8 Ways to Perk Up During Your Day

office-yoga

It’s 3PM on a Wednesday.

Lunchtime is long gone.  Your eyes are starting to glaze over.  You feel antsy, yet tired.  It’s becoming difficult to concentrate on your work and productivity is plummeting.  There’s still work to be done, but you just can’t muster the energy to perform your best.  Is there anything you can do?

Fear not!  There there are more solutions than merely running to the coffee pot!  Let’s take a look at 8 things we can do to immediately restore your energy and vitality…

 

1) Do a simple stretching routine

All you need  is a small clear space about the size of a yoga mat.  A stretching routine has numerous benefits.  It gets you out of that crippling desk posture, lengthening the muscles that get short and tight from sitting.  It will get your heart beating a little faster, giving your limbs and brain a fresh supply of oxygenated blood.

No equipment is necessary, just put together a series of stretches that you enjoy.  Give these a try and feel free to do them several times throughout the day!

 

2) Give yourself a foot massage

I got this idea from my good friend Coach Jim Shortz.  Most of us wear shoes throughout the day.  Unless you have a contract with Nike, your shoes won’t be perfectly molded to your feet.  Keeping our feet in an unnatural position can have subtle effects on our energy (and if done long term can actually change the shape of our foot!

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feet

Although I don’t have a great scientific explanation for this, taking off your shoes and giving yourself a foot massage can relax you and improve the flow of energy.  Here’s a great little foot massage tutorial.

 

3) Take a cold shower

You might have shivered a bit just reading this one but I promise, those 30 seconds of frigid torture will have you feeling like you plugged yourself into the wall socket!  This might not be an option if you’re in the office, but if you’re home or have access to a shower, gather your courage and give it a try.  Personally, I’ll take a minute or two under some warm water before I turn the dial far into the blue.

Embrace the rush, dry yourself off and go back to work feeling energized…and clean!

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4) Climb some stairs

If you’re having a busy day with no time to exercise, this one will be doubly useful.  You can get a mini workout as you wake yourself up!  Climbing flights of stairs is excellent exercise giving both your legs and heart a challenge. This one works whether you have 100 floors in your building or just 1 (just repeat up and down).  Try a few flights when you’re feeling stagnant.  For a real challenge, time yourself 3, 4, or 5 min and see how many flights you can do.  Then next time try and top your total!

 

5) Do a breathing exercise

Take a few minutes to focus on the thing your body needs most.  Air!  When we are feeling stressed, our breathing tends to become shallow and high in the chest.  We can’t put forth our best work if we’re depriving our bodies of this vitally important element.  Take a moment, stand up and place a palm just below your navel.  Focus on the rise and fall of that hand on the inhale and exhale.  You can continue doing this standing or come back to your seat for some relaxed breathing.

Check this short guide out for more detail

 

6) Play a song and boogie down

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If you’re like me, you’ve had a few days here and there where you got up on the wrong side of the bed and ate a big bowl of Crabby-O’s for breakfast.  An impromptu boogie down can boost your mood and turn around your day.  Grab your favorite tape, record, CD or ipod, press play and get your groove on!  You can do it in a secluded spot if you’re shy or get a few people to join in.  Co workers may chuckle, but you’ll be the one refreshed and productive!  Here are a few of my go to songs:

Dancing Machine- Jackson 5

Apache- Sugar Hill Gang

Don’t Sweat the Technique- Rakim and Eric B.

 

7) Play a game like trashcan basketball

office-games

Channel your inner 10 year old and get creative with a fun little game.  Try an make it a $0 budget activity and get creative.  If you want to up the anti, grab a friend and have a little ongoing competition.  Here are a few ideas:

Trashcan basketball

Rubber band target shooting

Paper football

Juggling

Putt Putt golf into an empty cup

 

8) Get some fresh air (sunlight, barefoot, combine with stretching)

There’s a reason why people feel so energized and ‘clear’ after a walk, hike or camping trip.  Being out in nature has a relaxing and grounding effect on us.  We spent tens of thousands of years being surrounded by nature.  Until about 100 years ago, most of our homes and shelters were part of a natural environment.  There is something magical about trees, grass, dirt and fresh air.  Take a step outside and you’ll instantly feel better.

