Get Fit Without Working Out

We’ve all heard that mindset matters and it does. When it come to getting fit, however, many people are conditioned to believe that the mindset we need is more motivation, more dedication and more workouts. However, IMHO, that is NOT the mindset that will get help you get fit. Rather, the mindset you should focus on is having more FUN. Yes, that’s right. All you need to do to get in shape is the HAVE FUN while moving, of course.  

Here are some ideas of fun ways to get in shape You even get extra points if you include your family, friends or significant other, because getting in shape together just adds to the FUN FACTOR.

GO ON AN ACTIVE DATE

An active date really gets your heart racing – in every sense. Not only will you be well on your way to hitting your 100% daily activity goal for that day, but you’ll also get to have a laugh with your loved one. Plus, your body will reward your efforts with a bunch of feel-good hormones, which will help you relax and enjoy yourself. 

If minigolf doesn’t sound like your idea of a date, you can opt for something active but more romantic. Try a bike ride along a river together, stopping for a picnic along the way. Or spend an afternoon wandering around a museum or park together. How about going dancing? You don’t have to be good at it…just enjoy the music and keep moving! After all, who said dates could only be dinner and movie?

Don’t have a significant other? That doesn’t have to stop you from making a date for active fun. This past Friday I met up with a wonderful group of ladies from my Petaluma Polka Dot Networking Group and we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge together. The weather was fabulous, the company was fabulous, and an amazing time was had by all. The lunch afterwards was even fabulous too! View photos here.

HANG OUT WITH THE KIDS

Think about all the pastimes kids enjoy – jumping on the trampoline, skipping rope, kicking a ball around, hula hooping, roller skating, riding a bike.  Imagine how fit you would be if you still did all those things.

Children know all the fun ways to get fit because they’re not doing it for their health. They’re doing it for pure enjoyment. So, if you have children in your life, why not join in with the fun and games? Whether you take them swimming or play a game of tag in the backyard, you’ll quickly add to your daily activity. It’s also great bonding time! Who doesn’t want to be the cool parent, aunt, mentor, or friend?

CULTIVATE YOUR GARDEN & YOURSELF AT THE SAME TIME

Tending to your garden will not only improve your landscaping, it will improve your mood and your body as well. One caveat, however: be mindful of how you bend, squat, and push so that you don’t end up hurting your back or shoulders. Treat gardening like any workout, do a gentle warm up beforehand, and then be mindful of how you engage your core muscles and place your feet while you’re active around the garden. As I say all the time, posture and form are everything!

TAKE THE DOG FOR AN EPIC WALK

You probably walk your dog around the block to do their business each day – but imagine how delighted they’d be if you went for a really long walk? A whole hour spent wandering around a park, romping through a field, or strolling along a river will undoubtedly make you their new best friend.

Not only is a daily walk vital to your dog’s health, but it’s important for yours as well. You can always find the time if you plan for it. If you are one of those people who has a hard time doing something for yourself, how about doing it for your best friend/family member? Not only will it help you hit 100% of your daily activity goal, but you’ll probably find it will become your favorite part of the day too.

You might think that your dog will slow you down on a long walk, especially with all the fun things to sniff and other puppies to say hello to. However, most dogs will walk very fast once they get going because they’re so excited to be out and about. Don’t be surprised if they’ll end up taking you for the walk. People I meet on our walks always laugh about how Lucy walks me around the neighborhood each day!

TAKE YOUR MEETING ON A WALK

If you end up in back-to-back meetings most days, try to make time for an active chat. Grab some water, take a walk around the block, or head for the nearest park with your colleague. Not only will it get you away from the office and your various screens, but it will help you both get some fresh air – and probably some fresh ideas. The daily WIM Walks are based on this very premise. Network while moving!

Stanford University research has found that walking can increase creative thinking. So, while we sometimes need spreadsheets in front of us for certain meetings, we should take the chance to up our daily activity whenever we have the opportunity. Who doesn’t want to come up with brighter ideas – and spend more time out of the office on a nice day?

