Extreme Newsletter—Diet and fitness tips, recipes, and motivation

Issue #050 10/12/10 STRETCHING OUT

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10 Tips on Home Workout Gear

By Steve Edwards

Working out at home is a lot easier than venturing into the wild and working out outdoors. It's also less intimidating than going to the gym. But at home, you still have the same physical parameters affecting your workout that you do outdoors. How to get warm, stay cool, fuel up, and not allow your body to change temperature too fast—all these issues still matter, even when you're in your living room. Let's take a look at some of the most important considerations for getting the most out of your home workout.

Woman Exercising

  1. Get a mat. One thing that doesn't change at home is the importance of the platform you work out on. Your shoes, and what they're standing/jumping on, are the most important pieces of home workout equipment. Most of us have limited space options and we're probably stuck with whatever happens to be the floor surface of the one room that's ideal for our workout. Owning a workout mat, or two, should be a top priority. The minimum is a stretching (or yoga) mat. These are pretty thin and designed to pad your joints during floor workout movements. If your floor is unforgiving, like cement, you should also consider a plyometrics mat, which is made to withstand the rigors of jumping, like that done in P90X® and Power 90® Master Series. A good mat will absorb shock, improve the effectiveness of your workout, and reduce your chance of injury. When choosing a mat, in addition to evaluating its thickness, make sure it'll stick to the floor. Mats that slip around aren't just annoying—they can also be dangerous.
  2. Athletic ShoeChoose the right shoe. While some workouts are better to do barefoot, most are better performed with shoes. When buying your shoes, consider the movements you'll be doing before you go shopping. It's best not to multitask a shoe. Running shoes are made for running forward. Basketball and tennis shoes are made for explosive movements—both forward and lateral. A good home workout shoe should do a little of both. These are generally called cross-trainers. While they don't excel at any one thing, they're a good choice for both home fitness and kicking around town. Something like a trail-running shoe can work for multitasking because it provides more lateral support than a traditional running shoe. Spend a little time researching prior to shopping. This may seem like overkill, but it's time well spent because the biggest factor you should consider about a shoe is how well it fits your individual foot.
  3. Get a professional fit. There are people in the world who are trained in the differences in foot shape, cadence, and walking and running form, and they know how to put you in a shoe that will work best for you. Let them. It's worth an afternoon of learning about your feet and what style of shoe fits you well. The few hours you spend learning on the front end can reap huge rewards, especially if you never get injured and can move without pain. (On that note, make it an afternoon of shopping. Your feet swell during the day, so try and avoid getting fitted in the morning, or at least take it into consideration.)
  4. Treat your feet with respect. Even the best pair of shoes wears out. They may still look fine, but soles break down over time—actually, it's recommended that you replace your running shoes every 300 to 500 miles, no matter what they look like. Often, changes are subtle, and the only way you'll notice is to try on some new shoes—it's only then that you can feel how much the cushioning in your old shoes has worn down. Since your workout shoes are probably the best-fitting shoes you have, try rotating the newer pair into your workout slot. Then use the older pair for more menial tasks, like errands, housework, and low-impact workouts. Your feet also change shape over the years, so remeasure your feet each year or so. If they've changed size or shape, it's time to get fitted again. Your feet, and everything attached to them, will thank you.
  5. Own some workout socks. Those cotton tube socks that are 10 pairs for five bucks are fine for some applications, but working out isn't one of them. Socks are an extension of your shoes. Workout socks are made with extra cushioning where you need it and materials that wick the sweat off of your skin so that your feet don't slip and you won't develop blisters. A pair of $10 socks will last a long time if you use them for your workout and change into a cheap pair when you're done.
  6. Woman and Man in Workout OutfitsCotton for comfort, not exercise. While we're on the subject of cotton, let's look at its use for athletic applications. It's great for watching sports. Cotton is comfortable, as long as it doesn't get wet. When it does, it loses its ability to insulate. During a workout, sweat will turn your comfortable cotton T-shirt into a conductor to refrigerate circulating air. While this doesn't matter as much at home, the more you promote quick changes in body temperature, the more you're asking your immune system to work overtime. As the seasons change, you'll increase your risk of getting sick.
  7. Layer. Layering your clothing is an essential survival skill for explorers and outdoor athletes, but it's also a performance aid at home, especially when it's cold. You don't want to begin your workout feeling cold, so bundle up beforehand. Unlike when fighting the elements, you don't need tech wear. In fact, bundling up in cotton is just fine, as long as you'll be taking it off as you warm up, and before it gets wet. The great thing about being at home is that it doesn't matter how many layers you wear. Put on as many clothes as necessary to get warm prior to your workout, then take them off as you move along. When you finish, reverse the process so you don't get chilled.
  8. Carry a water bottle. A great aspect of home training is that food and water are always available. There's no reason to bonk or to be dehydrated again. Of course, this doesn't always work as advertised. There may also be junk food, soda, or beer in the fridge, so that availability equation can also work against you. To offset this, make a habit of carrying your water bottle around at home. Repeated studies warn us that we're chronically dehydrated. Keeping yourself hydrated will energize your workouts, enable you to push harder, keep your immune system running strong, and make you less apt to binge eat and/or drink.
  9. The shower. One of the best pieces of home workout equipment is your shower. Not only can you be clean and shiny within minutes of finishing your workout, you can use your shower to improve recovery. Getting blood to circulate quicker is one of the keys to an efficient recovery from exercise and hot/cold showers are a great way to do this. Alternate your water temperature from hot to cold during your shower. Make each temperature as extreme as you can stand it and try focusing the water on the targeted muscles of that day's workout. A few cycles of this after a hard workout can do wonders.
  10. Icing a Knee JointFire and ice. Not much beats a combination of ice and heat for recovery. This is the same principle as the shower, but a lot more powerful. You probably know that ice works well when you've been injured, but it also helps you heal from the rigors of daily exercise. Icing the body parts you've worked out will help you recover faster, especially alternating ice and heat (finish with ice). An easy way to ice is while watching TV. Bundle up to keep your core temperature warm and move ice packs around to the muscles you've worked during that day's workout.