 

Combinations:  Each of the above is great on its own, but also feel free to put together your own combinations!  Try a foot massage followed by a stretching routine.  Do a breathing exercise outdoors.

 

Next time you’re feeling like a little pick-me-up, one a try and go back to work firing on all cylinders!

My Other Curfew

 

In my previous post I discussed my newest health habit for energy and productivity.  The caffeine curfew has helped immensely, but it is just one half of the dynamic duo of curfews I’ve recently implemented.

 

In my ongoing quest to become more energized and productive I’ve adopted an electronics curfew.  When the designated time hits, I go dark, turning off all screens, buzzes, beeps and alerts.  Why did I decide to go all 1920’s in the evening?  I’m glad you asked!

 

Recently a great deal of research has been published on the adverse effects of electronic devices on our brains and bodies.  The short-wavelength ‘blue’ light that’s emitted from our computers, TV’s, tablets and phones suppresses melatonin and disrupts sleep duration and quality leaving us feeling tired and drained throughout the day.  (not to mention the inhibited hormone production)

 

Along with the effects of the light, the over-stimulation we get from our electronics causes us unease.  Constantly jumping from one web page to the next, one headline to another, this video to that, limits our ability to concentrate on a single task for an effective period of time.  It is rewiring our brain so that we are unable focus, giving us a perpetual state of what the Buddhists call ‘monkey mind’.

 

I could feel these negative effects happening to me.  It became difficult concentrate deeply on anything.  I began to feel anxious and even a bit short of breath.  I would stay up much later than I should and when I did try to sleep, I would lay in bed trying in vain to calm down my brain and drift off to dreamland.

 

 

Then one day it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I do with electronics the same thing that I did for caffeine?’  I put a curfew into place that has me flip the off switch an hour before I hit the hay.  My bedtime varies from day to day so instead of having an exact time to unplug every night, I keep it a little more flexible with the ‘one hour prior’ rule.

 

The first time I tried this I had the ‘well what the heck do I do now?’ feeling.  There was nothing left to keep me passive entertained.  Then I took a look beside my bed and noticed the knee high stack of books that are just begging to be read!  I peered over to my desk and oh, hello, there’s the year old journal that’s 90% blank.  It’s about time I cracked that open!

 

Now the hour before bed is reading, writing and meditation time.  And according to plan, by the end of that hour I’m pleasantly sleepy and ready to catch some proverbial z’s.

 

For your own practice, you could include any number of things in your last hour.  A board game, time to talk with your spouse, yodeling practice, you name it!  As long as anything that needs a battery or an outlet is turned off, you’ll be on your way to a more restful night’s sleep and a more energized and productive tomorrow!

 

Note: I actually had to stop editing this post one night to stick to my curfew!

Health, Exercise and a Book: Vol.1

Health: My New Curfew
Anyone else had this experience?  You’re 16 and out well past your curfew.  After planning your oh-so-sneaky entrance home, you tiptoe through the back door only to find your parents waiting with a look that says ‘Are you ok? Good, because I’m gonna kill you!’.

 

I never would have imagined that 16 years later I’d be implementing my own self induced curfew! (Actually 2 different curfews to be exact)

 

The first is a caffeine curfew.  I realized that having coffee later in the day was keeping me up and effecting sleep quality.  If I want to be productive and well rested, having a good night’s sleep is incredibly important!

 

So now 4PM is the cut off!  No coffee or stimulants after 4.

 

The caffeine curfew may vary depending on how fast you metabolize it.  I tend to process it quickly, within a few hours.  Someone who’s slower may need to bump it to 2PM or even noon.

 

The caffeine curfew is one of the two that has helped me get a better nights sleep and wake up energized!
Stay tuned for curfew #2 which I’ll talk about next time.