Walking also gives you perspective and increases your productivity more than sitting in the same room all day. Plus, it’s an excellent opportunity to bond a little more with your colleagues and build those working relationships that enhance our everyday lives. So, get out of the office and get active together.

Need more ideas on how to keep moving? Don’t forget to check out the 12 Weeks of Christmas Challenge for more ideas on how to stay fit as the seasons change. You can view Week 2 here.

Only 12 Weeks to Xmas!

Yes, my friends! We are 12 weeks away from Christmas! How are you getting ready? Do you have your shopping list? Are you unpacking the decorations?  How will you celebrate the Winter Solstice? But more importantly, how will you keep your fitness up? This is the time when many people abandon their fitness routine. I get it. You’re busy, There are a ton of things to get done (and they have a deadline, no less!). Family is coming, the house needs to be cleaned, the cooking needs to be done, the shopping needs to be done, the gifts need to be wrapped…need I go on? But as I know you know, you can’t fill from an empty cup. Your own self-care is crucial to your being able to take care of everything else. I encourage you to think of your fitness not as another item on your to-do list, but as something you do for yourself, something that helps you feel rejuvenated and something that lights up your day. Don’t think of it as “exercise” think of it as “self care”. Whatever you do to stay fit should feel good, not a chore. 

With the change in seasons, you may not be able to go outside as much. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up! The 12 Weeks of Christmas Challenge is designed to help you stay active by expanding your repertoire of indoor fitness activities you can do anytime, anywhere without any special equipment. So if you have a free moment while you are waiting for the oven to pre-heat, you can get in some movement while you wait! Join me on Facebook Live every Thursday at 9am Pacifc/12pm Eastern for a new challenge. If you missed this week’s activity, you can view it here.

Fall is Here!

Welcome to October! Fall is really here. As I mentioned last week, this is my favorite time of year. I grew up in Florida without seasons. During my first fall season in 1985 when I was starting college in Philadelphia, I fell in love with this time of year. For many people however, this time of year marks the end of summer (with its endless sunshine and outdoor activities) and the beginning of winter (with its short dark days and cold stormy nights). Often this is the time of year when people give up on their fitness routines. Bathing suit season is over and the shorts get traded in for bulky sweaters and sweatpants. And depending on where you live, you may be trading the sunshine for weeks full of dark damp days. However, the change of seasons doesn’t have to spell doom for your fitness routine. But it may be time for a change if outdoor activities are not an option for you.  If you are interested in expanding you repertoire of indoor exercises, join me for the 12 Weeks of Christmas Challenge starting this Thursday, October 7th. You can join me on Facebook Live every week at 9am Pacific/12pm Eastern/6am Hawaii and I will demonstrate exercises you can do anywhere, anytime, with no equipment or simple things you already have around the house. Each exercise will have several options to take into account various fitness levels, so everyone will be able to do each one. And yes, October 7th is just 12 weeks away from Christmas.  Shocking, I know!

Be sure to join our Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/wimruntheworld to be notified when I am going live. However, you can use the link above to tune in even if you don’t have a facebook account.

And in the meantime, to help you get into the seasonal spirit, here is a recipe for my favorite pumpkin spice protein smoothie:

Pumpkin Spice Protein Smoothie
Ingredients 

  • 5 1/3 ounces (150g) 0% plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup (122g) canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 large frozen banana
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin spice blend (or make your own with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or allspice)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup (use the good stuff!)
  • 1 scoop protein powder (any brand you like will work, but I personally prefer plant-based protein because dairy does not sit well with my digestive system. After much research, I recommend Garden of Life Raw Organic, unflavored sugar-free Vegan Protein Powder)
  • 1/2 cup (240ml) ice cubes

Directions
Place all the ingredients in the blender, in order. Secure the lid and insert the tamper, if you have one, and blend, starting on a low speed and quickly shifting to high. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Serves: 1 | Serving Size: 1 glass
Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 331; Total Fat: 2g; Saturated Fat: 1g; Monounsaturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 19mg; Sodium: 99mg; Carbohydrate: 47g; Dietary Fiber: 7g; Sugar: 33g; Protein: 33g