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Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, October 18th, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Stretching and Flexibility

By Stephanie S. Saunders

Stretching is one of the most important aspects of any exercise program, and usually one of the most ignored and/or misunderstood. Because it doesn't burn a massive amount of calories or give you a six-pack, many people choose to skip the stretch, hurrying off to Starbucks for a skinny vanilla latte instead. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who push their cold limbs into pretzel-like positions, ultimately harming their connective tissue. Like most things that are good for us in life, if you ignore it or overdo it, stretching can create imbalances and eventually cause you harm. So how do you get stretching right? It's easy enough, but first let's learn about why it's important.

Women Stretching

What is flexibility?

In technical terms, flexibility is defined as "the ability to move a joint through its complete range of motion." This means that when a particular joint, like your shoulder, is in a fixed position, the shoulder's range of motion is measured as the arm is moved. Stretching is the practice of elongating the surrounding soft tissue, or the muscles, around that joint. Over time, regular stretching can increase flexibility, but tight muscles aren't the only factor limiting a joint's range of motion.

Why don't I have flexibility?

Woman StretchingSo if it's not those tight hamstrings, what is it that limits flexibility? Joint structure, for any given joint, has a lot to do with range of motion. Ball and socket joints, like your hips and shoulders, are capable of the greatest amount of movement, while ellipsoidal joints, such as your wrist, are among the least flexible joints in the human body. As we age, our muscles undergo a process called fibrosis, in which muscle degenerates and is replaced by fibrous tissue, which limits movement. Connective tissue, like tendons and ligaments, can limit range of motion, as they don't share the elastic properties of muscles. Athletic training programs that focus on a limited range of motion, including many sports, can cause specific areas to tighten up, creating bulk and decreasing range of motion. Also, the frequency and duration of the stretching program you undertake, along with your general activity level, can make a huge difference in the degree of flexibility you achieve.

What does stretching do?

Regular stretching helps to increase flexibility, warms up muscle tissues and joint fluids, prepares the brain for movement, increases heart and respiratory rates, gets our bodies ready for accelerated energy production, and prepares us psychologically for work. For many people, stretching is also very relaxing and a way to de-stress and refocus. And lastly, stretching can decrease the risk of muscle imbalances, joint dysfunctions, and overuse injuries.

What if you have either too little or too much flexibility?

This brings us to what happens when we have poor flexibility. Your skeletal system, nervous system, and muscular system all work together as a balanced chain. If one part of the chain is misaligned, dysfunction can develop, which means your body can take the path of least resistance during movement, causing muscle imbalance. When muscle imbalances occur because of poor flexibility, some muscles may be shortened or tightened, while others will lengthen and become weak. This can lead to a muscle's overriding its opposing or assisting muscles, and can create abnormal pressure on a joint, causing the joint to wear down, which can eventually cause a serious injury.

Which brings us to the genetic anomaly, the hypermobile or really, really flexible person. Think gymnast, wrestler, or ballet dancer. The same problem occurs with them as with their super-stiff counterparts. In order for one muscle to be really loose, its antagonist, or opposite muscle, is often very tight. So if a dancer has really loose hamstrings, allowing him to kick extra-high, he'll often have pretty tight quadriceps to compensate for it. Eventually, this can put stress on the joints, and can cause serious hip, knee, or ankle injuries. This is why traditional yoga preaches the balance of strength and flexibility. Just being a rubber band is not what you're aiming for. What you want is to work within your personal range of motion, which as we have discovered depends on many factors, and slowly increase from there.