 

An Exercise: Bulgarian Split Squat
Looking for a new exercise to add to your leg training repertoire?  Give the Bulgarian Split Squat a whirl.  Also known as a rear foot elevated split squat, it’s an incredibly challenging unilateral exercise that will build strength and sculpt your ‘wheels’!
Here’s the breakdown of the form.
Have the rear foot 6-18 inches from the ground.  If you’re not uber flexible, a bench can be a bit too high and hinder the range of motion.

 

Taking a shorter stance will be a bit more quad dominant while a longer stance will target your glutes and hamstrings.

 

And for a brutally hard version, try a drop set like this

 

And a Book!
The One Thing
by Gary Keller

 

At first I thought this may be just another book about productivity that goes in one ear and out the other.  On the contrary it was full of useful ideas that can be put into practice right away!

 

Find the one thing
A focusing question will help you find the most important task for success in your chosen venture.
It asks: What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?  This question forces you to do what is absolutely necessary for success.

 

Use your best energy for it
On any given day you have a limited supply of willpower.  Don’t squander it!  Use that willpower on the ONE task that is the most important of the day.  Case and point:  For me doing this writing is far easier at the beginning of the day as opposed to after work when I’m spent.

 

‘Balance’ does you no good
Don’t seek to live a perfectly balanced life.  Extraordinary results require focused attention and time on your ONE thing.  This means time away from other things.  Take a day, week or month and focus the majority of your energy on your ONE thing.  Afterwards, shift your focus to the things that have been on the back burner.

 

A calendar is a powerful tool
Block off time for your ONE thing on your calendar.  If it’s a regular thing, block it off every day/week.  If it’s a big push, block off however many weeks are necessary.
Stephen King has mastered focusing on his one thing.  Mornings are devoted to whatever project he is working on for about 4 hours.  Afternoons are for naps and letters.  Evenings are for family, reading, Red Sox and important revisions that can’t wait.

 

Anyone who dreams of an uncommon life eventually discovers there is no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living it.

What’s your ONE thing?

Why I Became A Personal Trainer

A longtime client of mine recently asked me why I became a personal trainer.  The question made me realize that the reasons I initially became a trainer are not the same reasons that I remain a personal trainer today.

My answer echoed something a martial arts teacher of mine once said.  He first started studying martial arts so that he could kick asses like Bruce Lee did in the movies!  But through his decades of training, ass kicking became an afterthought while his primary motivations became self development and self expression through the art.

 

After I graduated from college, I floated around for a while before a generous relative offered me an entry level position at his company in California.  Although I greatly appreciated the job, I quickly realized that I was ill suited to sit at a desk for 9 hours a day.  I’d find myself chomping at the bit, doing pushups and hand stands in the warehouse during my lunch break and bolting out the door to get to the gym as soon as the work day ended.

 

I’d always had a passion for physical fitness but wasn’t sure if or how I could make a living from it.  I wasn’t a professional caliber athlete in any major sport but a conversation with a close friend who just passed his CSCS exam made me realize that I could make a living as a personal trainer.  This was music to my ears!  I thought to myself “Great!  I can learn as much as I can to improve my own training and share it with a few other people to make some money and sustain my workout habit.”

 

My motivation at the time was partly selfish.  I wanted to be active and work out all day long!  But I also knew I was a pretty good teacher so I figured that I could help a few young, athletic clients improve their fitness.  Most new trainers (especially athletes) want to train young athletic people like themselves.  I soon realized that it rarely works out that way.  To be a successful trainer you have to be able to work with people of all ages and levels of fitness.

 

Over the past 7 years my motivation has changed. I’ve grown to love training anyone who wants to improve their health! Young or old.  Healthy or injured.  Fit or soon-to-be fit.  I loved seeing my clients finish the session more energized then when they started.  I can share in their joy of seeing their fitness goals become a reality. I also see the bigger picture: A healthy person tends to be a happy person.  And what’s better than a city, country or world full of happy people?!  The more people I can help be healthy and happy, the better.

 

I still get my fill of working out and improving my own fitness, but it brings me great pleasure to do the same for others.  That’s why I do and will continue to be a personal trainer!