Pre-Workout Snacks to Keep You Going

What you eat before working out can drastically impact how you feel during and even after your workout. It’s important to give your body what it needs so that you are feeling your best. Since all of our bodies are different, the best way to figure out what works for you is through trial and error. But where should you start when looking for the perfect balance for you? Here are some tips to that may help…

First, let’s start off with some general information about how different foods fuel our bodies and how those foods are utilized differently depending on the type of exercise you are doing. When we head out for a walk, hike or run, most of our fuel comes from glycogen stores (the stored fat and carbohydrate) in our body. Those stores come from the food that we eat in the days leading up to the walk, hike, or run. What you eat immediately before you start will not be stored as glycogen, but rather, will be more readily used during the workout. For example, if you eat a snack high in carbs right before you start, then you will burn a higher proportion of carbohydrates during the workout. This is particularly helpful, for example, if you are doing speed work where you are burning lots of energy quickly.

For short walks, hikes or runs (45 minutes or less), it is fine to go out on an empty stomach. One caveat: when I go out on an “empty stomach” it still has a latte in it, because I don’t go anywhere without a latte! And that does have about 150 calories with a mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates.  But if it going to be a short walk, it is OK to go on a completely empty stomach.

To fuel longer walks, hikes or runs, you will definitely want to combine carbohydrates with protein and fat to help keep you from getting hungry. A meal complete with all three macronutrients can help delay the onset of fatigue, improve endurance and enhance performance.

Now that we’ve got that figured out, here are some snacks you may way to try:

Toast

I love peanut butter toast with banana and/or honey. You can add chia seeds on top too. You can put anything you want on your toast, but I have found that peanut butter sits well with my stomach and the extra fat and protein helps keep me full vs. if I just have plain or buttered toast. If I add honey, I get a little extra carb boost as well, which is helpful on long run or hard workout days.

I eat toast before all types of workouts – long, short, easy, intense. What varies is what I top the toast with, depending on the type of workout, and how many pieces I eat, depending on how long I plan to be out.

If you are gluten intolerant or do not like bread, you can substitute an apple for the toast. An apple with one tablespoon of peanut butter is my favorite mid-morning or afternoon snack. And just like the toast, you can add a bit of honey too for an extra carbohydrate boost!

Energy Chews

Energy chews are another option if solid food is tough for you to stomach or if you prefer the convenience of prepared, packaged foods. There are a lot of brands out there (GU, Skratch, Clif, Honey Stinger). This is the best option if you only have about 15 minutes before your workout and no time to properly digest real food.  But since chews are only carbs without protein or fat, you will probably get hungry mid-workout. Personally, I prefer to use chews for fueling mid-workout because they are easy to carry and fit in my pockets. I also keep some extra chews in my backpack just in case my hike or bike ride goes longer than expected and I am running low on energy. Because they are packaged, the do last a long time (yeah, I know…that can be good AND bad…) so they are easy to store for “emergencies”.

Remember we are talking about chews (they look like blocks or gummies). Gels, which seem similar (but are more like a thick liquid), do not seem to work as well for me and tend to have more sugar.

Dates stuffed with nut butter

This is another great real-food snack and it often gives me the quickest burst of energy of all the options. I buy medjool dates, slice them open, remove the pit and stuff it with peanut butter, almond butter or tahini (sesame seed butter) Two or three of these are a great pick-me-up!

Sliced banana with peanut butter and salt

Bananas combat muscle cramps, peanut butter adds protein, and salt helps balance out sweat. This is a bit lighter of a snack, so it is good for walks, hikes and runs of about 3-5 miles.

Oatmeal

Before a long walk, hike or run (12 miles more more), Instant oatmeal is my go-to breakfast. For a full or half marathon, I always have 2 packets of Quaker instant oats before I leave the house. The time I spend driving to start line and waiting in the corral for the race to start gives me plenty of time to digest and it keeps me feeling full for several hours. Admittedly, Quaker instant oats packets have dehydrated fruit and some added sugar, but I find that just helps boost my energy and endurance during a race. And I know I will burn off the extra sugar when I am out there for 13-26 miles!

