
Figure 14-13a.)
The exercise
Curl both arms upward until they’re in front of your shoulders (refer to
Figure 14-13b). Slowly lower the dumbbells back down.
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
Figure 14-13:
Keep your
close to
your body
biceps curl.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Technique tips
Keep these tips in mind as you perform the dumbbell biceps curl:
Keep your knees slightly bent and your posture tall. Don’t lean back or
rock your body forward to help lift the weight.
Keep your elbows as close to your body as you can without supporting
your elbows on the sides of your stomach for leverage.
Don’t rest when you reach the top or bottom of the exercise; instead,
keep a constant tension on the biceps.
Lower the weight back to the starting position slowly and with control.
Gym alternative: Arm-curl machine
Adjust the seat so when you sit down and extend your arms straight out,
they’re level with your shoulders, and your elbows are lined up with the
moving hinge or pulley of the machine. Sit down and grasp a handle in each
hand with your palms facing up.
Bend your elbows and pull the handles until they’re just above your shoulders (see Figure 14-14). Then slowly lower the handles back down.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Figure 14-14:
We suggest
the arm-curl
machine as
a gym
to the
biceps curl.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Triceps kickback
The triceps kickback works your triceps, which assist the chest in just about
every pushing movement. Use caution when doing this move if you have
elbow or lower-back problems.
It’s all in the wrists
Chapter 5 discusses two ways to avoid a painful
injury known as tennis elbow, and one involves
strengthening your wrists. One of the simplest
weight-lifting exercises for your wrists is the
dumbbell wrist curl:
1. Form a 90-degree angle between your forearm and bicep and lay your forearm on a
table or weight bench, palms facing up.
2. Placing a dumbbell in your open hand,
close your fingers and hand around the
dumbbell and roll the dumbbell up until
your wrist is flexed.
3. Return to your starting position and repeat
for a set of eight to ten reps.
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
Getting set
Stand to the right of your weight bench, holding a dumbbell in your right hand
with your palm facing in. Place your left lower leg and your left hand on top of
the bench. Lean forward at the hips until your upper body is at a 45-degree
angle to the floor. Bend your right elbow so your upper arm is parallel to the
floor, your forearm is perpendicular to it, and your palm faces in. Keep your
elbow close to your waist. Pull your abdominals in and bend your knees
slightly. (See Figure 14-15a.)
Figure 14-15:
Make sure
doesn’t drop
during the
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
The exercise
Keeping your upper arm still, straighten your arm behind you until your
entire arm is parallel to the floor and one end of the dumbbell points toward
the floor (refer to Figure 14-15b). Slowly bend your arm to lower the weight.
After you complete the set, repeat the exercise with your left arm.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Technique tips
Keep these tips in mind as you perform the triceps kickback:
Keep your abdominals pulled in and your knees relaxed, and don’t
allow your back to round.
Don’t lock your elbow at the top of the movement. Straighten your
arm, but keep your elbow slightly bent.
Don’t allow your upper arm to move or your shoulder to drop below
Keep your wrist straight.
Gym alternative: Triceps-extension machine
Adjust the seat so when you sit down with your arms straight out, they’re
level with your shoulders and your elbows are lined up with the moving
hinge or pulley of the machine. Sit down and tip the handles back so the hand
grips are alongside your shoulders.
Grasp a handle in each hand with your palms facing inward. Straighten your
arms out in front of you to lift the weight stack, and then slowly bend your
arms to lower the weight. (See Figure 14-16.)
Figure 14-16:
Use the
machine at
the gym
as an
to the
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Basic crunch
The basic crunch is the consummate abdominal exercise. Pay special attention to your form if you have lower-back or neck problems. We don’t offer a
machine alternative for the basic crunch because we think abdominal crunch
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
machines are difficult to use correctly, and we don’t think machines are as
safe or effective as abdominal floor exercises. Instead, our alternative abdominal move uses a large plastic ball known as a physioball.
Getting set
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width
apart. Place your hands behind your head so your thumbs are behind your
ears. Don’t lace your fingers together. Hold your elbows out to the sides but
rounded slightly in. Tilt your chin slightly, leaving a few inches of space
between your chin and your chest. Gently pull your abdominals inward.
(See Figure 14-17a.)
Figure 14-17:
Curl up to
work on
your abs.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
The exercise
Curl up and forward so that your head, neck, and shoulder blades lift off the
floor (refer to Figure 14-17b). Hold for a moment at the top of the movement
and then lower slowly back down.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
Technique tips
Keep the following tips in mind as you perform the basic crunch:
Keep your abdominals pulled in so you feel more tension in your abs
and so you don’t overarch your lower back.
Don’t pull on your neck with your hands or draw your elbows in.
Do curl as well as lift. In other words, don’t yank your head, neck, and
shoulder blades off the floor; you also need to curl forward, as if you’re
doubling over. Think of bringing your ribs to your pelvis and exhale as
you crunch up; inhale as you lower back down, keeping your belly
button drawn in.
Perform crunches very slowly and with control, doing 12 reps.
Gym alternative: Ball crunch
Sit on a physioball and roll your torso down so that your back — from your
shoulder blades down to your tailbone — is resting on the curve of the ball
and your head, neck, and shoulders are above the ball. Your knees are bent,
and your feet are planted on the floor, hip-width apart. (See Figure 14-18.)
Perform the same abdominal curling movement as you do for the basic
crunch. You have to move slowly and keep your abdominal muscles fully
engaged to keep yourself from wiggling around on the ball or rolling off of it.
Figure 14-18:
You can
perform the
on a
as an
to the
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Chapter 14: Designing a Strength-Training Program
Back extension
The back extension both stretches and strengthens your lower back. It’s the
perfect complement to the basic crunch to develop a strong, balanced midsection. Use caution if you have a lower-back problem or experience lowerback pain while performing this exercise. If you do feel pain, try lifting only
your legs and leaving your arms flat on the floor.
Getting set
Lie on your stomach, facedown, arms straight out in front of you, palms down,
and legs straight out behind you. Pull your abs in, as if you’re trying to create
a small space between your stomach and the floor. (See Figure 14-19a.)
Figure 14-19:
The back
your lower
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Part IV: Lift and Curl: Building a Stronger Bod with Weights
The exercise
Lift your left arm and right leg about 1 inch off the floor, and stretch out as
much as you can (refer to Figure 14-19b). Hold this position for five slow counts
and then lower your arm and leg back down. Repeat the same move with your
right arm and left leg. Continue alternating sides until you complete the set.
Technique tips
Keep the following tips in mind as you perform the back extension:
Exhale as you lift your arm and leg, and inhale as you lower them.
Pretend that you’re trying to touch something with your toes and fingertips that’s just out of reach.
Work for precision rather than height. Lift your arm and leg at the
same time and to the same height.
Gym alternative: Ball back extension
Kneel on a physioball and place your hands behind your head. Lean forward
and lengthen your body so your torso is resting against the ball and you’re
firmly balanced on your toes (see Figure 14-20). Make sure your spine forms
a straight line from your tailbone to your neck. Lift your chest upward a few
inches, hold a moment, and then slowly lower back down.
Cross your arms over your chest, pull your abs in, and lower your upper
body a few inches by bending forward at the hips. Raise back up, using your
lower back, so your body is parallel to the floor.
Figure 14-20:
Perform the
on a
physioball to
add variety
to your
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Part V
Workouts: Getting
the Best of
Both Worlds
In this part . . .
ou find out about workouts that combine aerobic
activity and strength-building exercises. These days,
everyone’s short on time, so workouts that combine
cardio and strength training are increasingly popular. In
Chapter 15, you get a short course on circuit training, one
of the most interesting and popular ways to get and stay
fit. Chapter 16 introduces you to the many different varieties of yoga, an approach that not only calms your mind
but also invigorates your body. Finally, Chapter 17 familiarizes you with Pilates, a strength and cardio workout
that sculpts your body in exciting ways.
Chapter 15
Circuit Training for Fitness and Fun
In This Chapter
Setting up strength-building stations
Getting a step-by-step look at circuit training
Taking a peek at a sample circuit
ircuit training is a unique method of working out that combines cardiovascular exercise with strength training. Circuit training includes a
warm-up, followed by a succession of strength-building exercises at stations
(in between which you walk fast or run), followed by a cooldown. (Note that
a station can be just a spot where you do pushups; it doesn’t have to be
anything fancy.) You get to decide how long your total workout will be, how
many stations you’ll include, and what exercises you’ll do at those stations.
Workouts are fun, the time flies by, and within just a few weeks of doing
circuits two days per week, most people notice a big difference in the
strength of their arms, legs, abdomen, and buttocks. This chapter helps
you decide how to set up your workouts.
Setting Up Stations and Knowing
Which Exercises to Do
Have you even seen a circuit-training area at your local park: Along a trail,
stations appear periodically, and at those stations are instructions for doing
push-ups or pull-ups or a variety of other strengthening exercises.
You don’t need to use the stations set up at your local park, though. Your
local gym may have a circuit-training class or may have a self-paced circuit
routine that you can do on your own time. You can also easily set up stations
in your own home. If you have a weight machine, you’re way ahead of the
game and can do most of the weight-lifting exercises there. But if you don’t,
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
gather up the following inexpensive equipment and set up stations in your
exercise room, spare bedroom, (dry) basement, garage, backyard (in good
weather), or any other place you can think of:
A sit-up mat or thick towel (for sit-ups, push-ups, crunches, Pilates
One pair each of 5-, 8-, 10-, 12-, and/or 15-pound weights (for curls,
shrugs, upright rows, punches, and so on)
A weight bar with however much weight you can handle for squats
A sturdy chair or ledge (for chair dips)
A pull-up bar secured in a doorway (for pull-ups, hanging abs)
A stairway or step (for step-ups, single-leg squats, toe raises)
Arrange each of these so that they’re 10 to 20 feet apart; a circle or square
can work, but so can a zigzag pattern, as long as you have some room to walk
quickly or run between stations. If you need to place the stations closer than
this — say, right next to each other — that’s fine. Just do jumping jacks, jump
rope, or run in place with high knees for ten seconds between exercises.
To choose which exercises to do at each station, see the following sections,
check out Chapter 14 for illustrations of many of these exercises, or — for
detailed coverage of all these exercises — get a copy of our book, Weight
Training For Dummies, 2nd Edition (published by Wiley).
At each station, you can do several different exercises, as described in the
following sections. However, you can easily forget what exercise you’re supposed to do when you get to a station, so I suggest putting a sheet of paper at
each station that lists, in order, the one, two, or three exercises that you’re
planning to doing there.
Arm-strengthening stations
Because the warm-up, cooldown, and movement between stations work your
leg muscles, many people emphasize arm-strength stations in their circuit routines, focusing as many as half of the total number of stations on their arms.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. If you get results from other armstrengthening exercises, put those on your circuit. This list is also not meant
to imply that you’ll include all these exercises in your circuit. You can pick
and choose from the list, as best suits your needs.
If you don’t have the space to store weights, you can also use exercise bands
or tubes (see Chapter 20) to do many of the weight-intensive exercises.
Chapter 15: Circuit Training for Fitness and Fun
Dumbbell biceps curl
This exercise, as you may expect, works the biceps. Hold a dumbbell in each
hand and stand with your feet as wide apart as your hips. Let your arms hang
down at your sides with your palms forward. Pull your abdominals in, stand
tall, and keep your knees relaxed. Curl both arms upward until they’re in
front of your shoulders. Slowly lower the dumbbells back down and repeat.
Punches work your shoulders and upper arms. Take a dumbbell in each
hand, put each hand in front of its respective shoulder, and stand with your
legs wider than shoulder-width apart, abdominals pulled in. Take your right
hand, cross it over your body, and punch out to the left. To keep your knees
healthy, roll up to your toes on your right leg as you punch out your right
arm. Repeat with your left side and vice versa.
Upright rows
Upright rows work the shoulders. While standing, hold a dumbbell in each
hand and put the ends of the two weights together, holding your hands right
in front of your thighs. Pull your abdominals in. Keeping the weights together,
pull your hands up to your collarbone. Lower and repeat.
If you’ve had any shoulder (specifically, deltoid) injuries, steer clear of
upright rows. Instead, do shoulder presses (see Chapter 14).
One-arm dumbbell row
This exercise works the lats (the widest part of your back just behind your
armpit) and biceps. Stand to the right of your weight bench, holding a dumbbell in your right hand with your palm facing in. Place your left knee and your
left hand on top of the bench for support. Let your right arm hang down and
a bit forward. Pull your abdominals in and bend forward from the hips so
your back is naturally arched and roughly parallel to the floor, and your right
knee is slightly bent. Tilt your chin toward your chest so that your neck is in
line with the rest of your spine. Pull your right arm up until your elbow is
pointing to the ceiling, your upper arm is parallel to the floor, and your arm
brushes against your waist. Lower the weight slowly back down and repeat.
Push-ups work all the upper-body muscles. Facing the ground, rest your body
on your hands and tiptoes, and keep your back and legs perfectly straight.
Pull in your abdominals, lower your chest to the ground, and raise your chest
back up again by pushing against the ground until your elbows are nearly
locked. Repeat. As push-ups become easier for you, try elevating your feet,
which makes this exercise much harder.
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
Pull-ups work all the upper-body muscles. For this exercise, you need a bar
that can hold your body weight. Place your hands (palms facing away) wider
than your shoulders on the bar and hang. To do one pull-up, pull yourself up
until your chin reaches over the top of the bar. Lower yourself to the hanging
position and repeat. Don’t be surprised if, on your first attempt, you can do
only one pull-up (or, maybe, not even one!). With repeated attempts, you’ll
quickly improve.
Shrugs work your trapezius and upper-back muscles. Plant your feet shoulderwidth apart. Take a dumbbell in each hand, relax your arms by letting them
hang down at your sides, and relax your shoulders. Pull in your abdominals.
Without bending your elbows, raise and lower your shoulders. Repeat.
Dumbbell chest press
Working the chest, triceps, and shoulders, this exercise is an all-time favorite.
Lie on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet flat on the floor.
Push the dumbbells up so that your arms are directly over your shoulders
and your palms up. Pull your abdominals in, and tilt your chin toward your
chest. Lower the dumbbells down and a little to the side until your elbows
are in line with or just slightly below your shoulders. The weights should be
directly above the elbow joints, which should create a 90-degree angle. Push
the weights back up in a triangular motion to where the weights are directly
above your chest, taking care not to lock your elbows or allow your shoulder
blades to rise off the bench. Repeat. You can also substitute the bench press
if you have a weight machine handy.
Dumbbell shoulder press
Shoulder presses work your shoulders, as well as your triceps and upper
back. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and sit on a bench with back support.
Plant your feet firmly on the floor about hip-width apart. Bend your elbows
and raise your upper arms to shoulder height so that the dumbbells are at
ear level. Pull your abdominals in so that there is a slight gap between the
small of your back and the bench. Place the back of your head against the
pad. Push the dumbbells up and in until the ends of the dumbbells touch
lightly directly over your head, and then lower the dumbbells back to ear
level. Repeat.
Triceps dips
Triceps dips really work your triceps; in fact, you may find that you can do
only one or two dips the first time you attempt this exercise. Use a sturdy
chair, ledge, or seat of a weight bench. Extend your legs with your heels on the
ground and rest your hands on the outside edge of the chair with your elbows
Chapter 15: Circuit Training for Fitness and Fun
locked. Pull in your abdominals; keep your shoulders back, down, and not
rounded; and pull your chest up. Bending your elbows, lower your butt to the
ground and then push yourself back up until your elbows lock again. Repeat.
If you find that you can’t lower yourself all the way to the ground and still
come back up, lower just half the distance to the ground and do as many that
way as you can.
Triceps kickback
Not to be exceedingly obvious, but this exercise works your triceps! Stand to
the right of your weight bench, holding a dumbbell in your right hand with
your palm facing in. Place your left lower leg and your left hand on top of the
bench. Lean forward at the hips until your upper body is at a 45-degree angle
to the floor. Bend your right elbow so that your upper arm is parallel to the
floor, your forearm is perpendicular to it, and your palm faces in. Keep your
elbow close to your upper arm. Pull your abdominals in and relax your knees.
Keeping your upper arm still, straighten your elbow behind you until your
entire arm is parallel to the floor and one end of the dumbbell points down.
Slowly bend your arm to lower the weight. Repeat. On the second circuit, do
the exercise with your left arm.
Leg-strengthening stations
Because your warm-up, cooldown, and travel between stations is leg-intensive,
you don’t need to include a lot of leg-strengthening exercises in your circuit
routine. The exercises in this section, however, are some of our favorites.
If you have a weight bench with attachments at your disposal, you can add
leg extensions, leg curls, leg presses, and any other exercises the machine
Step-ups work nearly every muscle in your leg, as well as your butt muscles.
To do this exercise, you need a step — one of the steps on the bottom of a
stairway can work well. However, buying a step-aerobics platform and placing
two sets of risers underneath the platform (to a height of 10 to 12 inches)
may be more convenient (because it’s portable). You simply keep walking or
running up and down the one step. Step up on one step and then bring the
other leg up on that step, too. Then step back down, following with the other
leg. Then up the step again, then back down, and so on.
Single-leg squats
Single-leg squats work your butt and upper legs and help develop balance.
Stand on your right leg at the edge of the step, so that the instep of your right
foot comes right to the edge of the step and your left leg is dangling off the
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
step. Pull in your abdominals and bend your right leg on the step at the knee
as you push your hips back, sinking into your right heel, until the heel of your
left leg just touches the ground. Lead with your right heel, not your toes;
straighten the leg on the step. Repeat. On the second circuit, use the other leg.
The heels of both feet should be along the same horizontal line. Also, you may
need to hang on to something (perhaps a railing) to keep yourself from falling.
Standing calf raise
Standing calf raises work your calves and shins and help develop balance.
Stand on the edge of a step or, if you have a step-aerobics platform, place
two sets of risers underneath the platform. Stand tall with your abdominals
pulled in, the balls of your feet firmly planted on the step, and your heels
hanging over the edge. Rest your hands against a wall or a sturdy object for
balance. Raise your heels a few inches above the edge of the step so you’re
on your tiptoes. Hold the position for a moment, and then lower your heels
below the platform, feeling a stretch in your calf muscles. Repeat. On the
second circuit, use the other leg.
If you find one-legged calf raises too challenging at first, try doing this exercise
with both legs.
Abdomen, butt, and lower-back
strength stations
These exercises help you develop great abs, a nice tush, and a healthy lower
back. This list is not anywhere near all-inclusive, however. In fact, setting up
Pilates stations to work your core is an excellent circuit-training option. For a
brief introduction to Pilates, check out Chapter 17. To get the full lowdown,
pick up a copy of Pilates For Dummies by Ellie Herman (published by Wiley).
Basic crunch
Crunches primarily work the upper region of the abs. Lie on your back with
your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your hands
extended out toward your knees, across your chest, above your head, or
behind your head so your thumbs are behind your ears — depending on
what’s comfortable for you. Don’t lace your fingers together. Hold your elbows
out to the sides but rounded slightly in. Tilt your chin slightly, leaving a few
inches of space between your chin and your chest. Gently pull your abdominals inward. Curl up and forward so that your head, neck, and shoulder blades
lift off the floor. Hold for a moment at the top of the movement and then lower
slowly back down. Repeat.
Chapter 15: Circuit Training for Fitness and Fun
Leg raises
Leg raises work primarily the lower portion of the abs. Lie on your back and
place your hands, palms down, under the area where your pelvis and lower
back meet. (Find a spot where your hands are comfortable.) Pull in your
abdominals. Raise your legs (your knees can be slightly bent) about 12 inches
off the floor and hold. Lower your legs to just barely above the floor, and then
raise them again to 12 inches. Repeat.
Hanging abs
Hanging abs work the lower region of the abs. Using a pull-up bar or hangingab apparatus (ask about it at your gym), hang from the bar, pull in your
abdominals, and then lift your knees toward your chest, tucking the pelvis
under and causing your spine to round. Lower your legs slowly back to the
hanging position. Repeat.
Obliques curls
These curls work the obliques, the sides of your core area midsection. Lie on
your right side with your arms crossed in front of you. Bending sideways at
your waist, lift your upper body off the ground a few inches. You may need
to brace your feet under a bar or sturdy piece of furniture. Repeat. On your
second circuit, lie on your left side.
Back extension
Back extensions are a great exercise for your lower back. Lie on your stomach, looking down at the floor, arms straight out in front of you, palms down,
and legs straight out behind you. Pull your abs in, as if you’re trying to create
a small space between your stomach and the floor. Lift your left arm and right
leg about 1 inch off the floor, and stretch out as much as you can. Hold this
position for five slow counts and then lower your arm and leg back down.
Repeat the same move with your right arm and left leg. Continue alternating
sides until you complete the set.
Squats work your butt and upper legs. Either with your hands on your hips
or holding dumbbells with your arms down at your sides (you can also hold
your arms out in from of your torso or your fists in at your chest to create
a counterbalance, or put them in the overhead position to challenge your
posture), stand with your feet as wide apart as your hips and place your weight
slightly back on your heels. Let your arms hang down at your sides. Pull your
abdominals in and stand tall with square shoulders. Sit back and down, as if
you’re sitting into a chair. Lower as far as you can without leaning your upper
body more than a few inches forward. Don’t lower any farther than the point
at which you’re parallel to the floor, and don’t allow your knees to shoot out in
front of your toes. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, straighten your
legs and stand back up. Don’t lock your knees at the top of the movement.
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
Lunges are amazing for your butt, hips, and upper legs. Stand upright with
your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a large step forward, and plant your foot
on the ground. Keeping your front knee completely stable and your upper
body perfectly vertical, lower your body straight down until your back knee
nearly touches the ground. Raise your body straight up and repeat with
another step. Keep repeating.
Don’t allow your torso to lean forward and be sure to evenly distribute your
body weight on both legs. Think of your torso as having a pole placed directly
down the center, like a horse on a merry-go-round and go up and down, not
back and forth. Also keep in mind that the farther you step out, the more
emphasis is placed on the butt and hamstrings; the more shallow your step,
the more emphasis is placed on the quads. Finally, when you’re in the down
position, both knees should form a 90-degree angle, and you should be able
to see the tip of your shoe or toes.
Moving through Sample Stations
The beauty of circuit training is that you can set up the stations any way you
want, using only a few of the exercises in this chapter, all of them, and/or other
exercises from other sources. You can do each exercise once in the circuit, or
you can repeat an exercise two or more times in one circuit. Your circuit can
include 5 exercises or 25. You get to decide, see what works for you, tweak the
circuit, do it some more, and so on.
Be sure to arrange your circuit so you alternate stations that use similar
muscles. In other words, do an exercise for your abdomen, then arms, then
legs, then your back, and then go back to abdomen, arms, and so on. Or, if
you want to do an arm-intensive circuit, set up a station for your arms, then
legs, then arms, then back, then arms, then abdomen, then arms, and so on.
Either way, give your muscles a little time to rest before working them again.
Here’s a sample way of ordering the exercises listed in this chapter. This
gives you 21 exercises for your circuit. See the following section for step-bystep instructions on how you work these 21 exercises into a circuit-training
Triceps kickbacks
Basic crunches
Dumbbell biceps curls
Chapter 15: Circuit Training for Fitness and Fun
Dumbbell shoulder presses
Back extensions
Single-leg squats
Hanging abs
Tricep dips
Leg raises
One-arm dumbbell rows
Dumbbell chest presses
Obliques curls
Upright rows
Standing calf raises
Putting the Stations Together
into a Circuit
After your stations are set up and you’ve determined an order to follow,
follow these circuit-training steps:
1. For your warm-up, either outside or on indoor equipment, run, walk,
cycle, swim, or do any other cardiovascular activity for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on how much you’re currently working out each day,
and how long you want your overall workout to be.
2. When you get back, immediately begin your circuit-training workout.
You can stop for a quick drink of water, if you absolutely need it. But
don’t walk around or chit-chat with neighbors or anything like that. Do
your warm-up, and then go right to the first station, where you want to
ease into your first few strength exercises by using slow, methodical
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
3. Set the timer on your watch for 20 to 45 seconds (start on the low end,
and gradually build up) and before you begin doing an exercise at the
first station, start the timer.
4. When your watch beeps, briskly walk or run to the next station, set
the timer again, and immediately begin doing the next exercise.
5. When the watch beeps again, proceed to the next station, and so on.
6. Repeat the entire circuit (all the exercises) at least once.
You can do as many circuits as you choose. If you’ve set up five stations
with three different exercises you’re going to do at each, and you’ve set
your timer for 30 seconds, the circuit routine is going to take you 712⁄ minutes, plus walking/running time between stations, so the entire circuit may
take you 10 minutes. Given this scenario, you could do three circuits,
which gives you a 30-minute workout, plus your warm-up and cooldown,
which gives you a grand total of 50 to 75 minutes of exercise! Not bad.
7. When you finish the last circuit, immediately begin your 10- to 15minute cooldown.
8. Stretch immediately after finishing your cooldown.
Chapter 16
All about Yoga: Mind and Body
In This Chapter
Understanding asanas
Exploring the different forms of yoga
Finding yoga classes
Looking at a yoga workout
ere in the West, we tend to view exercise as way to improve your
body — to strengthen your heart, tone your muscles, and make your
joints more flexible. Only in the last ten years or so has the mainstream fitness community come to accept what many other cultures have known for
thousands of years: Exercise can also be good for your mind.
This realization has spawned a new fitness catchphrase — mind-body
exercise — and yoga is at the forefront. We think everyone can benefit from
adding a mind-body activity to their exercise repertoires. You can substitute
these workouts for your regular program once or twice a week. For example,
instead of lifting weights or doing your regular stretching routine, do a session of yoga. Some mind-body classes are intensely demanding, so make sure
that you don’t overload your workout schedule.
Take yoga for a while and you’ll become much more aware of your body —
how you stand, sit, and walk. Most people begin to see and feel improvements in their flexibility, strength, and stress levels after only a few classes.
Over the long term, yoga can keep your body looking and feeling remarkably
young. Suzanne took a class from an older man who pranced around the
room with incredible grace and agility. After class, Suzanne was shocked to
learn that the instructor was 80 years old!
Knowing Your Asana from Your Elbows
Developed in India more than 5,000 years ago, yoga consists of a series of
poses (known as asanas) that you hold from a few seconds to several
minutes. The moves — a blend of strength, flexibility, and body-awareness
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
exercises — are intended to promote the union of the mind, body, and spirit.
Most forms of yoga focus on relaxation and deep breathing as you perform
and hold the poses.
Yoga classes have a different feel than the usual Western workouts, often
including a spiritual element such as chanting or burning candles or incense.
(However, many classes these days dispense with the traditional Indian
touches and just get right down to the business of kicking your butt.)
The most common misconception about yoga is that you have to be as flexible as Gumby to do it. In fact, there are many, many variations on the poses,
and a good teacher can teach you to do them in a way that accommodates
your level of flexibility. As you improve, you’ll need fewer modifications.
Finding a Yoga Style That’s Right for You
There are many forms of yoga. Most include the same fundamental poses but
differ in terms of how quickly you move, how long you hold each pose, how
much breathing is emphasized, and how much of a spiritual aspect there is.
Some styles offer more modifications to the really bendy and twisty moves,
so they’re more accessible to new exercisers and the flexibility-challenged.
Others are for people who can already touch their toes with their tongue. If
you find that you dig yoga, experiment with some of the different styles. You
may find you like one more than the others.
Here’s a brief look at the main yoga options.
Ananda: Ananda yoga requires less strength and flexibility than most
other styles, so it’s a great place to start. The moves are fairly straightforward, and ananda doesn’t involve much chanting.
Anusara: Anusara, a relatively new form of yoga, has a deep spiritual element and a heavy focus on good posture and body alignment.
Astanga: Astanga, sometimes called Power Yoga, is one of the most
physically demanding forms of yoga in terms of flexibility, strength, and
stamina. You move from one posture to another without a break, so we
don’t recommend this style for beginners.
Bikram: Bikram, an intensely physical style of yoga, includes a lot of
breathing exercises. The same 26 poses are performed in the same order
during 90-minute classes that are usually conducted in a room heated to
100 degrees. (The heat is intended to make it easier to stretch.) If you
have high blood pressure, are at high risk for developing heart disease,
or already have heart disease, get your doctor’s permission before
taking a class conducted in a room at a high temperature.
Chapter 16: All about Yoga: Mind and Body
Integral: Integral classes involve lots of meditation and chanting.
However, integral yoga is one of the easier forms to learn because the
postures are relatively simple with plenty of modifications offered for
the flexibility-challenged.
Iyengar: Iyengar yoga instructors must complete a rigorous two- to fiveyear training program for certification, so the quality of teaching tends to
be consistently good. Iyengar yoga involves props such as foam blocks
and stretching belts. Instructors pay close attention to body alignment.
Kripalu: Kripalu, a less physical and more meditative style of yoga,
emphasizes body alignment and breath and movement coordination.
There are three stages in kripalu yoga. Stage One focuses on learning the
postures and exploring your body’s limits of strength and flexibility.
Stage Two involves holding the postures for an extended time, developing concentration and inner awareness. Stage Three involves moving
from one posture to another without rest.
Kundalini: Kundalini yoga was one of the first “Westernized” forms of
yoga. Because it’s designed to release energy in the body, it involves a
lot of intense breathing exercises. Most of the poses are classic flexibility exercises.
Sivananda: This classic style of yoga is one of the most widely followed
in the world and follows well-known poses, with an emphasis on relaxation and breathing.
Taking Yoga Classes
Most health clubs offer yoga classes at no additional charge. You can find a
wider variety of styles and techniques at yoga-only studios, which charge $8 to
$25 per class. You’ll likely also find classes aimed at different experience levels.
If you’re a yoga novice, make sure that you take a beginning class, and don’t
try to keep up with anyone else. Yoga can be extremely demanding, both in
terms of flexibility and strength. Even if you can bench-press a heavy load in
the gym, you may find yourself lacking the strength to hold a yoga pose for a
minute. Yoga requires a different type of strength than weight lifting does. For
instance, many yoga poses require you to call upon the strength of your
abdominals, lower back, and dozens of small spinal muscles that don’t get
much action in a weight-machine workout.
There’s no national yoga certification, so we can’t list certain credentials to
look for in a teacher. In the yoga world, it usually means a lot if you’ve studied with a certain yogi master, but most people have trouble evaluating this
type of credential. Rely on your own judgment and word-of-mouth recommendations. A good yoga instructor wanders around the room correcting class
members’ techniques and offering variations that allow less-flexible people to
accomplish all the poses.
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
Learning the ropes: Yoga equipment and clothing
Yoga doesn’t require a large commitment of
equipment and clothing. Some people wear leotards; others wear baggy clothes; still others go
without clothing altogether (an option if you’re
working out at home, but you won’t find many
clothing-optional classes).
The one piece of equipment you absolutely do
need is a yoga mat, one that’s sticky or tacky
(that is, nonslip), as opposed to smooth or slippery. Look for a mat that’s at least 68 inches long
by 24 inches wide — longer is better, if you can
find one. If you’d like to try yoga once or twice
without investing in a mat, you can use a thick
towel or blanket. Look for a yoga mat at your
local sporting goods store, yoga specialty shop,
gym, yoga studio, or at online shops (search for
“yoga mat” on Google or some other search
Unlike most other fitness activities that require
a major investment in footwear, yoga is generally practiced barefoot, although some practitioners do wear socks.
Some yoga instructors don’t take into account individual differences in fitness and flexibility, so it’s up to you to know your own limits. Suzanne
learned this lesson the hard way when her sister, Jennifer, a longtime yoga
devotee, dragged her to an advanced yoga class. The 2-hour session involved
hanging upside down from a rope for 20 consecutive minutes, an activity
that was intended to be relaxing but left Suzanne feeling as if her brain was
going to burst through her skull. The class also included demanding hamstring stretches that made Suzanne so sore that she couldn’t ride her bike
for four days.
Some classes may be too spiritual for you if that’s not what you’re after. Liz
once took a class in which the instructor asked students to reveal their innermost fears. Liz didn’t feel like sharing that bit of information with a group of
strangers sitting around the room with their legs twisted around their necks.
Yoga offers an active time-out to energize your body and calm your mind.
Most yoga classes end with several minutes of lying facedown on the floor.
This come-down time, called shivasana, is low-key enough to make some
people fall asleep, but after you get up, you feel recharged.
A Yoga Routine
The following sections describe several basic yoga poses; however, these
step-by-step instructions are for demonstration purposes only. From here,
you want to pick up a book, rent a video, or take a class to obtain guidance
on how long to hold these poses, how often to repeat them, and how to combine them with other poses.
Chapter 16: All about Yoga: Mind and Body
Yoga For Dummies by Georg Feuerstein and Larry Payne (published by Wiley)
discusses most of the poses and includes very helpful photos. Wiley has also
published the two following yoga workout videos:
Basic Yoga Workout For Dummies, led by Sara Ivanhoe, teaches 12 basic
poses and additional modifications to those poses.
Beyond Basic Yoga For Dummies, another video led by Sara Ivanhoe,
builds on the first video with additional poses and challenges.
Taking a yoga class is another way to master the many yoga poses that make
up a yoga workout. See the preceding section for more on finding yoga classes.
Easy pose
This is one of the simplest poses you’ll do — it’s a simple sitting pose in
which many workouts begin. Here’s what you do:
1. Sit on the floor.
2. Bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor, and then wrap
your arms around your knees.
3. Pull your knees to your chest to straighten your spine.
4. Release your arms when you no longer feel any stretch in your spine,
cross your legs, and let your knees drop to the floor.
Be sure to keep your head and body in a straight line.
Forward bend
The forward bend is extremely relaxing, because you stretch your back and
legs. Here’s how you do it:
1. Start in a sitting position, with your legs out in front of you in a V
(whatever width of V is comfortable for you), toes pointed up toward
the ceiling.
2. Pull up on your butt, so that you’re resting on your pelvic bone.
3. Stretch your arms straight up, trying to lengthen your spine as you
stretch, and inhale.
4. As you exhale, lean your chest forward, keeping your back straight.
5. Try to bring your chin to your shins and your chest to your thighs, as
shown in Figure 16-1.
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
Figure 16-1:
Photograph by Blaine Michioka/Rainbow Photography
Child’s pose
This move stretches your lower back and arms and relaxes your entire body.
If you have knee problems, lower yourself into position with extra care.
Here’s what to do:
1. Start in a kneeling position.
2. Drop your butt toward your heels as you stretch the rest of your body
down and forward.
3. In the fully stretched position, rest your arms in a relaxed position
along the floor, rest your stomach comfortably on top of your thighs,
and rest your forehead on the mat (see Figure 16-2).
You should feel a mild stretch in your shoulders and buttocks and down
the length of your spine and arms.
Ease into this stretch by keeping your shoulders and neck relaxed. Don’t
force your derriere to move any closer to your heels than is comfortable.
Chapter 16: All about Yoga: Mind and Body
Figure 16-2:
Child’s pose.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Sage twist
This unique pose rotates the spine from left to right, toning and relaxing as
you go. Here’s what to do:
1. Start in the sitting position and extend both legs forward.
2. Bend your right knee and place your right foot on the floor, next to
your inside left thigh.
3. Place your right hand on the floor behind you, palm down.
4. Take your left palm and wrap it around the outside of your right knee
(see Figure 16-3).
5. Inhale, extending and lifting your spine upward; exhale and twist
your torso and head to your right side (see Figure 16-3).
Cat pose
The cat tilt elongates your spine and eases tension in your back. Try it by following these steps:
1. Rest on your hands and knees, with your belly facing the floor.
2. Inhale deeply.
3. Exhale and pull in your abdominal muscles, tailbone, and butt.
4. Pressing down on your hands, press your back toward the ceiling so
your spine rounds, as shown in Figure 16-4.
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
Figure 16-3:
Sage twist.
Photograph by Blaine Michioka/Rainbow Photography
Figure 16-4:
Cat pose.
Photograph by Blaine Michioka/Rainbow Photography
Triangle pose
Moving from a sitting or lying position to standing, the triangle pose
stretches your spine and abdomen. Here’s how you do it:
1. Stand with your feet much wider than your shoulders, and place both
arms straight out to the side, parallel to the floor, with palms facing up.
Both feet can sit flat on the floor, or you can point your left foot, keeping
your heel off the floor.
Chapter 16: All about Yoga: Mind and Body
2. Inhale deeply.
3. Exhale and bend to the right, as shown in Figure 16-5.
Keep your knees straight and your hips facing forward. Don’t twist your
lower body; simply bend at your waist.
Figure 16-5:
Photograph by Blaine Michioka/Rainbow Photography
4. Slide your right arm down your right leg as you bend, and then hold
your leg or ankle.
5. Hold this position, slowly breathing in and out several times.
If you’re able to, now lift your left leg off the floor, anywhere from 3 to 18
inches, keeping your knee straight.
Sun salutation
This move stretches your abdominal, lower-back, front-hip, and thigh muscles. If you’re prone to lower back pain, make a special point of tightening
your abdominals, and don’t arch your lower back. Here’s how to do it:
1. Kneel on the floor and then bring your left leg forward so that your
foot is flat on the floor, your knee is bent, and your thigh is parallel to
the floor.
2. Lift your arms straight up with your palms facing in.
3. Pull your abdominals gently inward, and keep your shoulders down
and back.
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
4. Look to the ceiling, and as you stretch upward with your upper body,
push your weight slightly forward from your hips into your front
thigh (see Figure 16-6).
You should feel this stretch travel through your torso and upper body,
including your arms. You should also feel it at the very top of your back
thigh. Repeat with your right leg forward.
Figure 16-6:
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
Keep in mind the following tips as you perform the sun salutation:
Hold onto something solid, like a sturdy chair, with one hand if you have
trouble maintaining balance.
Don’t lean so far forward that your front knee moves in front of your toes.
Don’t arch your lower back.
Chapter 17
Pilates: Sculpting and
In This Chapter
Getting the lowdown on Pilates
Going back to school
Looking at a basic Pilates workout
irst things first: This form of exercise is not pronounced pie-lates but
rather pih-lah-teez. It’s named after its inventor, Joseph Pilates, a former
carpenter and gymnast who invented the technique for injured dancers.
Many of the moves were inspired by yoga or patterned after the movements
of zoo animals such as swans, seals, and big cats.
Zoo animals aside, this chapter gives you a quick overview of Pilates, from
understanding how it works to finding a gym or video, to taking a stab at a
quick workout.