5 Habits to Stay Healthy Through Your 30’s

If there’s one thing I detest, it’s admitting to any signs of aging or slowing down.  Anyone who knows me can vouch for that.  But alas, now that I’m in my 4th decade I’m beginning to notice some subtle changes.  Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be making excuses to let myself go but while I am still as strong and nearly as fast as ever, I have noticed that it takes a little longer to get warmed up for a workout.  Recovery is a bit slower.  And I pay a hefty price after having a few drinks the night before.
Despite the march of time, the aging process is something that we have a great deal of control over.  Why should a little thing like the number of years we’ve been on this planet get in the way of our health and vitality!?  There are many habits we can adopt to minimize the effects of chronological aging.  Here are 5 simple yet important ones that I’ll be sticking to throughout my 30’s (and beyond) to ensure that I feel and look as youthful as possible.
1) Have a well balanced training training plan that focuses on strength and mobility.
Muscle is the engine that drives youth.
Tufts University researchers have recently told us that muscle mass is the best biological marker of anti aging.  Strength training increases bone density, keeps your metabolism running like a furnace, boosts your immune system and combats the sagging of various body parts.
Now I must emphasize that your strength training program should be well balanced.  Gentlemen, it’s a must that you expand your repertoire from the lifts of your high school football days.  A balanced routine for where your body is now is essential.
Ladies, be sure that you include strength exercises that work the largest muscle groups in the body.  Core classes and running have their place but biggest benefits will come from a progressive training program that includes the ‘bigger’ lifts (squat, deadlift, chinup etc.)
Take some time to learn proper technique and how to put together a strength training routine.  It’s an investment in future you.
Also, since most of us aren’t moving around as much as we did during our school days, it’s imperative to spend some time improving upon our mobility.  Many of the little aches and pains that creep in over time can be negated with some basic soft tissue work along with various stretching techniques such as dynamic or PNF stretching.  Some soft tissue work and mobility drills will go a long way to keeping you moving freely without discomfort.
2) Drink 3-4 liters of water a day
This is the one that we all know we should be doing but rarely do!
Our bodies are over 60% water and it is something every bodily system depends on in order to function.  Water is second only to oxygen in the hierarchy of things you need to stay alive!
Have too little and you’re subject to fatigue, headaches, hunger, premature aging of skin, and kidney problems just to name a few.
The average adult in a temperate climate needs approximately 3 liters of water a day.  That’s the minimum recommended amount.  If it’s hot out you’ll need more.  If you’ve been working out, you’ll need more.  The ever popular “8 glasses a day” recommendation may be easy to remember, but falls short of the 3 liters everyone should be getting on a daily basis.
Although fruits, coffee and juice contain some water, it’s best to count only fresh water and tea towards your daily total.
(Note, there may be an increase in bathroom trips for the first week or so, but this will diminish over time as your body adjusts to the increase in fluids.)

3) Cook for yourself

We have a saying in the fitness industry: The more you cook, the better you look.  Granted, this may not be accurate if you’re pulling recipes from the Paula Deen Cookbook, but preparing your own meals will help keep your body fit and your wallet a little fatter.