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a great addition to an athlete’s diet and they serve as a base for great toppings, similar to toast and oatmeal. I find them easier to digest than the traditional bagel and they are a lot more nutritious too.

Make the Most of Your Time

If you know me, you know I like to be very efficient with my time. After a long career in the high-tech industry, where time is EVERYTHING, I hate to waste even a minute of my day. (Note: self-care and resting my body and my mind do NOT count as wasted time—that’s an important and productive part of the day!)

As a result, I have spent a lot of time learning how to get the most out of each workout.  Gretchen Reynolds writes the Phys Ed column for the New York Times. In her book “The First 20 Minutes,” she breaks down the science of how to get the most from the time you spend on exercise.

According to Reynolds, if your goal is to be healthy, to have less risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, obesity, then it appears that the first 20 minutes of moving will provide most of those health benefits.  And that’s any type of moving, it doesn’t have to be running. Walking, cycling, going up stairs, gardening. Any type of human movement is really important for health, and most of the benefits of exercise or activity in general, are gathered in the first 20 minutes compared to sitting on the couch. Even more interesting is that those 20 minutes do not have to be done all at once. If you are having a busy day, studies show there is still benefit to getting up and moving for even 5 minutes…so try that 4 times during the day.

If you are a runner, you may be wondering how much running is ideal.  The human body definitely needs to be moving, and running is a really good way in a concentrated period of time to move. But as with many things (like chocolate cake!), more is not always better for your health. Science suggests that moderation is the ideal approach to running. A study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine suggests that running about 3 miles a few times a week at a moderate (or even slow) pace will potentially give you the longest lifespan.  There is some evidence that doing a lot more running may not necessarily be be better for you, and doing a whole lot less, you will not get quite as many health and fitness benefits. A moderate amount of running appears to be the absolute sweet spot.

Is sitting all day killing us?

According to Reynolds, there is a new school of thought that sitting all day — even if you regularly exercise — is very unhealthy.  She talks about a phenomenon that she  calls the “active couch potato” —people who may exercise at once a day and then sit the entire rest of the day. The exercise will not completely undo the health problems of sitting for eight, 10 hours a day, which is average for Americans.

What happens when you sit for really extended periods of time is a number of systems start malfunctioning in your body. You start producing less of an enzyme that breaks up fat in your bloodstream. That fat then goes to your muscles, your heart, your liver. The big muscles in your body are not contracting, so you are not pulling as much blood sugar out of your blood, so you start having too much insulin. That’s the beginning of Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance.

So what do we do?

According to Reynolds, the answer is actually surprisingly simple. Stand up. There is very good and growing evidence that standing up about every 20 minutes is really important for good health.  This does not mean that you have to do anything while you are standing up. You do not have to jog in place, you do not have to run, you do not have to do jumping jacks. You can if you choose to (I like to do squats when I stand up), but there have been a number of studies that have found that if you stand up about every 20 minutes for two minutes, the big muscles in your legs and your back will contract. Doing so increases the production of enzymes that break up fat, which means you are pulling more blood sugar. If you have ever been on a zoom meeting with me, you have probably noticed that I move around a lot. I apologize for the distraction it may cause, but I do it because it makes me feel better and allows me to concentrate on the meeting that much better.

Studies have found that just standing up more often reduces heart disease risk and diabetes risk. It also has been found to help with weight control. If you sit unendingly for hours, for six, seven hours, there are implications for weight gain. So stand up. It’s so easy.

The Petition for Companionship

If (like me) you live alone, the last 18 months may have been very isolating. COVID rates are high—stay home, only leave the house when necessary, wear a mask in public. Then COVID rates went down. Great! Take off your mask, spend time with small groups of people, but don’t get too close to unvaccinated people and don’t spend too much time indoors. Wait! COVID rates are up again. And now we have the Delta variant. Go back to masks. Do I really need to travel? Is it OK to gather with others? What now? UGH!  All this craziness reminds me of why I race. You may be scratching your head right about now about how I moved from COVID to racing, but stay with me. I’ll explain!