Understanding How Pilates Works
Pilates tends to emphasize your body’s core, that is, the abdomen, obliques,
lower back, inner and outer thigh, butt, and so on. For this reason, Pilates
develops much of what exercisers need — strength, flexibility, muscular
endurance, coordination, balance, and good posture — with a much lower
chance of injury than with other forms of exercise. The discipline emphasizes
correct form instead of going for the burn. Plus, with so many exercise variations and progressions, we think you’ll have a hard time getting bored with
this creative form of exercise. The moves require you to engage virtually your
whole body. At times, you may try to strengthen one muscle while stretching
another. Pilates moves take lots of concentration; you can’t simply go through
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
the motions like you can on gym equipment. And then, for every move you
think you’ve mastered, Pilates has another version that’s a little different and
a little harder.
Consider a move called “rolling like a ball” (see Figure 17-1): You balance on
your rear end, roll backward, and then roll back up into the balanced position
again. This move requires a good balance of abdominal and lower-back
strength and is deceptively tough. Liz has seen many muscular bodybuilders
taken down by this move. Pilates teaches you to think about how you use
your muscles during your workout so you use them better in daily life. For
instance, because much of the focus is on good posture and body mechanics,
you stand and sit taller and walk more gracefully. Liz always leaves her
Pilates classes feeling a few inches taller.
Figure 17-1:
like a ball.
Return to the Balance Point.
Photograph by David Herman and Jordan Levy
Anybody can benefit from Pilates. Liz has been taking Pilates classes for
years. Although she has always been strong and has plenty of endurance
from all the running, hiking, and weight training she does, she continues to
find Pilates very challenging.
Chapter 17: Pilates: Sculpting and Strengthening
Finding a Class or Instructor
You can practice Pilates three ways:
You can take a group class that involves performing specialized calisthenics exercises, with or without a mat (refer to Figure 17-1).
You can take private lessons on a series of machines with exotic names
like the Cadillac and the Reformer. The Cadillac, with its array of springs,
straps, poles, and bars, looks like a bed that the Marquis de Sade might
have enjoyed. The Reformer looks like a weight bench souped up with
assorted springs, straps, and pads.
You can pick up a copy of Pilates Workout For Dummies, a workout video
by Michelle Dozois (published by Wiley), that demonstrates Pilates
techniques for beginners but also offers challenging workouts as you
Also pick up a copy of Pilates For Dummies by Ellie Herman (published
by Wiley), a step-by-step guide for everything from basic Pilates to
super-advanced exercises.
There are nearly 500 Pilates studios nationwide, and the explosion continues.
Instructors of the official Pilates Method must complete a rigorous training
program that includes more than 600 apprenticeship hours. Other Pilates factions have created their own certifications, which may or may not be as rigorous. To find a good Pilates instructor, you’re going to have to rely on your
own judgment and recommendations from people you trust.
Pilates is expensive. Private lessons will set you back $40 to $200 a session.
Yes, you read correctly: Some instructors charge $200 for a single session.
That’s because there are many more personal trainers who don’t have a
Pilates specialization than do, and when they get a following, their prices
tend to skyrocket. Mat classes are a relative bargain, running from $12 to $25
per session, but that’s still more than many monthly gym memberships. Some
gyms offer Pilates classes to members at no additional charge and offer private instruction at a discount. If you like to master athletic activities quickly,
this may not be the workout for you. Like dance, yoga, and martial arts, learning Pilates is a long-term process.
If you can afford it, we recommend taking a private session or two on the
machines. It is both an enlightening and humbling experience — enlightening
because you discover that your body can move in ways you never imagined,
and humbling because you discover ways your body should be able to move
but can’t.
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
Looking at Some Pilates Exercises
Pilates includes hundreds of movements and exercises (and many have
numerous steps), and different combinations of these moves make up a Pilates
workout. Because of a lack of space, however, we can’t show you anything
but a small sampling here. But you can get some idea of what a few basic
Pilates moves look like, and you can try them in your own living room before
shelling out the big bucks for classes and/or equipment.
You may require several weeks to become comfortable with your Pilates
workout, and several months to become skilled at it. It’s a difficult activity,
but one that pays off handsomely if you stick with it.
Upper-abdominal curls
Many people struggle with abdominal curls, usually because of weak abs.
Although you may struggle at first to do this exercise, by staying with it, you
encourage a strong core.
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and your
fingers behind your head, as shown in Figure 17-2.
2. Pull your navel toward your spine.
3. Lift your shoulders just barely off the mat and pull your chin toward
your chest, as shown in Figure 17-2.
4. Hold, and then relax and lower yourself to the mat. Repeat eight times.
(Okay, repeat only three or four times until you get used to this activity and can handle eight reps!)
The bridge strengthens and stabilizes the core muscles, especially your butt
and the back of your legs. Be careful, however, not to arch your back.
1. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
2. Breathe in deeply.
3. Exhale and push your feet into your yoga mat, squeeze your butt, and
thrust your hips toward the ceiling, forming a straight line from your
shoulders to your knees (see Figure 17-3).
4. Return to the mat and repeat four times.
Chapter 17: Pilates: Sculpting and Strengthening
Figure 17-2:
Photograph by David Herman and Jordan Levy
Figure 17-3:
The bridge.
Photograph by David Herman and Jordan Levy
Part V: Cardio-Strength Workouts: Getting the Best of Both Worlds
Basic cat
Looking much like a yoga pose (see Chapter 16), basic cat lengthens and
stretches the muscles around your spine.
1. Start on all fours, hands directly below your shoulders, with a natural
sway in your spine (see Figure 17-4a).
2. As you inhale, arch your back a little (see Figure 17-4b).
3. Exhale, pull your navel in, tucking your butt under and pushing the
middle of your back up toward the ceiling, and then push your hands
into your mat. Round out your back, dropping your head and making
your back look like the letter c (see Figure 17-4c).
4. Return to Step 1 and repeat three more times.
Figure 17-4:
Basic cat.
Photograph by David Herman and Jordan Levy
Part VI
Conquering the Gym
(Even at Home)
In this part . . .
e prepare you to take the health-club plunge — or
create the best home gym for your budget and
goals. Chapter 18 explains how to choose the best gym for
you and how to recognize slimy sales tactics; we also
update you on the latest health-club trends and share the
unwritten rules of the gym: what to say, what to wear, and
what to do about that pool of sweat you left on the legpress machine. Chapter 19 helps you sort through the wide
range of classes you’re likely to find — from spinning to
kickboxing to circuit training — and also gives you the
lowdown on exercise DVDs and videos, including how to
build a first-rate library, where to get the best deals, and
which instructors to try.
To create your own home gym, take a look at Chapter 20,
which covers the basics: where to shop, how to get a good
deal, and where to put your equipment so you’ll actually
use it, with special sections that focus on cardiovascular
machinery and strength and flexibility equipment. We
even tell you which brands and features to look for and
how to distinguish the quality equipment from the contraptions that will collapse the first time you use them.
Chapter 18
Health-Club Primer: Getting the
Most Out of Your Gym
In This Chapter
Deciding whether to join a gym
Evaluating a health club
Going it alone in the gym
Asking Miss Manners: Health club etiquette
Being the best fitness-class student
hen it comes to health clubs, we’re biased: We like ’em. Liz likes them
so much that she’s a member of four different clubs. Suzanne likes
them so much that she brings weight-lifting gloves on vacation and always
hunts down the nearest gym, even if it’s in the basement of a crummy hotel
in Morocco.
We like health clubs because there’s always someone around to give you help
and encouragement. You also can get a much wider variety of workout choices
than you would in your living room. Of course, to reap the benefits of a health
club, you have to actually show up. The reality is, most people don’t. If every
member of your gym worked out regularly, the place probably would look like
the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. About half the people who join a
club quit exercising within two months, and only 20 percent work out three
times a week.
To boost your odds of becoming a regular, it’s important to choose a gym
that suits your schedule, your goals, and your personality. This chapter
covers the latest trends in health clubs and helps you choose the right club
for you. And to make sure you pay a fair price, we explain some of the sneaky
sales tactics and hidden costs you may encounter. Finally, we fill you in on
health-club etiquette and help you move to the head of the class when taking
advantage of the fitness classes offered at most health clubs.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Should You Join a Health Club?
A health club isn’t for everybody. Before you shop around, consider whether
you’re the sort of person who will thrive at a gym. This may save you plenty
of money and guilt in the long run. If you decide that a gym isn’t for you,
that’s fine. There are other places to get fit (see Chapter 10 and Part V for
more ideas).
Three reasons to sign up
Joining a gym requires a fair amount of guts. It took our friend Chivas Clem
two years to venture into his neighborhood health club. “I almost turned
around and walked out,” recalls Chivas, who’s a very svelte 5'8". “The room
was full of these tanned, perfect bodies in spandex cat suits, and I’m totally
emaciated. Finally, I get the nerve to ask this hulk-like man behind the
counter if I can join. He says, ‘So, you’ve never been to a gym before?’ I say,
‘No, is it that obvious?’” Don’t be put off by insensitive comments like that. If
you’re debating whether to join a gym, remember the following great reasons
to sign up.
You need inspiration
At home you can always drum up an excuse not to exercise, even if it means
dusting your bread maker or reading your VCR/DVD universal TV remote
manual. But at the gym, what else is there to do but exercise? Even if you
never talk to a soul, you can feed off the energy of those around you. You may
even find a workout partner. Some gyms will scout out a buddy for you.
You want variety
Even if you can afford $10,000 to build an elaborate home gym, you can still
find more options at a health club. At home, you may have a stationary bike,
a treadmill, or a stair-climber. At a gym, you have all three and more. The
same goes for weights. You can strengthen your triceps just fine with a pair of
dumbbells in your living room, but at a gym you also have the option of using
machines, barbells, and cable pulleys. Gyms frequently update their equipment, so you can try strength and aerobic machines that haven’t yet hit the
home market or are still too expensive. You can also choose from a long list
of classes.
You want expert advice
At a good gym, a trainer is always on hand to help you figure out the chest
machine or tell you how to firm up your butt. You also have a room full of
other exercisers to watch, although they may or may not be good instructors
to learn from.
Chapter 18: Health-Club Primer: Getting the Most Out of Your Gym
Three reasons to say, “No thanks”
Some people collect gym memberships like Elizabeth Taylor collects husbands — with about as much success. They figure that if they keep joining,
one of these days they may actually go, but inevitably the affair is short-lived.
Don’t bother buying a membership if you have no serious intention of using
it. If you fit the following categories, you’re better off finding an alternative
way to work out.
You want to exercise alone
If you can’t bear the thought of working out in public just yet, start off at
home and consider a gym again in a few months when you feel more confident.
Or, if you’re someone who prefers solitude and uses your workout time to
think, don’t waste your money on a health-club membership.
Your schedule won’t allow time
If you don’t have the time to drive to a club or if you can’t find one to accommodate your work hours, don’t force the issue. Exercising at home makes
more sense. (Know, however, that 24-hour gyms are becoming more popular.
Even Kingston, New York, Liz’s hometown, has had one for years — and the
place doesn’t even have a Starbucks.)
You hate exercising indoors
If indoor workouts make you feel like a hamster in a Habitrail, head outside
and walk, run, skate, or cycle. Keep in mind that you have to be pretty creative to get a great strength-training workout outdoors, but if you use your
body weight (push-ups, pull-ups), benches, outdoor circuit-training or fitness
courses, and so on, you can put together a pretty decent strength workout.
Knowing How to Judge a Gym
Don’t join a club simply because your accountant goes there or because the
club is promoting a special discount. Shopping around before you part with
any money is important. Here are ten factors to consider (some may matter
to you; others won’t) when judging a gym.
This is probably the most important consideration. If your gym is on the
other side of town, you won’t go — even if it’s the Taj Majal of health clubs.
Ideally, join a club within a ten-minute walk or drive from your home or office.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
The only exception may be a gym with special facilities that the nearest club
doesn’t have, like Pilates or boot-camp classes. But if you’re a beginner who
hasn’t yet made exercise a habit, you may still be better off at a nearby club
that doesn’t have all the amenities.
The big trend here is the super-club — the health club equivalent of Wal-Mart.
You can find low prices, an enormous selection of equipment and classes,
plenty of energy, and a large staff of trainers. For an experienced exerciser, a
super-club can be as fun as an amusement park; you can never get bored,
roving from the golf clinic to the climbing wall to the Middle Eastern belly
dancing class. Chelsea Piers in New York City has two floors of ice-hockey
rinks, a bowling alley, an equestrian center, a gymnastics studio for kids, and
a 10,000-square-foot climbing wall.
If you’re a beginner, however, these mega-clubs can be overwhelming. You
can get lost trying to find your way from the locker room to the T’ai Chi class.
In that case, a smaller, cozier gym may be a better choice. You can get to
know the entire staff on a personal basis, and they may even notice if you
don’t show up for a while.
Super-clubs tend to take a “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” approach.
These clubs may have a small yoga room, a limited boxing program, and a
small climbing wall that would bore you after a week. If you’re trying to familiarize yourself with a specific skill or technique, a mega-club isn’t the place to
get in-depth knowledge. Yoga, for example, is best learned at a studio that
teaches only yoga. But if you want a smorgasbord of activities, a super-club
is the place to be.
Some larger health clubs tend to take a “no-frills” approach, which means you
may not have a spa, day-care center, pool, and 20 different types of workout
classes, but you do have cardio and strength equipment, plus a locker room
in which to change and shower. If no-frills is appropriate for you, you’ll pay
far less than at a health club that offers all the amenities.
Membership fees vary greatly. Large clubs often charge less than small ones
because they have more members. (They also tend to pay their staff less.)
But the dollar figure doesn’t mean everything. Fifty bucks a month may seem
outrageous for a small neighborhood club with old equipment; on the other
hand, if the club is half a mile from your house, it’s a bargain because you
may actually go. It’s a much better investment than a $30-a-month club that’s
20 minutes away.
Chapter 18: Health-Club Primer: Getting the Most Out of Your Gym
Consider these other money matters when you choose a gym:
Hidden costs: The monthly membership may be reasonable, but will you
pay out the wazoo in extras? A few years ago, Suzanne checked out a
club that cost $25 a month. What the sales guy didn’t happen to mention
was the $1.35 daily parking fee. If Suzanne went to the gym five days a
week, she would have paid more per month in parking — $27 — than in
membership fees. She ultimately found a gym with free parking (a prized
commodity in Los Angeles).
Some gyms charge extra for specialty classes, such as boxing. Other
clubs don’t have membership dues but charge hefty fees for trainers; the
catch is, you can’t use the club without one. This type of club could run
you $10,000 a year. On the other hand, you’re bound to get plenty of
Initiation fees: In addition to the monthly membership fee, many clubs
require an initiation fee. At least they claim to require it. If you insist
strongly enough, many clubs waive this fee. Or clubs use this initiation
fee as a marketing ploy — something they don’t really intend for you to
pay. Some salesperson may say, “Just because you seem like a terrific
person, and I really want you to get in shape, I’ll waive the initiation fee.
But shh — don’t tell my boss. He’ll kill me.” Initiation fees can range
from $25 to $1,500.
Bargaining: Many clubs make special deals if you ask, although they
don’t advertise this fact. The best time to ask is during slow periods like
summer and the end of the month, when clubs are hungrier for sales. You
may also get a break if you join with a family member or friend. If you
have friends who are already members, ask what they paid; if the sales
rep cites you a higher fee, don’t be afraid to say, “My friend Jane Smith
paid $30 a month, and I’d like the same deal.”
Trial memberships: If you’re unsure about the club, ask for a two-week
free trial period before joining, or at least a day pass. Some clubs lead you
to believe that you’re joining for only a month when you’re actually paying
by the month and joining for a year. This is why you need to read your
contract. If you choose to pay by the month, we recommend using your
credit card instead of writing a check. The credit-card company can protect you from incorrect charges.
Long-term memberships: Don’t even think about it. You don’t know
where you’re going to be in three years (although some club chains do
allow you to transfer your membership) — or whether the club will even
be in business. One club in New York was selling lifetime memberships
until the day before it closed its doors. Never sign up for more than one
year. You may even want to sign up on a month-to-month basis if the
club allows it; you’ll probably pay more, but you give yourself an out if
the club doesn’t suit you.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Four slimy sales tactics to recognize
Some clubs will try anything to rope you in. Be
prepared to combat these sales strategies:
Limited offers: “You must join right now,”
the salesperson may say, “or I can’t give
you this special deal. I’m really sorry, but the
sale ends today.” The truth is that if you
come back tomorrow, the club may offer
you an even better deal so that you don’t
walk out again. Suzanne’s gym seems to
have a membership “special” going on
every day of every month. If it’s not the
“Valentine’s Day Join-with-Your-Partner
Special” or the “March Madness Special,”
it’s the “April After-Taxes Special” or the
“May Get-Ready-for-Summer Special.”
What prospective members may not realize
is that these specials aren’t so special.
Month after the month, the offers are pretty
much the same.
Creating fear or insecurity: The salesperson may rattle off death statistics for
men your age who don’t exercise, or tell you
that women just a few years older than
you disintegrate from osteoporosis because
they don’t work out. The salesperson may
even tell perfectly healthy women that
they’re fat. This was a common practice at
a gym where Liz used to work as a trainer. The salespeople would try to get the
trainers to test the body fat of prospective
members — and then inflate the numbers.
Liz, of course, refused to participate in this
scheme. Watch out: Some clubs try to make
you feel as if you can’t go on living one more
minute without a gym membership.
An answer for everything: If you say that
you have to ask your wife, the salesperson
may attack your manhood: “What’s the
matter? You need her to tell you what to do
about your health? Okay, here’s the phone.”
Then the sales associate sits there while
you make the call. If you say you can’t
afford the membership, the salesman may
say, “How can you not afford to invest in
your health?” Then he’ll whip out the contract and keep inching it across the desk
toward you. Be prepared to walk out, even
as he tells you how insane you are for
doing so.
The bait-and-switch: The newspaper ad
tells you one price, but when you go in, the
salesperson says, “Oh, that sale ended
yesterday, but I can give you this offer.”
Or, “You misunderstood the woman on the
phone — we can’t give you the first three
months free.” Always ask whom you’re
talking to so you can name names. Bring
the newspaper ad along so you can use it
for proof.
Cancellation policies: Salespeople won’t always tell you this, but in most
states the law requires a three-day cooling-off period. In other words, if
you change your mind within three days, the club must refund your
money in full. If the club won’t, get your lawyer to shoot off a letter; that
should do the trick. Also, ask what happens if you quit three months after
joining. Some clubs will refund your money for any reason. But most will
offer a refund only if you move more than 25 miles from the club, if you
can prove that you have a medical condition that will prevent you from
exercising for several months, or if the club stops offering the services
promised in the contract (although many even have a way around this).
Chapter 18: Health-Club Primer: Getting the Most Out of Your Gym
You may not consider yourself qualified to judge the equipment at a gym, but
even a novice can make some important assessments. If you wouldn’t know a
hamstring machine even if you were sitting on one, ask your tour guide
specifically about the following factors:
Variety: Do you want three varieties of bikes, or will you settle for one?
Some clubs have 10-, 15-, and 20-pound dumbbells; at other clubs, you’ll
also find 12-pounders, 171⁄2-pounders, and 221⁄2-pounders. Some gyms
have a single hamstring machine; others have four, so you can work
these muscles standing, sitting, leaning forward, or lying facedown.
Quantity: Is there enough equipment to support the membership? You
don’t want your wait for the treadmill to be like the line at the Department
of Motor Vehicles. Take a tour at the same time of day you plan to work
out, and notice whether the machines are overbooked. Many gyms
enforce a rush-hour policy that limits you to 20 minutes on the cardio
equipment if others are waiting. This restriction can be frustrating if
you’ve planned a longer workout that day.
Quality and upkeep: Is the place in a state of disrepair? Is the stuffing
coming out of the weight benches? Lots of duct tape is not a good sign.
Get on a couple of weight machines and see how smoothly the weight
stacks work. Pick up a few free weights and see whether the ends are
loose. Listen to the cardiovascular equipment: Are the treadmills loud
and whiny? That noise means that the motors need a tune-up. Don’t be
afraid to test-drive a good portion of the equipment — or to ask other
members whether they feel the machinery is well-maintained.
Equipment turnover: Is the equipment older than the anchors of 60
Minutes? Or does the club have a new fleet of stationary bikes with built-in
heart-rate monitors? Most gyms can’t afford to replace all their equipment
every year, but at least 10 to 30 percent of the machines should be new.
However, you can still break a decent sweat on equipment that’s not
state-of-the-art. Sooner Fitness in Norman, Oklahoma, bought the
world’s oldest Lifecycle at an auction in 1978, and the machine has been
in daily use ever since.
Make sure that the club offers what you want, whether it’s the latest and greatest, like Pilates, circuit training, Woga (yoga in the water), or triathlon training,
or more-basic strength-training and aerobics classes. (Some no-frills clubs don’t
offer any classes.) See whether the classes meet at convenient times. To assess
whether classes are any good, ask if you can sample a few before joining.
Also, ask other members for their opinions. For more on qualities to look for
in specific classes, and to read about trends in fitness classes, see Chapter 19.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
If you’re new to a club, you may initially be intimidated by some of the other
members. Our friend John recalls his second day at his new club: “I was in
the locker room when this guy with the most perfect body — the biceps, the
abs, the whole thing — walked up to the scale and weighed himself. He must
have weighed an ounce over what he wanted because he went into a complete rage, punched the wall, and then walked away. I looked down at my
body and thought, ‘Oh, man. I’m going to be the wimpiest guy at this gym.’”
Fortunately, John didn’t give up his membership. He soon found out that
there are all types at his gym and that the narcissists are easy to avoid. So
don’t be too judgmental about the members of your gym. Sure, you may feel
more comfortable at some clubs than others; some gyms cater to people over
40, and others attract bodybuilders who could open a door from the hinged
side. But people are people, and most of them are nice, even if they look like
underwear models for Calvin Klein or Victoria’s Secret. Don’t give the membership factor too much weight, unless you’re joining a gym primarily to
Besides, you may be surprised by who becomes your friend. “The members
I was most intimidated by ended up being just regular guys,” says one friend
of ours. “One guy had his head shaved except for a rat tail in the back. He
looked really mean and scary, but he was a doll when you talked to him. It
turned out he was a nurse.”
If you’re a woman and prefer to work out with other women, consider joining
a Curves club. Many of the clubs are efficient (read that: small), so that they
can be located in small towns and still turn a profit, but they offer a 30-minute
total-fitness program in an environment that’s often quite comfortable for
women. The focus here is on working out; in fact, you may not be able to do
your own individual workout but instead join classes or structured circuit
If you’re inexperienced, the staff is going to play an important role in your
success. Ask the same questions you’d ask when hiring a personal trainer
(see Chapter 4). Are the trainers certified by a reputable organization? Are
they experienced? Look around: Are the staff members sitting around telling
jokes to each other while some poor guy is pinned under a barbell? Is the
only visible trainer doing his algebra homework at the front desk? Does
anyone acknowledge your existence when you walk through the door?
Chapter 18: Health-Club Primer: Getting the Most Out of Your Gym
When you’re taken on a tour of the club, notice whether your tour guide actually answers your questions, instead of spewing fitness jargon in hopes of
impressing you. Suzanne was pedaling on the recumbent bicycle at her gym
when one of the sales staff came by with a prospective member. “These are
the recumbent bikes,” the sales guy said, to which the woman replied, “What’s
the difference between these bikes and the other ones?” The sales guy’s
response: “These are different because they’re recumbent.” Ideally, staff
members should be able to provide a wee bit more information. (To find
out what a recumbent bike actually is, see Chapter 8.)
Is the place clean and well-ventilated? Pay special attention to the locker
rooms: Are the bathrooms spotless, or is it foot fungus city? Open the shower
curtains and check the floor, the soap dish, and the walls for gunk and mold.
If a club isn’t clean, don’t join — it’s not worth the health risk. Ask how often
the cleaning crew makes its rounds. And take a gander at the air vents to see
whether they’re dirty or full of mildew.
One club in Florida has banned soap, shampoo, and shaving cream in the
showers to stem the tide of lawsuits filed by members who claimed to have
slipped and fallen. Although we sympathize with the management, we do
wonder what sort of odors emanate from the club.
There are 24-hour gyms and gyms that close at 8 p.m. Check your club’s
hours, particularly on weekends, when most gyms close earlier. Generally,
the larger the club, the longer the hours.
Extra amenities
Competition is forcing many clubs to offer more than a Jacuzzi, towel service,
and juice bar. A club may organize hikes, ski trips, and softball teams for singles. Or it may offer stress-management workshops and seminars on training
for a marathon. Many clubs offer a whole array of spa services. You can treat
yourself to a massage, facial, mud wrap, salt scrub, aromatherapy bath, or
power shower (a super-strong shower that we personally find a little scary).
Prices for these services vary greatly, as does the quality of the services.
Remember: Make sure that your massage therapist is properly licensed.
(See Chapter 25 for more tips about massage.)
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
A number of clubs have gone way beyond day care, building full-fledged kid
gyms with tyke-sized weight machines and cardiovascular equipment. The
machines are obviously smaller and shorter with a host of safety devices to
prevent kids from hurting themselves. This is great. It’s never too early to get
kids into the habit of exercising (see Chapter 22), as long as you don’t force
your 5-year-old into an Olympic training regimen. Some clubs offer exercise
classes that the whole family can do together, as well as programs such as
teen-only exercise classes.
Another popular service is nutritional counseling, including weight-loss support groups, computerized diet analysis, and heart-disease prevention seminars. Prices vary widely, from $250 to over $1,000 for a package of three to
ten sessions. Just beware: As with trainers, anyone can call himself a nutritionist, so make sure that you’re dealing with a registered dietitian (someone
with an R.D. after his name). Most personal trainers don’t have an R.D., even
though they may consider themselves nutritional specialists. We don’t think
anyone but a registered dietitian should dispense dietary advice, and that
includes chiropractors — giving this kind of advice may even be against the
law in your state. Don’t let your “nutritionist” hard-sell you any products —
including expensive supplements or prepackaged wonder foods that have
been designed “especially for your body chemistry.”
At many clubs you can also find medical and rehabilitation services, including
sports-medicine doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, and sports
psychologists. Be aware that many of these health professionals may not
actually be affiliated with the club; they may simply rent office space on the
premises. This arrangement helps the health professionals attract more business, and it gives the club added cachet. However, you need to check out the
credentials and reputations of the doctors and therapists as thoroughly as
you would any others. Don’t assume that the club has chosen the mostqualified health professionals; it may simply have picked those who will pay
the highest rent.
Braving the Gym Alone
Going to the gym for the first time can be stressful, especially if you’re new to
working out. But at some point, you have to take a deep breath and dive in.
Here are strategies for feeling at ease in your gym:
Take a friend. Going to the gym with a buddy can make you feel more
comfortable and less self-conscious. You two can pretend to discuss the
stock market while you figure out how to start up the elliptical trainer.
Go at off-peak hours. This way, no one will be breathing down your neck
to use a machine, and you’ll have more attention from the staff if you
need some reminders. Gyms usually are busiest from 7 to 9 a.m., noon to
2 p.m., and 5 to 7 p.m. If you can’t go during off-peak hours, choose the
Chapter 18: Health-Club Primer: Getting the Most Out of Your Gym
morning because most gyms aren’t as packed as they are in the evening,
and the morning crowds tend to be fairly regular. You’ll get to know
other faces, and they’ll get to know yours.
Monday is always the busiest day in any gym — everyone’s trying to
atone for sins they committed over the weekend, like eating too many
Ding Dongs. Things trail off by Thursday or Friday (but don’t wait until
then to work out).
Don’t feel embarrassed if you can’t lift much weight. Hey, you’re a
beginner. Besides, using only one plate on a weight machine doesn’t
mean you’re lifting nothing. Plates weigh anywhere from 5 to 20 pounds.
Don’t overdo it. If you push too hard, you may feel so sore that you
won’t want to come back. The morning after your first few workouts,
you should wake up feeling a little achy and tender — but not so sore
that you can’t stand upright. The discomfort usually is at its worst about
48 hours after your workout — a phenomenon known as Delayed Onset
Muscle Soreness. Don’t be alarmed: Most people are sore after their first
workouts, even if they’re careful. This is because your muscles aren’t
used to the extra work.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is caused by microscopic tears in the
muscles that you exercise. These tears fill up with fluids and waste products, and until the muscles recover, you’re going to be in a little pain.
The good news is that, after the muscles repair themselves, they’re
stronger and harder to tear. So after a few weeks of working out, you
won’t get really sore except after especially tough workouts.
Don’t expect to master the equipment right away. You can’t learn
Italian in a week, right? It takes a while to become proficient with the
vocabulary, customs, and nuances of exercise as well. Even if you’ve
spent several sessions with a trainer, you’re not likely to remember how
to use each and every machine. Refer to your notes, ask a member of the
gym staff for help.
Make friends. Knowing other members can give you more encouragement. One good way to meet someone is to ask for a spot — in other
words, ask somebody to assist you while you do a weight-lifting exercise.
Smile and look approachable. Someone may ask you to spot him. For
instructions on how to spot and be spotted, see Chapter 13.
In general, when you talk to people at the gym, stick to topics related to
working out. Ask if they’re done using a particular machine or bench.
Ask how to do a certain exercise. The worst approach is to go up to
people in the locker room when they’re naked, stick your hand out, and
introduce yourself.
Don’t worry about people staring at you. Most people are far too
absorbed in their own workout to pay attention to anyone else. But
if you really want to block out your fellow gym members, wear headphones; you don’t even need to turn them on. Just make sure your
headphone wires don’t get caught in any weight machines.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Wear comfortable clothes. Go for maximum comfort and minimum
embarrassment, but don’t wear anything so baggy that it impedes your
movement or can possibly get caught in some moving part. Don’t wear
something that exposes you to the world when you climb on some
strange contraption. You may end up spreading your legs in front of
30 strangers, none of whom are your gynecologist or proctologist.
Ask for help if you need it. Liz knew a guy who was pretty proud of himself for finally making it to the gym. He got through his first workout only
to slice his Achilles tendon on the shower door. He lay there in agony for
quite a while before calling for help because he was so embarrassed, not
to mention naked. The injury required six stitches, and the guy hobbled
around on crutches for six weeks. It took several weeks after that for the
staff to coax him back to the gym. He finally returned, although he now
takes his showers at home.
Health-Club Etiquette:
The Unwritten Rules
Every type of club has its own customs, like the secret handshake you and
your buddies used back in fourth grade. Or the secret code word that Howard
Cunningham used to get into the Leopard Lodge on Happy Days. Health clubs
don’t have secret code words, of course, but you may feel more at home if
you know a few of the unwritten rules. Here are some tips on how to act in
certain situations:
If someone’s using the weight machine that you want, ask whether you
can work in. That’s a term for alternating sets with another person. Asking
to work in is perfectly legitimate; no one has the right to camp out at
one weight machine for a half-hour.
Working in with someone is convenient if all you have to do is switch the
pin in the weight stack. But it’s awkward if you have to readjust the seat
or add or subtract weight plates. In those cases, waiting until the person
is done is a better choice.
If someone is standing over your shoulder waiting to use the machine
that you’re on, kindly ask that person to work in with you. Or tell the
person how much longer you plan to use the machine. Say something
like, “This is my last set. Then it’s all yours.”
If you need help adjusting a machine or you forget how to use it, turn
to a staffer or a gym member with a kind face and say, “I’m new here.
Can you help me?”
Chapter 18: Health-Club Primer: Getting the Most Out of Your Gym
If someone’s doing an exercise that you want to learn, find an appropriate break in that person’s workout and ask him to show you the
exercise. Most people are happy to help — in fact, they’ll probably be
flattered that you asked.
If you aren’t 100 percent sure that you can safely complete your
repetitions, ask someone to spot you.
If you’re embarrassed to ask for a spot, think about a guy named
Anthony Clark, whose photo hangs on the wall at Dave’s Power Palace, a
gym in Carson City, Nevada. Clark lost control while doing a squat (an
exercise we explain in Chapter 14). He dumped his barbell forward, and
the barbell landed on the weight rack — with Clark’s neck sandwiched in
between. Fortunately, Clark’s two spotters came to the rescue, and he
managed to survive unscathed. Chances are, this isn’t going to happen
to you; after all, the guy was squatting 992 pounds. But the point is, be
careful out there.
If someone’s hitting on you and the feeling isn’t mutual, heck, we don’t
know. You’re on your own here.
Major no-nos
Most of the following rules are common sense, but they’re violated so
frequently that we feel compelled to mention them.
Don’t forget your towel. No one likes to sit down in a pool of sweat.
Always wipe off your equipment after you finish.
Don’t fill up your entire water bottle when someone else is waiting for
the drinking fountain. Let the other guy get his drink and then resume
filling up your bottle.
Don’t grunt. You may as well announce over the loudspeaker, “Hey,
everyone, look over here! I’m lifting more weight than I can handle!”
Don’t leave your dumbbells on the floor. Always put weights back on
the rack and in the right order. Don’t stick the 15-pound dumbbells
where the 10-pounders are supposed to go.
Don’t leave barbells or machines loaded up with weight plates. You
can’t assume the next person can or wants to lift the exact same weight
you just lifted. Some men leave the bench press loaded up with a 45pound plate on each side of the 45-pound bar — as if the minimum any
human being would bench-press would be 135 pounds. If you see someone do this, you have every right to ask him to remove the weights. You
don’t have to be all that polite about it, either.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Don’t sit on a machine or bench that you’re not actually using.
Between sets, allow others to work in. And don’t block the aisles between
machines, either.
Don’t drop your weights from 3 feet in the air. Always place them
gently on the ground so as not to simulate an earthquake or crush
toes. Now and again, Liz sees a guy who performs a bizarre lift: He sets a
very heavy dumbbell on the floor, bends over with locked knees, and
snatches the barbell into the air while screaming at the top of his lungs.
When the dumbbell is above his head, he lets go of the weight. Needless
to say, this is very dangerous and distracting behavior.
Don’t interrupt a staff member who is obviously helping or spotting
someone else. You’d want the trainer’s full attention if you were the one
being helped.
Don’t spit or deposit gum in the water fountain. Many people don’t
quite grasp this concept.
Don’t violate anyone else’s personal space. If someone seems to be
jamming through a workout, that’s not the time to tap him on the shoulder and ask his opinion on school prayer. This rule applies to the locker
room, too.
Don’t carry around your gym bag. That’s what lockers are for!
Although most gyms post signs prohibiting gym bags on the weightroom floor, many people ignore this rule.
Don’t “borrow” a gym’s equipment for use at home. Nothing is more
aggravating to gym members than looking for a jump rope or weight
collar that has mysteriously disappeared.
Don’t hog the cardio machines if you’ve exceeded the posted time
limit. We’ve seen people surreptitiously cover the console with a towel
while they reprogram the machine, hoping that other people won’t
notice their time is up. That’s what we consider the definition of rude.
Locker-room rules
The stories we could tell about bathroom misbehavior could fill an entire
book. We’ve seen a guy get naked and blow-dry his private parts. We’ve seen
people cut themselves shaving and leave a pool of blood for the next person
who comes to the sink. We’ve seen people mistake the shower for a restroom.
Remember that you’re sharing this space with a lot of other people, so have
some consideration! Here are a few rules that should be obvious but, based
on our experience, seem to bear mentioning anyway:
Chapter 18: Health-Club Primer: Getting the Most Out of Your Gym
Don’t take a marathon shower if people are waiting.
Don’t leave hair clogging the drain, and don’t leave empty shampoo
bottles in the stall.
Don’t use more than one locker.
Don’t hog the mirror or the blow-dryer.
Don’t shake baby powder all over the floor.
Close your locker door so the gym doesn’t look as though it’s been
Throw your garbage in those cylindrical and rectangular objects known
as trash cans. Would you really just toss your empty pantyhose package
on the floor if you were at home? Okay, even so — don’t do it at the gym.
Limit the number of towels you use, especially during busy hours, when
the club is likely to run out.
Packing the perfect gym bag
You’ll feel a lot more comfortable at the gym
if you come prepared. Using 17 paper towels
to dry yourself off after a shower is no fun,
although Suzanne has found herself in this situation repeatedly. Some gyms provide towels,
cosmetics, even workout clothes. Check with
your gym so you don’t overpack.
Sweat band, ponytail holder, or whatever
you need to keep sweat from dripping into
your eyes
Here’s a list of gym-bag essentials. A bag with
lots of zipper pockets helps.
Basic first-aid kit, including bandages and
antibacterial ointment
Membership card
These items aren’t vital, but we highly recommend them:
Water bottle
Small towel to wipe sweat off the machines
Large towel for the shower
Padlock for locker
Gym clothes (shoes, socks, shorts, tights,
sweats, t-shirt, sports bra or jock)
Plastic bag for wet, dirty clothes
Toiletries (soap, shampoo, deodorant, and
foot deodorant for sneakers)
Shower sandals
Post-workout snack, especially if you have
a long drive home
Weight-lifting gloves (see Chapter 26 for
Personal stereo, headphones, and extra
Reading material for the cardio machines
Heart-rate monitor (see Chapter 6 for
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
A Classroom Code of Conduct
An exercise class is a great opportunity to make friends, so don’t blow your
chances by annoying the people around you, like the guy who sits in front
of you and talks during a movie. Here’s how to keep everybody sweating in
If the class requires a sign-up, honor it. In a group cycling class that Liz
taught, a woman signed up, went to the ladies’ room, and then returned
to find that her spot had been taken by someone else who had arrived
late. The latecomer refused to give the first woman back her bike, and
Liz had to use Jimmy Carter–like skills to negotiate a peace agreement
between the two women.
Don’t walk into a class 15 minutes late and make a big fuss setting
yourself up — dragging your step, jump rope, and dumbbells across
the room in multiple trips as if you’re unloading a U-Haul.
Follow what the instructor says instead of improvising your own routine. If you can’t perform the arm movements in a step-aerobics class,
that’s fine — just use your legs; but don’t distract the rest of the class by
belly dancing or practicing the latest salsa step.
Don’t talk so loudly that no one can hear the instructor.
Wear shoes and proper attire. This is for your safety as well as sanitary
reasons, and most gyms have strict rules about what’s acceptable and
unacceptable. A weight could drop on your foot, or someone could step
on your toes. If you wear street shoes, you can damage the floors by digging holes or leaving indelible black marks.
Avoid walking in front of the instructor when entering late or leaving
early. If you do have to leave early, signal the instructor that you’re okay
so that she doesn’t worry that you’re going to the restroom to lie down
because you’re feeling ill.