When you eat out you’re subject to the restaurant’s menu.  It’s easy to be tempted by many unhealthy options.  And even the ones that appear to be healthy might be prepared in a not-so-healthy way (with excess salt and low quality oils for example).
Yes, I admit, cooking can be a pain.  But you’re no longer a college student or a 20-something just getting used to the ‘real world’.  You’re a full blown adult and as such you have to take responsibility of your nutrition.  This includes learning a handful of healthy recipes, preparing them and choosing to eat them while many of your peers are digging into the dinner rolls.
The meals you prepare may be just this side of edible at the beginning, but with a little practice and some idea sharing with a kitchen savvy friend, you’ll be able to prepare meals that are far better than the typical restaurant!
4) Move in the morning
How you begin your day will largely dictate the path of the rest of your day.
Mornings can be rough. We wake up thinking about the ten thousand things we have to do.  We crack open our eyes then immediately check emails, texts or social media.  Then it’s off to a rushed breakfast and a hasty exit from home, rushing off to work.  We end up going through the morning feeling half awake and stiff as a board!
A little stretching and movement routine first thing in the morning will give you a far better start.  Take 3-5 minutes for a series of stretches like these, followed by 5 min of bodyweight exercises such as squats, pushups and band pull-aparts.
These 10 minutes of movement will wake you up more than the strongest cup of coffee possibly could.  You’ll be sharper mentally and energized physically, setting you up for a more productive day.
5) Meditate
If I had to chose only one thing from this list to do every day this would be the one.  The benefits of meditation are tremendous both physically and psychologically.
Just to name a few, meditation…
-Can lower cortisol levels, which, among other things, can aid greatly in weight loss.
-Stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system which allows your body to return to a relaxed state.
-Aids in relieving chronic physical pain. (1)
-Helps improve sleep and can be beneficial for those with insomnia. (2)
-Improves athletic performance by boosting circulation, relaxation and the ability to focus without being distracted.
Along with all the plentiful physical benefits, meditation is the foremost tool for raising our level of consciousness.  For us to live in a happy and peaceful society this is a necessity.
You’ll feel a change meditation just 5 min a day and 20-60 min a day will change your life!
Check out this simple guide for details.


Wrap Up

To a large extent, I believe that your true age lies in state of mind.  There are people who stay healthy and energetic well into their 70’s, 80’s and beyond.  They are not anomalies, rather they are the ones who practiced a healthy lifestyle throughout the years and did not let the idea of aging slow them down.  The sooner we start the better!
Now that you’ve heard my 5 tips, feel free to post your own in the comments section!

1)http://journals.lww.com/clinicalpain/Abstract/1986/02030/Four_Year_Follow_Up_of_a_Meditation_Based_Program.4.aspx

2)http://www.truestarhealth.com/members/cm_archives13ML3P1A55.html

15 Techniques for Strength and Muscle Growth

Everyone who’s worked with weights is familiar with a straight set and rep scheme.  You pick an exercise, choose a weight, and do the prescribed number of reps.  This type of training can get you very far.  It took me from a weightlifting newbie to winning my first few fitness competitions.  But after a while, I found that I hit a plateau in terms of muscle growth.  I also became a bit bored with this style.  I began to include some different training techniques to breathe new life into my routine.  It added much needed fun to my training.  Also, my body responded with all kinds of great soreness and muscle development!  Here are 15 of my favorite techniques to spice up your repertoire.