During the shelter in place, running events were obviously cancelled. Major running events can involve 40,000 people or more crammed into a relatively small space. Even small intimate events involve a few hundred to several thousand people. And while they are held outdoors, people can get very close to each other. So, races went virtual. Rather than traveling to Illinois, Virginia, Utah and the other states I had planned to visit in 2020, I ran all my “races” virtually. In other words, I ran laps around my neighborhood. Now there is nothing unusual about my running laps around my neighborhood (just ask my neighbors, they see me do it all the time!). What was unusual about these races is that I did them…alone.

You see, the whole point of racing is to gather with other people. Contrary to common belief, racing among non-elite athletes is not about beating the person next to you. It is about doing your personal best. In other words, it is about beating the YOU that you used to be yesterday. In his book Zendurance, author, Zen instructor, and Ironman triathlete Shane Eversfield defines competition as “the petition for companionship”. Even in virtual races, you post your results on a virtual scoreboard and seek the companionship of others who are doing the same thing you are doing (albeit virtually). In other words, you cannot compete alone.  Competition, by definition, involves the company of others.

Nothing has brought that concept home for me as much as this year’s Santa Rosa marathon weekend. Last year, the race was cancelled for obvious reasons. This year, event organizers spaced the races out with staggered start times and did everything they could to encourage safe COVID practices while holding the in-person 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon races. And best of all, I got to participate with several ladies from our WIM community—Tracie Root, Seema Giri, Meg Keehan, Paula Duran, Emelia Ebendick, Susan Simpkins, Kelly Loyd, and Shannon Sundberg. Several more joined us in spirit because, although they were not able to be physically present in Santa Rosa, they sent group text messages throughout the run which definitely helped us feel like they were here with us. And a fabulous time was had by all!

But not only did we enjoy the experience of racing, we enjoyed the experience of getting together. Much to our surprise, many of us had never met in person before this weekend. Rather, we had gotten to know each other over zoom and had developed amazingly strong friendships through training together virtually. I had even forgotten that I had never met some of the ladies in person prior to this weekend! And that, my friends, is the power of training for a race. When you are united in your goals, your purpose, and your actions, you form a bond with others—even if they are physically far away. So while I still live alone, and when we will be able to get back to getting together with others regularly without concerns is still unclear, I will always have running. And running keeps me close to others. It is the petition for companionship, and I am extremely blessed to have such wonderful companions.

Join us for a virtual group walk or run Monday and Friday at 7am PST/10am EST and Wednesday 8am PST/11am EST 

Stretches: When & How to Use Them

Hello all! I hope you are doing well and enjoying the summer. Make the most of it, because Fall will be here shortly!

I am often asked questions about stretching: when to do it, how to do it, and why to do it. I recently came across the article below and (for practically the first time ever!) I have nothing to add, change or comment on. This article by Kevin Gray sums it up perfectly. So, without further ado, I have reprinted the article in its entirety for your reading pleasure:

Four Common Types of Stretches and When to do Each

 BY KEVIN GRAY

Whether you’re an elite athlete, weekend warrior, average gym-goer or just starting to exercise for the first time, you’ve probably tried stretching to loosen muscles before a workout or to help sore muscles recover. But what most people don’t know is there are many types of stretching and different recommendations on when to perform each, so the practice goes well beyond touching your toes.

Depending on who you ask, there are multiple types of stretches, but the four common movement patterns include static, active, dynamic and ballistic stretching. Some are better for warming up before workouts, while others are recommended for cooling down afterward. To learn more, we spoke with a man who moves for a living: Anthony Crouchelli, founder of the.1method and Master Trainer at GRIT BXNG. Below, he explains the four movement patterns and what to know about each one.