Chapter 19
Choosing an Exercise Class or
In This Chapter
Deciding whether classes are for you
Knowing what to expect from your instructor
Considering the cost of classes
Choosing from among the most popular classes
Finding and choosing a DVD
Tuning in to our favorite instructors
Following some important safety tips
xercise classes have made an evolutionary leap since the early ’80s,
when legwarmer-clad instructors patterned their routines after the
dance sequences in the movie Flashdance. Over the last five years or so,
there has been a creative explosion in group exercise. In addition to traditional classes like low-impact aerobics and step (which, due to their simplicity, are getting harder and harder to find), you can now try strip aerobics,
aeroboxing, and power yoga. Even small aerobics studios offer classes such
as firefighter boot camp and Pilates. Some classes also have become more
equipment-oriented, using dumbbells, tubes, balls, steps, jump ropes — even
treadmills, stair-climbers, and rowing machines.
All this variety has attracted exercisers who have traditionally stayed away
from classes. Liz recently peeked into a group cycling class and noticed that
every bike in the house was occupied by a man. A decade ago, most men
avoided the aerobics studio like it was a pedicure salon.
Exercise classes have matured in other ways as well. For one thing, they’re
safer. During the aerobics-crazy ’80s, exercise classes meant two hours of
sadistic military drills — and a steady stream of injuries from the ultra-deep
knee bends, jerky moves, and high kicks considered criminal today. Classes
are better now because most health clubs and aerobics studios require the
instructors to have experience and certification. Many clubs audition teachers, do regular evaluations, and pay attention to participant feedback.
Part V: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
This chapter covers the classes you’re most likely to find at clubs and studios.
The two exceptions are yoga and Pilates, which have become so popular that
we devote an entire chapter to each (Chapters 16 and 17, respectively). For
each class described in this chapter, we tell you how much you’ll sweat, what
you’ll gain, and how you’ll fare if you’re a klutz. Plus, you’ll discover how to
get the most out of a class while suffering the least amount of embarrassment.
Why Take a Class?
Classes are suited to a certain kind of personality. You’ll love ’em if you feed
off group energy or if you enjoy following someone else’s lead. But if you treat
exercise as downtime, you may prefer to exercise on your own.
Beginners will find classes especially valuable. With luck, you’ll get an
instructor who can teach you a few things about exercise, like how to take
your pulse properly and how to use good form when you lift a dumbbell.
You’ll also develop a certain body awareness that you may not get from walking on the treadmill or pumping weights. You’ll probably make friends, too.
Classes are also a great way to learn a new skill. If you want to buy a step
for your home, you can get the moves down in a class. Let the teacher
correct you so that you know what to watch for when you do the workout
alone in your living room. You can supplement this learning process with
exercise DVDs.
Getting through when you haven’t a clue
Make life easier for yourself: Choose classes with the words beginner, introductory, or basic in the title. You’ll get a much different impression of step aerobics from a slower, simplified beginner class than if you accidentally wander
into an advanced class and hear, “Okay, we’re going to U-turn right, U-turn
left, electric slide four times, then step, hop, turn, and repeat. Got it? Let’s go!”
Before the class starts, tell the teacher you’re a novice. A good instructor will
keep an eye on you and correct your mistakes without making you feel like an
idiot. If you don’t mind the spotlight, stand in the front — the instructor will
be more likely to notice and correct you. If you’re shy and prefer to make
your mistakes more privately, stand in the back or get lost in the middle.
Throughout the class, keep your eye on the teacher rather than a fellow student. And don’t compete with anyone. This isn’t the time to give your ego a
If you get tired, just march in place. Don’t stop cold and walk out in the
middle of a class — you risk nausea or even fainting. But don’t be afraid to
bail if the instructor is a lemon.
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD
Always bring a water bottle to class — you’ll drink more often, and you’ll
avoid the long lines at the drinking fountain. Finally, come back for more,
even if the class leaves you feeling like a clod. Skills and fitness take time to
develop. You’ll feel pretty darn good when you master a class that used to
wipe you out.
What to expect from your instructor
Try to watch a class before you take one. A good instructor has the class
moving in unison and right on cue, even if the steps are complicated. Terry
Walsh, the owner of New York City’s Revolution studio, recently taught a promotional low-impact aerobics class in Central Park to more than 200 people.
Terry is such a good teacher that she had the entire class moving in unison,
as if they were a highly experienced, professional dance troop. On the other
hand, if everyone’s bumping into each other or several people have stopped
completely and are staring off into space, look for another class. No matter
what type of class you’re taking, your teacher should:
Ask questions at the beginning of the class. Some examples include,
“Any newcomers?”, “Anyone with an injury I need to know about?”, or
“Is there anyone here who’s never tried step before?”
Include a warm-up and a cooldown period. The cooldown should be
followed by stretching exercises.
Give clear instructions so you always know where you are and what’s
coming next. Your instructor may say, “Two steps right,” and then point
right with two fingers. She should let you know what moves are coming
up next instead of springing a traveling grapevine on you at the last
minute. She should also rehearse new or challenging moves before
the class.
Give you plenty of information on technique — but not so much that
you feel overwhelmed.
Speak in plain language. The really obnoxious instructors say things
like “plantar flex at your ankle joint” — rather than “point your foot.”
However, a good teacher should educate you. It’s perfectly okay for an
instructor to say, “Feel this move in your quadriceps.”
Watch the class rather than gaze at himself in the mirror. He should
face the students at least some of the time and occasionally walk around
adjusting everyone’s form. Liz once bailed on a step class because the
instructor did little other than look in the mirror and watch her muscles
glisten in the fluorescent light. She never once turned around to acknowledge the existence of the class members, let alone check their form.
Do a pulse or intensity check during the toughest part of the workout.
This goes for toning and strength classes, too, even if the check is as
minimal as asking, “How’s everyone doing?”
Part V: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Make the class fun. You don’t want your instructor to take your classes
so seriously that they become a chore.
Have an education. It’s a definite plus if your instructor is certified by
one of the major national fitness organizations: the Aerobics and Fitness
Association of America (AFAA), the Aerobics Instructor from the American
Council on Exercise (ACE), the Exercise Leader from the American College
of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and Group Exercise Specialist from the
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)/Reebok. See Chapter 4 for
more information.
The certifications for aerobics instructors usually require less knowledge of
muscle mechanics than personal training certifications, but they’re more
geared toward the skills you need to lead a group, such as motivating students
and modifying exercises for different levels. Some specialty fields, such as
boxing and Ta’i Chi, are certificates that certified instructors can earn; other
specialties aren’t. However, some teachers have aerobics-instructor certifications to supplement their specialty.
A word about cost
Class fees vary widely. Some health-club memberships include unlimited
classes, while others charge up the wazoo for specialty classes that require
the instructor to hold a certificate. Aerobics studios charge $5 to $25 per
class, sometimes more for certain specialty classes. At many clubs and
studios, you can buy a package of classes — say, ten at once — but be sure
to find out if you must use up the package by a certain date. Another option
is to buy a month’s worth of unlimited class memberships. Some clubs will
let you try out a class for free.
Popular classes
Two classes that have the same name may be completely different. One bodysculpting class may use dumbbells; another may use rubber exercise tubes.
And, of course, no two teachers have the exact same style. Still, every bodysculpting class has a number of common characteristics. The same goes for
other types of classes. Here’s a rundown of the most common classes
around, roughly in order of their popularity.
A recent trend is the invention of quick fitness classes — intense, 30-minute
classes that help people sneak in a workout in the busiest of days.
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD
Step aerobics and BOSU
What it is: A choreographed routine of stepping up and down on a rectangular, square, or circular platform (or, in the case of BOSU, a domed, flexible
apparatus). Many classes combine step aerobics with body sculpting, jumping rope, sliding, or funk aerobics.
What it does for you: Gets your heart and lungs in shape and tones your
tush. Step aerobics is a terrific cross-training activity for runners, cyclists,
and walkers. BOSU is also exceptional at developing balance and flexibility.
The exhaustion factor: Depends on the choreography, the pace, and the
height of your step. In general, the more complex the choreography and the
higher your step, the tougher the workout. Never use a platform so high
that your knee is higher than your hip when you step up. In some classes,
you hold weights while you step.
The coordination factor: High. Even basic classes can confound the choreographically challenged. Higher-impact step and BOSU require major amounts
of coordination — some instructors make everything so dancy that you feel
like you’re auditioning for a Broadway musical. Clubs are trying to attract the
non-aerobics crowd with classes like Stepping for Athletes. (Translation: This
is a class for people, like the authors of this book, who are in decent shape
but have two left feet.)
Who digs it: Most everyone. Step classes and BOSU draw a lot more men than
do regular aerobic classes. And women like step because it’s such a great
butt toner. However, if you have back, knee, or ankle problems, you may be
better off with another type of class — or at least, keep the platform very low.
What to wear: Some shoe manufacturers (Reebok, Nike, and Ryka, for example) make shoes specifically for stepping. These shoes have sturdy ankle support, are a bit stiff along the sides, and have plenty of flexibility at the ball
and cushioning at the heel of the foot. However, a good pair of aerobics shoes
with similar features will suffice. Just don’t wear running shoes. You may
stumble if the waffle pattern on the bottom of the shoe catches on the top of
the platform.
Signs of a sharp instructor: Good instructors ask whether anyone is new to
step or has any back, knee, or ankle problems. They accommodate newcomers by going over the basics, such as how to place your foot on the platform.
Instructors also alert you before every transition — step jargon for any type
of change in the routine (such as changing directions). In addition, good
instructors make sure that you don’t lead with the same foot for more than
a minute or two. The music shouldn’t be so fast that you have to rush your
movements to keep up. Instructors should include calf stretches at the end
of the class.
Part V: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Tips for first-timers: No matter how fit you are, always start with the lowest
step — don’t put any risers underneath. Don’t feel intimidated if the guy next
to you looks like he’s standing on a coffee table. Also, if you find yourself getting confused or behind, forget about the arm movements and concentrate
on the footwork for a little while. When step workouts start to feel easy, consider adding a riser.
Body sculpting and core conditioning
What it is: A non-aerobic, muscle-toning class, usually focused on core
strength. Most sculpting classes use weight bars, exercise bands, or dumbbells,
or a combination of these gadgets. You perform traditional weight-training
moves in a class setting.
What it does for you: Gives you strength and muscle tone and lowers your
risk of bone loss, but only if you lift heavy enough weights.
The exhaustion factor: Depends on the instructor, the level of class you’re
taking, and how much experience you have with strength training. Prepare to
be sore if you’re a novice or if you usually do different exercises.
The coordination factor: Low. Anyone can do this, although it may take a few
sessions to learn proper form.
Who digs it: Anyone who wants to firm up. Body sculpting and core strengthening are great if you want to learn the fundamentals before you venture into
the gym on your own. We also recommend these classes for people who
won’t lift weights unless they’re in a class.
Signs of a sharp instructor: Instructors should tell you to use moderately
heavy weights so that you don’t do more than 15 reps per set. (We define
reps and sets in Chapter 14.) Watch out for instructors who do dozens of repetitions with light weights: You’re not going to build much strength or tone
that way. (Some clubs still offer a class called Body Pump, which involves up
to 100 repetitions for some exercises. Stay away from these classes.) The
instructor should correct your form and remind you where you should feel
the exercise. Watch for a warm-up and cooldown, too. Some instructors
skimp on these essential workout components.
Tips for first-timers: Prepare yourself for muscle soreness the day or two
after your workout. If you want to focus on a particular part of your body,
look for a specialty class like Express Abs or Lower-Body Sculpting. Just
know that you’ll be strengthening (toning) these body parts, not melting fat
off them.
Circuit training
What it is: A fast-paced class in which you do one exercise for 30 seconds to
5 minutes and then move on to another exercise. It’s like a game of musical
chairs: Everyone begins at a station (that is, a place where an exercise is
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD
done), and when the instructor yells “Time!” everyone moves to the next free
station. Some classes alternate an aerobic activity (like stepping or stationary
cycling) with a muscle-strengthening activity (like using weight machines).
Others focus exclusively on muscle toning or aerobic exercise.
What it does for you: Increases your strength and aerobic fitness and burns
lots of calories. However, you don’t get the same level of conditioning as you
would from doing your aerobics and strength training separately. If you take
circuit classes, aim to get in an additional 20 minutes of straight aerobic exercise at least three days a week.
The exhaustion factor: Moderate. Circuit training tends to be intense, but it’s
completely adaptable to the individual. Beginners use less weight and perform
simpler moves than more-experienced exercisers, but everyone gets a good
The coordination factor: Low. Nothing to worry about.
Who digs it: Anyone looking for a good sweat to shake out of a training
plateau. Circuit classes also are popular among busy people who want to
combine a strength and aerobic routine in one workout. Anyone who wants
a really fun and fast-paced workout will like circuit classes.
Signs of a sharp instructor: Good instructors are aware of each class
member’s level and modify the moves accordingly. Even though you’re
moving quickly from station to station, the instructor still needs to focus on
proper technique. Look for no more than a one-minute rest between stations.
Expect a heart-rate check 12 to 20 minutes into the main workout. (Checking
your heart rate, or pulse, lets you know if you’re pushing yourself too hard or
if you’re slacking off. Chapter 6 explains how to check your heart rate.)
Tips for first-timers: Pay attention to how you feel. Many people are surprised
by how challenging circuit work can be.
Boot camp
These classes are sort of like army training: You commit to eight weeks (one
to three days a week), and the instructor works your butt off. We’ve seen all
types of boot-camp classes. Some are patterned after the activities firefighters use to stay in shape (called firefighter boot camp), such as pretending to
duck through a window or chop through a door with a heavy stick meant to
represent an axe. Others are Marine-style, featuring endless push-up and
coordination drills. Some clubs even offer Ballet Boot Camp, combining ballet
moves with traditional aerobics-class movements such as kicks, stepping,
and abdominal crunches.
If you’re already in shape, you’ll get even more fit in a boot-camp class. In most
of them, you can burn a ton of calories quickly and tone virtually every muscle
group in your body. You may also bond with other class members who show
up week after week as you do. However, beginning exercisers need not apply.
Part V: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Choose your boot-camp classes carefully. Some are taught by instructors
who have more ideas than credentials. Liz hurt her back in a firefighter’s
class when she had to drag a 60-pound bag of sand back and forth across the
studio a dozen times. The instructor, an actual firefighter, never corrected
any of the students’ techniques.
Kickboxing (also called aeroboxing)
What it is: A class that takes the moves of a kickboxer’s training and choreographs them to music. You’ll do some or all of the following: jump rope,
shadow-box, forward kicks, punches, and the fancy footwork you see boxers
do in the ring when they’re trying to avoid taking one on the chin.
What it does for you: Develops anaerobic and aerobic fitness — in other
words, power and staying power. (For definitions of aerobic and anaerobic,
see Chapter 6.) Kickboxing also improves your coordination, agility, and
balance. Most classes build muscle strength, too.
The exhaustion factor: Very high. Kickboxers are reputed to be among the
best conditioned athletes. After one of these classes, you’ll know why. Most
classes are geared toward advanced exercisers, although some clubs offer
beginner and multilevel classes, too.
The coordination factor: High. The drills require some fancy footwork and
arm work.
Who digs it: Anyone looking for a killer workout with plenty of variety, or
anyone who hates his boss.
What to wear: The usual aerobic clothing will do, although some funk-aerobics
clothing crosses over into the boxing classes. High-top aerobics shoes are
better than running and walking shoes. Cross-trainers are fine. Most gyms
supply boxing gloves if they’re used in the class.
Signs of a sharp instructor: We recommend classes taught by someone with
good kickboxing skills, rather than, say, a step-aerobics instructor who is just
futzing around with a few punches and kicks. Some independent kickboxing
organizations certify instructors, but most teachers don’t have these certifications. They should, however, have at least one of the usual aerobicsinstructor certifications described earlier in this chapter, and they should
have attended a few kickboxing seminars.
Tips for first-timers: Pay attention to how you feel. If a lot of the moves are
bone crunching or the exact opposite of what other instructors have told
you to do, skip the moves or modify them. Don’t give up. Kickboxing will
get easier.
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD
Funk, hip-hop, jazz, ballet, and other dance workouts
What it is: An aerobic routine with choreography borrowed from dance
moves. Classes range from simple moves with a little attitude thrown in, to
what seems like a tryout for an MTV funk-a-thon or the New York City Ballet.
At many urban clubs, you’ll find funk aerobics, hip-hop step, and even salsa
hip-hop, a funky class spiced up with salsa dance moves.
What it does for you: Develops heart and lung power and really improves
your coordination and agility. You teach your body to move in complex ways
and use muscles you didn’t know you had.
The exhaustion factor: Depends on the difficulty level of the class. Some
hip-hop classes are geared toward beginners. Others expect you to be in
awesome shape.
The coordination factor: High. If you’re a complete rhythm dysfunctional,
you’ll have a tough time keeping up. Aerobically, you may not be all that challenged, but you’ll spend a good deal of the class untangling your feet.
Who digs it: Anyone with a dance background or anyone who likes dance
music. If you’re a Fleetwood Mac fan, you may want to pass.
What to wear: You can wear your typical sweats and t-shirt, but don’t be
surprised if you’re the only one. Funk classes tend to have their own style of
dressing: high-top sneakers, off-the-shoulder tops, baggy shorts, sexy bras,
oversized socks.
Signs of a sharp instructor: Good instructors break down complicated
moves into a series of smaller ones before putting them all together. They
also show you a variety of interpretations to each move and do the moves
more slowly and with less attitude when the class is first learning.
Tips for first-timers: If your parents didn’t give you the funk gene, definitely
take a beginner class and scope out the class first. More than in any other
class, novices tend to get left in the dust. But a really good instructor will give
enough instruction so everyone can stay together.
High/low-impact aerobics and stripper aerobics
What it is: A traditional dance-inspired routine. With low-impact, you always
have one foot on the floor — you don’t do any jumping or hopping. Highimpact moves at a slower pace, but you jump around a lot. High/low combines the two types of routines. Cardio-striptease is a low-impact workout
that combines aerobics with strip-club moves — you’ve gotta see it to
believe it.
Part V: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
What it does for you: Gets you aerobically fit.
The exhaustion factor: Depends on the class. Classes are too varied to make
The coordination factor: Moderate to high, especially if you’re a new exerciser or if your parents didn’t spring for eight years of tap, ballet, and jazz.
Who digs it: Anyone who wants to work out in a group without using any
Signs of a sharp instructor: Instructors should spell out the terminology,
rather than just say, “grapevine left, grapevine right.”
Tips for first-timers: Shop around for a teacher you like who plays music you
can tolerate. Music can be a great motivator or a major turn-off.
Studio cycling and Spinning
What it is: Group classes taught on stationary bicycles. The most popular
studio cycling class is called Spinning, a program invented by ultra-distance
cyclist Johnny G. and licensed by Schwinn, which manufacturers the bikes
used in these classes. Other studio cycling classes go by the name of Power
Pacing and Reebok Studio Cycling. Regardless of their names, group cycling
classes follow the same basic pattern: You pedal a stationary bike while the
instructor talks you through a visualization of an outdoor workout. (“You’re
going up a long hill now — you can’t see the top yet . . .”). During the class
you vary your pace and intensity, sometimes pedaling as fast as you can, other
times cranking up the tension and pedaling slowly from a standing position.
What it does for you: Burns lots of calories and strengthens your thigh and
calf muscles.
The exhaustion factor: High. Most studio cycling classes last 40 to 50 minutes and are geared toward advanced exercisers. Suzanne’s sister Jennifer
was so overwhelmed by her first Spinning class that she left after a half-hour.
“All I did the whole time was fantasize about getting off the bike, so I finally
just did,” Jennifer recalls. You always have the option of lightening the tension
on the bike so that the pedals are easier to push, and you can stay seated
while the rest of the class stands. But you may want to hold off on Spinning
until you build more stamina on your own. Or take a beginning Spinning class
if your studio or club offers one, as most clubs now do.
The coordination factor: Low. The most complex thing you’ll do is stand up
on your pedals.
Who digs it: Studio cycling is popular among people who want to be pushed
very hard, especially those who thrive on group energy but hate choreography. Cyclists who are cooped up indoors during the winter also gravitate
toward these classes.
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD
What to wear: Because most studio-cycling bikes have the same hard,
narrow seats as outdoor racing bikes, a pair of padded bike shorts will help
keep your fanny happy. Most bikes have water-bottle cages so you can stash
your water within easy reach. Wear stiff-soled shoes; walking and running
shoes are too soft, so your feet may get numb by the end of the class from
being jammed into the toe clips. Some bikes have “clipless” pedals so that
you can wear outdoor cycling shoes with cleats that click into the pedals.
Signs of a sharp instructor: Good studio-cycling instructors don’t spend the
whole class on the bike. They hop off and walk around, correcting form and
offering encouragement.
Tips for first-timers: Ask your instructor to help you adjust the height of the
handlebars, the height of the seat, and the distance of the seat from the handlebars. Setting up your bike correctly is important for avoiding injury and
staying comfortable.
Water aerobics/ballet/yoga and hydro-Spinning
What it is: Water aerobics classes do traditional workouts in waist- to neckhigh water. (Some of the more cutting-edge classes use equipment such as
webbed gloves to make the workouts tougher.) The resistance of the water
makes the workout feel far more intense, while the water cushions you from
the impact.
What it does for you: Water workouts gives you moderate fitness. Because
water is 12 to 14 times thicker than air and offers resistance in every direction, these classes can give you great muscle tone.
The exhaustion factor: Low. Most people won’t find water aerobics as hard
as land-based aerobics. Although water is thicker and therefore harder to pull
through than air, water really is a gentler medium. Still, we recommend an
occasional water workout to get you off your feet and to give your muscles a
balanced workout.
The coordination factor: Low. You’re forced to move so slowly that you have
time to think about each move.
Who digs it: Anyone who likes the water, has injuries, or is in physical rehab.
Water workouts are a terrific cross-training activity for runners, cyclists,
and maniac aerobicizers. Water workouts are also great for pregnant women,
older people, and people with multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, or other
degenerative diseases because moving through the water is much easier on
your body.
What to wear: A swimsuit that doesn’t creep up your rear end. Wear a pair of
old sneakers or special aqua-exercise shoes so you don’t scrape your feet on
the bottom. Shoes will add more resistance to your workout.
Part V: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Signs of a sharp instructor: Certification is a definite plus, but watercertification programs are few and far between. A good certification program
is offered by the United States Water Fitness Association and by the Aqua
Fitness organization.
Safety should be the first priority in any class. A good instructor will identify nonswimmers and insist that they wear life vests at all times during
water aerobics. In water running, all class members — even experienced
swimmers — wear flotation vests.
Tips for first-timers: Choosing the right class is essential. You don’t want to
dive in with a group of 90-year-olds with limited mobility unless, of course,
you are one. If you’re trying to come back from an injury, look for classes with
names like Rehab for Runners. Check with the doctor treating your injury to
make sure you have the okay to take a class. Also, realize that your target zone
is about ten beats lower in the water than on land. (We define target zone in
Chapter 8.)
Choosing from Among
All the Exercise DVDs
If you think that exercise DVDs are for wimps and disco groupies, you may be
surprised to discover just how tough a workout you can get from popping a
disc into a DVD player. (Well, not from the actual insertion of the disc, of
course; you do have to follow it.) Yet for some reason, exercise DVDs still
carry a stigma.
Like health-club classes, fitness DVDs have become safer, more creative, and
more specialized. You can buy DVDs for muscle toning, step aerobics, yoga,
kickboxing, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, belly dancing, Ta’i Chi — the list goes
on and on. Not only are there more high-quality tapes on the market, but
because of the Internet, you can now read thousands of reviews, order DVDs
more cheaply, and gain inspiration and helpful tips from Internet forums. This
section tells you how to choose the winners and avoid the duds. We offer our
best-instructor picks, shopping advice, and important tips for using exercise
DVDs safely.
Advantages of exercise DVDs
Sure, exercise DVDs don’t suit everyone — you may feel silly prancing around
your living room alone, mimicking an instructor who says, “You’re doing great!”
even though he can’t see you. But if you’re short on time, self-conscious
about your body, or taking care of kids at home, DVDs may suit you well. You
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD
won’t feel pressure to keep up with anyone else, and you can build a pretty
extensive DVD library for less than the cost of a yearly gym membership.
Plus, you get a lot more instruction from a tape than you can get from a book
or magazine. You may even get more creative routines than many health-club
instructors can drum up.
How to choose a DVD
Choosing the wrong DVD is hardly the most tragic mistake you can make in
life. However, getting stuck with some out-of-focus program taught by an
instructor who grates on your nerves isn’t any fun. The following tips can
help you weed out tapes that aren’t right for you and DVDs that are just
plain awful.
Read reviews, the popular Internet bookseller, also sells DVDs and posts reader
reviews. An even more informative source is Video Fitness ( This Web site is loaded with helpful information — probably
because its mission is to inform and inspire you, not to sell products. (The
site was recently purchased by, which does sell magazines,
books, and equipment, but the Video Fitness portion remains autonomous.)
Hundred and hundreds of videos and DVDs are reviewed here — some by
more than a dozen different exercisers. In addition to reviews of specific
videos and DVDs, you can read general critiques of several instructors.
Scroll all the way through the reviews for each video or DVD, because opinions
differ wildly. One reviewer says Denise Austin’s voice “has the same effect on
me as fingernails on a chalkboard, made even worse by her patronizing tone;
she makes me feel like a toddler she’s trying to potty-train.” Another reviewer
adores Denise: “I appreciate her positive attitude. She makes you feel like you
are right in the studio, or she is in your house with you.”
If you have no idea where to begin, try the Video Fitness “Personal Video
Selector,” which guides you through the overwhelming choices by asking you
a variety of questions and then recommending several videos and DVDs that
appear to match your criteria. Also check out the 100 Club, a gallery of
“VFers,” as Video Fitness enthusiasts call themselves, who own more than
100 videos or DVDs and list their favorites.
Call a consultant
You’ve heard of jury consultants, management consultants, and wardrobe
consultants — well, there are also folks trained to help you sort through the
bewildering slew of exercise DVDs on the market. These consultants are the
staffers at Collage Exercise Video Specialists ( It’s
the country’s only catalog devoted to exercise tapes — and the only company
Part V: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
staffed with operators who have actually sweated their way through many
of the DVDs out there. The consultants have watched hundreds of DVDs, and
they have TVs and DVD players at their desks so they can review the latest
tapes between phone orders. On the Collage staff is a trainer certified by the
American Council on Exercise.
In general, you tend to get a more thorough and honest appraisal from the
consultants than from the catalog’s blurbs. The company rejects tapes that
the staff considers unsafe or useless, but among those available for sale, you
won’t find any bad reviews. After all, they’re in the business of selling DVDs.
(The blurbs tend to use terms like “bubbly” and “enthusiastic” for instructors
that we personally find shrill and annoying.) The consultants are trained to
help you find DVDs that will suit your fitness level and personality, but if you
prod them for their personal opinions, they’ll probably oblige. When we asked
one of the consultants about a particular instructor, she said, “She seems so
fake. I want to put plugs in my ears and go running the other way.”
Rent before you buy
Large movie-rental stores like Blockbuster have a terrific, up-to-date selection
of exercise DVDs (although they don’t carry many excellent-but-lesser-known
instructors). Try out a bunch of instructors. Many have an entire line of
DVDs, so if you find a teacher you like, chances are you’ll be happy with the
whole lot. In the “Our favorite instructors” section later in this chapter, we
list some of our preferred instructors.
Inspect the cover
Before you even rent a DVD — and definitely before you buy — take a good
look at the front and back of the jacket. You can’t always judge a DVD by its
cover, but you can find plenty of clues. Pay attention to:
The type of workout: Make sure that the workout is what you want,
whether that’s abdominal toning, funk aerobics, or a stepping/bodysculpting combination. Look for a description of the actual moves —
don’t go by the title or the hype. “Burns Fat,” “Pulsating Excitement!”
and “A New Attitude” don’t tell you anything.
The fitness level required: Look for a box that says “great for beginners.” Don’t start with a tape called “For Animals Only.” Some tapes
offer modifications for all levels.
The equipment required: Do you need a step? A tube? A weight bench?
Three sets of dumbbells? Make sure that you either have what’s needed
or are willing to buy it.
The length of the whole DVD and the length of each segment: A
60-minute step aerobics tape may have only 30 minutes of aerobics.
The rest may be a warm-up, stretching session, and cooldown.
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD
Instructor credentials: If the teacher is certified by one of the legitimate
professional organizations, you can bet that the cover will say so. Be
wary if all you can find is “Internationally Recognized Fitness Expert.”
See Chapter 4 for details about certification.
The date of the copyright: Some tapes are timeless classics, but chances
are, a DVD produced in the last couple of years will be more in tune with
the latest training techniques. Also, choreography is a lot more creative
than it used to be, and safety and instruction are given more consideration these days. Even some of the older workouts led by our favorite
instructors contain moves considered unsafe by today’s standards.
Get a sneak preview
Before you try a DVD workout, sit down on your couch and watch it all the
way through. Imagine yourself doing this tape week after week, and consider
the following:
Safety: Use your common sense. Is the instructor doing anything outrageous, like arching her back so much that you can hear her vertebrae
screaming for help?
The instructor’s style and personality: Is the instructor upbeat and professional, or is she hyperventilating with excitement? Is she kind and
encouraging, or does she refer to “the huge butt you may have?” Does
she have a clear, resonant voice, or does she sound like she sucked
helium? Some instructors sound like the cheerleader from hell, some do
the sex-kitten thing, and others bark orders like a drill sergeant. One
well-known instructor blurts out non sequiturs like “Lose those jigglies!”
Instruction: Does the instructor use good form and give adequate directions? Some instructors look great doing the workout but never explain
proper technique or alert you about what to do next. Others go on and
on about good form but don’t practice what they preach. In one workout,
an instructor cautions against jumping around on hard surfaces while
she leads an outdoor class on cement! Some instructors are so winded
that they can’t even get the words out.
Don’t give up on a tape just because the routine seems too complicated:
The first time is bound to be confusing. But go with your instinct: Do you
think you’ll ever get it, or is the instruction just plain lousy?
Production quality: Does the sound warble? Is the DVD shot in focus?
The tape doesn’t need to look like an Academy Award–winning feature,
but neither should it appear to have been filmed with a camcorder in
someone’s garage. At the same time, don’t confuse slick production with
quality instruction.
Part V: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
The music: Much of the music you hear on exercise DVDs is bland, synthesized garbage. In fact, the music reminds us of a ’70s porn soundtrack.
(Of course, we don’t watch porn, but if we did, we imagine that’s what a
’70s porn soundtrack would sound like.) Make sure you enjoy the music,
or you may frequently opt out of your workout.
The hype: Everyone progresses at a different pace. To motivate you,
instructors can and should say things like, “Most people will feel stronger
and look better in about six weeks if they do this workout regularly.”
They should not say, “You’ll lose 30 pounds in 6 weeks if you follow my
routine and send away for my world-famous protein powder.”
Where to buy DVDs
At supermarkets or megachains like Wal-Mart, you can often pick up tapes for
a fraction of the cost that you may pay in a retail store. (Videos and DVDs
cost about $9.95 to $29.95.) But these stores don’t always have the best selection. They tend to stick to name-brand instructors and celebrity DVDs, ignoring many first-rate but lesser-known teachers. And beware of return policies:
You usually can’t get your money back unless the product is defective. You
can’t just say, “I tried this tape, and it stinks.”
Fortunately, with the growth of the Internet, you have a lot more shopping
options. Here are some of the best places to buy (or barter for) DVDs:
Collage Video (; 800-433-6769): This catalog
carries more than 700 videos and DVDs, probably the widest selection
anywhere, including the latest offerings from top instructors who don’t
have the clout to interest Blockbuster. Each blurb tells you how tough the
workout is, how long each segment lasts, what type of music it’s set to,
how major fitness magazines rate the tape, and what equipment you need.
Although the prices aren’t always the lowest, the service is excellent,
and the warehouse is well-stocked. The catalog’s official policy is to
accept only defective returns; in reality, it’ll take back a tape that you
simply don’t like — as long as you don’t abuse this policy. ( The mega-giant online bookseller sells
exercise DVDs as well as books (and just about everything else under
the sun). Prices are low, service is good, and shipping is free if you order
$25 or more. Plus, you can read reviews of each DVD before you buy.
Fitness Wholesale (; 888-FW-ORDER or 330-929-7227):
This Internet retailer offers volume discounts and even allows you to
“rent” some DVDs; you pay full-price and get a new DVD, but it’ll refund
part of the purchase price if you return the DVD within three weeks. (The
amount of the refund is specified with each DVD.) The selection is relatively small, and you can only read descriptions of the DVDs, not reviews.
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD
Video Fitness ( This Web site doesn’t sell
DVDs or videos, but you can trade with other videophiles through the
site’s Video Exchange. You post your DVD “wish list” and a list of your
own tapes that you don’t like or have outgrown and then negotiate
trades with other VFers. No money changes hands.
Your DVD options
Whatever you want to improve, tighten, tone, build, or reduce, there’s an
exercise DVD out there for you. Chances are, you’ll find dozens. Exercise
DVDs usually fall into one of the following categories.
This category includes high- and low-impact aerobics, step aerobics, strip
aerobics, Spinning, funk, jump rope, and kickboxing tapes. The aim is to
keep your heart rate elevated and your calorie burn high. Look for tips on
proper form, how to use the equipment, and how to check your intensity
level. These tapes should include an easy warm-up to get your blood flowing.
The aerobic workout generally lasts 10 to 45 minutes. The cooldown should
last at least three minutes and should be followed by a stretching session.
Strength training
Strength-training (also known as muscle toning or sculpting) DVDs use a
variety of equipment, including dumbbells, bars, tubes, and bands. Some
tapes focus on a particular body area, such as abdominals, thighs, or arms;
others tone your whole body. You generally find two types of toning DVDs:
gym-style and choreographed. Gym-style workouts typically work one
muscle group at a time, doing 10 to 15 repetitions, and you usually need a
weight bench.
Choreographed toning routines may work several muscle groups at once or
rotate. These routines aren’t dancy, but some of them do require coordination.
They tend to give you more aerobic conditioning than gym-style workouts,
but they won’t build as much strength.
Watch these choreographed routines carefully: The instructor shouldn’t have
you doing a massive number of repetitions. You shouldn’t do more than 15
reps per set — perhaps 30 for abdominals.
Toning tapes should explain how to choose the proper weight for each exercise. The warm-up should be well-rounded but have a bit more emphasis on
the body parts you use in the main workout. The instructor should provide
tips on proper form, how to make the exercise harder or easier, and how to
modify a move if, say, you have a back or elbow injury. The cooldown and
stretch segments should be similar to those in aerobic tapes.
Part V: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Combination DVDs
These circuit-training or boot-camp DVDs combine an aerobic workout with a
full-fledged muscle-toning routine. The rules for both apply here, so review
the two preceding sections.
Stretch, yoga, and Pilates
The introduction should cover how to stretch, how to breathe, and what
stretching, yoga, and/or Pilates can do for you. You typically start with simple
exercises that prepare your muscles for more-challenging moves later in the
workout. The main workout may not be much different from the warm-up,
except that the moves are more advanced. Also, you may hold the positions
longer. The instructor should tell where you should feel the stretch and offer
constant technique reminders. Expect suggestions for people with back,
knee, shoulder, and ankle injuries and for those who are less flexible. The
cooldown may include meditation or relaxation exercises.
Specialty DVDs
Specialty DVDs include ballet, country line dancing, pregnancy workouts,
chair dancing, workouts for those with osteoporosis and arthritis, and routines for those starting out after breast surgery. Some of these tapes are
designed to teach you a new skill rather than take you through an actual
workout. Use your judgment: If the workout doesn’t feel right, return the
DVD to the rental store.
Our favorite instructors
These aren’t the only good DVD instructors around, but they’re among the
instructors who we think produce high-quality tapes on a consistent basis.
Many of them have their own Web sites. Among our favorite sites are Cory
Everson’s ( and Cathe Friedrich’s (
Check out these instructors’ tapes if you’re a beginner:
Gilad Janklowicz
Cynthia Kereluk
Leslie Sansone
Richard Simmons
Chapter 19: Choosing an Exercise Class or DVD
Try a beginning/intermediate-level workout tape from one of these instructors:
Kari Anderson
Jennifer Kries (The Method)
Gin Miller
Donna Richardson
Kathy Smith
If you’re looking for an intermediate or more advanced program, work out
with one of these instructors:
Candice Copeland
Cathe Friedrich
Gay Gasper
Lisa Gaylord
Kathy Kaehler
Karen Voight
Important safety tips
Safety is an important consideration, especially when you don’t have much
exercise experience and you’re working out in an unsupervised setting.
Follow these safety tips:
Make sure that you clear adequate space in front of the TV so you
don’t bang your shins on the coffee table or knock over any lamps.
For aerobics and strength-training tapes, wear proper aerobics shoes
rather than bare feet or socks. You also may want to buy a board made
of springy wood similar to what you find in good aerobics studios. These
boards help absorb impact. Gerstung makes a 30-x-60-inch board for
about $160 and a 30-x-30-inch board for about $80. In any case, don’t
jump around on concrete floors.
Part V: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Even if the instructor doesn’t do it on the DVD, gauge your intensity
by checking your heart rate or taking the talk test during or immediately following an intense portion of the workout. We explain these
methods in Chapter 6. All our favorite instructors do intensity checks in
their workouts.
Don’t try to keep up with the instructors. They practiced the routine
for weeks before it was filmed. Look for someone in the DVD who goes
at your pace. Good tapes have demonstrators who exercise at different
levels. At the start of the workout, the lead instructor should say something like, “If you’re a beginner, keep your eye on Valerie.” If you get
winded, keep moving by marching in place or walking in a circle.
If you’re just starting out, consider buying a DVD that includes three
short workouts rather than one long one. The shorter workouts last 15
to 25 minutes as opposed to 30 to 90 minutes.
Remember that your DVD player has a pause button. Use it if you need
to get water.
Chapter 20
Designing a Home Gym
In This Chapter
Planning for a quality gym
Shopping like a pro
Checking out cardio equipment
Getting the best strengthening equipment
Looking at gadgets to improve your flexibility
he home-exercise industry is booming. Americans spend more than $4
billion on equipment every year, and it’s easy to understand why. You
can’t beat the commute to your living room, and you can work out at 3 a.m.
on Sunday if you really want to. You don’t have to pay membership fees, wait
in line for the shower, or deal with any unidentified biological matter that
doesn’t contain your own DNA.
Yet, despite all the convenience, home exercisers have a high dropout rate.
The novelty wears off, the bike breaks down, or the 5-pound dumbbell gets
used as a doorstop. You can avoid this scenario and the accompanying guilt
by designing your home gym carefully. This chapter shows you how.
Planning Your Exercise Space
The inspiration to exercise may have come to you suddenly, but don’t make
any rash decisions when you buy equipment. You can save yourself time,
aggravation, and money by putting some thought into your purchases. Before
you even set foot in a fitness store, size up your goals, your budget, and your
available space. Here are some specifics to consider before you go shopping.