1) Drop sets
With a good old fashioned drop set, you perform an exercise to muscular failure, quickly reduce the weight and continue to failure with the lighter weight.  You can continue to extend the set by dropping the weight a second and even third time for a few more reps.
Example: After a set of dumbbell lateral raises move down the rack to grab a lighter pair and continue lateral raises (repeat with even lighter weight if desired)
2) Mechanical Drop Set
Here we are changing the mechanics of a movement to go from a less to more advantageous position. Perform a set of an exercise to failure then, keeping the same weight, change the EXECUTION of the exercise for more mechanical advantage and continue to failure.
Examples:
A)After a set of wide grip pronated pullups, switch to neutral grip for a few more reps.
B) Perform front squats to failure and immediately switch to back squats for a few more grueling reps.
3) Rest pause
Here we do a full set of an exercise, rack the weight for a few seconds (5-15) and force a few extra reps.  You can repeat as much as you like to get more reps with good form in a set.
Example:  Hit your target number of reps on a bench press, rack it (keeping your hands on the bar), take a few breaths and hit more reps.  (Note: Use a spotter on an exercise like the bench press)
4) Band Assist
Use a set of bands, specially made for this technique, to assist you in a lift.  This method is typically used on the bigger lifts (squat, bench etc).  The bands give more assistance during the most challenging part of the movement and less assistance in the easier phase.  This allows you to get used to weights beyond your training max.
Example: For squats, attach the bands to the top of the rack and to the bar.  They will make the weight feel lighter at the bottom and heavier at the top where you have the most advantage.  Perform your set for the prescribed reps.
5) Band Resisted
This is the opposite of a band assist.  Here we are using sub maximal weights with added band resistance.  This allows for more resistance at the ‘easiest’ part of the lift.
Example: When performing deadlifts, anchor one end of the band to the floor and attach the other to the bar.  This will provide more resistance as you move the weight away from the floor making the lockout portion more challenging.
6) Tempo change
Many lifters become married to the 1010 tempo (one count up, one count down, video).  Some will occasionally throw in a slow eccentric or ‘negative’.  But why limit ourselves to these tempos?  The’re not written in stone and we can certainly benefit from switching it up.  Just like how we don’t want to use the same weight over and over for weeks on end, we don’t want to get stuck in just one tempo.  Along with slowing down the negative, we can slow down or have an explosive concentric portion.  Throwing in some pauses at either end of the movement will give an added challenge as well.  Try a 52×0 tempo, a 2022 or any number of combinations.
Example:  A squat with a 52×0 tempo takes 5 grueling seconds to get to the bottom, pauses in the hole for 2 seconds, then explosively pushes to the top.
7) Pre-fatigue with an explosive movement
Here, we perform several reps of an explosive/dynamic movement before moving on to a heavier exercise using the same muscle group.  The explosive first movement will slightly fatigue the muscle (the fastest twitch fibers) before going immediately to the main exercise so don’t try to set a PR using this technique.
Example: Perform a set of 5-10 clapping pushups before going into a set of DB chest presses.
8) Pre-fatigue from isolation movement
With this method, we do an isolation exercise for a muscle group before a compound exercise that features that same muscle.
Example: Rep out a set of quad extensions right before a set of squats.  Afterwards, hobble over to the water fountain.
9) Post fatigue sets
After a compound movement, go right to an isolation movement for one of the muscles that was just worked.
Example: Right after a set of deadlifts, go to a set of glute/ham raises.
10) Forced eccentrics (negatives)
After hitting concentric failure on an exercise, take out the concentric portion (how you do this will depend on the exercise) and force a few more controlled negatives.
Example:  When you can no longer get your chin over the bar on a set of chinups, jump to the top and slowly control yourself to the bottom.
11) Partial reps
This is one of the rare times where we actually want to use a partial range of motion.  After reaching failure on a full range of motion, squeak out a few more half or quarter reps of part of the movement.
Example: After hitting as many perfect reps as possible on a BB bicep curl, get a few more reps of the bottom portion of the movement.
Or you can purposely split up the segments of an exercise, doing the tougher portion of the movement to failure before switching to the easier portion.
Example: Do a set of lateral raises from the middle to top of the movement.  Then burn out a few more reps of the bottom portion.
12) 1 1/4 reps
From the stretch position, do the first quarter of the movement.  Go back to the full stretched position.  Then complete the entire range of motion.
Example: From the bottom of a squat, go 1/4 of the way up, then back to the bottom, and all the way up.  That entire sequence counts for 1 rep.
13) Shortened rest
Grab a stopwatch and chop some time off your regular rest period.  For a muscle burning, lung heaving challenge, cut rest time in half! (Note, do not try this when maxing out in the 1-5 rep range. Your nervous system needs adequate time to recover)
Example: Take only 30 seconds between sets of lat pulldowns. Enjoy the burn!
14) Isometric holds
Iso-holds are becoming a lost art but they can help bust through a plateau in muscle growth.  You can use this technique in several different ways.
A) Pause 5-10 seconds on every rep of an exercise.  This can be done at peak contraction or anywhere else in the movement besides the stretched position.
Example: Pause for a 5 count at the top of each rep of spider curls.
B) Pause 5-10 seconds on the last rep of an exercise.
Example: Hold the last rep of a chin-up at the top of the movement.
C) After completing a set, flex the muscle and hold for 5-20 seconds.
Example: After a set of weighted pushups, clasp your hands together and flex your pecs hard!
15) Forced or Cheat reps
This is where we use some momentum and less than perfect form to do a few more reps at the end of a set.  Let’s be very clear here, you should only use this with an exercise where there is a very low chance of injury when form breaks down.  No cheat squats.  No cheat deadlifts!
Example: Cheat curls.  Use a little kick from the torso to get the weight up when you can’t do another rep with strict form.
Pepper in a few of these techniques during your workout to bust through a plateau and add a little excitement!