What types of flexibility training are there?

Inner Thigh StretchSo now that you have an idea of the benefits you get by stretching, what does it mean? Do you have to lie on a mat and slowly hold painful positions for hours at a time? No, but you do need to understand that there are different kinds of stretching protocols out there, all of which fall into either the active or passive categories. Active stretches, which means you're in control, may be static, ballistic, or dynamic. Passive stretches, which give the control to someone else or a device, are usually static or dynamic. In active stretches, a static stretch is a constant stretch where the end position is held for 10 to 30 seconds. A seated toe touch is a good example of this. A ballistic stretch is one where a bouncing movement is involved and the end position is not held. Imagine the same toe touch, but quickly reach for your toes, and then return to your seated position immediately, at least 10 times. Dynamic stretching is sport-specific stretching that involves movement. A walking lunge is a good example of this.

In passive stretching, where someone (another person) or something (a machine or device) is in control, you may be lying on your back while someone else, or a device like a strap, is stretching your hamstring. One type of passive stretching is known as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), and is done by alternating the contraction and relaxation of both the antagonist, or opposite, and agonist, or primary working muscle. There are three different forms of PNF, but all follow the same basic premise. In the case of the hamstring stretch, the person being stretched would push into the hand of the stretcher for 4 to 10 seconds, contracting the quadriceps. The stretcher will then give a cue to relax, and as the person being stretched relaxes, will stretch the hamstring for another 10 seconds. This will be repeated for 2 to 5 repetitions. The hamstring will have increased range of motion, as the result of nerve responses that hinder the contraction of the hamstring. PNF is extremely effective, but should only be performed with a trained practitioner, as it can cause overstretching injuries.

Whether you choose to hold a static stretch or use a dynamic one has much to do with what you're training for. After all, a gymnast and a tennis player both need to be pliable, but not in the same way. And often functional flexibility is best achieved with movement, which is why Tony keeps you moving at the beginning of every P90X® DVD.

How, when, and how much do I stretch?

Bend Over StretchIf you don't have the luxury of being led through a series of warmup stretches by a trainer, what's the best way to warm up for, say, a run? It's really common to bend over at the waist, grab your ankles for a quad stretch, and run 5 miles that end in the shower. And although this is better than nothing, you're ignoring at least 70 percent of your body, and a vital part of your cooldown. Every workout should begin with a light warmup and at least a few minutes of active stretching. You should at least address all major muscle groups that you'll be using during your workout. As a runner, that would include quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calves. You could hold them statically, or move through space dynamically. At the conclusion of your calorie-burning party, you should hit every major muscle group for a bit longer. That also includes your upper body, which has just been jarred with every footfall. Most professionals agree that the longer stretch should take place at the end of a workout, as the body is more receptive to elasticity work when it's warm. And, yes, this should happen every time you work out, which for many serious workout devotees can equate to 5 or 6 days a week. A well-designed post-workout stretch program could take just 10 minutes. It can also be the workout, as in the Yoga X workout. Whatever the case, we know that consistency is what makes the difference.

Sports, fitness programs, and even daily life can create imbalances in your body. The more you run, jump, lift, push, pull, and twist, the tighter your body can become, And yes, you do want your glutes to look tight in those skinny jeans, but you don't want them to be so tight they're pulling your body out of alignment. Based on the demands of the sport or exercise regimen you're involved in, you should adopt healthy stretching habits that will help you avoid the injuries that come from imbalance. This will do a lot more for you in the long run than all the chemicals in that skinny vanilla latte.

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Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, October 18th, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Scrawny to Brawny—in 90 Days!

paeLo07 wanted to put some meat on his bones, and he got it in pure muscle. Watch him transform from punk to hunk as he charts his first 90 days on P90X. See his video below.

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Recipe: Dijon Dressing

Dijon Dressing

Let's face it: Eating virtuously can sometimes be a challenge. Who among us hasn't been heard speaking disdainfully of salad as "rabbit food"? The true secret to creating enjoyable salads is often to be found not in the main ingredients, but in the dressing. Having an arsenal of tasty dressing recipes can help you keep climbing Michi's Ladder to a healthy lifestyle. Here's a great Dijon dressing that's easy to whip up and will add tanginess, zinginess, and other fun stuff ending in "-iness" to your next salad.

  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
  • Small bowl
  • Wire whisk

In small bowl, whisk together garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper until mixed. Continue whisking while adding olive oil in a small, steady stream. Continue until oil and vinegar mixture are completely blended. Can be made ahead of time—store in refrigerator in shaker bottle with lid and shake well before serving. Makes 3 servings.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
137 0 g 0 g 3 g 14 g 2 g

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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