Looking at the big picture
If you want to get fit at home, be sure to cover all the bases: aerobic fitness,
strength, and flexibility. But your home doesn’t have to be a palace with high
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
ceilings, racks of shiny weights, and space-age machinery. A complete home
gym can consist of a rubber tube, a step, and a handful of videos — equipment
that a student on a budget could fit into a studio apartment.
Before you go shopping, think about your goals and consider what type of
equipment you’re going to need to succeed in all three areas of fitness. Don’t
just say, “I’ll start with an elliptical trainer, and maybe eventually I’ll buy
some weights.” If you plan to get your aerobic exercise outdoors — walking,
jogging, or skating, for example — then, sure, spend all of your home-gym
budget on weight equipment. Just make sure you have an aerobic exercise
plan for the winter. Buying flexibility gadgets needn’t be a priority, although
in the “Considering Flexibility Gadgets” section later in this chapter, we do
recommend buying a cushy mat.
Choosing an inviting spot
for your equipment
Where you park your exercise bike can make all the difference between using
it to get fit and simply using it as an extra chair for your Academy Awards
parties. Put your equipment near entertaining distractions such as the TV
or stereo (or away from them, if you want to be away from other family members). And make sure that the spot has adequate ventilation, space, lighting,
and climate control; there’s a reason that only spiders hang out in cold, damp
basement corners.
If you’re lucky enough to have a spare room, consider reserving it exclusively
for your gym. If you don’t have an extra room, at least try to keep all your
gadgets near one another. Don’t store your dumbbells in the bedroom, your
treadmill in the basement, and your stretching mat in the coat closet. Also,
plan to keep your equipment within reach. You don’t want to hunt through
ten drawers to find your favorite exercise DVD. And chances are, anything
you store under your bed will stay there — permanently.
We also recommend installing a mirror, preferably in the area where you plan
to lift weights. A mirror gives your home gym that health-club feel and enables
you to keep an eye on your form. Plus, you can flex your muscles, and no one
will think you’re a jerk. Over time, you can watch your body slim down and
firm up.
Taking careful measurements
Before you buy a major piece of equipment, including a mirror, carefully measure the length, width, and height of your available space. You don’t want
your dumbbells smashing that new mirror when you raise your arms out to
Chapter 20: Designing a Home Gym
the side. You don’t want to bump your head against the ceiling when you
press the incline button on your new treadmill. Keep in mind that many
equipment stores have high ceilings to accommodate tall equipment.
Measure your door to make sure that you can get your new machinery into
the house. Liz ruined a brand-new stationary bicycle when she pounded on
the handles with a rubber mallet in an attempt to squeeze the bike through
a doorway that was too narrow. One of the handles broke off, which served
her right.
Thinking about flooring
If you use exercise DVDs, place your DVD player in a room with a rug rather
than a tile or cement floor. The extra padding provided by carpeting helps
protect your joints. Plus, there’s less danger of slipping.
Don’t pump iron on a tile floor, either. If you drop a weight, you’ll crack the
tile. Carpeting is okay. If you have the luxury of an extra room just for your
home gym (and lots of money to spare), consider a rubberized floor. They
can run as high as $3,000. Whatever type of floor you have, we recommend
putting rubberized mats ($50 to $100) underneath your cardiovascular equipment. This reduces vibration and keeps your floor from getting stained by the
globs of oil and other junk that inevitably drip from the underside of a treadmill or other equipment.
Equipment Shopping Tips
After you measure your space, you’re ready to hit the stores. The following
tips apply to home equipment in general. Check out the “Investing in Cardio
Equipment” and “Buying Strength Equipment” sections for suggestions that
are specific to aerobic equipment and strength machines.
Shopping around
Prices vary widely, so by all means, bargain-hunt. But remember: A machine
isn’t a bargain if it collapses with you on it or gives you a hernia. For fancy
equipment with lots of moving parts — treadmills, elliptical trainers, stairclimbers, rowers, weight machines, and the like — stick with stores that specialize in fitness equipment. They tend to sell sturdier, more-reliable, and
better-designed machines. For simpler equipment like dumbbells, ankle
weights, steps, and jump ropes, department stores and sporting goods
stores are fine.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
If you know the exact make and model you want, you may save money by
calling the manufacturer directly. Some manufacturers let you buy direct;
others may refer you to a local dealer. But do your homework: Sometimes
you can get a better deal from the manufacturer. Other times, going through
the dealer is cheaper. You can often save a couple hundred bucks by making
a few phone calls.
Buying used equipment is okay, but keep it simple. Stick to gadgets with no
motors or complicated designs. The only exception is buying used equipment
through an authorized dealer that gives you a warranty. No matter what type
of used equipment you buy, ask for a trial period and get all the instruction
A knowledgeable trainer can save you a lot of research time and may be able
to help you purchase equipment. Trainers often get discounts from equipment dealers because they recommend and buy equipment on a regular
basis. But ask your trainer if he receives a commission from the dealer or if
he’ll be charging you a commission; this may eat away at any potential savings. In other cases, a dealer may give you a discount on top of the trainer’s
As we explain in the “The Ten Commandments of buying TV fitness gadgets”
sidebar, we generally don’t recommend buying exercise equipment off TV or
the Internet. The picture and real-time video may look fabulous, but when the
gizmo arrives at your doorstep, it may be a useless plastic piece of junk. Or it
may not even arrive at all, as a friend of Liz’s discovered when she ordered a
sports watch that never showed up. When the woman tried to check out the
Web site again, the URL no longer worked — a tactic that some companies
use to evade government regulators.
Buy from the Internet only after you research the product, know exactly
which make and model you want, and know that the online dealer is reputable.
Liz buys all her athletic shoes on the Internet from a well-known mail-order
catalog and saves over 40 percent. Occasionally, she also buys a small piece
of exercise equipment over the Internet. For example, she recently found a
brand-name heart-rate monitor online for $20 less than the list price.
Taking a test drive
You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a spin. The same rule applies
to exercise machines. Be sure to test every feature. Pull every handle and
push every bar. Make sure that a stationary bike pedals smoothly at several
tension levels. Try a treadmill on the flat setting and on the incline setting.
If the salesperson won’t let you give the machine a whirl, say adios.
Chapter 20: Designing a Home Gym
Looking for safety features
Consider buying equipment with safety features, especially if you have children. For example, to start some treadmills you must punch in a code or
wear a special magnet on a string that you wrap around your waist. If you
happen to fall, the magnet breaks the connection with the treadmill, and the
machine automatically shuts off.
Asking for a discount
High-tech cardio machines and strength machines tend to be marked up
about 40 percent above wholesale, so your salesperson probably has some
leeway. Asking for a 10 percent discount is perfectly appropriate. You may
not get it, but it never hurts to ask. Also, if you’re buying several items, ask
the salesperson to throw in a complimentary accessory, such as a rubber
floor mat to place underneath your equipment. Depending on the square
footage, a mat can cost $50 to $200. Some stores will cut your mat to size.
Checking out warranty and service plans
If you’re choosing between two similar machines, take the one with the better
warranty, even if it costs a bit more. Both aerobic and weight machines
should have at least a minimum one-year warranty on all parts.
Find out who’s responsible for repairs and maintenance: A good warranty
is worthless if no one within 3,000 miles can fix the darn thing. If you buy a
machine from an equipment specialty store, chances are someone from the
store will come to your house and fix it. Some equipment manufacturers have
repairmen on call throughout the country. If you buy from a discount sporting
goods store or a TV offer, you may be out of luck.
Investing in Cardio Equipment
Home cardiovascular machines have gotten pretty fancy, and the array of
choices can be mind-blowing. Should you go with the elliptical trainer?
The rower? The elliptical-rower? The elliptical-rower-stair-climber-treadmill–
automatic slicer–microwave oven?
Actually, although the choices are many, we’re pleased to report that your
chances of buying a high-quality machine are better than ever. Since the first
edition of this book was published, the frenzy to market gimmicky cardio
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
machines — riders, gliders, and such — has come to a near halt. (Infomercial
producers seem to have switched from hawking schlocky cardio contraptions
to hawking bogus weight-loss supplements, which we describe in Chapter 26.)
Which type of home cardio machine is the best? Our answer hasn’t changed
from the first two editions: The best machine is the one you’ll use. That’s why
testing several machines before you bring one home is so important. You
don’t want to end up with a space-eating, dust-collecting monster that you
can’t wait to unload in your next garage sale. This chapter helps you sort
through the different options. After you buy your equipment, read Chapter 9,
which describes how to use good form on each type of cardio machine.
Treadmill prices have dropped considerably in the past few years, while
the quality of some lower-priced models has improved. You can now buy
a decent treadmill for under $1,000.
We think self-powered treadmills, the ones without motors, are a waste of
money. You typically can’t get the walking belt moving unless you incline the
machine, but that makes the exercise too challenging for many beginners.
Running on these treadmills is impossible — you need an even steeper incline,
and the belt tends to stick.
Nor are we fond of treadmills with arm attachments — ski-pole-type mechanisms that you push and pull as you walk or run on the treadmill. Most treadmills with arms are lousy; the rowing motion doesn’t match your natural arm
swing, so your whole stride is thrown off. (On the other hand, many of the
bikes, ladder climbers, and elliptical trainers with arm handles work well.)
The big selling point with these double-duty treadmills is the extra calorie
burn, but you’re not going to burn more calories if the machine slows you
down, feels awkward, or exhausts you so quickly that you head for the couch
after ten minutes. And if you swing your arms the way you naturally would
when walking or running, you’re getting that extra calorie benefit, anyway.
Important treadmill features
Treadmills used to be large, noisy, cumbersome contraptions. Now most of
them are smooth, streamlined, and quiet. Still, you need to thoroughly inspect
any treadmill before you buy it. Here’s what to look for:
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A motor to move the walking belt: Make sure that the belt moves fluidly.
Safety features: Don’t look twice at any model that doesn’t have an emergency stop button and an automatic slow-start speed. A front hand rail is
helpful for maintaining balance and is probably safer than side rails,
which may actually disrupt your balance if they impede your arm swing.
Consider a machine that requires a security code or special magnet to
make it go, especially if you have young children. We like the magnet feature for adults, too: If you lose your balance, a magnet that’s connected
to the treadmill’s console pulls off the display panel, causing the
machine to automatically shut off.
Feedback: Your machine should display the time, distance, speed, and
calories burned. Many treadmills also come with a set of preprogrammed
workouts and a heart-monitor hookup. (If the heart-rate monitor isn’t
built into the handrails, you can wear a chest monitor, and your heart
rate will appear on the display screen.) Treadmill displays have drastically improved in recent years; you may be able to find one that displays
motivating graphics of people exercising at your same pace.
BOSU balance trainers
BOSU balance trainers are a hot new way to get
a cardio workout while also improving your flexibility. These fun products are shaped like a
dome (see the following figure) that works like
a step, but because the trainers are an unstable
surface, you challenge your core muscles in
addition to getting a great cardio workout. A
BOSU will set you back about only $100; $150
with videos and shipping included (see, and they don’t take up much
space in your home gym.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
An incline capability: Walking uphill adds intensity and variety to your
workouts. With most machines, you either turn a crank or press a
button to simulate hills. Beware of treadmills that create an incline with
hydraulic pistons. These models, often found in department stores, are
not likely to support your weight through continued use and tend to
break easily and often. If you look at the front of the treadmill on either
side and see a metal bar that resembles a bicycle pump (that’s the
hydraulic piston you’re looking at), pass on the machine.
Programs: Automatic programs cost an additional $200 to $2,000, but if
this feature motivates you, it’s probably worth the money. Still, you can
create your own varied workouts using the training techniques we
describe in Chapter 8.
Our favorite treadmills
Trotter, Star Trac, BodyGuard, Landice, Precor, and True make solid treadmills with good warranties and service. Precor sells a treadmill for less than
$1,000 in certain price-club stores (locations with a dealer service network).
The machine has a one-year warranty with guaranteed service. We were
pleasantly surprised by its lower-price model, although we don’t recommend
it for anyone who runs at high speeds more than an hour a day.
Elliptical trainers
Part stair-climber, part treadmill, part stationary cycle, elliptical trainers are
the hottest trend in cardio machines. Your legs travel in an elongated circular
movement, and, on some models, you pump poles back and forth for an
upper-body workout. On the best models, you feel like you’re doing a sort of
rhythmic glide; on the worst, you feel like you’re stumbling downhill on your
Unfortunately, most home elliptical trainers we’ve tried are like most Elvis
impersonators: From afar, they resemble the real thing, but on closer inspection, they’re nothing but a cheesy imitation. Most of the home units, especially
those under $500, aren’t as smooth or as comfortable as the more expensive
gym-quality models. The home units tend to have a stride length that’s too
short, too deep, too choppy, or a combination of all three problems. And most
of them are so flimsy that we were able to loosen the bolts from the frame
and rock them from side to side while taking a test run. This doesn’t bode
well for durability. Most home elliptical trainers with arm poles are useless
because they offer no resistance at all.
The home models we like fall into the major splurge category. The best is by
Precor, the company that launched this category. But this machine will set
you back nearly $3,500. The Life Fitness home elliptical trainer, for $3,000,
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comes in a distant but acceptable second. On the cheaper end, Vision Fitness
has a $1,500 model that isn’t nearly as sturdy as the one from Precor, but it
will withstand limited use. Under $500 is an elliptical trainer from ProForm,
and although it won’t stand up the way more expensive ones will, more and
more reliable models are coming available in this price range.
We’re talking about two foot plates you pump up and down to mimic the action
of climbing stairs. Stair-climbers, also called steppers, usually have front or
side rails that you hold onto for balance. Their consoles display time, distance,
steps per minute (spm), number of flights climbed, and calories burned.
Most steppers have an independent action; that is, the movement of one pedal
is not affected by the other. With dependent models, the act of straightening
one leg to lower the step causes the other pedal to rise. This isn’t just a technical detail: Usually, you like the feel of one and hate the other.
Almost all steppers in the $200 to $1,200 range use hydraulic pistons or air
pressure to power the pedals. These cheaper steppers are nowhere near
as smooth moving as the stair machines people line up for at the gym.
Some people don’t mind the way they feel, but do stay away from the $200
models, and look for one that doesn’t wobble from side to side as you climb.
Precor and Schwinn make decent ones at the low end of the price scale.
If you want a gym-quality climber, go with the industry leader: StairMaster
( StairMaster makes independent-action machines
that use chains and cables to move the steps — and carry price tags of over
$3,000. Tectrix makes a respectable clone for about half that amount. LifeStep
manufactures the most popular dependent-action home climber in the same
price range.
Stationary bikes
Biking is a no-brainer: Park your butt on the seat, plant your feet on the
pedals, and away you go, so to speak. You can spend up to $3,000 on a fullyloaded, high-tech super cycle — or $400 for a sturdy, no-frills workhorse. Just
keep in mind that every cool feature you opt for jacks up the price.
Before you buy, test-drive both upright and recumbent bikes. Recumbent
bikes provide back support so that you pedal straight out in front of you.
If you have lower-back discomfort, you may appreciate the back support.
Recumbents also target your butt and rear thigh muscles at a different angle
than upright bikes (the traditional kind, which resemble regular bicycles).
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Whichever style you prefer, don’t buy a bike from a department store,
because quality isn’t normally a big consideration in the designs of these
products. Some cheap bike seats have been known to collapse with a rider
in mid-workout. You don’t want to know where the seat pole winds up.
Besides, specialty stores carry plenty of inexpensive models.
Important bike features
Two stationary bikes that look similar may feel very different to your derriere
and offer different electronic options. So test-ride every bike and do a thorough
check of the features:
A comfortable, sturdy seat: Fancy features don’t help if you can’t sit on
the thing for more than five minutes. Some people like a seat that’s hard
and narrow; others prefer one that’s wider and softer. Don’t assume that
a wide, cushy seat is going to be more comfortable. Extra padding under
your rear end is nice to have when you watch TV, but when you exercise,
the extra surface area can cause chafing and discomfort. Whatever seat
you prefer, it should lock securely into place.
Seat and handlebar adjustments: Make sure that when you sit on the
seat, your leg is almost straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The
handlebars and width of the pedal straps should be adjustable, too. For
more details about stationary-bike adjustments, see Chapter 9.
Feedback: You can pay extra for fun features such as preset workout
programs, a heart-rate monitor, and games that let you race against the
computer. But at the very least, your bike should have a speedometer
that displays revolutions per minute (rpm) and miles per hour (mph),
an odometer to measure distance, and a timer to keep track of those
minutes as they fly by.
One exception to this rule: Spinning-type bikes. These bikes, primarily
used in group exercise classes, are also available for home purchase.
They don’t have feedback mechanisms, but they have other advantages
worth a look. For example, their seat and handlebar positions make the
machines feel more like outdoor bicycles. They’re relatively inexpensive
compared to most other high-quality stationary bikes, and you can buy
workout videos specially designed to be used with these bikes. (See a
list of some of our favorite bike brands in the next section.) One common
complaint is that the seats are uncomfortable, but that’s because they’re
equipped with racing saddles, which are thin and hard. Wearing padded
shorts should solve the problem.
A way to vary the difficulty: Look for a knob or button that indicates
resistance levels, such as 1 through 12. This way you can accurately
measure every workout and track your progress. If 10 minutes on Level 1
used to wear you out, but now you can breeze through 20 minutes on
Level 3, you know you’ve come a long way.
Chapter 20: Designing a Home Gym
Our favorite bike brands
Here’s a brief list of our favorites, but be sure to test-ride any model you’re
considering to make sure it’s comfortable for you:
Non-computerized uprights ($200–$500): Monark, Bodyguard, Schwinn,
and Tunturi
Spinning-type uprights: Schwinn ($700–$1,200), Keiser ($500–$900), and
Reebok ($600–$1,000)
Computerized uprights ($500–$3,000): Lifecycle, Tectrix, Precor, Combi,
and Cateye
Computerized recumbents ($500–$2,000): Precor, Life Fitness, Body
Guard, and Lifecycle
Rowing machines
Forget the rowers with two arms that you pull toward you as you slide the
seat backwards. You can never get the tension in the arms quite even, and
the entire rowing movement feels sticky and unnatural. If you already have
one of these, we’re betting it’s the most expensive coat hanger you own.
A newer breed of rowers has a chain or cable that wraps around a flywheel.
The chain is attached to a handle you pull in a smooth movement toward
your chest as you straighten your legs and slide the seat backward. These
new rowers do a much better job of capturing the feel of rowing on the water.
Concept II ( makes an excellent rower that is available
through dealers around the country. This machine is so good that the U.S.
Olympic Rowing Team trains on it during the off-season. And under $1,000, it
gets a Best Buy rating from us. Water Rower makes a good machine that costs
a few hundred dollars more. The flywheel churns through a tub of water and
makes a sound that’s relaxing.
Two cardiovascular bargains
Yes, you can improve your stamina with equipment that costs less than $100.
Here are two dirt-cheap yet very effective aerobic conditioning gadgets.
A step
Though essentially nothing more than a glorified milk crate, a step can whip
you into shape. Most steps are rectangular, hard plastic platforms; some are
springy wood. Good ones have some sort of rubber covering on the top to
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
prevent your feet from slipping. Look for Lego-type inserts called risers that
snap on underneath to increase the height of the step. Reebok and The Step
Company make sturdy steps. In Chapter 19, we recommend several step
video instructors to help you make good use of your purchase.
A jump rope
Jump ropes may remind you of pony-tailed little girls in school yards, but
don’t be fooled: Skipping rope offers some very real, very adult fitness benefits. It strengthens your cardiovascular system, improves your agility, burns
tons of calories, and tones your thighs, calves, abdominals, back, chest, and
shoulders. You can take your rope with you anywhere, and to use it, you
don’t need any more space than a small coffee table takes up.
Jump ropes have been subjected to a bit of technology in the past few years.
Forget about the frayed cloth ropes you used as a kid. Even leather is history.
Many ropes are now made of tough, molded plastic; metal wire coated in
acrylic; or space-age polymers with names we can’t pronounce, let alone
spell. These materials make for ropes that turn faster and more smoothly.
Look for features like soft foam or rubber handles, which prevent callusing,
and ball-bearing-like swivel action between the cord and handles.
You can get a perfectly good jump rope at a sporting goods store or department store for as little as $3, although you may want to spend $15 to $30 for
the fancy features. To size your rope correctly, stand on the center of the
cord and pull the ends straight up along your sides. The handles should just
reach your armpits.
Many people avoid jumping rope because they view it as a high-impact activity.
But if you do it right, it’s more like a medium-impact activity on the order of a
brisk walk. The secret is staying low. Your feet should barely clear the floor,
and you should bend your knees just slightly.
Use a light rope if your aim is to work on skill and agility and to jump fast. Fat,
weighted ropes (1⁄4 to 1⁄2 pound) work well for building upper-body muscular
endurance, but using them for fancy footwork or special tricks is a bit like
asking a Clydesdale to run the Kentucky Derby. Buy one of each, and you can
mix up your workouts. With weighted ropes, the weight should be in the
cord, not the handles.
When you jump, keep your arms relaxed and slightly bent, and keep your
upper-body movements to a minimum. Instead of turning your arms in big
circles, simply let your wrists swivel slightly. (This is especially important
when using a heavy rope; otherwise, you’re in for sore shoulders.) Start with
a few short sets — about 30 jumps for a light rope, 5 to 10 turns for a heavy
rope. Rest by marching in place between sets. Gradually increase the number
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of sets and jumps per set while decreasing the time you spend marching.
Eventually, you’ll be able to jump 10 minutes or more continuously (probably
less with a heavy rope). Humming the theme song from Rocky helps. Building
up to long periods of jumping rope is tough, because it’s a very intense activity. Jumping rope is best used as a cross-training workout or between bodypart exercises while circuit training (see Chapter 15).
The Ten Commandments of
buying TV fitness gadgets
In 1984, when the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) abolished limits on the amount of commercial time a television station could air, the
commission unleashed a monster: the infomercial. When it comes to fitness products, there’s
not a whole lot of info in these half-hour commercials that often masquerade as talk shows.
Typically, they’re filled with exaggerated claims,
shameless testimonials, outlandish stunts, and
lots of scientific malarkey — all intended to separate you from your dollar.
Try to avoid buying fitness products from TV or
a Web site. You have no way to judge the quality of a machine, pill, or gadget. If you do end up
purchasing a product that you believe was
falsely advertised, file a complaint with the FTC
by contacting the organization’s Consumer
Response Center (877-FTC-HELP or www.
Here are some tips to keep in mind as you
watch or read fitness product advertising:
Don’t be suckered by the infomercial audience or “real people” offering testimonials.
Those wholesome folks who whip themselves into a near-evangelical frenzy at the
mere mention of the product at hand are
usually paid. Often, they’ve never even tried
the product they’re gushing over. One
acquaintance of Liz gave an emotional testimonial for an exercise video, even though
she had never even watched it. “I just
wanted to be on TV,” she said.
Beware of the phrase “guaranteed or your
money back.” Read the fine print: The manufacturers may promise that you’ll lose 4
inches in one month — if you stick to a lowfat diet and a far more extensive exercise
Don’t whip out your credit card just
because a product isn’t sold in stores.
Truth is, most of these gizmos are sold in
stores — or they will be on the shelves in a
month or two. Sometimes the product is
actually cheaper at the store; plus, you can
test the product before you buy.
Don’t be impressed by references to
Europe, ancient China, or 3,000-year-old
secrets. Bogus fitness products use
European research much the same way
that “reality” TV shows use Peruvian religious miracles as examples of amazing
phenomena: They’re too far away for the
average person to check out carefully.
Beware of phrases like “three easy payments” and watch shipping costs. One
gadget claims to cost “Not $60! Not $50!”
but “just two easy payments of $19.95.” Add
in exorbitant (and nonrefundable) shipping
and handling costs, and it costs $66.85.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Don’t be swayed by scientific terminology.
Product manufacturers love to throw
around big words, but some of the most
impressive-sounding terms have no
accepted meaning in the scientific community. Others are misused to hype bogus
Give no credence to celebrity or “expert”
endorsements. Don’t think for a minute that
a three-time Mr. Universe built his biceps
with some plastic contraption that looks like
a model of the Starship Enterprise. Athletes
and celebs know that fame can be shortlived, and at some point their name may be
their only asset. “There’s a lot you can talk
yourself into,” one athlete told us. “You
figure, I’ve gotta make a living. If the public’s
dumb enough to buy this stuff, that’s their
problem.” Beware, too, of health and fitness
“experts” with fancy titles they may have
Don’t be awed by the fact that a product
was “awarded a U.S. patent.” You could
patent a nose-hair clipper for mice if you
wanted to. To get a patent, you need to have
an original idea or process, not necessarily
a good one.
Beware of the term “proven.” Many companies cite scientific research without
telling you where the studies were conducted. When we inquired about a certain
cardio machine, we learned that the calorie-burning studies — which seemed dubious to us — were carried out by a company
that the manufacturer owned. This is like
admitting your mother was the judge of a
beauty contest you won; maybe you were
the best looking, but we need to hear it from
an unbiased party.
Hide your credit card between midnight
and 4 a.m. At that hour, everything kinda
looks good. Go to bed. If you’re tempted to
buy an infomercial product, jot down the
number and wait before ordering. You may
feel differently about that Ginzu Rider in the
light of day.
Buying Strength Equipment
There’s no shortage of great gadgets to build your muscles at home. There’s
also, regrettably, no shortage of junk. This chapter covers all your legitimate
strength-training options — from $3 rubber tubes to sophisticated, gym-quality machinery. We introduce you to some innovative new products and help
you decide which type of equipment is best for your home and your budget.
If you’re going to lift weights at home, read Chapters 11 through 14. In those
chapters, we explain how to use all types of strength equipment and how to
design a strength-training program that’ll get you results.
Exercise bands and tubes
Rubber bands and tubes are the absolute cheapest way to strengthen your
muscles — you can buy three or four bands for $15 or $20. They’re also
extremely versatile and great for traveling. Even if you own weight machines
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or an extensive set of free weights, we recommend throwing in a few bands
for variety. (Just know that bands and tubes have their limitations, which we
explain in Chapter 13.)
Bands are flat latex strips about 6 inches wide and about 3 feet long, some
with handles attached; you hold onto each end or tie the ends around something sturdy, like the leg of your sofa. Tubes come in a variety of sizes and are
shaped like very flexible garden hoses, usually with plastic or rubber handles
attached. You’ll probably like bands for some exercises and tubes for others;
you just have to experiment. Because bands and tubes are so inexpensive, it
pays to get a variety.
For a few dollars more, you can buy bands or tubes with plastic or rubber
handles — a real plus for getting a firm grip on an exercise. Some bands or
tubes have built-in ankle and thigh straps. Theraband and LifeLine make nifty
band kits that come with a travel bag and several door and bar attachments,
priced from $30 to $60. Spri and DynaBand also make quality bands. Because
some bands don’t come with instructions, we recommend buying a couple of
DVDs with band workouts. The following instructors offer quality band workouts: Lynn Brick, Jodi Cohen, David Essel, Donna Richardson, Keli Roberts,
and Tamilee Webb.
You also can buy band loops with little foam circles of padding, but you don’t
really need them. You can just tie your regular band in a circle, which is even
more versatile because you can control the diameter of the circle. The smaller
the circle, the tighter the tension. You can use a circle to do a number of leg
exercises and a few upper-body exercises, too.
Two cautions regarding the use of bands: Check frequently for holes and
tears by holding your bands up to the light. When a band is damaged, replace
it immediately. And never try to use regular office rubber bands — even thick
ones — for exercising. You’re just asking to be snapped in the face.
Ankle weights
Ankle weights are great for making floor exercises (like leg lifts) tougher. You’ll
probably want ankle weights if you like body-sculpting exercise DVDs because
at some point, lifting your own body weight will become too easy. As with
dumbbells, you can buy an array of ankle weights, from 2 pounds up to 20
pounds. Or you can buy an adjustable set: You insert small weight bars into
pockets along the strap. Adjustable ankle weights are a great way to save
money. Just know that the weights tend to rattle around. And, it’s easy to get
lazy; don’t neglect to add or subtract weight when you need to. Use ankle
weights sparingly if you have hip, knee, or ankle problems. Or, try a pair of
weights that strap around your thighs. You may find them awkward to use at
first because, well, they’re strapped to your thighs, but you get used to them
quickly, and they do a good job of distributing extra weight without overloading your knees.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Free weights
Free weights — dumbbells and barbells — are excellent investments: They’re
simple, versatile, and relatively inexpensive. They do, however, have the
highest accident potential; just ask anyone who has dropped a weight on his
foot or gotten pinned under a heavy bar. If you’re new to free-weight training,
please take a few sessions with a trainer. And never do any heavy lifting when
you’re alone.
On the upside, you won’t compromise safety by buying the cheap weights
sold at department and sporting goods stores. Weight is weight. There’s not
much difference between one brand and another. Like meat, free weights are
usually sold by the pound. You can pay up to $2 a pound for shiny chrome
dumbbells and bars. Gray or black steel will run you 45¢ to $1.50 per pound.
For a beginner, dumbbells (the short weights that you can lift with one hand)
should be a higher priority than barbells (the long ones that require both
hands). Dumbbells (see Figure 20-1) give you more exercise options, and they
force each side of your body to pull its own weight.
Figure 20-1:
give you a
variety of
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
When it comes to buying dumbbells, you have two options. The best, most
convenient option is to buy several pairs of dumbbells — 5-pound weights,
10-pounders, 12-pounders, 15-pounders, and so on. The cheap choice: Buy an
adjustable dumbbell kit. A kit comes with two handles and several weight
plates that you clamp onto each end of the handles with a clip or screw-type
mechanism called a collar. These kits sell for $30 to $100, depending on the
quality and the number of weight plates included.
Chapter 20: Designing a Home Gym
Owning a whole array of dumbbells saves you lots of time. Let’s say that
you’re alternating shoulder exercises with 5-pound weights and chest exercises
with 15-pound weights. All you have to do is put down the 5s and pick up the
15s. With adjustable dumbbells, you constantly have to remove the collar
and add or subtract weight plates, which is a huge pain. You may be tempted
to use the wrong weight because making the switch is a hassle. Also, locking
the weights on securely can be difficult; they can jiggle around or, worse, slide
off in the middle of your workout.
A terrific product called PlateMates ( can save you
a lot of money on dumbbells. PlateMates are magnets that you stick onto
each end of a dumbbell to increase the weight. The magnets come in four
weights: 58⁄ of a pound, 114⁄ pounds, 178⁄ pounds, and 212⁄ pounds. With PlateMates,
you cut down on the number of dumbbells you need to buy. For example,
instead of buying a pair of 15-pounders, 20-pounders, and 25-pounders, you
can pass on the 20s and create your own 20-pound weights by putting a
21⁄2-pound PlateMate on each end of the 15-pounders. You can stick the
PlateMates on the 25-pounders to create 30-pound dumbbells, and so on.
PlateMates come in different shapes to accommodate different styles of
dumbbells. (However, they won’t attach to dumbbells coated in rubber, and
the magnets may lose strength over time.) PlateMates cost $19 to $28 per
pair. We recommend them in Chapter 25 as one of ten great fitness investments under $100.
If you choose to buy separate dumbbells, realize that you’ll need eight or
nine different pairs. Although some people use the 10-pound dumbbells for
every exercise, this isn’t a good idea: A weight that’s heavy enough to challenge your back muscles is much too heavy for your arm muscles; a weight
that’s just right for your shoulders is too light to do your chest any good. If
you want to see results, you need to give each muscle the right challenge
For most beginning women, we recommend buying dumbbells weighing 2, 3,
5, 8, 10, 12, 15, and 20 pounds. Even if you can’t use the 15s and 20s right
away, you’ll grow into them pretty fast. The whole set costs between $60 and
$150. As for beginning men, start off with 8, 12, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, and
50 pounds. This set runs $200 to $600.
Shop around and try out different brands of dumbbells. Some have contoured
handles that may feel more comfortable than straight ones. Some dumbbells
have foam grips; others are coated in rubber. Dumbbells with hexagonal ends
are great because they won’t roll away. A dumbbell rack is also a good idea. A
rack can cost up to $200 but will keep your weights organized and your home
gym looking tidy.
If you don’t have the space for a whole array of dumbbells but don’t want to
fiddle with dumbbell kits, either, you have a couple other choices:
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Probell: Instead of buying six pair of dumbbells, from 5 pounds to 30 in
5-pound increments, you can buy one pair of Probells and get the same
versatility. Instead of sliding weight plates on and off, you simply turn a
dial to indicate how much weight you want to lift. Through a feat of engineering, the ProBell picks up the requested number of plates.
Just note that ingenuity and space savings come at a price. The steel
Probell set costs $199 — about twice the cost of six pairs of no-frills
steel dumbbells. But you will save money on the higher end: The $249
chrome Probell costs less than a set of six shiny chrome dumbbells. The
Probell stand costs an additional $149. See
PowerBlocks: Each block consists of a series of rectangular, weighted,
metal frames, each one nesting inside a slightly larger frame. A series of
holes runs along the outside of the frames; you insert a pin inside a hole
to select the number of frames you’d like to pick up. You can buy a set of
blocks that go from 5 pounds to 90 pounds in 5-pound increments, and
you can change the weight instantly. PowerBlocks come with an optional
stand and take up about the same amount of room as a telephone table.
A 45-pound set sells for about $240; the 85-pound set sells for just under
$600. Check out
PowerBlocks rattle around a bit more than ProBells, and their shape is
more cumbersome, but PowerBlocks allow you to lift up to 90 pounds
with each hand whereas ProBells go only up to 30 pounds.
Most people can get along just fine with an array of dumbbells, but you can’t
beat barbells for power lifts like bench pressing and squatting (see Chapter
14). Plus, barbells add even more variety to your workout. We recommend
buying a single bar with a number of weight plates, because buying a whole
assortment of bars is expensive. Bars typically run between $25 and $125,
depending on the type of steel and where you buy the bar. Bars tend to cost
more at specialty shops than at sporting goods stores.
Bars are typically 4 to 7 feet long and come in two sizes: the skinnier Standard
(about 25 pounds) and the thicker Olympic (about 45 pounds). Plates (the
round weights that you slide onto the bars) and collars (the clips that secure
the plates) are designed to fit one bar size or the other, so make sure that you
buy plates and collars that match your bar. We prefer Olympic bars because
they’re more comfortable to wrap your hands around — they’re also the
standard in most gyms.
Purchasing a rack with your barbell is a good idea. Upright racks take up less
room than horizontal ones. A one-bar rack can cost as little as $100.
As an alternative to traditional barbells, you can buy a series of lighter bars
from 9 pounds to 27 pounds covered with comfortable rubber padding. One
popular brand is Body Bar ( These bars are good for
beginners. They allow you to learn to do barbell exercises without having to
Chapter 20: Designing a Home Gym
use the heavier Standard or Olympic bars. The problem is, you can’t clip on
weight plates, so you have to buy several bars to accommodate your various
muscle groups. They’re not cheap either: A 12-pound Body Bar runs about
$35. Plus, these bars don’t come in heavy enough weights for many intermediate and advanced exercisers.
Weight benches
When you buy dumbbells and/or barbells, buy a bench, too. A bench lets you
do many exercises that you couldn’t do otherwise. Doing free-weight exercises
while lying on your back on the floor is difficult; your elbows may hit the
ground before you complete the movement. You also can do several exercises
while sitting or kneeling on a bench.
If you’re lifting dumbbells lighter than 30 pounds, you probably can get away
with a plastic step platform rather than a full-fledged weight bench. With two
sets of risers underneath, the platform is high enough and sturdy enough for
light dumbbell exercises, but you may want to pad the step with a towel to
provide cushioning on your back.
If you’re lifting heavier dumbbells or using barbells, buy a real weight bench.
A bench is higher off the ground and more stable. We recommend benches
that can be easily adjusted to incline or decline so you can challenge your
muscles at different angles.
Look for a bench with a thick foam pad covered with Naugahyde or imitation
leather. The pad should be sturdily bolted to a steel frame and legs. A bench
should be at least a few feet high and shouldn’t wobble when you get on and
off. A basic flat bench goes for $50 to $300, depending on the quality and
thickness of the padding, frame, and legs. We recommend paying a bit more
for one that can be set at various inclines because it gives you the ability to
vary your exercises. York and Hoist make good ones, but we really love Tuff
Stuff benches (from $150 to $450) because they both incline and decline; most
benches do one or the other, in which case a bench that inclines is more versatile than one that declines.
Multi-gyms are those contraptions that look like a bunch of health-club weight
machines welded to each other (see Figure 20-2). Multi-gyms take up a lot of
room — usually more than a stereo wall unit — and most require at least 7
feet of vertical clearance space. But many people prefer multi-gyms to free
weights or bands because they’re so safe and easy to use. Most multi-gyms
come with instructions — some even come with videos demonstrating all the
different exercises you can do.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Figure 20-2:
are safe and
easy to use.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
A basic unit has one 200-pound stack of weight plates in 5- to 10-pound increments. This means only one person can use the machine at a time. A basic
multi-gym costs $800 to $3,500. If the whole family plans to work out together,
you may want a multi-gym with two or three weight stacks, but these can run
up to $10,000.
Good high-end brands include Paramount, Pacific, Vectra, and California
Gym. For reliable models under $1,000, look at Hoist and Bodyguard.
With the exception of the rather expensive Bowflex systems that many people
swear by, we haven’t yet found a multi-gym sold on TV or in a department
store or discount warehouse that isn’t cheaply made. They wobble, they’re
poorly designed, and the resistance never moves as smoothly as a weight
stack. Even some of the TV demonstrators can’t help arching their backs on
some of the moves. And, sure, you may be able to do 52 exercises with one
of these contraptions, but it’ll take you about 3 hours just to make the adjustments, which will give you one more reason to blow off your workout.
Take your time shopping for a multi-gym. Try out a whole bunch of different
machines, and pay attention to which exercises feel most comfortable. Multigyms that look the same sitting on the showroom floor may actually have
Chapter 20: Designing a Home Gym
important differences that you won’t notice until you use them. For example,
some multi-gyms come with a horizontal chest press; others come with a vertical chest press. You have to decide whether you prefer to lie on your back
and press upward, or sit up straight and press forward. Ask the equipment
dealer to compare the different ways each multi-gym works each muscle group.
Here’s a checklist to consult before you go shopping for a multi-gym. Inspect
each machine carefully, and look for the following features:
At least the chest/shoulder press, high pulley, low pulley, leg extension, and leg curl exercise stations: Depending on the brand and model,
you may also get chest butterfly, chin/dip, leg press, and abdominal
board attachments. If these attachments aren’t included with the basic
unit, they’re usually available as extra-cost options. Keep in mind that
most multi-gyms require you to unsnap and rehook cables or arm positions to switch between exercises; making all those adjustments can add
extra minutes to your workout and interrupt the flow of your routine.