 

Happy training!

2 Things to Keep at Your Desk For Better Posture

Take a second and look around your desk.  What do you see?  Work papers, check.  Stapler, check.  Coffee cup, check.  But! there are 2 more items that everyone should add: a ball and a resistance band.

No, we won’t use them to make a slingshot (although that would make for some office fun), they are going to help realign our posture!

 

Our human bodies are designed for a wide variety of movements.  Long ago our ancestors’ days were divided between running, walking, sitting on the ground and lying down. A good deal of time spent in each position.

 

Unfortunately, most of our waking hours are now spent sitting.  And sitting with poor posture to boot!  We drive, type at a desk, eat dinner or sit to unwind after the day is done and we do so in a position that will cripple us in the long run.  Our spines are flexed with discs compressed.  Our chests are caved in with shoulders rounding forward.  And our heads stick out like a chicken having a snack!

 

The muscles in the front of our body get short and tight, while the muscles in the upper back tend to get very weak with disuse.  Our neck muscles have to work extra hard to support our 10 lb heads in a suboptimal position.  No wonder we have so many aches, pains and back problems as adults!

 

Considering the amount of hours we spend in this position, it takes a concentrated effort to negate the detrimental effects and realign our posture.  Along with a well balanced strength training program there are a few small things we can do throughout the day to help.

 

This brings us to the 2 items that everyone should keep at their desk.
1) A ball (tennis, softball, lacrosse ball etc)
2) A resistance band

 

We will use the ball to help loosen up tight muscles.  For postural purposes we will focus on the lower back, upper back and chest.

 

With the resistance band we can do a few exercises to strengthen the small muscles in the upper back that help keep us in a healthy posture.  Band pull-aparts and external rotations are two that will help us in our battle against poor posture.
Check out the video below to see just how to use your posture-fixing tools.

Better Posture with a Ball and a Band

If you can take a short break twice a day to do 2 minutes of soft tissue work and 25-50 repetitions of each of the band exercises demonstrated in the video you’ll help realign your body. And before you know it, you’ll be feeling and looking better!

Mental and Physical Fitness

Part 1: What’s On My Mind

Take 1-2 min and just sit with your eyes closed.

What did you experience?

Most of us experience our mind chatting away about a hundred different things, one right after another.  Our minds are constantly going, all day, every day.  This mental chatter is so constant and all pervasive that we do not realize that this inner voice  is not the real us.
The mind is only a small part of consciousness.  But it’s the one that dominates our lives.

In physical training we often talk about ‘energy leaks’ in the body.  If someone does a squat and they are not in proper alignment, they lose or ‘leak’ energy that could be used more productively for the lift.
The constant mental chatter we experience is an INTERNAL energy leak.  We don’t realize that it’s happening because we’ve grown accustomed to it.  But the constant stream of thought drains us of energy.  It limits our creativity and often prevents us from being as happy as we could be.

We believe that we control our thoughts. But most of what we think is throughout the day is involuntary, automatic and largely repetitive. It is mental static that serves no real purpose.  Generally speaking, we don’t think, thinking happens to us (like digestion or circulation of blood).  We don’t realize that we are possessed by the mind.  And this mind is not our true self.
Cogito Ergo Sum.  ‘I think, therefore I am’ leads us to believe that the thoughts running through your head are the essence of you.  This is not true.  Most of what we think is the ego running wild.  When we quiet these constant thoughts, we discover the real “I”.

So what do we do?  How do we quiet this constant mental chatter and open ourselves up to more energy, greater focus, more creativity and inner calm?  We do it in the same way that we improve our physical fitness…we train it.

Now this training is not necessarily easy.  It is just as challenging as learning to play the piano or any physical training we could go through.  But the rewards are vast and life changing.  More creativity, more productivity, more joy.  Who wouldn’t want to set aside a few min a day for that?