STATIC STRETCHING

“Static stretch patterns are built around holding a position for a duration of time,” says Crouchelli. Often performed while seated, standing or lying flat on your back, static stretches focus on lengthening the muscles by staying in one position, rather than through movement. Most experts suggest holding a static stretch for at least 30 seconds.

Examples: Cobra pose; seated butterfly stretch

When to do it: Perform static stretches after your workout to help your body cool down and recover.

ACTIVE STRETCHING

When you engage in active stretching, you use opposing muscles to stretch yourself without requiring any additional forces, says Crouchelli. Your quads may be working while your hamstrings stretch, so your body is playing an active role in the stretch. Active stretches typically include multiple repetitions and are held for shorter durations than static stretches.

Examples: Straight leg raises while lying on your back; seated wall angels

When to do it: These versatile stretches can be performed before or after workouts.

DYNAMIC STRETCHING

Studies show adding dynamic stretching to your warmup improves strength, agility and endurance. In these movement patterns, joints and muscles actively go through a full range of motion and may even mirror your workout — for example, walking lunges or standing knee raises before going for a jog. “Dynamic stretches are great for increasing range and mobility,” says Crouchelli.

Examples: Walking lunges with a twist; standing straight leg kicks

When to do it: Crouchelli recommends dynamic stretching for pre-game warmups, before workouts and on recovery days.

BALLISTIC STRETCHING

“Ballistic stretches are similar to dynamic stretches, but they focus more on expanding your joints and muscles past their normal range of motion,” says Crouchelli. When performed safely with controlled movements, these stretches may lengthen and loosen muscles faster and further than other stretches. A BMJ study found ballistic stretching — often described as bouncing into and out of a stretched position — improved hamstring flexibility better than static stretching, but be careful not to overdo it. Ballistic stretching is often performed by athletes who wish to maximize their body’s capabilities, but because it carries a risk of injury, it’s not for everyone. Make sure your muscles are warmed up before giving it a try.

Examples: Sitting toe reaches; standing lunges; shoulder rotations

When to do It: Try ballistic stretching after your workout or on rest days (after warming up your muscles).

THE BOTTOM LINE

As you can see from the above, not all stretching is created equal. There’s a time and place for each kind of stretch, but not all stretching is for everyone. Take your time learning the movements, and ask for guidance from a certified personal trainer or coach if you’re unsure of the proper use or form of a movement.

Get Stronger Part 3: The Anti-Sit Up

Many people interested in strengthening their abdominals turn to sit-ups. And they do not do just a few sit-ups but rather, hundreds of them. Yet this methodology rarely builds strong abdominal muscles. Why? If you have done a sit-up lately (or were traumatized by them in your past), you may have noticed that traditional sit-ups involve a lot of jerky motions such as your feet lifting off the floor or straining your neck. Some people solve that problem of their feet lifting by having a partner hold their feet down. Other people solve that problem by putting the soles of their feet together with their knees pointing out in a diamond shape. While both of those solutions will keep your feet on the floor, they do not solve the root problem, which is that you are using your hip flexors rather than your abdominal muscles.

By doing hundreds of sit-ups, you are really building terrific hip flexors (which will eventually become tight and cause imbalances in your posture) when what you are really trying to do strengthen your core. To curb the excess use of the hip flexors and move the focus to the abdominals, I recommend Wall Crunches instead.

To perform Wall Crunches, lie on your back with both feet on a wall, knees at a 90 degree angle. The feet should be in line with the knees, and knees in line with the hips. Clasp your hands behind the base of the head. Let the head relax in the hands while looking at the ceiling. Lift the shoulders and head off the floor while exhaling. Lift as high as you can using only the abdominals, not the hip flexors. Keep your lower back flat throughout the motion. If you notice the hips or knees moving up and down, the feet coming off the wall a bit or that you’re really pushing hard on the wall with your feet, then you’re using the hip flexors rather than the abdominals. Make sure you don’t yank on the neck, and that the shoulders lift off the floor. Another way to ensure that the hip flexors are neutralized is to concentrate on keeping eye contact with the ceiling, When the eye contact is broken, it means that your head and upper back are off the floor to the point that the abdominals have handed off the lifting motion to the hip flexors.