Free assembly: Pass on any machine that the dealer doesn’t put together
for you, especially if it comes with an “easy-to-follow” video on how to
build it yourself.
Weight stacks that move up and down smoothly: Test several exercises
in the store to check for sticking points and levers that don’t allow you
to fully straighten your arms and legs.
A frame made of thick tubular or rectangular steel: The frame shouldn’t
shake or wobble when you lean against it. Also, the frame should be
painted or powder-coated to prevent chipping and rusting.
Upholstery that’s sewn on securely: If you see corners that are curled
at the edges, the upholstery probably will rip, tear, or unravel. The same
goes for the rubberized padding around the foot rollers and other small
parts. If it’s made from cheap, thin foam, chances are it will look chipped
and beat-up after a few uses.
Plates and cables made of quality materials: Avoid materials that look
like they’ll snap, fray, or crack.
Adjustable seats and arms: If you can adjust the machine, the whole
family can work out comfortably.
A good warranty: The warranty should cover 10 years for the frame, 1
year for moving parts, and 90 days for upholstery. If you ask before you
buy the machine, some dealers will give you an extended warranty at no
cost. Don’t buy an extended warranty, however. They tend to be expensive and not worth the money.
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Considering Flexibility Gadgets
Most people get by just fine with fundamental stretching exercises that don’t
use anything but body positioning and gravity. Still, there are some useful
tools to help you work on your flexibility. If some of these gadgets get you to
stretch when you otherwise wouldn’t, they’re worth the money. Here’s a look
at some worthwhile investments:
A stretching mat: You can use a thick towel or blanket to pad a hard
floor, but a mat is a more formal reminder to do your stretches, and you
can use it for abdominal exercises and floor exercises, too. Some stretching mats sell for more than $100, but we have no idea why. Just about
any mat you come across will suffice. A top-of-the-line mat — one that’s
cushiony and long enough so that your head isn’t hitting your wood
floor — shouldn’t cost more than $60. Some can be folded in half for
storage; others roll up.
An oversized plastic ball: This is a safe way to improve the flexibility of
your lower back. You can drape your body over it forward, backward, or
sideways (see Figure 20-3). An oversized ball is also useful for abdominal
and leg strengthening exercises. Expect to pay about $30.
The right fit is important. When you sit on the ball, your thighs should
be roughly parallel to the floor. However, if you’re somewhat inflexible,
get a slightly bigger ball. You won’t have to bend as far. Also, for stretching, don’t inflate the ball all the way; it’ll be softer, easier to mold your
body to, and less likely to roll away.
Figure 20-3:
An oversized plastic
ball is
a nifty
perfect for
Photograph by John Urban
Chapter 20: Designing a Home Gym
Stretching strap or rope: Use these nylon bands (Dynamic Stretching
Strap or Stretch-Out Strap) when using the Active Isolated method of
stretching (see Chapter 6). For $15 to $30 (including a video), you may
want to own one, especially if you’re too stiff to get into certain stretching poses. For example, if you’re sitting on the floor with one leg out and
you can’t reach your toes, you wrap the strap around your instep and
hold a loop in each hand. After holding that position for a while, if you
can stretch a little farther, you can let your hands creep up to the loop
that’s slightly closer to your toes. You can also buy a length of yachting
rope at your local hardware store. Just buy a length twice your height.
The Prostretch: This gadget is for stretching your calf and shin muscles
and the sides of your ankles. The Prostretch is a shoe imprint cast in
hard plastic and mounted on one or two curved rockers (wider versions
of the rockers you find on rocking chairs). You place your foot on the
imprint and drop your heel back toward the floor. Your toes point upward,
giving you a terrific calf stretch. If you’re not very flexible, you can do
this stretch while sitting down. Because the Prostretch supports your
entire foot, you get a better calf stretch than if you just hang your feet
off the curb, although most curbs won’t run you $25.
Precor Stretch Trainer: This gizmo is a seat with handlebars and tilting
capabilities so that you can lean backward and forward into a stretch. A
combination of your body weight and gravity helps control the intensity
of the stretch. By switching arm and leg positions, you can stretch nearly
every muscle in your body without getting out of the seat. For example,
to stretch your hamstrings, you place your leg up on the front of the seat
and then lean back. (This mimics the stretch you do on the floor when
you place one leg out in front of you then reach for your toe.) The handlebars have wrist straps so that you don’t go flying backward if you
lose your balance. The gadget also has an adjustable safety pin to prevent less-than-graceful mounts.
At $700, the Stretch Trainer isn’t cheap, but it’s helpful for people who
have trouble getting on and off the floor gracefully. It lets you stretch
effectively without having to ask three close friends to help you
stand up when you’re done stretching. Visit the manufacturer’s site at
Part VI: Conquering the Gym (Even at Home)
Part VII
Exercising for All
Ages and Stages
In this part . . .
ou discover that exercise isn’t only for 20-something
singles. Not by a long shot. In Chapter 21, you get a
basic primer on exercising while pregnant, a growing (no
pun intended) phenomenon that leads to healthier moms,
easier deliveries, and healthy babies. In Chapter 22, you
find out how to make exercise fun and exciting for your
entire family, from toddlers to tweens to, yes, even
teenagers. And we’re not just talking about healthy thumbs
from playing video games. Chapter 23 helps you get and
stay fit in your senior years, so that you can live out your
retirement with health and vigor.
Chapter 21
Fit Pregnancy: Exercising for Two
In This Chapter
Understanding why prenatal exercise is so good for you and your baby
Getting the blessing of your healthcare provider
Knowing how hard you can push yourself
Taking important safety precautions
Choosing the best activity for you
Finding the best types of exercise for pregnancy
generation ago, the last place you’d find a pregnant woman was a health
club or a running track. In those days, pregnancy was considered
almost an illness — a time to rest in bed, not strengthen your hamstrings.
Doctors were afraid that exercise would cause birth defects and increase the
rate of miscarriage, but they were just guessing. Now that scientists have
actually researched these issues, they know it’s perfectly safe for most expectant moms to work out — as long as they exercise common sense and don’t
try to set a world record in the high hurdles.
Not only is moderate exercise safe for the baby, it has also been shown to
have tremendous benefits for mom. Compared to unfit pregnant women,
regular exercisers tend to have fewer aches and pains, more self-esteem,
and more energy and stamina, especially in the third trimester.
Regular exercisers also have more confidence — and perhaps strength —
during labor, and they seem to tolerate the pain better. One obstetrician we
interviewed says his inactive patients tend to come to the hospital petrified,
but his fit patients are fired up and ready for action. “For them, it’s like the
Super Bowl,” the doctor says. “They say, ‘Stand back, let me go. I’m going to
push this sucker out!’”
Some research also suggests that fit women have shorter labors than unfit
women and that they have a lower rate of C-section. But exercise doesn’t
guarantee you a free ride in the delivery room. Even if you swim or walk until
the day you give birth, you still may have the labor from hell. Some women
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
are simply fated to a prolonged, agonizing labor, while others usher their
little ones into the world relatively quickly. However, regardless of the labor
experience, fit women do seem to bounce back from pregnancy a lot faster
than their inactive counterparts.
Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy if you’re not already in good shape?
Yes, as long as you work out moderately and have your doctor’s okay. In fact,
some doctors believe pregnancy is a terrific time to start working out. Entering
labor in poor physical condition, they say, is like running the Boston Marathon
without any training. It only makes sense to prepare your body for the megaworkout to come.
In this chapter, we offer a brief overview of a fit pregnancy, along with several
safety precautions. For an in-depth look at the research supporting prenatal
exercise, we recommend Fit Pregnancy For Dummies, by Catherine Cram and
Tere Stouffer Drenth (published by Wiley), along with Exercising Through Your
Pregnancy, by James Clapp III, M.D., a top prenatal exercise researcher and
strong advocate of prenatal workouts.
Be sure to get your doctor’s permission before embarking on a prenatal exercise program. Some high-risk conditions do rule out exercise during pregnancy.
Understanding the Benefits
of a Fit Pregnancy
In this short section, we fill you in on how staying fit during your pregnancy
makes the entire 40 weeks easier to manage, brings you and your baby
tremendous benefits, makes labor and delivery easier than for non-exercisers,
and helps you go back to your pre-pregnancy weight and size after your baby
is born.
Read Fit Pregnancy magazine
If you expect to stay fit when you’re expecting,
you can find no better source of information
than Fit Pregnancy, the only magazine devoted
to the concerns of pregnant women (and new
moms) who exercise. A quarterly created by the
editors of Shape, Fit Pregnancy (also at is full of great
exercise ideas.
The magazine also provides the latest news on
the research front. In addition, diet and nutrition
are regular topics in Fit Pregnancy, as are sex
and health issues such as genetic testing and
infant vaccinations. Fit Pregnancy also rates
exercise books and videos, maternity workout
clothes, and running strollers.
Chapter 21: Fit Pregnancy: Exercising for Two
Here’s just some of what you’ll be doing if you stay fit during your pregnancy:
Reducing back pain and soreness: As you likely already know, your
baby’s growing size puts pressure on your hips, butt, and back, which
can lead to stiffness and soreness. When you exercise during pregnancy,
you improve your posture and get your back, hip, and butt muscles in
shape, thus reducing back pain and soreness.
Gaining enough but not too much weight: We can’t stress enough that
you absolutely need to gain weight during your pregnancy, because of
the extra fat stores, body fluids, and blood your baby needs to grow
properly — not to mention the weight of the child! But many women
gain too much, and take years to lose that weight (or never do). Recent
studies show that women who regularly exercise right up to the end of
their pregnancies gain nearly 8 pounds less than non-exercising pregnant
women, but were still well within the normal weight-gain limits for a
healthy pregnancy.
Getting good sleep: If you’re having trouble sleeping during your pregnancy — as many women do — exercise can help you sleep more soundly
at night and feel more awake during the day.
Reducing delivery complications: Several studies show that women
who exercise have fewer complications during delivery and generally
need fewer drugs for pain relief.
Reducing time spent in labor: One of the most stunning benefits of getting and staying fit during pregnancy is that labor is significantly shorter
(by about one-third). Also, women who exercise tend to go into labor
about five days earlier than women who don’t exercise, making pregnancy
that much shorter.
Having a leaner child: Studies show that women who exercise regularly
during pregnancy have leaner (not low-birth-weight) babies, and this
leanness continues by age 5. This starts your baby off on the right fitness foot from Day 1. See Chapter 22 for additional tips on helping kids
get and stay fit.
Quickly returning to your normal weight: Women who exercise during
pregnancy have less weight to lose after they deliver and find that the
weight comes off more easily than for women who don’t exercise.
Working with Your Healthcare Provider
If you’re pregnant, consult with your healthcare provider before starting an
exercise program. Discuss your goals and the type of activity you plan to do,
and get an okay from your physician or certified nurse-midwife before you to
get started. The health of your child is more important right now than your
fitness goals, so if your healthcare provider tells you not to work out, heed
his warnings.
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
That said, some healthcare providers are still living with generations-old ideas
about exercising during pregnancy. If you’ve educated yourself on the topic
and feel as though your pregnancy would not be comprised by working out,
give a copy of Fit Pregnancy For Dummies to your physician, and then meet
with her to discuss the possibility. Reassure your physician that you’re willing
to heed any and all warning symptoms, but if the pregnancy is otherwise proceeding well, you’d like a chance to try to exercise during your pregnancy.
Great Activities to Consider
During Pregnancy
Many of the activities listed throughout this book are safe to do during your
pregnancy, including those in the following sections.
Walk this way
Some women walk for exercise until the day of delivery. Runners may want to
switch to a walk-run program or an all-walk routine if they find that running is
just too hard on their lower back and knees. As your pregnancy progresses,
avoid steep hills, which make your heart rate soar and may put more pressure
on your lower back.
Pay special attention to your walking posture. Stand tall, with a natural Scurve to your back, and your shoulders back and down, not hunched. Lead
with your chest. Keep your arms relaxed, and move them forward and back
instead of swinging them across your body. Don’t walk in very hot or humid
weather, because your heart rate elevates more rapidly and your body overheats more quickly. And don’t walk when the ground is icy, because your
sense of balance is not what it used to be. If the weather sends you indoors
and onto a treadmill, hold on to the rails (but not with a death-grip).
Treadmills require more balance than walking on the ground.
Make sure that you wear supportive walking shoes. Because you weigh more
than usual, your joints are under extra stress, and they need all the shock
absorption they can get. Your feet may swell to the point where you need
shoes a half-size bigger than usual.
Getting into the swim of things
Some pregnant women find walking uncomfortable, particularly in the third
trimester, so they switch to lower-impact activities such as swimming. In fact,
Chapter 21: Fit Pregnancy: Exercising for Two
some pregnant women say that the only time they feel really comfortable is
in the water.
Water workouts are great because you don’t have to worry about your balance.
The water supports your weight and the weight of your baby, too, taking the
stress off your lower back. Water also reduces the effect of gravity, lessening
pressure on your joints. And nothing is more calming and soothing than gliding through the water; swimming can even help reduce pregnancy-related
swelling. Plus, you can’t possibly fall while you’re in the water.
Meanwhile, you can still get a great workout. You can run in the pool, swim
laps, and tone your muscles with special equipment like webbed gloves and
foam dumbbells. As your pregnancy progresses, you may need to modify
your water workouts. Using a kickboard may become uncomfortable because
it forces you to arch your back, which can trigger back pain. The frog kick
(used in the breaststroke) may also cause discomfort. Don’t forget to drink
water — you can get dehydrated even in the pool.
Prenatal low-impact aerobics
or yoga class
Many health clubs and hospitals offer exercise classes specially designed
for pregnant women and brand-new moms. Some classes stick to aerobic
workouts; others include strength training, even yoga. Naturally, the exercises are adapted to the limitations of a pregnant body — including the loss
of balance, shifting center of gravity, increased joint laxity (looseness), and
reduced stamina.
Guzzle water and don’t overheat
Pregnant or not, don’t exercise without a water
bottle close at hand. When you’re responsible
for someone else’s life, too, it’s especially important to stay healthfully hydrated. Dehydration is
the number-one cause of cramps, particularly
in your legs, and it can increase your blood
pressure and heart rate, among other things.
Always drink before you get thirsty — by the
time your body demands, “Water, now!” you’re
already at a fluid deficit.
Exercise in a well-ventilated area and make
sure you wear clothes that breathe. Your baby’s
temperature depends entirely on your ability to
cool your body. Extra-high body temperature
irritates the fetus and can lead to premature
labor. And keep drinking that water, which cools
your body internally.
As a pregnant woman, you do have a built-in
mechanism that allows you to reduce exerciserelated heat stress. In fact, fit women tend to
begin sweating at a lower temperature than
inactive women. Still, this adaptation only works
to a point, so use common sense.
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
Participants love these classes because the atmosphere is so much more supportive than it tends to be in regular classes. You don’t find a maniacal drillsergeant instructor yelling, “Okay, today’s leg-lift-’til-you-drop day.” And you
don’t find class members in two-piece leotards showing off their sculpted abs.
“It was so great to be working out with other women who were as big as a
house!” says our friend Dana, who switched from regular step aerobics to a
prenatal aerobics class in her third trimester. “Before, I was always the one
who had to stop early because I was too winded or my back hurt.” Prenatal
exercise classes offer camaraderie and a chance to swap war stories about
hemorrhoids, swollen ankles, and husbands who — try as they might — just
don’t get it.
Continue lifting weights
If you’ve never lifted weights before, pregnancy isn’t the time to start an
unsupervised strength program. But if you know what you’re doing in the
weight room or you’re experienced using dumbbells at home, you have no
reason to quit your routine. And as long as you make the appropriate modifications, there are plenty of great reasons to stick with it. (We don’t want to
discourage novices from strength training during pregnancy, but you need to
work with a trainer who’s very experienced with pregnant women or join a
supervised, prenatal weight-training class at a health club.)
Activities to avoid
Certain activities just don’t mix with pregnancy,
and that list usually includes the following:
Scuba diving, due to the intense underwater pressure, which is harmful to your baby.
Water-skiing, during which you may fall. In
addition, if less-than-clean lake or ocean
water enters your vagina, you risk getting
an infection.
Contact sports, like soccer, volleyball, basketball, and hockey introduce a major risk
of falls and contact injuries.
Downhill skiing, figure skating, horseback
riding, and mountain biking, all because of
the risk of falling.
Cross-country skiing, rowing, and (sometimes) running, because these can be very
difficult activities that can overtax your
Remember: Check with your healthcare
provider for the final word.
Chapter 21: Fit Pregnancy: Exercising for Two
Liz’s friend Holly lifted weights through both of her pregnancies. Although
she had to adapt her routine to avoid machines that she had trouble getting
in and out of, she maintained her strength throughout the nine months. The
combination of her buff arms and big belly was an inspiration to other pregnant women.
Lifting weights during pregnancy not only keeps you looking terrific but helps
cut down on general aches and pains and may even counteract some of the
shoulder and back pain that can be caused by enlarged breasts and a growing
uterus. Everyday activities won’t take as great a toll, and when the big day
comes, you’ll have more strength to pick up your new bundle of joy (not to
mention the diaper bag, stroller, car seat, bottles, and toys that you’ll be lugging around).
You do need to adapt your weight-training program to your ever-changing
body. You may prefer machines to free weights, because they offer more
support and require less balance. Of course, some machines won’t fit you
anymore. When you’re seven months pregnant, you can’t exactly lie on your
stomach and do hamstring curls. A couple of equipment manufacturers have
taken care of this problem by designing a hamstring-curl machine that you
use on your side. But most gyms don’t have special pregnancy equipment, so
ask a trainer to show you more-practical alternatives to your regular routine.
Many gyms have standing or seated hamstring machines.
Give special attention to the muscles that are bearing the brunt of your temporary burden, such as those in your knees, ankles, and lower back. But if
any exercise starts to feel uncomfortable, stop doing it. Any time that you feel
dizziness, nausea, or a pulling in your abdomen, hips, pelvis, or elsewhere,
choose a different exercise.
When you’re pregnant, your goals in the weight room should change. Don’t
focus on sculpting your muscles or setting a personal best in the bench
press. Instead, aim to maintain your strength and enjoy the movement. Your
last few repetitions of each set should be somewhat challenging, but they
shouldn’t require all-out oomph. Expect to reduce the amount of weight you
lift toward the end of your pregnancy, when you may have less energy.
Breathe steadily and pay close attention to your form. Don’t grip the handles
too hard — gripping too hard raises your blood pressure, which shoots up
anyway when you exercise.
Monitoring Your Prenatal
Workout Routine
Until 1994, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
insisted that a pregnant woman should not let her heart rate exceed 140
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
beats per minute. Many fit women found this guideline too restrictive; welltrained athletes have exercised during pregnancy with heart rates as high as
190, and without complications. However, most physicians, fearing malpractice suits, were reluctant to approve more-demanding exercise programs. In
1994, the ACOG released new guidelines, eliminating the heart-rate limitation
and making many pregnant jocks happy.
However, for a fitness novice, the 140 heart-rate guideline is a good one. (See
Chapter 6 for details about monitoring your heart rate.) Pregnancy is not the
time to figure out how fast you can run on the treadmill. If you don’t want to
be bothered with heart-rate calculations, simply use the talk test: Don’t exercise so hard that you can’t hold up your end of a conversation. Ask your
doctor for guidelines tailored to your fitness level. In general, let your body
dictate how hard you push yourself, and cut yourself some slack. “I used to
get down on myself because I couldn’t exercise at the same intensity when I
was pregnant,” says our friend Elise. “I’d have to stop and rest all the time in
my aerobics class. But finally I realized that going hard wasn’t the point. I
said, ‘Hey, at least I’m here!’”
Throughout any prenatal workout, look for the following signs of overtraining
and report them as soon as possible to your healthcare provider:
Pain: Anytime you begin an exercise program, you experience some
soreness. However, if exercise hurts in any way, stop exercising and call
your healthcare provider.
Fatigue: If you find yourself feeling overly fatigued throughout the
day — and not just when you’re exercising — take a day off and relay
this information to your healthcare provider at your next appointment.
Overheating: If you find yourself sweating a great deal, getting excessively hot, feeling faint, getting nauseated while working out, and/or
becoming lightheaded, stop exercising, drink plenty of fluids, rest, and
call your healthcare provider.
Never work out during the hottest times of the day and avoid indoor
exercise in an area that isn’t well ventilated.
Dehydration: Getting dehydrated is bad for you — and your baby. Keep
a water bottle with you throughout much of the day, and check the color
of your urine — the lighter and clearer the better — each time you go to
the bathroom. (Keep in mind, however, that early-morning urine tends to
be dark or orange even if you are hydrating enough, so don’t use earlymorning urine as a guide.) If your urine looks gold-colored or orangey,
you need to drink more fluids. If adding more water to your daily routine
doesn’t help, ask your healthcare provider for advice at your next
Chapter 21: Fit Pregnancy: Exercising for Two
The key to exercising during pregnancy is modifying your workout routine
whenever anything doesn’t feel quite right. In addition to the general signs
of overtraining just listed, also look for the following warning signs. If you
experience any of these, call your healthcare provider immediately.
Contractions: Contractions are a positive sign only if you’re within a
week or two of your due date. Otherwise, contractions may indicate
premature labor.
Dizziness: This could be a sign of anemia (low red-blood-cell count that
results in weakness and fatigue) or other conditions.
Dyspnea: If you’re experiencing dyspnea, you may have shortness of
breath or rapid and shallow breathing.
Headache: Although many pregnant women report an increase in
headaches during their pregnancies (often brought on by fatigue and
stress), if you experience a severe headache or a less severe one that
doesn’t seem to go away, contact your healthcare provider. Headaches
can be an early sign of preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood
Increased swelling in your legs: This could be a sign of preeclampsia,
which is characterized by high blood pressure and fluid retention and
can be quite serious. It could also indicate deep-vein thrombosis, a blood
clot that develops in a vein.
Don’t lie on your back after the first trimester
Starting around the fourth month, you may feel
dizzy when you lie on your back. This means
that your little one is pressing on your inferior
vena cava, a major vein that carries blood to
your heart. You can modify exercises in a
number of ways to avoid this dizziness. For
example, if you want to do abdominal exercises
on your back, place a folded towel or small
blanket underneath one hip. This shifts your
body slightly, rolling the baby off the vein. Also,
you can do several pregnancy exercises with
your back against the wall or while standing or
sitting in a chair. In addition, you can do gentle
exercises with a physioball — a large, inflated
ball that looks like a sturdy beach ball.
One friend of ours took a physioball with her into
the delivery room. When she went into back
labor (when the baby presses heavily against
your spine, creating agonizing back pain), she
placed the ball against the wall and pressed her
back against it. By rolling the ball around on the
wall and allowing it to massage her back, she
was able to work through most of the pain. She
did get some funny looks from the nurses, but
when they saw it was working, they thought it
was a great idea.
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
Muscle weakness: Muscle weakness can take a couple of different forms:
total-body weakness (in which you feel weak all over) or specific muscle
weakness (such as your right arm or the left side of your body).
Vaginal bleeding and/or leaking of amniotic fluid: Leaking blood or
other fluids can be the result of several complications, including placenta previa (in which the placenta, the organ that grows in your uterus
to provide nutrients for the fetus and eliminate its waste, blocks all or
part of the cervix), placenta abruption (separation of the placenta from
the uterus before delivering your baby), premature labor, and miscarriage.
You can’t feel your baby moving: If your baby’s normal movements (that
you usually begin feeling between the 18th and 22nd weeks) have diminished or stopped, your baby may be experiencing problems. Keep in mind
that your baby will probably be calm during exercise, but you should start
to feel several movements again within 20 to 30 minutes after you stop.
Keep Exercising after the Baby Arrives
Working out may seem like a pretty tall order when you’re getting two hours
of sleep a night and your body feels like it’s been through the spin cycle. But
even short, easy workouts like a ten-minute walk help you sustain energy (at
a time when you really need it), and exercise may help you sleep better at
night. Exercise also can help you cope with the depression that sometimes
results from sleep deprivation.
But don’t rush back into exercise. There’s no need to force yourself into anything at a time when a walk to the bathroom may seem like an athletic feat
worthy of an Olympic medal. As soon as you feel ready (a few days or weeks
after delivery and only after checking with your doctor), try to start a simple
routine, such as daily walking. Gradually work up to brisk walks with your
baby in the stroller. Consider buying a baby jogger or a special cart that will
attach to your bicycle so you can safely take your screamer along for the ride.
Six weeks after an uncomplicated birth — or sooner if your doctor okays
it — you can begin more vigorous activity, like swimming, running, or lifting
weights. Just make sure you start back slowly. Your abdominal muscles have
been stretched, which means they aren’t supporting your back as much as
they were before you got pregnant. Check with your doctor before you begin
your routine again.
Postpartum exercise makes you feel better, but don’t expect it to speed up
the weight-loss process. The research is inconclusive, but it appears that if
you eat regularly and exercise after giving birth, you go through the same
weight-loss patterns as women who don’t exercise. In other words, it still
takes about six months to a year to return to your pre-pregnancy weight and
body composition. But you can start regaining your aerobic fitness a lot faster.
Chapter 22
Kids, Tweens, and Teens: Fun
Activities for the Whole Family
In This Chapter
Establishing a fitness mindset early in life
Catching the energy of preteens
Overcoming fitness objections with teenagers
tatistics on childhood obesity are startling: More than one out of every
seven kids in the United States is overweight or obese, and that number
climbs every year. As a result of too little exercise and too many calories, these
kids are also developing serious diseases: high blood pressure, adult-onset
diabetes, and arthritis, for example.
The most effective way to combat poor fitness in your kids is to take a dual
Tap into your child’s natural love of activity. Kids love to play, indoors
or out, and all that “playing” is really just exercise. Ultimately, any kind
of activity is exercise (running, climbing, playing tag, skipping, dancing,
swimming), so getting kids, especially young kids, to be active isn’t usually a problem.
If you think of exercise as drudgery, however, and if you present exercise
to your kids in this light, you’ll likely turn off any natural desire they have
for a high level of activity. If you regularly play with your kids — from
kicking a soccer ball around to jumping rope to hiking — and make it a
priority, your kids will be hooked on exercise within just a few weeks.
Turn your kids on to healthy foods. When you stock your fridge and
cup-boards with the healthiest, freshest, most delicious foods you can
afford, your child’s acquired taste for fats and sugars will quickly disappear. Many parents believe that if they don’t offer their kids all the pizza,
cookies, and salty snacks they want, their kids will go hungry. And, sure,
if you fill your cupboards with tofu and green tea, you’ll likely encounter
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
resistance. But having access to whole fruits, easy-to-grab veggies, fatfree yogurt, low-salt and high-fiber snack foods, and a range of other
healthy foods helps “train” your child’s appetite in the direction of
nutritious foods.
Try to get outside with your kids every day, at least for a few minutes. Sure,
driving home after a long day and finding your child waiting to ride bikes or
shoot baskets is tough. But spending time exercising with your child is a
wonderful way to get to know and connect with your child and, just as
importantly, turn your child on to the routine of regular exercise.
Getting Your Toddler Outdoors
Getting your toddler outdoors is like getting a bird to fly — it’s just so natural
that many kids wouldn’t dream of not doing it. Consider, for example, the following outdoor games kids are motivated to play (and notice that they all do
qualify as “exercise” because they build stronger, leaner bodies):
Playing soccer, Wiffle ball, and kickball
Climbing trees, monkey bars, and jungle gyms
Jumping rope
Playing hopscotch
Riding a tricycle
Taking adventure walks in the woods (also known as hiking and
Yet a toddler who is used to spending most of the day watching TV may think
the outdoors is a foreign country, where she doesn’t dare venture. It’s up to
you to change that mindset, showing your child how much more fun playing
is than watching Nickelodeon.
Taking your kids along
on your fitness routine
Working out with a baby is pretty simple: Put your baby in a playpen and
start your aerobics DVD, or set her in a baby seat and pedal your bike for an
hour. When she weighs just 15 or 20 pounds, sleeps a lot, and is happy just to
be in the same room as you, your workout options are fairly broad.
Chapter 22: Kids, Tweens, and Teens: Fun Activities for the Whole Family
But life can be different with a toddler. Your 2- or 3-year-old feels very grown
up, and she wants to come along with you, at her untimed, relatively unmotivated pace. If you bring her along, you may feel as though your workout will
suffer, but if you leave her at home, you’re missing a tremendous opportunity
to get her hooked on lifelong fitness. What’s a fit parent to do?
Bring her along. Although you may decide to supplement with an extra workout on your own a few days per week, you can “work out” with your toddler
and still stick to your exercise goals. You just have to change your mindset
about what defines “exercise.” If you’re a runner, what about playing 20 minutes of tag, instead, in which you do most of the running around and take
long loops around your yard? If you like to walk, what about alternating ten
minutes of power walking with your toddler in the running stroller with
five minutes of strolling hand-in-hand with your child, and repeating this three
or four times? If you normally do aerobics, what about putting on some
danceable music and cutting a rug with your child?
Focusing on fun
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help your child decide
how she defines “fun,” and proceed accordingly. Don’t get too tied up in exercise as you may define it — no toddler ever needs to work out on an elliptical
trainer or treadmill. But skipping, hiking, dancing, playing pool games, practicing gymnastics, playing soccer, and doing a host of other activities keep
kids moving.
Avoiding fast food
Recent studies at Children’s Hospital in Boston
found that children consumed enough extra
calories (calories above what they need for
normal growth) during fast-food meals to add
six extra pounds per year. In ten years, that
makes your child 60 pounds overweight! This
study of over 6,000 children also found that kids
who eat fast food also tend to eat more fats and
sugars and fewer fruits and vegetables, than
kids who don’t eat fast food.
Avoid making fast food a family “treat” — you
can do better making healthy choices at a
sit-down restaurant or cooking meals at home.
In fact, toddlers love to help cook meals with
you, and with just a little training from you on
kitchen safety, they can handle a variety of easy
food-preparation chores.
When you have to eat fast food, choose grilled
chicken sandwiches, turkey subs with wholewheat bread, baked potatoes (with low-fat sour
cream and crunchy veggie toppings), and
salads (minus the cheese).
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
When it looks like exercise, smells like exercise, and tastes like exercise, it’s
probably exercise. You won’t fool your child by taking an inherently boring
activity — say, running on a treadmill or swimming laps — and repackaging
it by calling it a game. The point is to actually play a game (soccer, say, or
sharks-and-minnows) with your child and dispense with adult ideas about
exercise. You may enjoy power walking, but your child probably won’t;
instead, you can both build strength and become more energized by playing
a game of duck, duck, goose with you and the neighborhood kids.
Focus on fun, and you and your child will both get a great workout in the
process. Don’t worry about technique or pace; instead, just keep moving and
having fun. If your child tires after 10 or 15 minutes, that’s okay; you and your
child may be able to get in three 15-minute, no-pressure game-playing sessions
every day, and when totaled, that’s an impressive amount of exercise for
both of you.
Although you can certainly suggest games and activities, let your toddler
have the final word on which activity you choose. You may end up playing
hopscotch every day for a month, but if you force your desires and expectations on your child, you risk suffocating her natural love of activity. Let her
call the shots, and you can just go along for the ride.
Finding Time with Your Preteen
As your child grows, playing becomes less “cool.” In elementary school,
many kids take three recess breaks; by middle school, this drops to one or
even zero. Hanging out at the mall with friends, not jumping rope on the playground, is the order of the day. So, how do you get your tween to exercise?
The answer lies in how you present exercise to your child. If you say, “Come
on, sweetie, let’s go run for 40 minutes in 30-degree weather,” your kid is
likely to run to the house of a friend whose parents stock entire boxes of
Hostess Ding-Dongs. The trick with tweens is the following:
Make it fun, not drudgery. Let your child choose the activity you’ll do
together and just go along for the ride. Have some suggestions in mind,
however, so that you don’t spend half an hour trying to decide how to
spend your half-hour exercise session together.
Make it cool. The definition of cool depends on your child, so ask. You
may even want to seek your child’s advice on how to dress for your
workouts, just so you don’t mortify him if his friends see you together.
Chapter 22: Kids, Tweens, and Teens: Fun Activities for the Whole Family
Making good school lunch choices
Keep this rule in mind: You can always prepare
a more nutritious sack lunch for your child than
she can get at school. The “hot” in “hot lunch”
is not synonymous with “healthy.” It’s just hot.
And kids can make their own lunches, too, starting at around second grade. Make them
together for a while, and then let her take over
for herself.
Even when your child takes her own lunch,
though, she still may be beckoned by incredibly
unhealthy choices in her school’s vending
machines. If this is the case at your child’s
school, get involved and lobby your school district to offer only healthy foods to children. Meet
with the principal or superintendent, attend
school-board meetings, start a petition — do
what you have to in order to give your child
healthy food options throughout the day. If the
Los Angeles and New York City public schools
can cut unhealthy foods out of their vending
machines, so can your school.
Involve as many of your tween’s friends as possible (as long as you’ve
followed the preceding rule about making it cool).
Encourage participation in school, church, and community sports
teams. Chances are, you can find a team that’s playing soccer, basketball,
t-ball, football, hockey, and any number of other sports in your area.
Tweens usually have a lot of fun in organized sports, meeting other kids
their age, developing athletic skills, and discovering the ins and outs of
working as a team.
Leaving the car behind
If you have a tween, chances are, you spend a lot of time playing chauffeur
to your child and her friends. An exceptional way to help your child become
healthier is to substitute walking or bike riding for many of these car-intensive
errands. Going to dance lessons? Hop on your bikes and ride the 2 miles to
the studio. Heading to the bookstore or library? Stroll there and back. If you
live too far to comfortably walk or ride, consider packing your bikes into
your car, parking a mile or two away, and pedaling around while you do
errands together.
Whether you’re heading to school, the park, or a friend’s house, use the car
as your last option. When you do drive, park as far away from the building as
possible to give you and your tween a chance to stretch your legs a bit. Be
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
sure she understands that you’re not just being the least cool parent in the
world by parking way off in one corner, but that exercise is important to you,
and you want to use your legs to get you around whenever possible.
Cutting back on TV and video games
After a hard day at work, you just want to sink into the recliner, grab the
remote, and veg out, right? Well, maybe. Taking time to relax each day is, of
course, absolutely necessary in life. But spending hours in front of the TV is
often more a matter of habit than necessity, and your kids will follow your lead.
Watching TV and playing video games is fun — no doubt about it — but so is
playing a game of pick-up basketball, taking a walk through town, playing touch
football, riding bikes, and climbing trees. If you can limit the amount of time
you spend in front of the TV — and we’re talking about really limiting it, say,
to a half-hour per day — you can open up precious hours to play, talk as a
family, finish homework, read quietly, and so on.
It’s no great irony that, as TV viewing increases, so do obesity levels.
Connecting with Your Teenager
By their teenage years, your kids have settled into a routine — often one of
two routines: as active teenagers who participate in several school sports or
as fairly inactive teens. If your teen is of the inactive variety, or is active for
one or two school sports seasons but not year-round, you can help your child
become more active by taking a few simple steps, discussed in the following
Planning new traditions
Does your family’s routine center around food and comfort, or are you an
active family that heads out the door whenever possible? Whatever your
current routine, talk to your teen about some new traditions you can put
into place.
Is Saturday morning a time for sausage and pancakes? What about
replacing that with a brisk walk to the local coffee shop or a bike ride
around the city?
Are birthdays usually celebrated with a heavy meal and rich birthday
cake? What about taking your teen out of school at lunchtime on his
birthday and heading to the nearest city or state park for an afternoon
hike, complete with a picnic lunch?
Chapter 22: Kids, Tweens, and Teens: Fun Activities for the Whole Family
When you go to the mall, do you and your kids spend more time in the
food court than you do strolling around? If so, consider eating before
heading out the door and/or walking two laps around the entire mall
before heading into any stores. Or reward yourselves for getting through
your holiday shopping by stopping at the Y for a swim or a game of pickup basketball.
Is the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day a routine of too
many cookies and candies, rich holiday meals, and inactivity? What happens if you just don’t buy or make any holiday treats, focusing instead
on stocking up on holiday fruits, such as sweet, delicious Clementine
tangerines or Pink Lady apples? And how about if you spend holiday
mornings taking a brisk walk (with snowshoes, in certain climates) or
going sledding? Can you invite your teen’s friends over for a basketball
or Ping-Pong tournament on Thanksgiving afternoon?
“Tradition” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “unhealthy habits.” Instead,
talk to your teen about how, together, you can change your routine in fun,
creative ways. Although you may not be able to pull your family away from
the traditional Thanksgiving football game, you may be able to get your kids
to toss a football around with you during halftime.
Letting your teen find his groove
If your teen is active in school sports, you’re facing one of parenting’s toughest tests. You have to fully support your child by purchasing equipment and
paying for camps and other sports fees, attending as many events as possible,
giving rides to and from practices, and so on. But after that, you have to back
off. No matter how badly you want your child to be the next city swim champ
or earn a sports scholarship to college, no amount of cajoling, pressuring, or
forcing your teen through extra workouts will make that happen.
Few kids will grow up to be the next Mia Hamm or Tiger Woods. If your teen
wants to devote herself to one sport and pursue it passionately, support that
without reservation — you’ll spend countless dollars and hours supporting
your child in that endeavor. But if she loses interest or decides to try a variety of sports, allow her to enjoy that process, because along the way, she’ll
develop lifelong friendships and internalize valuable lessons about teamwork
and etiquette. Very few kids who are forced into one particular sport stick
with it very long.
If your child opts out of school sports completely, you have a rare opportunity on your hands to work out together, if she agrees. Choose any activity
that appeals to both of you (from yoga to in-line skating and everything in
between), make sure you both have the best equipment you can afford, and
focus on having fun together — not so much on heart rate, workout intensity,
and calories burned.
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
Healthy eating, teenage-style
To encourage healthy eating among the
teenage set, you have to master snacks. The
term snack food probably conjures images of
chips, cookies, and bite-size pizza treats, but a
snack is, technically, just something to tide you
over between meals. Although no teenager
is likely to come home from school and lick his
lips at the prospect of a steaming plate of broccoli, you can provide a variety of healthier
snacks that your teen will go for. Here are some
Dried raisins, dates, prunes, and any other
dried fruit without added sugar
Veggie pizzas made with low-fat cheese
Low-fat or fat-free pudding cup or yogurt
Soups and chili made with poultry breasts,
ground turkey breast, and other low-fat
Trail mix
Fat-free or low-fat ranch dressing with
carrot and celery sticks, broccoli crowns,
cherry tomatoes, and any other veggies he
Grapes, apple chunks, orange sections,
bananas, peaches, pears, plums, and any
other fruits that appeal to him
Crackers low in fat and salt and high in fiber,
rice or corn cakes, a non-trans-fat popcorn
100 percent juice drinks
Natural peanut butter on whole-wheat
crackers, apples, or bananas
String cheese and whole-grain RyKrisp
Low-fat ice cream sandwiches
Frozen yogurt
Low-fat chips and salsa
Hummus and whole-wheat pita, cut into
Nuts or sunflower seeds
Low-fat hot chocolate or latte
Chapter 23
Staying Active as You Age
In This Chapter
Understanding the benefits of senior fitness
Getting started in an exercise program
Using some caution as you exercise
Knowing where to focus your efforts
our senior years are what you’ve looked forward to all your life: retirement, relaxation, and all those lovely 10-percent-off discounts! But many
seniors suffer through a variety of ailments and health problems, losing vigor
and strength too quickly.
The secret to aging slowly and with good health is fitness. By staying active
as you age, you reap substantial benefits, from looking and feeling young to
staving off life-threatening diseases. In this chapter, you discover those benefits, find out how to get started, and take in a few safety tips.
Keeping Yourself Young with Exercise
If you’re among the many seniors who think fitness is only for a younger
crowd, think again. The Journal of Gerontology recently released a study
showing that people over age 60 can train just as hard as younger folks and
derive the same benefits from exercise as people far younger.
The benefits of beginning or continuing to exercise in your senior years are
phenomenal, not the least of which is making you feel 10 to 25 years younger.
Consider the extent to which your life can be enhanced by the combination
of cardio workouts (like walking or cycling) and strength training (lifting
weights) several days per week:
You have more energy.
You experience less depression and anxiety.
You have an easier time losing weight.
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
You increase bone density, build muscle strength, and slow the muscle
deterioration that comes with age.
You improve your balance, which may prevent the falls that cause
hip fractures.
You reduce lower-back pain (this is especially true if you’re
lifting weights).
You boost your immune system.
You lower your blood pressure.
You substantially cut your risk of heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, colon
cancer, and Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Your mind is more alert.
You can be more independent in your daily activities.
If you saw a pharmaceutical advertisement that listed even half of those benefits, you’d be lining up at your doctor’s office for a prescription. So here’s your
exercise Rx: See your doctor for a checkup, and then, no matter what your
age or experience with exercise, begin doing small amounts of cardio exercises
(see Part III), strength training (see Part IV), or a combination (see Part V),
three to five days per week. As your soreness wears off and your fitness
improves, lengthen your workout times, improve your pace, and increase the
amount of weight you’re lifting. And be sure to stretch daily (see Chapter 6).
Knowing Where to Begin
Do you find the idea of exercise daunting and just don’t know where to start?
You’re not alone: 85 percent of all seniors don’t exercise regularly. If that
sounds like you, you’ve come to the right place: this book. Just about all the
information throughout this book applies to you, and you can visit the chapters that make the most sense to you. So, if you’ve never worked out before,
flip to Chapter 2 for information on assessing your current fitness, and then
jump to Chapter 3 for tips on setting workout goals.
One of the major reasons seniors don’t stick to a workout program is a lack
of immediate results. Don’t fall for this trap! Getting fit does take time, but if
you’re doing a combination of cardio and weight training, you may notice
small differences in just a week or two. After a month, your clothes may fit
better, and within two or three months, your grandchildren will wonder how
you’re able to keep up with them. Exercise is its own fountain of youth, and
while the magic potion does take a little time to make its way into your
system, if you find an exercise you enjoy and stick with it, you’ll be whistling
a happy tune before you know it.
Chapter 23: Staying Active as You Age
Cardio workouts for a healthy heart
Because cardio workouts (short for cardiovascular, the system that includes
your heart and lungs) help lower your heart rate, improve your lung function,
and make you feel more energized, be sure to include cardio as a part of your
overall workout plan. Chapter 8 explains what is and isn’t a cardio exercise,
how hard to push yourself when you’re exercising, and how many minutes or
miles you need to work out to reap the benefits.
If you want the lowdown on cardio machines, like treadmills, elliptical trainers, stair climbers, and indoor bikes, move over to Chapter 9, which outlines
those machines in detail. That chapter also helps you combat boredom, giving
you tips on how to keep from staring at the same spot on the wall for 20 solid
If you want to combine a cardio workout with resistance training (see the
following section), consider trying circuit training, which we discuss in
Chapter 15.
Finding a gym that caters to you
You won’t find many seniors-only gyms, but with
a little effort, you can likely find a gym that
caters to your unique needs. Chapter 18 is all
about finding and choosing the right gym, so if
you’re interested in joining a gym, take a few
minutes to peruse that chapter. When visiting
local gyms, ask the following questions:
yoga to marathon-training groups, some
health clubs offer special classes and
group activities for seniors. If your local gym
doesn’t offer senior classes, check with
your local YMCA, community health program, running or walking specialty store,
and local churches.
Does anyone on staff carry any senior-fitness certification or other designation?
Several of the governing bodies that certify
personal trainers (see Chapter 4) offer training in senior fitness, and you want to have
access to a trainer who has taken advantage of these educational opportunities.
Do you offer senior discounts? Hey, if you’re
paying 25 percent less for a movie, you
should also get a discount on your gym
membership, right? Don’t be shy about
asking for discounts. They may not be
advertised, but if you ask, you may just
receive a substantial discount on your
membership fee.
Do any of your classes specialize in senior
fitness? From water aerobics to Pilates,
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
Resistance training for strength
If you figure weight lifting is only for young, hot, bodybuilder types, get yourself to Chapter 11, which explains the surprising benefits of resistance training. The bottom line? Adding two or three days of weight training makes you
stronger and allows you to eat more calories without gaining weight. And no,
for most people, weight training doesn’t create bulging biceps and puffed-up
pecs. You will tone and sculpt your muscles, however. If you’re unsure how
to use weight-training equipment, flip to Chapter 13. Chapter 14 helps you
design your own strength-training program.
One of the major benefits of resistance training is that you improve your overall strength, which gives you more independence in your life. From carrying
in groceries from the car to moving furniture around when it suits you, having
greater strength allows you to do more without waiting for your son-in-law to
show up.
Pilates for balance
Each year, one in four people over age 65 experiences a serious fall, which
can lead to an injury that limits your mobility. Thankfully, beginning and
maintaining a fitness routine reduces your chances of falling and makes you
more likely to “catch” yourself if you do fall. Both cardio workouts and weight
training can improve your balance, but Pilates, the subject of Chapter 17,
puts special emphasis on your body’s core — that is, your abdominal, back,
hip, butt, and other nearby muscles — which, when strong, can greatly
improve your overall balance.
Consider taking a Pilates class or using a Pilates video one or two days per
week. This form of exercise can be challenging to master at first (see Chapter
17 for examples of the exercises), but it builds core strength and improves
balance so well that you may wonder how you ever lived without it. Also
check out Chapter 19 for information on BOSU, a cardio workout that’s well
known for developing balance and flexibility.
Stretching and yoga for flexibility
Stretching, whether through the stretches in Chapter 6 or through a yoga routine (see Chapter 16), can prevent your ligaments and muscles from shortening, which is the primary cause of walking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
We recommend stretching or doing some simple yoga exercises every day,
even on the days you don’t otherwise exercise. After you get yourself into the
routine, you may find that stretching — and the wonderful relaxation you feel
as a result — is your favorite part of your day.
Chapter 23: Staying Active as You Age
Staying Safe
Before beginning an exercise program, make an appointment with your healthcare provider, just to cover your bases. As you get yourself into a workout
routine, keep the following safety tips in mind:
Always warm up and cool down (see Chapter 8); stretch as often as
possible (see Chapter 6).
Check that you can carry on a conversation while exercising. If speaking
is difficult, reduce your intensity or stop exercising.
Never hold your breath while exercising, especially while lifting weights.
Keep yourself hydrated (see Chapter 7). Remember that by the time you
feel thirsty, you’ve started to become dehydrated.
In hot weather, wear high-tech fabrics that let heat escape, and always
wear sunscreen and a baseball cap or visor.
During winter, layer your clothing so you can remove layers as your
body heats up.
When you have a cold or — worse yet — the flu, take a few days off of
your exercise routine.
Stop exercising if you feel any of the following:
• Nausea, faintness, lightheadedness
• Racing pulse or any abnormal heart rate
• Cold sweat
• Chest or neck pain or tightness
• Muscular pain
• Excessive fatigue or weakness
Using exercise as a social event
Exercise is a great way to meet and spend time
with people of all ages, especially if you join a
gym or a fitness group. If you don’t have a gym
in your town, check with your local community
center to see what classes or workout groups
meet in the area — or start your own running
or cycling club with friends and family. From
meeting new friends at the gym to walking with
your grandchildren a few days per week, you
can use exercise as an opportunity for social
Part VII: Exercising for All Ages and Stages
The Part of Tens
In this part . . .
e carry on the For Dummies tradition of grouping
key information in fun, easy-to-skim lists of ten.
Just in case you’re not sure why exercise is worth your
time, Chapter 24 presents ten (well, actually far more than
ten) reasons to break a sweat. Chapters 25 and 26 fill you
in on the best and worst ways to spend your fitness dollars.
Finally, Chapter 27 gives you ten great strategies for staying
motivated to work out.
Chapter 24
Ten Great Reasons
to Break a Sweat
In This Chapter
Decreasing your risk of medical problems
Keeping your weight in check
Looking good
Appreciating the psychological benefits of exercise
Enjoying the social benefits of working out
Being more productive at work
Helping your family
Quenching your competitive thirst
Having fun
Enjoying life
ou already know that exercise is important; otherwise, you would have
spent your money on Twinkies instead of this book. But when you start
a workout program, it’s always helpful to remind yourself why — why you’re
hoisting hunks of steel when you could be lifting beer cans, why you’re creating more laundry for yourself by sweating up your gym clothes.
Even if you’re already a committed exerciser, you probably have moments
when your best intentions are stifled by excuses not to work out. You’re too
tired or too busy, or the dog ate your dumbbells — we’ve heard ’em all (and
used a few ourselves). Any time you experience one of these moments, flip to
this chapter. Better yet, make a copy and tape it to your fridge. One glance
at this list, and you’ll snap right out of your funk.
Exercise won’t prevent ingrown toenails or freeway congestion or the proliferation of bad reality TV shows, but as we explain in this chapter, the simple
act of moving your body can work wonders. Here are ten great reasons to
work out.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
You Reduce Your Risk
of Medical Problems
Perhaps the number-one reason for working out is that you’ll be healthier.
The reasons in the following list alone are enough for you to lace up your
shoes and head out the door:
You’re more likely to live a long life. In an eight-year study of more
than 20,000 men, those who were lean but unfit had twice the risk of
death as fit, lean men. Even fat men who had a history of working out
(yes, it’s possible — if you eat more calories than you burn off throughout the day, you can still gain weight) had a lower death rate than those
who were lean but unfit.
You have more energy. People who complain that they don’t have
enough energy to exercise fail to realize that working out gives you
energy. In one study, middle-aged women who lifted weights for a year
became 27 percent more active in daily life than before.
You won’t have to count sheep. After a 12-week aerobic and strengthtraining regimen, research subjects reported falling asleep faster and
sleeping longer than before they’d started exercising, probably because
of hormonal changes. Sedentary folks who start exercising regularly
boost the amount of time spent in slow-wave sleep, the phase of sleep
believed to be the most restorative. They also report waking up less
often during the night.
You stay lithe and limber. As little as five minutes of stretching a day
helps keep your muscles mobile and helps you stay agile. Reaching
for your purse in the back seat, bending over to pick up a towel off the
bathroom floor — being limber is important for countless everyday tasks.
You improve your balance. In just three months, 80-year-olds who performed balance exercises — like walking a straight line and standing on
one foot — gained the level of body control typical of people three to ten
years younger. With improved balance, you have a zippier walking gait
as you age, and less shuffling means fewer falls and fractures.
You’re less likely to catch a cold. Moderate exercise strengthens your
immune system. People who walk regularly report cold symptoms on
fewer than half the days that couch potatoes report symptoms.
You can offset the decrease in immune function that weight loss
appears to cause. Research suggests that dieting alone causes a drop in
disease-fighting cells but that a program of aerobic exercise and weight
training makes up for this loss.
Chapter 24: Ten Great Reasons to Break a Sweat
You’re more likely to stop smoking. People who exercise vigorously
while trying to kick the habit are twice as likely to stay away from cigarettes as wannabe ex-smokers who don’t work out. And those who exercise as they try to quit smoking gain only about half the weight that
non-exercisers do.
You increase your volume of plasma. Regular exercise increases the
liquid component of your blood, thereby thinning your blood and reducing your risk of developing dangerous clots.
You lessen the symptoms of PMS. Exercise may reduce the bloating,
lower-back pain, headaches, and anxiety that often accompany premenstrual syndrome. And regular exercisers may be less likely to experience
PMS at all.
You may give birth more quickly. Research suggests that fit women
have labors one-third shorter than women who don’t exercise, although
the evidence isn’t conclusive. Fit women also have a lower risk of premature labor and low-birth-weight babies, and they have less post-partum
You ease symptoms of menopause. Highly active menopausal women
are significantly less likely to experience hot flashes than their sedentary
counterparts. Menopausal exercisers also seem to experience a mood
boost after an aerobic workout.
You strengthen your bones. Both men and women start losing bone
mass between ages 30 and 40. Lifting weights can not only halt the
decline but in some cases can reverse it, drastically reducing your risk
for osteoporosis. Weight-bearing activities like walking and running also
help keep your bones strong.
You build up bone density for the future. Young exercisers amass a
reserve of bone mineral that may reduce their risk of developing the
weak bones that plague their grandparents. A study of elite tennis players found that even after the athletes cut back on their competition, the
bone density they had gained earlier remained.
You’re less likely to get a stress fracture. A study of military recruits
found that those with below-average leg strength were five times likelier
to develop stress fractures (tiny bone fractures) and other overuse
injuries during nine weeks of basic training.
You’re less prone to carpal tunnel syndrome. If you strengthen your
wrist and arm muscles, you’re less likely to develop this condition,
common among people who do repetitive-motion tasks such as typing
and scanning items at the grocery checkout stand.
You can relieve arthritis pain. Not only can arthritis patients safely
participate in exercise programs, but they often are rewarded for their
efforts with pain relief and increased mobility.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
You’re less likely to get injured at an impromptu game of touch football
or ultimate Frisbee. By keeping your muscles strong and flexible, you
can avoid that nasty hamstring pull or torn rotator cuff that sends you
back to the couch with a bag of ice.
You’re less likely to injure your joints. When your muscles are strong,
they offer more support to your bones and joints. So, you’re less likely
to twist an ankle stepping off a curb or injure your elbow by carrying a
heavy briefcase.
You’re likely to recover faster from an accident. If, God forbid, you get
into a car wreck or other serious accident, your fitness will serve you
well. Frail and weak people have lower survival rates and take longer
to recover.
You can ease the pain of varicose veins. The walls of varicose veins
have been stretched, allowing blood to pool in the legs. Exercise helps
relieve the resulting swelling and aching because the contraction of calf
muscles causes blood to shoot upward.
You can ease lower-back pain. Strengthening your abdominal and
lower-back muscles can do wonders to ward off lower-back pain and
reduce discomfort in people who suffer this pain chronically.
You may avoid back surgery. In one study, most of the back-pain
patients who had been recommended for spinal surgery by a physician
were able to avoid surgery by following an aggressive strengthening
program. Sixteen months after completing the exercise program, only
3 of the 38 patients required surgery.
You hold down your blood pressure. People who exercise regularly
have about a 30 percent lower risk of developing heart-threatening
hypertension than people who don’t work out. Exercise may also help
lower blood pressure in people who are already hypertensive.
You’re less likely to need gallbladder surgery. Confirming earlier studies on men, new research suggests that women who exercise cut their
risk of needing gallbladder surgery by nearly a third. Doctors have known
for years that obesity increases the risk of gallstones, but now a sedentary
lifestyle appears to be a factor as well.
You help keep your prostate healthy. Three hours of walking per week
may reduce the risk of benign prostatic hyperplasia, a condition that
leads to prostate enlargement and urinary-tract problems.
You’re less likely to get diabetes. Staying fit can drastically reduce your
chances of developing non-insulin-dependent diabetes by lowering bloodsugar and blood-fat levels. And if you do have diabetes, exercise — with
the permission of a doctor — can help control the symptoms.
You’re less likely to get colon cancer. Moderate daily exercise, such as
an hour-long walk or a half-hour jog, may reduce your colon cancer risk
by as much as 46 percent, perhaps by affecting chemicals inside your
Chapter 24: Ten Great Reasons to Break a Sweat
You may reduce your risk of breast cancer. Although the evidence isn’t
conclusive, research suggests that physically active women are less
prone to breast cancer than women who don’t work out.
You lower your risk of coronary heart disease, the number-one killer
in America. People who don’t exercise are as likely to develop heart disease as people who smoke. Exercise can also reduce your cholesterol
count, particularly your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, although if you’re
genetically prone to high cholesterol, exercise alone may not keep your
count in a healthy range.
You’re less likely to have a stroke. Burning more than 1,000 calories
per week through exercise (say, walking four hours a week) is associated
with decreased stroke risk. Burning between 2,000 and 3,000 calories
per week may lower your risk even more.
There’s a financial benefit to exercise, too. Sure, you have to invest in athletic
shoes, a gym membership, and whatever gizmos you need for your favorite
activity, but think of all you’ll save on doctor’s bills and prescription medications by staying healthy. You even save the country money. Perhaps reducing
the national debt isn’t your major priority in life, but exercising regularly
can be a patriotic gesture: Obesity-related diseases cost the nation $100 billion
a year.
You Can Control Your Weight
Sure, you can lose weight simply by dieting, but much of that weight will be
muscle, not fat. Weight training prevents your muscles from wasting away as
you slim down, and aerobic exercise is the most efficient way to burn calories.
Check out the other weight-control benefits of exercise:
You rev up your metabolism. No pill, powder, or herb can do it, but
weight training can. For every pound of muscle you pack on, your body
burns an extra 30 to 50 calories per day — not a huge figure, but perhaps
enough to help prevent weight gain as you age. Make that 10 pounds of
muscle, and you’re talking about an extra 300 to 500 calories per day!
You can eat more without gaining weight. When you burn an extra
2,000 calories a week on the stair-climber, you can afford to try the fresh
peach cobbler or the extra helping of Thanksgiving stuffing.
You’re likely to keep the weight off. Most people who lose weight gain
it back within one to three years, but that’s because they don’t exercise.
Among those who succeed at keeping the pounds off, more than 95 percent work out regularly.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
You Improve Your Looks
No amount of exercise can transform Rosie O’Donnell into Cindy Crawford,
but with the right workout program, you can shape a rounder derriere, firm
up your arms, and tone your legs. And that equals the following benefits:
You can wow ’em at your high school reunion. Were you the nerd
in high school everyone ignored? Were you the captain of the Latin
club and second tuba in the marching band? Well, get on a fitness program and you’ll be the popular one at your next class gathering.
You’ll look better in sleeveless shirts. Heck, with toned arms, you may
even land a job on TV or in the movies — á la Jennifer Garner, Sarah
Jessica Parker, and Jennifer Aniston.
You’re more likely to visit a nude beach. Okay, maybe not, but research
does show that exercisers report having more confidence about their
bodies than sedentary people do.
You also look and feel younger. In one study, postmenopausal women who
lifted weights twice a week for one year had the strength and bone density
levels of women 15 to 20 years younger.
You Gain Psychological Benefits
A truckload of research shows that you have a better sense of well-being, also
known as runner’s high, following a workout. Both aerobic and weight-training
sessions seem to offer this boost, as well as a number of other psychological
You gain confidence that spills over to the rest of your life. The sense
of accomplishment that comes from being able to run 5 miles or do 10
push-ups just may give you the confidence to make that presentation to
your most important client or to ask that good-looking bank teller out
on a date.
You improve your memory. In a six-month study of previously sedentary
men and women ages 60 to 75, those who walked three times a week
scored 25 percent better on memory and judgment tasks, such as recalling schedules and quickly differentiating between vowels and consonants
and odd and even numbers.
You experience less stress. More than 150 studies prove it: Regular exercise makes you less tense and better able to cope with events that might
otherwise transform you into Cruella de Vil or Scrooge.
Chapter 24: Ten Great Reasons to Break a Sweat
You can calm your mind and improve your breathing. Activities such
as yoga, Pilates, and stretching provide the perfect antidote to life in
the era of cell phones, beepers, faxes, call-waiting, call-forwarding, and
conference calls. Learning to breathe deeply can help you control stress
and anger.
You gain perspective. You notice a lot more about your neighborhood
when you walk, jog, or bike down the street than when you whiz by at
30 miles per hour in your car. And although you can get a swell view of
New Zealand from behind the window of a bus, the thrill doesn’t compare to climbing a glacier or cycling past flocks of sheep.
You feel happier over the long-term. Not only does a single workout
make you feel better, but regular exercisers enjoy long-lasting psychological benefits.
You may become less depressed. Research clearly shows that exercise
can help clinically depressed men and women of all ages. A review of
80 studies found that depression appears to diminish after 4 weeks of
regular exercise, although the greatest improvements were found after
17 weeks.
You have a healthy outlet for your anger. Instead of yelling at your
boss, you can get your aggressions out during a kickboxing class —
burning calories and improving your health at the same time.
You Enjoy Social Benefits
Going for a walk or a bike ride with a friend or your spouse is a good way to
catch up on the latest gossip, weigh in on the day’s news, and stay current
with each other’s families, friends, and pets.
You also boost your chances of finding a mate. Tired of the bar scene or
Internet dating services? Join a running club, a kickboxing class, or a soccer
team, and you’re sure to meet like-minded people. You may even meet your
significant other at the gym or through a bike club.
Even if you’re not on the hunt for a spouse, getting into a new fitness activity is a great way to widen your social circle. When you hook up with a hiking
club or a softball team, you meet interesting people of all ages and from
all walks of life whom you may not have had the pleasure of knowing
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
You Improve Your On-the-Job
Whether you’re a massage therapist, a trial attorney, a trombone player, or
a ball-field groundskeeper, you’ll benefit from the increased energy, concentration, and stamina that you get from regular exercise. Here’s why:
You can better cope with shift work. Working the graveyard shift at 7Eleven? Swing-shift on patrol? Exercise can help temper the health problems, including sleep disorders, common to people whose work shifts
toy with the body’s natural rhythms.
You master the art of teamwork. When you join a softball team, cycling
club, or walking group, you bond with your teammates and find out what
it takes to play nicely with others. These skills may come in handy at the
next office conference, PTA meeting, or neighborhood-watch meeting.
You also have more job opportunities. You can’t be a firefighter, a police officer,
or a lifeguard if you flunk the physical. And if you have your sights set on being
a bouncer, big, strong muscles are pretty much a prerequisite.
Finally, you save your company money. Employees who take advantage of
corporate-wellness programs tend to have fewer doctors’ visits and fewer
absences from work. Companies have saved millions by giving their employees incentives to exercise.
Your Family Benefits
When you exercise, you have more options for family togetherness. Sure, you
can all sit in the living room and watch slides of Aunt Marie’s 1974 vacation to
Venice, but a fit family can also shoot hoops on the driveway, go hiking in the
woods, or play softball. When you and your family exercise, you find all sort
of benefits:
You have more confidence if you’re a new father. In a study of 87 new
dads, those who exercised expressed more confidence in their new role
than fathers who didn’t work out. Although scientific studies haven’t yet
focused on new mothers, the benefits surely work for mom, too.
You set a good example for your kids. Want your kids to grow up
healthy and strong? You can be a great role model by exercising regularly.
This is especially important in an era in which childhood obesity is at an
all-time high.
Chapter 24: Ten Great Reasons to Break a Sweat
Kids are likely to perform better in school. Compared to sedentary
girls, active girls have better grades, a lower drop-out rate, and a greater
likelihood of attending college.
Kids can succeed in science. Marie Curie may not have run any
marathons or spiked any volleyballs, but research shows that high
school girls who play sports are more likely to get good grades in science classes than their nonathletic peers.
Kids discover abilities they never knew you had. Maybe your child has
the tennis talent of the Williams sisters, but it has been hidden all these
years. Maybe your child’s body is built for power-lifting but she just never
realized it. Chances are, your kids have a real knack for some type of
athletic endeavor — whether it’s running, softball, or aerobic dance —
but they won’t know until they try.
Kids can become more resilient during childhood. Research shows
that kids who participate in sports are more likely to bounce back from
disappointment and adversity than children who aren’t active. Fit kids
are also less likely to feel stressed out.
Kids are less likely to start smoking. Boys and girls ages 12 to 16 who
spend much of their leisure time doing physical activity are significantly
less likely to start smoking than low-activity groups.
Kids are less likely to get pregnant as teenagers. Teenage female athletes are less likely to get pregnant than girls who don’t participate in
sports. They’re also more likely to have their first sexual experience
later in adolescence than nonathletes.
You can keep up with your grandkids. Wouldn’t it be nice to toss
around the pigskin with your granddaughter without your arm getting
sore and tired? Regular workouts can give you the strength and stamina
to be a worthy opponent for family tennis tournaments and basketball
on the driveway.
Your pet can get fit, too. Take your pooch for longer and more frequent walks,
and he’ll live a longer, healthier life. Plus, dogs thrive on activity. They much
prefer to trot around and take in the sights than impersonate a throw rug that
happens to be alive.
You Satisfy Your Competitive Urges
Participating in a local 5K road race or vying for a trophy in the company golf
championship is a healthy outlet for your competitive spirit. Even racing
against the clock can be a satisfying pursuit. Plus, you perform better in all
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
sports. A dead-on jump shot or wicked tennis serve carries you only so far.
Regular exercise gives you the stamina and agility to outlast your opponents
on the court or on the field.
At the same time, you can help find a cure for leukemia, multiple sclerosis, or
breast cancer. Nationwide, hundreds of athletic events raise money for important medical research. You can run, walk, bike, swim, even snowshoe — all in
the name of having fun and saving lives.
And don’t forget that, when you compete, you get cool stuff. Run a 10K or
ride in a bike-a-thon, and you score all sorts of unique t-shirts, caps, water
bottles, sweat bands, and socks that you won’t find at Gap or Target. These
items lend you an air of mystique and athleticism, plus they’re pretty useful.
Not bad for a $15 or $20 entry fee.
You Have Fun
When you discover an activity you love, whether it’s step aerobics or indoor
rock-climbing, you stop thinking of exercise as drudgery and look forward to
lacing up your athletic shoes. Exercise is like recess was in grade school — a
time to stop being serious and just get out there and play.
You also have infinitely more travel options. Instead of taking yet another
cruise or bus tour or parking yourself at the craps tables in Vegas, you can
bicycle in Vermont, kayak in Alaska, or hike the Grand Canyon. And back on
the home front, instead of sequestering yourself indoors for four months this
winter and piling on the sweaters to hide extra poundage, you can snowshoe,
ski, snowboard, skate — invigorating activities that can prevent winter weight
gain and give you an edge for snowball fights with the neighborhood kids.
You Enjoy Life More
Sure, this is kind of a catch-all category, but the bottom line is that life is more
fun when you’re fit. Check out these additional benefits to working out:
You’re more creative. In one study, subjects who did aerobic exercise
scored higher on creative thinking tests than did subjects who watched
a video. That’s not surprising: Many people come up with their best
ideas while on the run.
You can catch up on your reading. Does your living room resemble a
newspaper recycling facility? Are you burdened with guilt for not even
opening the 14 magazines you subscribe to? Kill two birds with one
stone by reading on the stationary bike or the stair-climber.
Chapter 24: Ten Great Reasons to Break a Sweat
You sharpen your math skills. When you load weight plates onto a barbell, you have to do some fast calculations. (Quick: How much weight is
a 45-pound bar plus two 10-pound plates and two 5-pound plates?) The
math gets even more challenging when you convert miles per hour on
the treadmill to how many minutes per mile you’re running.
You’re more useful around the house. You don’t need help unscrewing
that stubborn jar of pickles, hoisting that 10-gallon jug of water, or
pulling apart the sofa bed for your houseguests.
You’re more productive. Can’t garden for more than 20 minutes without
stopping to rest your achy knees? Can’t get all your errands done in
one shot because you need to take a break? Do you avoid visiting your
friend who lives in that fourth-floor walk-up? When you’re fit, none of
this is a worry.
You’re likely to watch less junk TV. When exercise is part of your life,
you don’t have time to sit around with the remote, bouncing around
from Survivor to CSI to Desperate Housewives.
You have an excuse to go shopping. You can buy an endless number of
nifty gadgets without feeling guilty, such as a heart-rate monitor, a set of
dumbbells, a titanium bike seat, or a windproof ski vest.
You enjoy retirement more. Not that we don’t love Scrabble and gin
rummy, but fit seniors have more activity choices, from golf to gardening
to world travel.
You discover a lot about your body. When you lift weights, you become
intimately acquainted with your muscles and their individual job descriptions. You notice that your back muscles are called for duty when you
pull a bar toward you, and you realize that your chest muscles kick in
when you push a bar away from you.
You get to learn a whole new language. Reps, sets, pecs, lats, target
zone — when you hang out at health clubs or build a library of exercise
videos, you quickly become fluent in the language of exercise. Your
friends will be impressed!
You develop a greater appreciation for the athletes you watch on TV
or cheer for at sporting events. You don’t understand just how tough it
is to hit a 90-mph fastball, duck a lightning-fast left hook, or cycle 100
miles uphill until you try these sports yourself. After you start working
out, you’ll watch events like the Tour de France and the New York City
marathon with a whole new outlook.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
Chapter 25
Ten Great Fitness Investments
under $100
In This Chapter
Reviewing the best fitness bargains
Picking up valuable accessories
Rewarding yourself for your hard work
ou can spend thousands of dollars on high-tech exercise machinery, but
some of the most valuable fitness products around cost less than $100.
In this chapter, we recommend simple products and services that can turn
pain into pleasure and drudgery into fun. These ten cheap fitness investments are sure to pay you back many times over. We list them roughly in
order from cheapest to most expensive.
A Water Bottle
You’re a heckuva lot more likely to down your eight to ten glasses a day if you
carry around a water bottle — at the gym, at the office, or in front of the TV. If
you have to hop off the treadmill and traipse halfway across the room to the
water fountain, you won’t. Honestly, you have no excuse not to own a water
bottle. They’re often offered as freebies when you join a gym or buy a bike,
and even if you have to break down and pay for one, you’re still only out $5.
Although water bottles are the ultimate indoor exercise accessory, there’s an
even better product for outdoor workouts: a hydration pack. It’s an insulated
pouch that you wear like a lightweight backpack when you’re cycling, walking, hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing. You fill the pouch with water; to drink,
you bite down on the end of a flexible tube that hangs over your shoulder.
Camelbak, the inventor of the hydration pack, even makes a nifty winter
version that has an insulated tube that won’t freeze. Research suggests that
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
hydration-pack users drink more fluids — and drink more frequently — than
water-bottle users. This makes sense because biting down on a tube is much
more convenient than reaching down to grab your water bottle. Hydration
packs cost $40 to $100. Many come with extra zipper pockets to store food,
money, extra bike tubes, and so on.
A Good Pair of Socks
You probably put quite a bit of thought into purchasing your athletic shoes,
shorts, jackets, skates, skis, and helmets. But socks? Nah. Chances are, you
grabbed a six-pack at the discount store without considering anything but
the price.
It may seem ridiculous, but there are socks designed for almost every sport,
and usually they’re worth the extra money. Socks act as a buffer between your
foot and your shoe, so they help prevent blisters, calluses, and other shoefriction problems. For each sport, you use your feet differently and wear different shoes, so it only makes sense to wear different socks. There’s even a
difference between running socks (extra padding across the toes and bridge
of the foot) and walking socks (more padding in the heel).
Suzanne used to cycle in the same cotton socks she’d wear to the movies. It
wasn’t until she scored a pair of freebie biking socks at a fundraiser that she
realized the difference: Socks designed for cycling wick away sweat and let
her feet breathe. And when it rains, her feet don’t freeze. She now gladly pays
$7 for Air-eators, her favorite brand.
Experiment with different types of socks, and before you invest in a whole
new wardrobe of socks, buy a single pair to test. In general, we prefer lightweight synthetic sock materials such as CoolMax because they breathe
better and dry faster than cotton or wool socks. We also like SmartWool socks
($7–$15), which are made from high-quality wool and specially treated so
they dry quickly and hold their shape well. Two other sports sock brands
that we like are Wigwam and Thorlo.
Stretching Mat
Sure, you could stretch on a rolled-up towel or plush carpet, but how often
do you actually do it? A mat not only makes stretching more comfortable but
also reminds you to do your flexibility exercises. For about $7, you can get a
perfectly functional stretching mat made of flexible plastic. (The $7 ones are
too stiff to roll up, but they fit pretty neatly in a closet or under a bed.) If
you’re willing to pay $30 or more, you can get a mat that folds up and has a
cloth covering.
Chapter 25: Ten Great Fitness Investments under $100
If you do a lot of yoga (see Chapter 16) or meditation, try a “sticky” mat,
which costs from $15 to $40. These mats are made of soft, thin plastic coated
with a sticky film that helps keep you steady during moves that require balance. Brands we like include Frelonic and Airex.
Weightlifting Gloves
Lifting weights (see Chapter 11) does countless good things to your body —
shaping your muscles, boosting your strength, and thickening your bones, to
name a few — but pumping iron isn’t kind to one particular area: your palms.
After a few months of gripping dumbbells and weight machines, the skin
on your hands starts to feel like sandpaper. You can prevent major callus
buildup by wearing weightlifting gloves, sold at most sporting goods stores
for $15 to $20.
Gloves not only protect your palms but also give you a better grip on the
weights. Suzanne is convinced that she can do more pull-ups while wearing
weightlifting gloves than while gripping a slippery bar with naked hands. She’s
so enamored of her gloves that she keeps them in her backpack when she
travels so that she’s all set to work out if she unexpectedly walks past a gym.
Suzanne likes gloves with Velcro wrist adjustments so that she can tighten
and loosen the gloves as needed.
A Workout Log
You may think tracking your workouts in an exercise diary is obsessive; who
needs extra paperwork? But a workout log offers proof of your commitment
to exercise. Nothing is more motivating than seeing your accomplishments
on paper.
Jot down as many details as you can think of without making yourself feel like
a court reporter at a deposition. (Chapter 3 lists the particulars worth noting.)
A workout diary need not be a fancy affair — a notebook from the drugstore
will suffice. Personally, we’re partial to store-bought logs designed especially
for the purpose of tracking daily workouts. They lend a sense of importance
to what you’re doing, and many are filled with good training tips and inspirational quotes.
You can purchase workout diaries for less than $20 at bookstores, sporting
goods stores, and the Internet. Some logs are designed for specific activities —
like walking, cycling, and weight lifting. You also can buy all-purpose logs that
provide space to track weight-training exercises, cardiovascular workouts,
stretching, and nutrition notes.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
When you start a weight-training program, increasing your weights by the
smallest increment possible is important. PlateMates, shown in Figure 25-1,
can help fill in the gaps. These ingenious weight magnets adhere to each end
of a dumbbell and save you the cost of buying extra weights. They come in
four weights: 5⁄8 pound, 11⁄4 pound, 17⁄8 pound, and 21⁄2 pounds. Prices range from
about $19 to $28 per pair. Stick a pair of 11⁄4-pound PlateMates on the end of
your 5-pound dumbbells and voila — you have 71⁄2-pounders. Now stick ’em to
your 10-pounders, and you have 121⁄2-pounders. You can buy a handy carrying
case for the weights (about $9) so that you can take them to your health club
as well.
Figure 25-1:
can save
you big.
Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc
A Gym Bag
You’d never consider boarding an airplane carrying your shirts, pants, shoes,
toothpaste, hairbrush, and shampoo all in your hands. Yet many people arrive
at the gym juggling all sorts of paraphernalia, including car keys, membership
card, tape player, towel, water bottle, and magazines. Perhaps this is because
they don’t realize how sophisticated gym bags have become. The best ones
have pockets for everything — small compartments for a wallet or membership card, medium-sized zipper sections ideal for a radio/CD player or workout gloves, and mesh pouches for your stinky clothes so that mold doesn’t
start to grow. Many bags have special features for different sports. In-line
Chapter 25: Ten Great Fitness Investments under $100
skating bags have special pockets to hold your skates. Soccer bags have compartments to separate your muddy, grassy cleats from the rest of your items.
Swimming bags are designed to accommodate your fins, paddles, and goggles;
good ones have a waterproof compartment to throw your suit in when it’s wet.
You can get a good bag for less than $50. Look for sturdy, easy-to-wash fabrics
such as thick nylon. Canvas tends to rip and soil easily. A gym bag should have
a rigid bottom so that when you place it on the floor, it stands upright. This
helps keep your items in place. We also like bags with both shoulder straps
and handles so that you can choose how to carry your bag. If you tend to
walk home from the gym at night — or even just from the club to the parking
lot — look for a bag with reflective stripes or glow-in-the-dark panels.
A Heart-Rate Monitor
Heart-rate monitors are the training tool of choice for both serious and recreational exercisers. Because your heart rate is directly proportional to how
hard you’re working, a monitor is a great way to determine your exercise
intensity. We especially recommend these gizmos for beginners who are just
learning how to push themselves, and for people training for a competition
who want to get a sense of what it feels like to work out at near-maximum
pace. (See Chapter 8 for details on how to put your monitor to good use.) A
monitor is also especially valuable if you’re a home exerciser. You don’t have
the roar of the crowd to keep you going, or the wide assortment of equipment
to occupy you; your heart rate gives you something tangible to focus on.
Prices range from $59 for a simple model to $400 for one that lets you download information to your computer, create graphs of your training intensities,
and cross-reference this information with every variable from the weather to
the type of shoes you wear.
A Personal Training Appointment
Hiring a personal trainer sounds like hiring a personal chef — an extravagance that’s swell for Oprah but unrealistic for the rest of us. But we’re not
talking about a lifetime commitment here. You can hire a trainer for a couple
of sessions, either at home or at a health club, to get you started on a program tailored to your goals and your fitness level or to update your current
routine. Trainers cost between $25 and $100 per session. If you buddy up
with a friend or two, your sessions may cost less.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
If you plan to be a short-timer, inform your trainer of your intentions so that
he can cover more in a shorter period of time. And think specifically about
your goals for these few sessions. Do you want to learn a routine you can
take on business trips? Do you want training advice for a summer cycling
vacation? Do you want a program to help you lose fat? Act like you’re taking a
crash course in Italian two weeks before you move to Rome: Be prepared to
soak up a lot of information. Arm yourself with questions and take notes. By
the end of your session(s), make sure you know how to adjust each machine,
grip each handle the right way, and perform each exercise using the correct
technique. And consider scheduling follow-up sessions once a month or so to
check your progress, stay up-to-date, and continue to improve your skills.