Start with as many as you can do and build to 2 sets of 50.

Would you like to move with more ease, comfort, and joy?
Would you like running, walking and hiking to feel almost effortless without the huffing & puffing and wear & tear on your joints?
Would you like to develop more self-confidence and confidence in your body?
Join me for Bliss with Your Body, three 1-hr sessions on body awareness, posture, and body mechanics starting August 12th.

Get Stronger Part 2: The Plank

You know what you need to feel strong, have stamina, and go the distance? A strong core. Yup. They call it “the core” for a reason, and it’s so important to your whole body! As a matter of fact, the core comprises more of your body than you may realize. It’s not just your abs, but also your back, your glutes, your hips, and all the muscles in your trunk. Having a strong core is what enables you to stand upright, move, sit down, and is involved in almost every total body movement you perform. While there are many ways to ensure a strong core, one of the easiest and most common is the plank.

The plank is an isometric exercise (meaning static, no movement) which works your entire body while increasing your metabolism. “Planks focus primarily on your core, but also [work] the stabilizing muscles in your upper body, like your shoulders,” says Judine Saint Gerard, a certified personal trainer and fitness coach based in New York City. “But, believe it or not, if you are performing the plank properly, your quads, pelvic floor and glutes will also be engaged.”

“Planks recruit the rectus abdominis — those deep muscles in the abdominals which are responsible for that six-pack,” says Heather Fletcher , an exercise physiologist based in Tampa, Florida. Now, I’m not going to lie to you. Doing a couple of planks will not give you instant six-pack abs. But practicing planks regularly will give you a stronger core, which will reduce fatigue, increase endurance, and improve stability.

The improved stability comes from the fact that planks also strengthen the transverse abdominis— the deepest layer of abdominal muscles that are responsible for spinal stability — and the obliques, which help with rotation. While accidents do happen (did I mention I sprained my ankle at that last trail race?), the stronger your core, the more likely you are to be able to stop yourself from falling if you trip on something. And being able to prevent yourself from falling is an incredible superpower you’ll definitely want to develop!

And because the plank recruits your entire core, it targets your lower back and hips, too. By performing planks regularly (and properly), you will build the core strength to support your spine and help prevent back pain and tight hip flexors. You will also experience better balance because an engaged core helps you stand taller and maintain good posture.

Of course, good form is important to getting the most out of the exercise and not cause any unnecessary strain. Here are some tips to ensure you are planking properly:

  1. Fully engage your middle
  2. Tighten your quads
  3. Tighten your glutes
  4. Tuck in your pelvis
  5. Push your shoulders away from your ears

According to certified personal trainer Rozalynn S. Frazier,  this allows you to evenly distribute your weight throughout your body, instead of shifting it all through your shoulders, which can cause strain.

The tighter you squeeze your lower body, the “easier” the plank becomes. This is because “realistically, the more control you can exert, the longer you can maintain proper positions,” according to Andia Winslow, master certified fitness professional, pro athlete and founder of The Fit Cycle. By engaging your glutes during a plank, you hit the trio of muscles in your rear: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

The stronger your glutes are, the less pressure that will be put on your lower back, and the more stable you will feel during other activities, such as walking, running, hiking, and cycling. Your hips will also generally function better with a more solid backside because weak glutes force you to compensate with your hips. Strong glutes are also the recipe for better overall power, speed and athletic performance.

Engaging your quads prevents your lower body from sinking. Your quads are also a source of strength, so engaging them in isometric movements like planks enhances your stability, especially in the knees. Weak quads not only wreak havoc on your overall knee function, but a June 2011 study in ​Osteoarthritis Cartilage​ shows that it can also contribute to loss of cartilage in the knee joint, which in turn could lead to osteoarthritis.