Also find out whether your trainer is willing to answer quick questions via
e-mail as part of the overall cost.
A Massage
Okay, you’ve been exercising for a solid month. You deserve a reward, and
besides, your legs feel a little sore. What better way to treat yourself than
with a rubdown?
Massage loosens up kinks in your muscles, relieves stress, and helps you
relax. Research suggests it may even speed your body’s recovery from a
workout or injury by increasing blood flow and, therefore, delivering more
oxygen and nutrients to your muscle cells and restoring muscle and joint
mobility. Massage may also make you more mentally alert. In one study,
subjects who had been massaged were able to do math problems in half
the time, and with half as many errors, as subjects who weren’t touched.
Although we’re not all that motivated to improve our algebra skills, we like
massage for a more important reason: It feels soooo good. Depending on
where you live, an hour-long massage can run you between $35 and $100.
Sessions in your home usually cost a little more, to compensate for the
driving time and the fact that the therapist has to lug a big, heavy table to
your door.
In most states, massage therapists are required to pass a certification exam.
Chances are, any therapist who works at a club or spa is fully licensed and
certified, but it never hurts to ask. For a home massage, get a recommendation from a doctor, trainer, or friend you trust. You may think “bad massage”
is an oxymoron, but you can get rubbed the wrong way. A rock-climber friend
of Liz’s had his arms massaged by someone who practically mauled him. The
guy was so bruised and in pain that he couldn’t climb for two weeks.
Chapter 26
Ten Fitness Rip-Offs
In This Chapter
Ten products that are a waste of your money
Ten tips for buying fitness products advertised on TV
t a fitness-equipment trade show not long ago, we mentioned to an
infomercial executive that a certain abdominal gadget appeared to be
flimsy and useless. “I wouldn’t disagree with you,” the executive said, smiling.
“But we’ve sold 20,000 units in the first month.”
You oughta be insulted. The fitness industry has no shortage of hucksters,
and they count on the public’s naiveté — and hunger for a quick fix — to keep
the money rolling in. They sell exercise gizmos that, off the record, they
admit are useless. They use scientific mumbo jumbo to promote products
based on nothing more than wishful thinking. They pay celebrities big bucks
to go on TV and lie.
The Federal Trade Commission, the government agency that monitors truth
in advertising, is aware of these scams and has boosted efforts to nail companies making fraudulent health and fitness claims. However, the advertising
police are not unlike big-city cops: They only have the manpower to hunt
down the most egregious offenders. And with the rise of the Internet, fitness
crooks have proliferated.
All of this means that you need to be a very savvy fitness consumer. In this
chapter, we give you the lowdown on ten products that we consider to be a
waste of money. We also offer tips on judging other fitness products that you
may come across on TV infomercials, on the Internet, in magazine advertisements, and in fitness-equipment and health-food stores. Our advice, in a
word: Beware!
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
Anti-Cellulite Products
The products: Creams and gels intended to eliminate cellulite, the puckery fat
that forms on the butt, hips, and thighs of most women and some men. What
are the magic ingredients? Cellasene pills contain, among other things, gingko
biloba, sweet clover, grapeseed bioflavonoids, and dried fucus vesiculosus
(a kelp-like seaweed found off the Atlantic coasts of Europe). Lipofactor cream
is made of “biotechnologically derived elements a/y.” We have absolutely no
idea what this means, but this phrase is repeated all over the Internet.
The reality: Talk about scientific mumbo jumbo! No legitimate research exists
to show that any pill or cream can reduce cellulite. Physiologically speaking,
cellulite doesn’t even exist. The term is marketing hype for plain old fat that
clumps at various points on your body. The ripple effect is caused by a network of connective tissue fibers that attach muscle to skin and compartmentalize the fat like stitching on a quilt. You reduce cellulite the same way you
reduce any fat: through a healthy diet and regular exercise. However, you
may never lose the ripples. For some people, they’re a genetic fact of life.
Metabolism Boosters
The products: Pills and powders intended to speed up your metabolism so
that your body burns more calories during the course of the day without
requiring you to increase activity. Several of these supplements — such as
Ultra Burn, CitraLean, and Hydroxycut — contain HCA (hydroxycitric acid), a
form of citric acid found in fruits. Others contain chromium picolinate, a form
of the mineral chromium, or ephedra (also called ma huang), an herbal stimulant. Some combine almost every ingredient known to mankind.
The reality: Solid research shows that chromium picolinate has little nutritional value. Only two legitimate, published studies have even tested HCA in
humans, and the results were contradictory. (Animal studies have shown the
substance to be toxic, causing rat testicles to atrophy.) As for ephedra, the FDA
has fielded more than 800 reports of medical problems from this stimulant,
including heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and a nasty side-effect known as
death. Ephedrine can be especially lethal for those with high blood pressure.
It is banned in California.
Amphetamines and over-the-counter stimulants can indeed rev up your metabolism, but even if you can withstand the side-effects (such as increased blood
pressure and heart rate), your body tends to adapt to these substances, so
the effect is likely to be short-lived. The only safe and lasting way to boost
your metabolic rate is to increase your muscle mass by lifting weights (and
even that, as we explain in Chapter 11, isn’t going to have a magical effect).
Chapter 26: Ten Fitness Rip-Offs
Fat Blockers
The products: Pills intended to prevent your body from absorbing the fat
you eat. Chitosan — a substance that forms the hard shells of shellfish and
insects — is a popular ingredient. Another is pyruvate, a substance that
occurs naturally in the body and is involved in energy production.
The reality: Sure, it would be nice if you could enjoy fried chicken, mounds of
mashed potatoes and gravy, butter, rolls, ice cream, and cake — all without
gaining weight. But guess what? You can’t! We don’t know whether pyruvate
and chitosan are beneficial for weight loss. We do know that both Fat Trapper
and Exercise in a Bottle can run you as much as $300 a month — a whopping
$3,600 a year. That’s ten times the cost of many gym memberships. If you’re
serious about dropping body fat, stay away from high-fat foods and get plenty
of the type of exercise that doesn’t come in a bottle.
Effortless Exercisers
The products: These contraptions are the player pianos of exercise machines.
They move whether you’re holding on or not. Consider the Stretch-A-Cizer,
essentially a chair with a handlebar mounted above the seat back. “All you do
is sit on the seat and hold onto the exercise bar while it goes through the
motions,” explains an Internet ad for this $1,200 electric contraption (freight
prepaid!). Also in this category: the Chi Machine Aerobic Exerciser. You lie on
your back on the floor, place your ankles on the machine’s contoured
footrest, flip a switch, and let this $460 gizmo toss you around like a fish out
of water. “This is not a 10-kilometer run kind of workout, where one gets all
sweaty and exhausted,” the Chi Machine Web site reports. “Instead you lie
down, relax, [and] have a ‘workout.’”
The reality: This is all a bunch of baloney. We don’t think we have to tell you
why you won’t get thin by lying on the floor and having electrical impulses
shoot up your spine so you flop around like a fish — even if you do this five
times a day for 15 minutes, as the Chi Machine literature recommends.
Electronic Muscle Stimulation Machines
The products: Metal boxes that deliver a low-impulse jolt of electricity to
muscles that are covered by electrodes. This jolt is supposed to tone and
tighten muscles.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
The reality: The only way to strengthen your muscles is to work out. We
think the reason electrical stimulation gizmos have such staying power is
that electrical stimulus or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
machines do have legitimate medical uses: They’re used by highly trained
doctors and physical therapists to manage pain and help rehabilitate certain
injuries. But they can cause serious injury from burns and electrical shocks
when used by laypeople.
Spot-Reducing Gadgets
The products: Abdominal gizmos, neoprene “waist trimmer” belts, neck
toners, “reducing” shorts — there’s no shortage of products that profess to
melt the fat on a particularly blubbery spot on your body. In response to a
crackdown by the Federal Trade Commission, many abdominal-gadget manufacturers have stopped making the direct claim that their products will cause
weight loss in the abdominal area. However, they haven’t stopped implying
that this will happen, firming and flattening abs, melting excess fat, and so on.
The reality: The concept of spot-reducing is bogus; you can’t pick and choose
where on your body you’ll lose fat. Abdominal exercises can only strengthen
your abdominals (and many of them don’t even do a good job of that). To lose
that gut, you have to embark on a sensible eating and exercise program — an
approach that will reduce your overall body fat. Some of this body fat is likely
to come from your midsection.
Weight-Loss Clothing
The products: Vinyl and synthetic rubber exercise suits that make you sweat
like it’s August in New Orleans.
The reality: It doesn’t matter whose heat you use: Reducing inches by
sweating profusely can put you in serious danger. People have died from
wearing vinyl and rubber suits after working out in the heat or wearing the
clothing over a long period of time. Cause of death: extreme dehydration
or a form of blood poisoning brought on when chemicals from the suit
escape into the bloodstream. We think suggesting that these suits can be
worn for “the most strenuous activities” is particularly appalling. The more
strenuous the activity, the more important it is to wear clothing that lets
your skin breathe.
Chapter 26: Ten Fitness Rip-Offs
Four-Minute Workouts
The product: ROM, a popular infomercial machine that looks like a combination stepper and indoor bicycle. The idea is that the machine offers such a
phenomenal cardio and flexibility workout that you can get into the shape of
your life in just four minutes per day.
The reality: No four-minute cardiovascular workout will give you significant
strength-training or weight-loss benefits. Certainly this contraption is no
substitute for ten gym machines. And it doesn’t burn nearly three times the
calories of a treadmill. (Machines don’t burn calories; people do. The number
of calories you burn per minute depends on how hard you push. Some
machines do allow you to work at a more intense pace than others, but the
Romfab claim is totally unfounded.)
Gym Cardio Machine Knockoffs
The products: Cheapo treadmills, stair-climbers, and elliptical trainers that
profess to work and feel exactly the same as the cardio equipment found in
health clubs. You can find these at sporting-goods stores, online, and in mailorder catalogs.
The reality: You simply can’t buy sturdy, high-tech aerobic machinery for
the price of dinner at a fancy restaurant. Top-quality machines cost thousands
of dollars for a reason: They’re based on years of scientific research and the
study of body biomechanics. The angle of movement, the placement of the
seat, how far your legs can move — all these important features are based
on solid engineering. That’s usually not the case with cardio knockoffs. After
a while, you may find that your back hurts or your knees ache because of
poor design.
What’s more, these contraptions aren’t as sturdy as the gym versions. When
you step on the treadmill at the gym, you don’t feel the walking belt sink or
the handrails wobble. Suzanne almost toppled over while testing one of these
at a trade show. And several people have filed lawsuits after allegedly hurting
themselves on cheapo machines while trying them out in the store.
One more caveat: Cheap cardio machines usually don’t come with good
warranties — usually 90 days or less — compared to 1 to 3 years for highend machines. See Chapter 20 for tips on buying high-quality cardio machines
for your home.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
Hand Weights
The products: Dumbbells that weigh 1 to 5 pounds and are designed to be
held while running, jogging, power walking, and doing step aerobics. Many of
these products claim to combine strength training with aerobic conditioning
in one workout, while causing you to burn extra calories.
The reality: People who power walk with weights in their hands look quite
serious and impressive, but the truth is, these weights aren’t doing them any
good. Research on walkers shows that carrying hand weights burns only 10
to 15 percent more calories — a mere 20 to 30 calories over the course of an
hour, at least half of which come from exaggerating your arm swing, not from
the weights. (To put this in perspective: Speeding up from a 3-mph pace to a
4-mph pace burns an extra 54 calories.)
Research on aerobic dancers suggests that you may actually burn fewer
calories holding hand weights than holding nothing at all. That’s because
weight-holding exercisers must keep both arm and leg movements tight and
controlled. In other words, you don’t move your body as much or as far
because if you flail the weights around, you get thrown off balance. As a
result, you burn fewer calories.
Also, swinging hand weights vigorously can place undue stress on delicate
upper-body joints such as the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Due to a concept
called torque, there are points in your arm swing when a weight exerts up to
ten times the usual force on your joints. In other words, a measly 3-pound
weight will place up to 30 pounds of force on those delicate joints. Plus, this
force is delivered in a jerky manner, which can do a lot of damage.
Finally, realize that you’re not going to build strength with these weights. Any
dumbbell that’s light enough for you to carry around while walking is too
light to strengthen your muscles. As we explain in Chapter 13, to build strength
you need to lift weights that are heavy enough that you can perform no more
than about 15 repetitions of an exercise.
Chapter 27
Ten Ways to Stay Motivated
In This Chapter
Committing to an event to jump-start your fitness program
Finding inspiration in others
Spicing up your workouts
or some people, the motivation to work out comes naturally. These
people have the same passion for exercise that others have for wine
tasting or watching NASCAR or following the stock market.
But for most people, the inspiration to work out comes and goes. And the
truth is, even the most dedicated fitness buffs go through periods when they
just don’t feel like lacing up their cross-trainers and heading to the gym.
So what separates those who can pull themselves out of the exercise doldrums
from those who succumb to feelings of inertia? There’s no single strategy.
Instead, successful exercisers tend to rely on a whole repertoire of tactics. Here
are ten of the best ways to keep yourself motivated. Try all these strategies.
At least one is bound to work for you.
Train for an Event
Suzanne once interviewed an Olympic weightlifter who described himself as
a “pretty lazy guy.” “If I wasn’t training for the Olympics,” he said, “I probably
wouldn’t even work out.”
Even if you don’t aspire to hoist 424 pounds overhead before thousands of
screaming fans, committing to an event can jump-start your workout program.
The options are countless — a 5K walk, a 10K run, a mini-triathlon, a 100-mile
bike ride. The minute you mail in your entry fee, you have a whole new sense
of purpose. And the feeling of accomplishment you get from completing your
event is like nothing else.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
If you’re a novice, an excellent option is to join a training program organized
by a charity. You’ll have the double motivation of getting in shape and knowing that you’re raising money for a good cause. Here are two of the best
national programs:
The Leukemia Society’s Team in Training (
This program prepares even complete beginners to run or walk a
marathon or bicycle a century (100 miles). Each week you and your teammates meet with an experienced coach. You’re also paired with a local
“Honored Patient” who cheers you on throughout your training. On the
day of the event, you wear a special wristband with the patient’s name.
AIDS LifeCycle ( You get all the flat-tire
seminars, training tips, and camaraderie you need to complete one of
nine annual AIDS Rides, three- to seven-day cycling tours that cover 50
to 80 miles per day. Many participants don’t even own bikes when they
sign up.
“Every week on the training rides you see people of all different shapes,
sizes, and ages training for the same cause,” says our friend Tracy, who
has completed the San Francisco–to–Los Angeles AIDS Ride four times.
“That gives you the psychological momentum to keep going.” Finishing
the ride along with 2,000 other cyclists in matching shirts is exhilarating,
Tracy says. “People are honking their horns and lining the streets for
miles with posters, balloons, and banners. You feel like a celebrity.”
Keep Your Goals in Plain Sight
The “lazy” Olympic weightlifter mentioned in the preceding section keeps a
picture of the Olympic rings next to his bed. Some people tape their goals to
the bathroom mirror or refrigerator. Suzanne knows a swimmer who writes
his goals on his kickboard. Liz has a client who enters her workout goals into
her computer’s screen saver so that she sees them scrolling by every time
she takes a break from typing.
Whether you write your goals on the side of your shoe or in your training diary,
glancing at them on a daily basis helps keep you focused and motivated. What
if you don’t have specific goals to write down? Turn to Chapter 3 ASAP.
Work Out with a Club or a Team
Back when Suzanne rode her bike alone, she’d roll along at a leisurely pace,
get bored after about 20 miles, and head home before she was even tired.
Some days she was so uninspired that she’d keep pushing the snooze button
on her alarm until it was too late to work out. But these days when the buzzer
Chapter 27: Ten Ways to Stay Motivated
sounds, she flies out of bed, blends up a fruit smoothie, and heads out for a
ride. The difference? She hooked up with an informal group of 15 cyclists who
meet on a street corner three days a week in suburban Los Angeles. Now her
rides are so much fun that Suzanne doesn’t even mind sitting in traffic for 50
minutes to get to the starting point. Plus, by riding with a group of cyclists
who are much faster than she is, Suzanne has become a much stronger biker.
Whether you join a bike club, a hiking group, a swim team, or a soccer
league, you’re sure to gain inspiration from your workout buddies. Don’t worry
if you’re the slowest one in the group; just do as much as you can handle.
Eventually, you’ll catch up with the rest. Don’t sweat it, either, if the group isn’t
friendly right off the bat. Some groups can be cliquish, and it takes time to
break in. If you keep showing up, eventually you’ll be one of the gang. If you
don’t have a group of friends who are interested in working out, check with
your local running or cycling store or search the Internet for the name of your
town and terms like workout group.
Work Out with a Buddy
If you can’t find a local club that fits your schedule, set up a workout schedule
with a friend. When Liz’s friends Patty and Ann trained for a triathlon together,
they met at 4 a.m. every morning for a bike ride, followed by weight lifting
and yoga. On the weekends they did their runs and swims together. This went
on for six months until they completed the event successfully. Both say they
couldn’t have done it without the other’s support and companionship. “The
only way I could get my butt out of bed at 4 in the morning was knowing Ann
would be there, too,” says Patty.
Join an Internet Fitness Community
Not everyone can find workout partners in his neighborhood. But thanks
to the Internet, you can gain inspiration from fitness buddies across the
country — or even the world. Several fitness Web sites have forums where
visitors can chat with like-minded exercisers and develop strong bonds with
one another.
Some sites even help you find an e-mail pen pal with similar interests and
fitness goals. For instance, at the Fitness Jumpsite (
fitnesspartner), you can post an ad describing your exercise pursuits and
what you’re looking for in an e-mail fitness buddy. Postings run the gamut —
from a single mom in Australia wanting to lose 50 pounds to a North Carolina
college student needing inspiration to lift weights instead of hanging out all
night in his dorm downing pizza and beer.
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
Internet groups are especially helpful for home exercisers. “People who exercise at home don’t have the social benefit that you can get at a health club,
and in many cases, they don’t have any friends or family who exercise,” says
Wendy Niemi Kremer, founder of Video Fitness (, a
Web site for exercise video enthusiasts. (See Chapter 19 for more details about
the site.) “Video Fitness has become an enormous support group. When any
crisis in your life can derail your exercise program, it’s nice to have somewhere to go.”
Test Your Fitness Regularly
Sure, exercise gives you intangible benefits like more energy and greater selfesteem. But it also helps to translate your progress into raw numbers: how
many pounds you can bench-press, how many beats your resting heart rate
has dropped, how fast you can run a mile, how much body fat you’ve lost.
(We explain all these tests in Chapter 2.) Track these numbers in a workout
log or notebook (see Chapter 3) so that you can keep track of your progress
over time.
For your first year that you work out regularly, you may want to get tested
every three months. (You make the most noticeable improvements when you
first start exercising; then progress becomes less dramatic.) After the first
year, we suggest getting tested every six months. If you don’t want to spend
the time or money on a whole battery of tests, ask a certified trainer to do the
part you find most motivating, such as a body-fat test or blood-pressure reading. A heart-rate monitor can be useful for the do-it-yourself tests that we
describe in Chapters 2 and 8.
If you’re training for a specific event, you may want to do a time trial once a
month. For example, if your goal is to walk a mile in a certain amount of time,
break out your stopwatch once a month and go all out. If you train properly,
each time you test yourself you’ll move a bit closer to your goal.
Mix Up Your Workouts
Some people thrive on routine. Suzanne bicycles with a 67-year-old retired
racer named Barry who has been riding the exact same route on Saturdays
for 41 years. Much to the frustration of his wife, Barry refuses to take noncycling vacations, because he doesn’t want to miss his daily ride.
Most of us, however, need a bit of variety to stay motivated. For this reason,
you may want to try cross-training, which simply means mixing up your activities. Cross-training means different things to different people. You can vary
Chapter 27: Ten Ways to Stay Motivated
your sport — running on Mondays, swimming on Tuesdays, hiking on Wednesdays, and so on. Or you can vary your pace and terrain — walking fast and flat
one day, slow and hilly the next. Or you can try different equipment — using
weight machines one session and free weights the next. If you always use the
treadmill, expand your horizons by trying out the elliptical trainer or the rower.
You can also pair activities that focus on different aspects of fitness. For
example, do yoga one day to work on your flexibility and engage your mind;
the next day run on the treadmill while watching Law & Order.
Dress the Part
We’re not encouraging you to become a fitness-clothing junkie — or use the
lack of a new outfit as an excuse to skip a workout. But buying snazzy new
workout shorts or comfy new cross-trainers can really get you fired up
to work out. Plus, you feel like a workout pro, and you let your fellow exercisers know you’re one of them.
When Liz first started indoor rock climbing, she showed up in running shorts
and a t-shirt. She noticed that all the good climbers wore tank tops and long
sweat pants cut off at the bottom. Gradually, Liz conformed to the dress code
and found out a few things. For one, the “in” crowd was more accepting of
her because she looked serious about the sport. But more importantly, Liz
realized there’s actually a reason rock climbers dress that way: The long
sweats protect you from bumps and bruises. Cutting off the elastic at the
bottom lets you move your legs and feet more freely. And a sleeveless top
makes moving your arms easier.
If you find yourself really digging a certain activity, research the gear and
equipment that you see everyone else wearing. A few choice items can put
you into the right frame of mind for your workouts.
Keep Yourself Entertained
Combining exercise with life’s guilty pleasures can make your workout fly by.
Maybe you’ll enjoy your treadmill power walk more if you do it while watching reruns of Sex and the City or listening to the latest OutKast CD.
These days, you have more opportunities than ever to keep yourself entertained while you work out. Most gyms now have some sort of high-tech
entertainment system that gives you access to TV, radio, CDs, and even the
Internet. (We describe these systems in Chapter 9.)
Part VIII: The Part of Tens
If you don’t go to a gym, you can carry your own radio or CD player while you
exercise, as long as you exercise in a safe environment and remain aware of
your surroundings. Portable CD players have improved to the point where
they won’t skip even if you carry one while running. You can even find underwater tape players for swimming and water aerobics, and some pools pipe in
underwater music. For the ultimate lightweight player, though, consider getting an iPod or other MP3 player, which can store hours of music and doesn’t
require discs.
Read Success Stories
We’re not talking about those before-and-after weight-loss ads in which a
blubbery guy with a scowl on his face is miraculously transformed — “in just
six weeks!” — into a grinning, chiseled hunk of muscle.
No, we’re referring to legitimate accounts of fitness success chronicled in
magazines and on fitness Web sites. The good ones offer not only inspiration
but specific and realistic advice. One woman featured in Shape magazine’s
monthly “Success Stories” column wrote that she had ballooned to 226
pounds at age 23. (Get the magazine at your local newsstand or visit www. Fed up, she vowed to her husband that in one year, he
wouldn’t recognize her. “That’s when I got the fire in my belly,” she wrote. In
addition to cleaning up her diet, she walked a hilly 3-mile route each night
after work. “My face was beet red, and I could barely breathe,” she recalled.
Thirteen months later she had lost 96 pounds. “Best of all, I had gained selfconfidence thanks to taking care of myself.”
Not all fitness success stories are about weight loss. Some are about overcoming anorexia or starting to exercise for the first time at age 60 after a
stroke. You can find success stories in other magazines as well, such as
Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Good Housekeeping.
Educating Yourself
t pays to educate yourself, whether you’re thinking about buying a stairclimber or you want to exercise with your kids. You’ll have more confidence and more fun with your workouts if you read about fitness in magazines
or on the Internet, and you can keep abreast of the latest exercise techniques,
workout gadgets, and nutrition controversies. And you can get inspirational
tips from folks who overcame their inertia. Of course, you also can get completely confused. Use this appendix to educate yourself.
Sifting Through Scientific Research
It seems as though every day in the news you hear about some new study
that seems to contradict the one you heard the month before. First, chromium
picolinate helps build muscle and burn fat; then, it’s a complete waste of
money. One day you hear that one set of weight-training exercises builds as
much strength as the traditional three; then you hear that three sets are
actually better than one. How do you find out the truth?
First, realize that there may not be a truth right now. It often takes decades for
the scientific community to reach a consensus. That “startling new report” you
hear about on TV may simply be one minuscule piece in a gigantic puzzle — one
scientist’s best guess. But because of the way news is generated and reported,
you may not get the full picture. Scientists sometimes overstate their findings
because they want media attention or grant money. In the same way, stories
are sometimes inaccurate because an expert passes along erroneous information. When reviewing studies done by scientists, journalists may hype
ambiguous results because they need a big story. Or they may get the facts
wrong because they had only two hours to decipher a 20-page study full of
phrases like “deuterium oxide concentration was measured by using a fixedfilter single-beam infrared spectrophotometer.” Finally, when the news media
hypes a story as “controversial,” the facts get a little lost.
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Stuff like this happens all the time. Sometimes readers don’t have any way to
discern truth from fiction, but you can get a decent handle on the facts by
paying attention to the way studies are reported. Consider reading the newsletters and Web sites of the American Council on Exercise (www.acefitness.
org) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (,
both of which track the way scientific studies are reported — and distorted —
in the media. Also check out WebMD ( and Medline ( The following tips will also help you sort through the research
that you read and hear about.
Look for context
Does the news report mention how the latest research compares to the
studies that came before it? The results of a single study may be a complete
A few years ago, the media jumped on a study suggesting that kids who drank
a lot of fruit juice were fatter than children who didn’t drink much juice. But
the newspapers and TV stations failed to report a key fact: The study hadn’t
considered the children’s exercise or overall eating habits. “Several studies
had found before and have found since that you can’t blame it on the juice,”
says registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer, a nutrition book author who frequently appears on Good Morning America. “It’s lack of exercise and their
whole diet pattern that makes kids fat.” Somer stood in the studio cringing as
the news anchor informed the nation that drinking juice is bad for kids. “They
should never have even reported on that study,” says Somer, who couldn’t
contradict the news anchor in her own nutrition segment.
Don’t alter your lifestyle on the basis of one study. Many theories are later
proven to be wrong. As late as the 1960s, many experts were still telling
women that exercise would damage their uteruses.
Consider the source
A health study is more likely to be legit if it comes out of a major university
or government agency rather than some mysterious, private institute. Some
private companies and foundations do valid research, but many organizations
with impressive-sounding names, like Sportlife Exercise Health Sciences
Institute, are just facades for companies promoting their products. Look for
the term independent research. A tobacco study done by RJ Reynolds or a
rating of treadmill brands done by a treadmill manufacturer should fall under
the category of things that make you go “Hmm.”
Appendix: Educating Yourself
On the other hand, just because a study was conducted at an elite university
doesn’t mean it’s the gospel. Recently, the National Institutes of Health National
Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) made bold new recommendations for
taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Those studies are now under review, however, because, among other reasons,
scientists brought to light that eight of the nine members of the panel making
the recommendations had undisclosed financial ties to makers of statin drugs.
Don’t assume cause and effect
If a study says that eating oat bran is linked to or is associated with low
blood-cholesterol levels, this doesn’t mean eating oat bran causes low cholesterol levels. Maybe the oat bran eaters are health-conscious and get a lot
of exercise. You have to ask, “Was it the oat bran or the exercise?” Also, take
any individual study with a grain of salt; when several studies back certain
findings, you can be far more sure of their validity.
Look for comparison groups
One magazine article we came across touted the benefits of a powdered food
replacement. As evidence, the article cited a study of 28 overweight women
who cut their daily calories by taking the powder twice a day instead of food;
the subjects also exercised three times a week. After two months, the article
stated, “an astounding 100 percent” of the women lost weight and felt better.
Astounding? Any overweight person who cuts calories and exercises regularly
is going to see results after two months. For the study to have any validity,
the researchers should have compared the group taking the powder with a
control group of similar subjects who ate the same number of calories and
followed the same exercise program but didn’t use the product.
Do some math
You often read that a certain habit “doubles” the risk of death or “increases
the risk of disease by 50 percent.” These figures can be misleading. In a study
that followed 115,000 nurses for 16 years, researchers found that gaining 11
to 18 pounds in middle age raised the nurses’ heart disease risk by 25 percent.
But the number of deaths in the study was so small that a 25 percent increase
would mean the difference between 10 deaths in 10,000 people and 12 or 13
deaths in 10,000.
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Notice the length of the study
A four-week study doesn’t tell you whether a weight-loss pill or exercise
regimen is safe or effective. Maybe a pill stops working after two months or
a year.
The same goes for exercise programs. Several studies show that one set of
weight training exercises builds as much strength as three sets, and these
one-set studies have been well-publicized in fitness magazines. But the magazines typically don’t mention an important fact: Most of the one-set studies
have lasted only three months. Only a handful of studies have tested subjects
for a longer period of time, and these have generally shown that after four to
six months, people doing one set tend to plateau while those doing three sets
tend to continue making strength gains.
Pay attention to the number of subjects
A study performed on a dozen people can’t tell you much of anything, but
this doesn’t stop manufacturers from hyping research conducted with a
sample size no larger than your morning workout group. The makers of an
anti-cellulite pill, now in litigation, originally launched a massive national
campaign to publicize an Italian study purported to show that their pill
worked. But the study was conducted on only ten women. (Furthermore, the
researchers who took the measurements knew which of the women were
using the supplements.)
Don’t make too much of animal studies
The way an obese mouse responds to a diet drug may not be the same way
you respond. Chromium picolinate, a diet supplement touted on bottles as
a “Super Reducer!” received plenty of good press. What you may not have
heard is that most of the fat-loss studies have been performed on pigs. Human
studies show that the supplement does not help humans lose weight.
Recognize that people lie in surveys
Large studies usually rely on written questionnaires or phone surveys, a
method that can lead to very misleading results. Subjects may not remember
how many leafy green vegetables they ate last month, or they may exaggerate
their exercise habits. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, nearly
half of all research participants overestimate how much they exercise, and an
equal percentage underestimate how much they eat.
Appendix: Educating Yourself
Fitness Magazines
Just when the fitness-magazine industry seems to be saturated, along comes
yet another magazine devoted to exercise, health, and nutrition. This is good
news — we welcome more choices. Even better, fitness magazines are becoming more specialized, so you have an excellent chance of finding a magazine
that speaks to you. There’s at least one fitness magazine to suit every type of
exerciser: pregnant women, African American women, men in their 30s, walkers, swimmers, runners, cyclists, yoga practitioners, and cooking enthusiasts
who want to be fit.
But the stiff competition makes some magazines resort to underhanded marketing tactics, including sensational headlines, misleading articles, and uninformed writers. Ask a trainer or fitness-minded friend for magazine recommendations. Also, keep in mind the following tips for judging the fitness information you read in magazines.
Check out specialty magazines
You’re more likely to get good fitness information from magazines that specialize in fitness than from general-interest or beauty magazines that mix in
an occasional exercise article. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule: Some mainstream magazines run perfectly good fitness stories, and some fitness magazines run perfectly lousy ones. But women’s fashion and beauty magazines
are notorious for unrealistic promises like “Permanent Weight Loss! A
Revolutionary Three-Week Plan.”
Be especially wary of magazine pieces that offer fitness advice from celebrities;
being a movie star doesn’t make you an exercise expert.
Beware of sensational headlines
Stay away from magazines whose cover lines seem way too good to be true,
such as “Drop 9 lbs. in 7 Days,” which is the fitness equivalent of “Elvis lives.”
And if the fitness article is next to a story about Burt Reynolds’ ghost having
a secret rendezvous with a two-headed man, you’re probably not getting your
information from the right source. Tabloid rags have caught on to the fact
that the American public is obsessed with weight loss, so what’s one more
story about an alien diet or psychics predicting the health regimens that work?
Even reputable fitness magazines run misleading headlines to draw in readers. Suzanne wrote an article for a health magazine debunking the myth that
abdominal exercises can give you a flat midsection. But the magazine ran a
headline that directly contradicted Suzanne’s story: “A Flat Tummy in 5
Minutes a Day.”
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Know that advertisers influence
editorial copy
The editorial and advertising departments of journalistic publications are
supposed to be like church and state: completely separate. In reality, health
and fitness magazines sometimes abandon objectivity and censor or alter
their stories to favor the companies that buy advertisements from them.
Product reviews are a good example. “At one magazine where I worked, we
had to sugar-coat our shoe reviews because of advertising pressures,” says a
writer we know. “With certain shoes, we had to search for aspects that weren’t
negative and emphasize those. Like if a shoe was incredibly stiff, we’d write
some innocuous copy about how the shoe had a good lacing system.”
The crumbling bridge between advertising and editorial is perhaps most evident in a growing category of advertising called the advertorial. These are
paid ads intended to look like regular articles. Typically, the layouts, typeface, and photos are very similar to the magazine’s editorial style so readers
won’t make the distinction. The more manipulative advertorials even have
bylines (for example, “By Joe Schmo”) so that the ads look like articles that
have been written by regular reporters. Most magazines require advertisers
to include the word advertisement at the top or bottom of the page, but sometimes the type is so small it’s easy to miss.
A prominent women’s magazine recently ran an advertorial on home exercise
equipment. It was designed to look like an editorial product review, complete
with a writer’s byline and a ratings system. (Surprise — all the products
received the largest number of stars possible!) The word advertisement was
printed in small, light red letters at the top of the first page.
We’re glad daily papers have stepped up their fitness coverage, but don’t use
the dailies as your only source of fitness information. Newspaper reporters
tend to be very responsible about attributing information to experts. The
problem is, given the reporters’ tight deadlines, they often have no choice
but to interview the first available expert, who may not necessarily be the
best expert (and may not be an expert at all). Magazine writers sometimes
run into this problem, too.
Also, newspaper reporters tend to be jack-of-all-trades types who may not
have the fitness experience to distinguish a real expert from a charlatan. Only
the largest newspapers can afford to have reporters who cover the fitness
beat exclusively.
Appendix: Educating Yourself
Even though magazine articles are written three to six months before publication, they’re often more up-to-date than newspapers. Many newspapers get
their exercise ideas from reading fitness magazines. So, if you’re looking for
articles about fitness trends, training techniques, and exercise equipment,
mainstream fitness magazines tend to be better sources than daily papers.
The Internet
Surfing the Internet for fitness information is a bit like entering into automatedphone-system hell: You press one key after another, and pretty soon, you’re
either totally lost or back where you started. You may have the intention of
finding out how to train your abdominals, but with a few unwitting clicks of
the mouse, you’re downloading porn. Still, if you have the time and patience
to look around, you can get some great fitness information online — from
descriptions of the major yoga poses to the complete Surgeon General’s
Report on Physical Activity and Health.
However, you also can get plenty of hogwash. In general, you’ll come across
more misleading and biased fitness information online than in mainstream
fitness publications printed on paper. So perusing health and fitness Web
sites with a particularly critical eye is important. Keep in mind that the line
between advertising and editorial is particularly blurry on the Internet.
In addition, the “experts” quoted in online fitness articles may not be experts
at all. Often, they’re people with products to sell. When a mainstream magazine publishes an article on heart-rate monitors, the story typically quotes
coaches or university professors. But on one fitness Web site, we found a
heart-rate-monitor article that quoted the executive assistant to the president
of a heart-rate monitor manufacturer! “Anyone who is concerned about their
weight, improved fitness, or athletic competition . . . can benefit from using a
heart-rate monitor,” said the assistant. We agree, but the information doesn’t
have a heckuva lot of credibility coming from someone who has a financial
stake in the product.
Finally, watch out for outdated information. You may think of the Internet as
the most up-to-date of all media, but the Internet often doesn’t live up to its
potential as the best source for late-breaking information. In an attempt to get
Web sites up and running quickly — and to appear loaded with “content” —
many sites are cluttered with ancient material.
Use fitness Web sites as a starting point for educating yourself, but remember
that the Internet is full of misinformation. Be sure to compare what you read
online with what you read in magazines and newspapers.
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
abdominal measurements, strength testing,
circuit training, 244–246
hanging abs, 245
muscle structure, 183–185
strength training, 213–214
stretching exercises, 77–78
upper-abdominal curls, Pilates, 262
Accu-Measure calipers, body-fat-percentage
tests, 20
ACE (American Council on Exercise), 48, 286
Achilles tendonitis, 61–62
ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine),
48, 286
active isolated stretching, 79–80
calorie counting activities, 120–121
cardio exercises, 106
classes, 287–288, 291–292
exercise DVDs, 299
pregnancy exercises, 333–334
water, 158, 293–294
AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association
of America), 48, 286
age considerations, exercising, 13
AIDS LifeCycle Web site, 380
alcohol consumption, nutrition, 86
Amazon Web site, 298
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM),
48, 286
American Council on Exercise (ACE), 48, 286
amniotic fluid, leaking, overdone pregnancy
exercises, 338
anaerobic threshold, heart rates, 111
Ananda yoga style, 250
Anderson, Kari (exercise instruction), 301
ankle measurements, body-fat-percentage
tests, 21
ankle weights, home gyms, 317
flexibility tests, 30
sprains, avoiding, 60
anterior deltoids, 174
anti-cellulite products, rip-offs, 374
Anusara yoga style, 250
anxiety, overdone exercises, 125
arm measurements, body-fat-percentage
tests, 21
muscle structure, 180–183
one-arm dumbbell row, total-body
workouts, 220–222
strengthening stations, circuit training,
asanas, yoga, 249–250
Astanga yoga style, 250
back exercises
back expansion, stretching exercises, 73–74
back extension, total-body workouts,
lower-back, circuit training, 244–246
lower-back, flexibility testing, 29
lower-back, pain, 63–64
muscle structures, 176–179
background experience references, personal
trainers, 50
backup goals, fitness planning and
development, 35–36
balance techniques, skating, 154
ball crunches, 234
ballet classes, 291
balls, exercise, 324
home gyms, 316–317
strength equipment, 202–203
bicep muscle exercises, 182
free weights, 196
home gyms, 320–321
tricep muscle exercises, 182
bargains, gym memberships, 271
basic cat, Pilates exercises, 264
Basic Yoga Workout For Dummies video
(Sara Ivanhoe), 253
basketball, calorie counting activities, 120
beginning-level classes, 284
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
bench presses, pectoral-muscle exercises,
Beyond Basic Yoga For Dummies video
(Sara Ivanhoe), 253
BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis), 23–24
curls, 228–229, 241
muscle structure, 181–182
bikes, cycling. See also stationary bikes
Achilles tendonitis, 61
braking rules, 153
cadence, 153
calorie counting activities, 120
cardio exercise and, 11
children’s exercises, 340
classes, 292–293
dual-action bikes, 138
essential gear, 152
event training, 124
knee pain, 62
mountain bikes, 152
outdoor exercises, 151–153
road bikes, 152
road rules, 153
submaximal testing, 18
traffic-signal observations, 153
uphill, maximum fitness, 123
Bikram yoga style, 250
bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), 23–24
blisters, shoe wear, 67
blood pressure
diastolic, 18
fitness testing, 17–18
history evaluation, 10
hypertension, 18
normal measurement, 17
systolic, 18
BMI (body mass index), 21–23
BOD POD tests, body-fat-percentage
testing, 25
body composition, 19
body-fat percentage
ankle measurements, 21
arm measurements, 21
BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis),
BMI (body mass index), 21–23
BOD POD tests, 25
chest measurements, 21
DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry)
tests, 25
fitness testing, 19–23
hip measurements, 21
history evaluation, 10
skinfold caliper tests, 20
testing reasons, 19–20
thigh measurements, 21
underwater weighing, 24–25
waist measurements, 21
body mass index (BMI), 21–23
body sculpting classes, 288
bone callus, stress fractures, 63
bone loss, osteoporosis, 164
boot-camp classes, 289–290
bouncing, stretching exercise rules, 71
boxing, calorie counting activities, 120
brakes, cycling rules, 153
brand names, weight machines, 192
breakdowns, weight lifting, 212
breaking trails, snowshoeing, 158
breathing techniques, stretching
exercises, 71
Brick, Lynn (exercise instruction), 317
bridges, Pilates exercises, 263
buddy systems, exercise commitments, 41
butterfly stretches, 78
circuit training, 244–246
flexibility tests, 30
lunges, 246
muscle structure, 185–186
strength testing, squat exercises, 28
cable pulleys, weight machines, 201–202
cadence, cycling, 153
calorie counting
cardio exercises, 128
nutrition basics, 86–87
weight loss, 119–121
flexibility tests, 30
stretching exercises, 76–77, 82
total-body workouts, 218–220
cancellation policies, gym memberships, 272
carbohydrates, nutrition basics, 89–90
carbonated drinks, nutrition basics, 100
cardio exercises. See also heart; treadmills
aerobics, 106
amounts needed, 115–116
calorie counting, 128
cardio-machine knockoffs, rip-offs, 377
cooldown, 107
cycling, 11
discussed, 10, 105
elliptical trainers, 134–136
event training, 124
heart-rate measurements, 109–113
high-intensity, 115
low-intensity, 115
maximum fitness options, 121–124
overdone, 124–125
perceived exertion, 108–109
reading during, 130–131
resting after, 124–125
rolling stair-climbers, 141–142
rowing machines, 11, 144–145
running, 11
for seniors, 349
short spurts, 131
skating, 11
stair-climbers, 139–143
stationary bikes, 136–139
strength training combined with, 11
swimming, 11
talk test and, 108
television watching during, 130–131
VersaClimber stair-climber, 143–144
warming up, 106–107
weight loss, 117–121
workout diaries/logs, 38–39
workouts, varying, 129–130
carpal tunnel syndrome, 183
cartilage, knee pain, 62
cat tilt pose, yoga, 255–256
cellulite products, rip-offs, 374
certifications, trainers
ACE (American Council on Exercise), 48
ACSM (American College of Sports
Medicine), 48
AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association
of America), 48
background experience references, 50
brochures, 50
ISSA (International Sport Science
Association), 48
kickboxing, 49
liability insurance, 50
NASM (National Academy of Sports
Medicine), 48–49
NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning
Association), 49
specialty, 49
University degrees, 49–50
yoga, 49
Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), 49
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
(CSCS), 49
chafing, avoiding, 66–67
chest expansion, stretching exercises, 73
chest measurements, body-fat-percentage
tests, 21
chest-press machines, upper-body strength
measurements, 27
chest-straps, heart monitors, 114
pectorals, 179–180
children’s exercises
family togetherness, 362–363
nutrition and, 359–360
obesity and, 344
playful activities, 340–342, 359
preteens, 342–344
teenagers, 344–346
toddlers, 340–342
child’s pose, yoga, 254
cigarette smoking, exercise benefits, 363
circuit training
abdomen stations, 244–246
arm strengthening stations, 240–243
buttocks stations, 244–246
classes, 288–289
leg-strengthening stations, 243–244
lower-back stations, 244–246
stations, order of, 246–248
stations, setup, 239–240
Clapp, James (Exercising Through Your
Pregnancy), 330
aerobics, 287–288, 291–292
ballet, 291
beginning level, 284
body sculpting, 288
boot camp, 289–290
circuit training, 288–289
conditioning, 288
costs, 286
cycling, 292–293
dance workout, 291
gyms, 273
hip-hop, 291
instructor expectations, 285–286
introductory level, 284
jazz, 291
kickboxing, 290
Pilates, 260–261
reasons for, 284–285
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
classes (continued)
safety rules, 301–302
Spinning, 292–293
water aerobics, 293–294
yoga, 251–252
cleanliness, gym-membership considerations,
climbing, calorie counting activities, 121
clothing considerations, comfort and, 383
code of conduct, gym-membership etiquette,
coffee, nutrition basics, 100
Cohen, Jodi (exercise instruction), 317
colds and infections, overdone exercises, 125
Collage Video Web site, 20, 298
combination DVDs, 300
comfort considerations
clothing, 383
shoes, 42–43
commitments to exercise, 40–43
comparison groups, resources, 387
competition, exercise benefits, 363, 365
compression, injury healing suggestions, 68
computerized uprights, stationary bikes, 313
concentration, lack of, overdone exercises,
Concept II rowing machines, 313
conditioning classes, 288
consistency, exercise commitments, 43
consultants, exercise DVD selection
considerations, 295–296
contextual research, resources, 386
contractions, overdone pregnancy exercises,
cooldown, warm-ups, 107
Copeland, Candice (exercise instruction), 301
core strength, 11
exercise classes, 286
gym memberships, 270–272
hiring trainers, 51–53
Pilates lessons, 261
CPT (Certified Personal Trainer), 49
Cram, Catherine (Fit Pregnancy For
Dummies), 13, 330
cross training exercise, avoiding
knee pain, 62
cross-country skiing, calorie counting
activities, 120
abdominal circuit training, 244
ball, 234
strength-measurement tests, 27–28
total-body workouts, 232–234
CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning
Specialist), 49
biceps, 228–229
obliques, 245
cybertrainers, 52
cycling. See also stationary bikes
Achilles tendonitis, 61
braking rules, 153
cadence, 153
calorie counting activities, 120
cardio exercise and, 11
children’s exercises, 340
classes, 292–293
dual-action bikes, 138
essential gear, 152
event training, 124
knee pain, 62
mountain bikes, 152
outdoor exercises, 151–153
road bikes, 152
road rules, 153
submaximal testing, 18
traffic-signal observations, 153
uphill, maximum fitness, 123
dance workout classes, 291
deep-vein thrombosis, overdone pregnancy
exercises, 337
dehydration, overdone pregnancy exercises,
deltoids, shoulder muscles, 174–175
exercise benefits, 361
nutrition and, 87
overdone exercises, 125
deprivation, calorie counting, 86
descending sets, weight lifting, 212
DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry)
tests, body-fat-percentage tests, 25
diaries, fitness planning and development
logs, 38
diastolic blood pressure, 18
diet books, nutrition basics, 86–87
dieting. See nutrition
discomfort, exercise commitments, 41
discounts, home-gym equipment, 307
overdone exercises, 125
treadmill user tips, 134
display panels, stationary bikes, 138
dizziness, overdone pregnancy exercises, 337
documentation, fitness planning and
development, 36–40
Dozois, Michelle (Pilates Workout For
Dummies), 261
drop sets, weight lifting, 212
dual-action bikes, 138
Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)
tests, body-fat-percentage tests, 25
biceps curls, 182, 241
forearm muscle exercises, 183
free weights, 196
home gyms, 318–321
latissimus dorsi muscle exercises, 177
one-arm dumbbell row, total-body
workouts, 220–222
pectoral-muscle exercises, 180
rhomboids-muscle exercises, 178
shoulder-muscle exercises, 175
shoulder presses, 222–226
trapezius-muscle exercises, 177
tricep-muscle exercises, 182
DVDs. See exercise DVDs
dyspnea, overdone pregnancy exercises, 337
easy pose, yoga, 253
eating habits, nutrition
alcohol consumption, 86
analyzing, 92–93
before, during, and after workout, 97–98
calorie counting, 86–87
carbohydrates, 89–90
children, 359–360
depression and, 87
diet books, 86–87
discussed, 12
energy bars, 98
energy levels, maintaining consistent, 98–99
exhaustion and, 87
fiber, 89–90
fluid intake, 98–101
food pyramids, 93–96
healthful and unhealthful fats,
distinguishing between, 87
minerals, 101–102
phytochemicals, 91
protein, 91–92
RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance), 102
saturated fat, 87
sports drinks, 98, 100
supplements, 101–102
trans fat, 88
unsaturated fat, 88
vitamins, 101–102
ECG (electrocardiogram), 114
effortless exercisers, rip-offs, 375
elbows, tennis elbow, 64
elevation, injury-healing suggestions, 68
elliptical trainers
home gyms, 310–311
overview, 134–136
energy bars, nutrition basics, 98
energy levels, nutrition basics, 98–99
equipment and gear
exercise clothing considerations, 383
exercise commitments, 41
skating, 154
snowshoeing, 158
swimming, 156–157
yoga, 252
equipment shopping considerations, home
gyms, 305–307
erector spinae muscles, 178–179
error margins, bioelectrical impedance
analysis, 24
Essel, David (exercise instruction), 317
etiquette rules, gym memberships, 278–282
evaluation. See testing fitness
event training
cardio exercises, 124
motivation, 379–380
Everson, Cory (exercise instruction), 300
age considerations, 13
buddy systems, 41
committing to, 40–43
nutrition and, 12
exercise DVDs
advantages of, 294–295
aerobics, 299
combination, 300
instruction Web sites, 300–301
Pilates exercises, 300
renting, 296
safety rules, 301–302
selection considerations, 295–298
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
exercise DVDs (continued)
sneak previews, 297–298
specialty, 300
strength training, 299
stretching exercises, 300
where to buy, 298–299
yoga, 300
Exercising Through Your Pregnancy
(James Clapp), 330
exhaustion, nutrition and, 87
external and internal obliques, 185
external and internal rotation, total-body
workouts, 226–228
family togetherness, exercise benefits, 362
Fartlek (speed play), maximum fitness, 123
fat blockers, rip-offs, 375
fat, nutrition basics
healthy amounts, 88–89
saturated fat, 87
trans fat, 88
unsaturated fat, 88
fatigue, overdone pregnancy exercises, 336
fetal movement, nonexistent, overdone
pregnancy exercises, 338
Feuerstein, Georg (Yoga For Dummies), 253
fiber, nutrition basics, 89–90
Fit Pregnancy For Dummies (Catherine Cram),
13, 330
Fit Pregnancy magazine, 330
Fitness Jumpsite Web site, 381
Fitness magazine, success stories, 384
fitness plans
commitment to exercise, 40–43
documentation, 36–40
goal setting, 33–37
reward systems, 36
trainers, hiring, 46
weight loss, 117–118
workout logs, 38–40
fitness tests
blood pressure, 17–18
body-fat percentage, 19–23
flexibility, 28–31
heart-disease risks, 16
heart rates, 17
maximal tests, 18
professional testing, 15
pulse rates, 17
questionnaires, 16
regulating, 382
result sheets, 31–32
strength measurements, 25–28
submaximal tests, 18
timing considerations, 18–19
Fitness Wholesale Web site, 298
flared-heel shoes, 60
fitness testing, 28–31
health and fitness history evaluation, 10
lower-back, 29
sit-and-reach tests, 29
thighs, 29
floor plans, home gyms, 305
fluid intake, nutrition basics, 98–101
food pyramids
Harvard’s School of Public Health model, 96
Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, 95–96
USDA Food Guide Pyramid, 93–95
foot pedals, stair-climbers, 141
forearm muscles, 182–183
forward bend, yoga, 253–254
four-minute workouts, rip-offs, 377
fractures, avoiding, 63
free weights. See also weight lifting; weight
advantages of, 199
barbells, 196
disadvantages of, 199
dumbbells, 196
home gyms, 318–321
long bars, 197
Olympic bars, 197, 321
safety techniques, 199–200
spotting techniques, 198
weight plates, 197
work benches, 200–201
Friedrich, Cathe (exercise instruction),
friends, workout groups, 380–381
fruit, low-carb eating, 90
Gasper, Gay (exercise instruction), 301
gastrocnemius muscle structure, 189–190
Gaylord, Lisa (exercise instruction), 301
gear and equipment
exercise clothing considerations, 383
exercise commitments, 41–43
skating, 154
snowshoeing, 158
swimming, 156–157
yoga, 252
gloves, weightlifting, 369
gluteus muscle structure, 185–186
goals, fitness plans
backup goals, 35–36
discussed, 33
immediate goals, 35
long-term goals, 34
motivation factors, 380
short-term goals, 35
trainers, hiring, 46
golf, calorie counting activities, 120
Good Housekeeping magazine, success
stories, 384
grains, low-carb eating, 90
Griffith-Joyner, Florence (Running For
Dummies), 124
groin, strained muscles, 60
gyms. See also home gyms
amenities considerations, 275–276
classes, 273
cleanliness considerations, 274
cost considerations, 270–272
discussed, 12–13
equipment considerations, 273
etiquette rules, 278–282
feeling at ease with, 276–278
gym-bag use, 370–371
hours opened considerations, 274
location considerations, 269–270
locker-room rules, 280–281
memberships, 268–269
rowing machines, 313
size considerations, 270
staffing considerations, 274
flexibility testing, 29
muscle structure, 188
strained muscles, 60
stretching exercises, 74–75, 80–81
hand placement, stair-climbers, 141
hand weights, rip-offs, 378
handlebar grips, stationary bikes, 137
handrails, treadmill user tips, 134
hanging abs, abdominal exercises, 245
happiness, exercise benefits, 361
Harvard’s School of Public Health food
pyramid, 96
headaches, overdone pregnancy exercises,
health, fitness history evaluation, 10
health clubs. See gyms
heart. See also cardio exercises; treadmills
blood pressure, fitness testing, 17–18
blood pressure, health and fitness history
evaluation, 10
cardio exercises, 10–11
heart-disease risks, 16
maximal tests, 18
monitoring, 114–115, 371
submaximal testing, 18
heart rates
after physical activity, health and fitness
history evaluation, 9
anaerobic threshold, 111
class instruction safety rules, 301
fitness testing, 17
lactic acid buildup, 111
maximum, 111
monitoring, 110, 112–113
overdone exercising, 125
resting heart rates, discussed, 111
resting heart rates, fitness testing, 17
resting heart rates, health and fitness
history evaluation, 9
target-heart-rate zones, 111–113
height, body mass index, 22
Herman, Ellie (Pilates For Dummies), 244, 261
high-intensity cardio exercises, 115
hip-hop classes, 291
abductor muscles, 186–187
circuit training, 246
measurements, body-fat-percentage
tests, 21
home gyms. See also gyms
ankle weights, 317
bands, 316–317
barbells, 320–321
dumbbells, 318–321
elliptical trainers, 310–311
equipment shopping considerations,
exercise balls, 324
exercise space plans, 303–305
floor plans, 305
free weights, 318–321
jump ropes, 314–315
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
home gyms (continued)
multi-gyms, 321–323
stair-climbers, 311
stationary bikes, 311–313
step platforms, 313–314
stretching mats, 324
stretching ropes/straps, 325
treadmills, 308–310
tubes, 316–317
weight benches, 321
horse-biting-tail exercises, 78–79
hours opened considerations, gym
memberships, 274
hydrogenation, trans fat, 88
hypertension, blood pressure, 18
International Sport Science Association
(ISSA), 48
personal-trainer programs, 52
as resource, 391
interval training, maximum fitness, 123
interviews, with personal trainers, 51
introductory-level classes, 284
irritability, overdone exercises, 125
ISSA (International Sport Science
Association), 48
Ivanhoe, Sara
Basic Yoga Workout For Dummies video, 253
Beyond Basic Yoga For Dummies video, 253
Iyengar yoga style, 251
icing techniques, injury-healing suggestions, 68
immediate goals, fitness planning and
development, 35
incline capabilities, treadmills, 310
independent action, stair-climbers, 311
independent research, resources, 386–387
infections and colds, overdone exercises, 125
inflammation, tennis elbow, 64–65
initiation fees, gym memberships, 271
injuries. See also pain
Achilles tendonitis, 61–62
blisters, 67
chafing, 66–67
knee pain, 62
lower-back pain, 63–64
neck pain, 65–66
personal trainers, reasons for, 46
RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and
Elevation) techniques, 67–68
rotator-cuff, 66
shin splints, 61
sprains, 60
strains, 60
stress fractures, 63
tennis elbow, 64–65
weight lifting, 165
inserts, shoe, 61
inspiration, health-club memberships, 268
band-workout instructors, 317
expectations from, 285–286
list of, 300–301
Integral yoga style, 251
internal and external obliques, 185
internal and external rotation, total-body
workouts, 226–228
Janklowicz, Gilad (exercise instruction),
jazz classes, 291
job performance, exercise benefits, 362
juice, nutrition basics, 100
jump rope
calorie counting activities, 120
home gyms, 314–315
Kaehler, Kathy (exercise instruction), 301
karate, calorie counting activities, 120
Karvonen method, target heart rates, 112
kayaking, calorie counting activities, 120
Kereluk, Cynthia (exercise instruction), 300
kickboards, swimming, 157
classes, 290
trainer certifications, 49
kids. See children’s exercises
knee pain, 62
Kries, Jennifer (exercise instruction), 301
Kripalu yoga style, 251
Kundalini yoga style, 251
lactic-acid buildup, heart rates, 111
latissimus dorsi muscles, 177
adductor muscles, 187
leg raises, abdominal circuit training, 245
leg-extension machines, lower-body
measurements, 28
leg-strengthening stations, circuit training,
muscle structures, 188–190
lessons, swimming, 158
liability insurance, trainer certifications, 50
life enjoyment, exercise benefits, 364–365
lifting weights. See also free weights; weight
ankle weights, 317
breakdowns, 212
calorie counting activities, 120
descending sets, 212
drop sets, 212
gloves for, 369
injury prevention, 165
metabolism, 165–166
muscle definition, 168
myths, 169–170
pregnancy exercises, 334–335
pyramid techniques, 212
reasons for, 163–166
repetitions, 206–208
rotator-cuff injuries, 66
routines, changing, 211–212
sets, 208–209
split routines, 210–211
strength-capacity considerations, 167–168
strength training, 11
super set techniques, 212
tennis elbow, 64
total body workouts, 215–216
triceps, 168
unrealistic expectations, 169
weight-amount considerations, 207
weight loss and, 169–170
ligaments, sprains, 60
limited offers, gym memberships, 272
location considerations, gym memberships,
locker-room rules, gym-membership
etiquette, 280–281
log sheets, fitness planning and development,
long bars, free weights, 197
long-term goals, fitness planning and
development, 34
long-term memberships, gym, 271
losing weight
calorie counting, 119–121
cardio exercises and, 117–121
weight lifting and, 169–170
weight-loss clothing, rip-offs, 376
low-carb eating, nutrition basics, 90
circuit training, 244–246
flexibility testing, 29
pain, avoiding, 63–64
lower-body measurements, strength
testing, 28
low-intensity cardio exercises, 115
lunges, circuit training, 246
magazines, resources, 389–390
Marathon Training For Dummies (Tere
Stouffer Drenth), 124
neck pain, 66
as reward system, 372
mats, home gyms, 324
maximal tests, heart rates, 18
maximum fitness, cardio exercises, 121–124
maximum heart rates, 111
body-fat-percentage tests, 21
strength testing, 25–28
medial deltoids, 174
Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, nutrition basics,
Medline Web site, 386
memory enhancement, exercise benefits, 360
men, strength-endurance measurements,
Men’s Fitness magazine, success stories, 384
metabolism boosters, rip-offs, 374
weight control, 359
weight lifting and, 165–166
milk, nutrition basics, 100
Miller, Gin (exercise instruction), 301
mind and body exercises. See yoga
minerals, nutrition basics, 101–102
event training, 379–380
goal setting, 380
personal trainers, characteristics of, 53–54
personal trainers, reasons for, 46
mountain bikes, 152
multi-gyms, home gyms, 321–323
abdominal, 183–185
arm, 180–183
back body view, 173
back muscle structures, 176–179
biceps, 181–182
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
muscles (continued)
buttocks, 185–186
chest, 179–180
erector spinae, 178–179
flexibility testing, 28–31
forearm, 182–183
front body view, 172
gastrocnemius, 189–190
gluteus, 185–186
hamstrings, 188
hip abductors, 186–187
internal and external obliques, 185
latissimus dorsi, 177
leg adductors, 187
legs, 188–190
lower-back pain, avoiding, 63–64
muscle definition, weight lifting, 168
muscle-stimulation machines, rip-offs,
muscle weakness, overdone pregnancy
exercises, 338
pulled, 60
quadriceps, 188
rectus abdominis, 183–184
rhomboids, 178
rotator cuff, 175–176
shoulders, 174–176
soleus, 189–190
strained, 60
tibialis anterior, 190
trapezius, 176–177
triceps, 182
NASM (National Academy of Sports
Medicine), 48–49, 286
National Strength and Conditioning
Association (NSCA), 49
NCEP (National Health Cholesterol Education
Program), 387
neck pain, avoiding, 65–66
stretching exercises, 72
newspapers, resources, 390–391
non-computerized uprights, stationary bikes,
non-recommended activities, pregnancy
exercises, 334–335
normal blood pressure measurement, 17
notes, workout diaries/logs, 40
NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning
Association), 49
alcohol consumption, 86
analyzing, 92–93
before, during, and after workout, 97–98
calorie counting, 86–87
carbohydrates, 89–90
children, 359–360
depression and, 87
diet books, 86–87
discussed, 12
energy bars, 98
energy levels, maintaining consistent, 98–99
exhaustion and, 87
fiber, 89–90
fluid intake, 98–101
food pyramids, 93–96
healthful and unhealthful fats,
distinguishing between, 87
minerals, 101–102
phytochemicals, 91
protein, 91–92
RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance), 102
saturated fat, 87
sports drinks, 98, 100
supplements, 101–102
trans fat, 88
unsaturated fat, 88
vitamins, 101–102
BMI (body mass index), 23
children’s exercises and, 344
obliques curls, 245
Olympic bars, free weights, 197, 321
one-arm dumbbell row, total-body workouts,
orthotics, shoe inserts, 61
osteoporosis, 164
overheating, overdone pregnancy exercises,
overweight, body mass index, 23
pacing, exercise commitments, 41
pain. See also injuries
overdone exercises, 125
overdone pregnancy exercises, 336
Payne, Larry (Yoga For Dummies), 253
pectoral muscles, 179–180
pedal straps, stationary bikes, 138
perceived exertion, cardio exercises, 108–109
personal appearance, exercise benefits, 360
personal trainers. See trainers
photo-optic heart monitors, 115
Physical Genius Web site, 52
phytochemicals, nutrition basics, 91
Pilates exercises
basic cat, 264
bridge, 263
classes/instructors for, 261
discussed, 259
exercise DVDs, 300
for seniors, 350
upper-abdominal curls, 262
Pilates For Dummies (Ellie Herman),
244, 261
Pilates Workout For Dummies (Michelle
Dozois), 261
pins, weight machines, 191
plans, fitness
commitment to exercise, 40–43
documentation, 36–40
goal setting, 33–37
reward systems, 36
trainers, hiring, 46
weight loss, 117–118
workout logs, 38–40
plate-loaded weight machines, 192
playful activities, children’s exercises,
340–342, 359
PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular
facilitation), 82–83
poses and positions, yoga. See yoga
posterior deltoids, 174
postpartum exercises, 338
posture, neck pain, 65
preeclampsia, overdone pregnancy exercises,
pregnancy exercises
aerobics, 333–334
benefits of, 330–331
deep-vein thrombosis, 337
Exercising Through Your Pregnancy (James
Clapp), 330
Fit Pregnancy For Dummies (Catherine Cram),
13, 330
Fit Pregnancy magazine, 330
healthcare providers, checking with,
non-recommended activities, 334–335
overdone symptoms, 336–338
postpartum exercises, 338
preeclampsia and, 337
swimming, 332–333
walking, 332
water intake, 333
weight lifting, 334–335
workout routines, monitoring, 335–338
yoga, 333–334
preteen exercises, 342–344
previews, exercise DVDs, 297–298
processed carbohydrates, nutrition basics, 90
professional testing, fitness evaluation, 15
proprioceptive neuromuscular faciliation
(PNF), 82–83
protein, nutrition basics, 91–92
psychological benefits, exercise benefits, 360
pulled muscles, 60
pull-ups, arm strengthening, 242
pulse rates
fitness testing, 17
taking manually, 113–114
punches, arm-strengthening, 241
arm strengthening, 242
upper-body strength measurements, 26
pyramid techniques, weight lighting, 212
muscle structure, 188
stretching exercises, 75–76, 81
question asking, hiring trainers, 55
questionnaires, fitness testing, 16
racquetball, calorie-counting activities, 120
RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance),
nutrition basics, 102
reading, during cardio workout, 130–131
rebound reflex, stretching exercises, 79
rectus abdominis, 183–184
recumbent bikes, stationary bikes, 311
references, on personal trainers, 50
regular checks, fitness testing, 382
renting exercise DVDs, 296
repetitions, weights, 206
resistance training, for seniors, 350
comparison groups, 387
contextual research, 386
fitness magazines, 389–390
independent research, 386–387
Internet, 391
newspapers, 390–391
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE),
resting, after cardio exercises, 124–125
resting heart rates
discussed, 111
fitness testing, 17
health and fitness history evaluation, 9
result sheets, fitness testing, 31–32
reviews, exercise DVDs, 295
reward systems
fitness planning and development, 36
massages, 372
rhomboids muscles, 178
RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation),
Richardson, Donna (exercise instruction),
301, 317
anti-cellulite products, 374
cardio-machine knockoffs, 377
effortless exercisers, 375
fat blockers, 375
four-minute workouts, 377
hand weights, 378
metabolism boosters, 374
muscle stimulation machines, 375–376
spot-reducing tactics, 376
weight-loss clothing, 376
road bikes, 152
Roberts, Keli (exercise instruction), 317
rolling stair-climbers, 141–142
ropes, stretching exercises, 325
injuries, 66
muscle structure, 176–177
rowing machines
calorie-counting activities, 120
cardio exercises, 11, 144–145
home gyms, 313
user tips, 145
Achilles tendonitis, 61
alternating walking with, 151
calorie-counting activities, 120
cardio exercise, 11
correct running techniques, 150–151
event training, 124
outdoor exercises, 149–151
pace, varying, 151
shoe wear, 150
submaximal testing, 18
Running For Dummies (Florence GriffithJoyner), 124
class instruction rules, 301–302
exercise DVDs, 301–302
free weights, 199–200
senior exercises, 351
stretching exercises, 71
treadmills, 309
sage twist pose, yoga, 255–256
Sansone, Leslie (exercise instruction), 300
saturated fat, nutrition basics, 87
scams. See rip-offs
seat adjustment, stationary bikes, 137
seat-belt use, weight machines, 196
senior years, exercises
cardio exercises, 349
discussed, 347
Pilates exercises, 350
resistance training, 350
safety rules, 351
stretching, 350
where to begin, 349
yoga, 350
service plans, home-gym equipment, 307
sets, weight lifting, 208–209
shaking the machine, stair-climbers, 141
flexibility tests, 30
shin splints, avoiding, 61
shivasana, come-down time, yoga, 252
blisters, 67
class instruction safety rules, 301
comfort considerations, 42–43
cross-training, 42
flared heels, 60
inserts, orthotics, 61
proper shoe wear, 148, 150
sock wear, 368
short-term goals, fitness planning and
development, 35
flexibility tests, 30
muscle structure, 174–176
shoulder presses, 222–226
shrugs, arm strengthening, 242
Simmons, Richard (exercise instruction), 300
single-leg squats, leg-strengthening, 243–244
sit-and-reach tests, flexibility testing, 29
sites. See Web sites
Sivananda yoga style, 251
Achilles tendonitis, 61
balance techniques, 154
calorie-counting activities, 120
cardio exercise, 11
correct skating techniques, 154
gear requirements, 154
knee pain, 62
outdoor exercises, 154–156
skiing, calorie-counting activities, 120
skin, chafing, 66–67
skinfold caliper tests, body-fat percentage, 20
slow eating habits, calorie counting, 86
slow workouts, treadmill user tips, 134
Smith, Kathy (exercise instruction), 301
smoking, exercise benefits, 363
sneak previews, exercise DVDs, 297–298
snowshoeing, 158–160
social benefits, exercise benefits, 361
socks, footwear, 368
soleus muscle structure, 189–190
specialty certifications, trainers, 49
specialty exercise DVDs, 300
speed play (Fartlek), maximum fitness, 123
Spinning classes, 292–293
split routines, weight lifting, 210–211
sports drinks, nutrition basics, 98, 100
sports injuries. See injuries
spot-reducing tactics, rip-offs, 376
spotting techniques, free weights, 198
sprains, avoiding, 60
squat exercises
circuit training, 245
single-leg, 243–244
strength testing, 28
total-body workouts, 217–218
staffing considerations, gym memberships,
cardio exercises and, 11
discussed, 139
foot pedals, 141
hand placement, 141
home gyms, 311
independent action, 311
rolling, 141–142
shaking the machine, 141
submaximal testing, 18
user tips, 140
VersaClimber, 143–144
stationary bikes. See also cycling
cardio exercises, 136–139
features, 312
home gyms, 311–313
recumbent bikes, 311
types of, 313
stations. See circuit training
step platforms, home gyms, 313–314
step-ups, leg-strengthening, 243
Stouffer Drenth, Tere (Marathon Training For
Dummies), 124
strains, avoiding, 60
straps, stretching exercises, 325
strength. See also strength equipment;
strength training
abdominal measurements, 27–28
fitness testing, 25–28
horse biting tail, 78–79
lower-body measurements, 28
upper-body endurance, 26–27
weight lifting, reasons for, 164
workout diaries/logs, 40
strength equipment. See also strength;
strength training
adjustments to, 195
advantages of, 192–193
cable pulleys, 201–202
controlling, 196
disadvantages of, 193–195
free weights, 196–200
names of, remembering, 196
pins, 191
seat-belt use, 196
tubes, 202–203
weight-stack checks, 195
for women, 194
strength training. See also strength; strength
cardio exercise combined with, 11
core strength, 11
exercise DVDs, 299
health and fitness history evaluation, 10
weight lifting, 11
stress, exercise benefits, 360
stress fractures, avoiding, 63
stretching exercises. See also warming up
abdominal, 77–78
active isolated, 79–80
back expansion, 73–74
bouncing, avoiding, 71
breathing techniques, 71
butterfly, 78
calves, 76–77, 82
chest expansion, 73
discussed, 11–12
exercise DVDs, 300
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
stretching exercises (continued)
hamstrings, 74–75, 80–81
neck stretches, 72
personal trainers for, 46
PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular
facilitation), 82–83
quadriceps, 75–76, 81
reasons for, 69–70
rebound reflex, 79
ropes/straps, 325
safety rules, 71
for seniors, 350
stretching mats, home gyms, 324
tennis-elbow injuries, 65
traditional methods, 79–83
when to stretch, 70–71
workout diaries/logs, 40
submaximal tests, heart rates, 18
success stories, exercise benefits, 384
sun salutation pose, yoga, 257–258
Super Runners equipment shop, 43
super set techniques, weight lifting, 212
supplements, nutrition basics, 101–102
swelling, overdone pregnancy exercises, 337
calorie-counting activities, 120
cardio exercise, 11
clubs, joining, 158
correct swimming styles, 157
event training, 124
gear and equipment, 156–157
kickboards, 157
lessons, 158
lower-back-pain exercise, 64
outdoor exercise, 156–158
pregnancy exercises, 332–333
rotator-cuff injuries, 66
water aerobics, 158
systolic blood pressure, 18
talk test, cardio exercises and, 108
target-heart-rate zones, 111–113
tea, nutrition basics, 100
teenager exercises, 344–346
television, watching during cardio workout,
tempo workouts, maximum fitness, 123
tendonitis, 61–62
tendons, strains, 60
tennis playing
Achilles tendonitis, 61
calorie-counting activities, 121
tennis elbow, avoiding, 64–65
tension, stretching-exercise rules, 71
testing fitness
blood pressure, 17–18
body-fat percentage, 19–23
flexibility, 28–31
heart-disease risks, 16
heart rates, 17
maximal tests, 18
professional testing, 15
pulse rates, 17
questionnaires, 16
regulating, 382
result sheets, 31–32
strength measurements, 25–28
submaximal tests, 18
timing considerations, 18–19
flexibility tests, 31
thigh measurements, body-fat-percentage
tests, 21
thigh measurements, lower-body-strength
tests, 28
throwing, rotator-cuff injuries, 66
tibialis anterior muscle structure, 190
timing considerations, fitness testing,
toddler exercises, 340–342
total-body workouts
back extension, 235–236
biceps curls, 228–229
calf muscles, 218–220
crunches, 232–234
exercise instructions, reading, 214–215
external/internal rotation, 226–228
one-arm dumbbell row, 220–222
shoulder presses, 222–225
squats, 217–218
triceps kickbacks, 230–232
weight lifting, 215–216
traditional stretching exercises, 79–83
traffic-signal observations, cycling, 153
certification checks, 47–51
costs, 51–53
cybertrainers, 52
discussed, 49
first session anxiety tips, 54–55
Internet programs, 52
interviews, 51
motivational characteristic considerations,
Physical Genius Web site, 52
positive experiences with, 55–56
professional relationships with, 56
question asking, 55
reasons, 45–46
trial sessions, 51
trans fat, nutrition basics, 88
trapezius muscles, 176–177
treadmills. See also cardio exercises; heart
home gyms, 308–310
incline capabilities, 310
indoor exercising, 133–134
safety features, 309
submaximal testing, 18
types of, 310
user tips, 134
tree climbing, children’s exercises, 340
trial sessions
equipment shopping considerations, home
gyms, 306–307
gym memberships, 271
trainers, hiring, 51
triangle pose, yoga, 256–257
arm strengthening, 242–243
muscle structure, 182
triceps kickbacks, 230–232
weight lifting, 168
home gyms, 316–317
strength equipment, 202–203
underwater weighing, body-fat-percentage
tests, 24–25
underweight, body mass index, 23
University degrees, trainer certifications,
unsaturated fat, nutrition basis, 88
uphill exercise, maximum fitness
upper back, flexibility tests, 31
upper-abdominal curls, Pilates, 262
upper-body endurance, strength
measurements, 26–27
upright rows, arm-strengthening, 241
USDA Food Guide Pyramid, nutrition basics,
vaginal bleeding, overdone pregnancy
exercises, 338
vegetables, low-carb eating, 90
VersaClimber stair-climber, 143–144
video. See exercise DVDs
Video Fitness Web site, 299, 382
vitamins, nutrition basics, 101–102
Voight, Karen (exercise instruction), 301
waist measurements, body-fat-percentage
tests, 21
Achilles tendonitis, 61
alternating running with, 151
calorie counting activities, 121
children’s exercises, 340
correct walking styles, 148–149
gradual increase times, 149
lower-back-pain exercises, 64
outdoor exercises, 147–149
pregnancy exercises, 332
shoe wear, 148
uphill, maximum fitness, 123
warming up. See also stretching exercises
cardio exercises, 106–107
cooldown, 107
sprains, avoiding, 60
strains, avoiding, 60
warranties, home-gym equipment, 307
water aerobics, 158, 293–294
water intake
daily recommended amounts, 99
pregnancy exercises and, 333
water bottles, 367–368
Web sites
ACSM, 48
AFAA, 48
AIDS LifeCycle, 380
Amazon, 298
Collage Video, 20, 298
Fitness Jumpsite, 381
Fitness Wholesale, 298
ISSA, 48
Medline, 386
NASM, 49
NSCA, 49
Physical Genius, 52
Fitness For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Web sites (continued)
Video Fitness, 299, 382
WebMD, 386
Webb, Tamilee (exercise instruction), 317
weight. See also weight loss
bands, 202–203
BMI (body mass index), 22–23
body composition, 19
brand names, 192
controlling, 359
plate-loaded machines, 192
underwater weighing, 24–25
weight benches, home gyms, 321
weight lifting. See also free weights; weight
ankle weights, 317
breakdowns, 212
calorie-counting activities, 120
descending sets, 212
drop sets, 212
gloves for, 369
injury prevention, 165
metabolism, 165–166
muscle definition, 168
myths, 169–170
pregnancy exercises, 334–335
pyramid techniques, 212
reasons for, 163–166
repetitions, 206–208
rotator-cuff injuries, 66
routines, changing, 211–212
sets, 208–209
split routines, 210–211
strength capacity considerations, 167–168
strength training, 11
super set techniques, 212
tennis elbow, 64
total-body workouts, 215–216
triceps, 168
unrealistic expectations, 169
weight-amount considerations, 207
weight loss. See also weight
calorie counting, 119–121
cardio exercises and, 117–121
weight lifting and, 169–170
weight-loss clothing, rip-offs, 376
weight machines. See also free weights;
weight lifting
adjustments to, 195
advantages of, 192–193
cable pulleys, 201–202
controlling, 196
disadvantages of, 193–195
free weights, 196–200
names of, remembering, 196
pins, 191
seat-belt use, 196
tubes, 202–203
weight-stack checks, 195
for women, 194
weight plates, free weights, 197
strength-endurance measurements, 26–28
weight machines for, 194
work benches, free weights, 200–201
workout groups, 380–381
workout logs, fitness planning and
development, 38–39
asanas, 249–250
cat tilt post, 255–256
child’s pose, 254
classes, 251–252
clothing and equipment for, 252
easy pose, 253
exercise DVDs, 300
forward bend, 253–254
lower-back-pain exercise, 64
pregnancy exercises, 333–334
sage twist pose, 255–256
for seniors, 350
shivasana, comedown time, 252
styles, 250–251
sun salutation pose, 257–258
trainer certifications, 49
triangle pose, 256–257
workout videos, 253
Yoga For Dummies (Georg Feuerstein and
Larry Payne), 253
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