How to perform a plank:

  1. Start on all fours with your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists and your hips directly over your knees.
  2. Keeping your neck in line with your spine, step your feet back, one at a time, forming a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Tuck your pelvis in to engage your core and squeeze your quads and glutes. Press your heels back slightly to evenly distribute your weight from head to toes. Pull your shoulders back away from your ears and corkscrew your hands into the floor by gripping with your fingers.

Things to keep in mind:

  • If you’re not able to hold a high plank on your hands, modify the exercise by coming to your forearms.
  • The closer your feet are together in a plank, the greater the challenge.
  • Avoid pressing your butt into the air or sinking your hips below your shoulders. You want your body to be straight as a (well, you guessed it) plank…
  • Start by holding a plank for 10 seconds and slowly work your way to a full minute by adding 10-second increments. Duration should be directly proportionate to form control. Holding a plank for longer than you can maintain proper form is ineffective and may even stress the body to point of injury.

Get Stronger: All About the Squat

Walking is a great way to increase your cardiovascular fitness. But walking does not necessarily increase your muscle strength, especially if you primarily walk on flat paths. This has become very apparent to me over the past 18 months. In addition to walking, running and hiking, I used to do Crossfit several days a week until the pandemic forced my gym to close for a surprisingly long time. At first, I tried to continue doing crossfit-type workouts at home alone, but eventually I just stopped and increased my running instead. What I have noticed over that time is that while I may be getting fitter from a cardiovascular perspective, my muscles have atrophied. Yes, despite running 150-200 miles each month, my leg muscles are not maintaining the strength they used to have because running without strength training does not build muscle mass. So why do I care about muscle mass?  Muscle mass is important for overall strength which is important for getting up (and down) hills and for going faster. And good overall body strength is important for so many things we do in our daily lives. So lately I have been thinking about how to re-incorporate strength training into my routine.

According to Heather Fletcher, an exercise physiologist based in Tampa, Florida Doing squats will help you build strength and improve muscle mass. She says, “You will recruit a high amount of energy and burn fat, and this will help you become stronger in your activities of daily life.”

As with any activity, it is important to maintain proper form while performing your squats. Here are tips to help you perform the perfect squat:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width or slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Allow the big toes, pinky toes and heels to grip the floor like a tripod.
  3. Take a big inhale. Hinge at the hips and bend your knees, slightly leaning your chest forward while keeping you back straight.
  4. Lower yourself down as if you are sitting into a chair. Make sure your knees are in line with your feet and are not moving forward past your toes.
  5. Try to lower yourself down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. If you cannot get down that far at first, no worries! Just go as far as you can. As you continue to practice, your mobility will improve.
  6. Press into your heels to stand back up, exhaling as you reach the top.
  7. Do not let your knees cave in at any point during the movement
  8. Do not let your heels come off the floor at any point during the movement
  9. Do keep your core engaged during the entire movement

As with every exercise, if you do these regularly you will find they get easier. In fact, doing squats may get so easy that they no longer feel like a challenge. Never fear! I have a solution for that! And no, it does not mean you have to do a gazillion of them to continue to reap the benefits. Rather, you can add challenge to your squats, for example by adding weights or doing “jump squats”.

If you do not have “official” weights like dumbbells handy, you can perform weighted squats by holding a bag of cat litter or a big bag of dog food close to your chest while you perform squats.

To perform :jump squats”, in Step 6 above, when moving back up, push off from your mid-foot and “jump” up.

Squats are a compound movement, meaning they tap into multiple muscle groups across multiple joints. According to Judine Saint Gerard, a certified personal trainer and fitness coach based in New York City, squats work the entire body. And doing them consistently with correct form can help build everything from strength and power to balance and flexibility, she says. The lower body bears the brunt of the motion, specifically your quads, which run along the front of the thigh, and all three muscles in the butt: the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. In addition, other muscles in your legs such as your hamstrings and hip flexors are activated, explains Saint Gerard. And performing squats also activates the stabilizing efforts of your core, which keeps your torso upright during the movement and reduces stress on the lower back.

If you have any questions about form, please do not hesitate to reach out. I will be more than happy to help.