Part 2: Take A Deep Breath

Here’s how we can start training to quiet the mind.  First we must find a link between the body and consciousness.  Breathing is perfect for this.  Even though we breath hundreds of times a day our breathing tends to get very disfunctional over time.  It becomes shallow and high in the chest.  Here’s a simple exercise to reset our breathing pattern to it’s natural state.

-Stand up nice and tall.
-Find your center by pointing to a place 3 finger widths below the navel.
-Inhale and expand from that point, filling your abdomen from bottom, to middle, to top.
-Exhale. Expelling the air from top, to middle to bottom.

Next we’ll try a simple 5 minute meditation.
-Sit erect with your spine like a string of pearls suspended from the top.
-Gently bring your focus to your breath.
-Inhale bottom, middle, top. Exhale top, middle, bottom.  The breath should feel long, slow and relaxed.
-If thoughts come into your mind, let them float away like clouds in the sky.  Without effort. Without judgement. And bring your focus back to your breathing.

What did you experience?  It’s likely that you find your mind wandering all over the place the first few times you try this.  That’s perfectly ok.  It takes some time and effort to quiet that mental chatter.  With a little persistence it will certainly happen.

Practice this meditation 5-10 min, twice a day to start (you can gradually increase over time).  It will change your life more than anything else you could do.

Part 3: Put It Into Action

So how do we relate this to our daily lives?  A good place to start is to incorporate the breathing awareness exercise into a few small activities.  Have some dirty dishes that need cleaning?  Try to turn off any potential distractions and focus on your breathing as you wash and dry the dishes.  Just like the sitting exercise, let any thoughts that arise pass through like clouds in the sky and bring your awareness back to the long, slow, deep breaths you are taking.
There are dozens of activities you can put on autopilot while you practice this.

As a trainer and an athlete I get to see how this can improve physical performance.  Quite often in training or on the playing field we will have an unnecessary mental failure before a physical failure.  Here’s an exercise to help get rid of some of the mental blocks that can hold us back.

Isometric squat test.
-Come into a low squat position.  Do your best to keep a neutral spine with the top of the thighs parallel to the ground.
-Hold this position as long as you possibly can.

There are two ways to finish the exercise.  If you stop by standing up, this means that you gave up mentally.  If you have the strength to stand up then you had the strength to hold the squat just a little longer.
But if you end the exercise by falling down when your muscles can no longer support you, then give yourself a high five!  You have broken through the mental barrier that says ‘I cant do this any longer’ and pushed yourself to your physical limits.

With a few minutes a day of this breathing and awareness practice we can unlock many of the hidden potentials that lay dormant within us.  Try it consistently for 30 days and let me know what you experience!

Achieving Peak Performance

No matter who we are or what we do, there are moments in our lives that we must rise to a special occasion and give our best performance in an activity.  Whether you’re an athlete getting ready for a big competition, a chef preparing an important dish,  a business person going into a high stakes meeting, or even going out with a smokin’ hot date, we all need to dig deep and give a transcendent performance at one time or another.
The trouble is, most of us have no idea what this state of peak performance is like, or how to get into it before the big event.  We step up to the plate with sweaty palms and butterflies in our stomachs.  Some even try to get psyched up by becoming angry, hyper or overly emotional to ready themselves.  But ultimately, this all leads to sub par performance.

What is Peak Performance?

“There’s nothing more deadly or more proficient than a happy fighter. Everybody believes the mean, and the surly fighter is the tough fighter but that’s not true. The guy who’s most relaxed and loves what he does, and is happy to be in there doing what he does (is the best fighter).”  -Mike Tyson

Anyone who performs at a consistently high level will tell you that a calm, clear mind and relaxed body will lead to a person’s best performance.  This is when we can let creativity flow through us with an uncluttered mind as our bodies move uninhibited by tension.  This is the state in which we all perform our best.

Getting Into State

Tension, both mental and physical,  is the enemy of peak performance.  So how do we get rid of this tension and anxiety?  One of the most effective ways is to create a simple routine that puts you in a clear, relaxed state.  For example, you could perform a routine of:
-5 min of deep breathing followed by
-a few minutes of a stretching sequence, then
-listen to a song that you enjoy.
It’s that simple!

Once you find a routine that works for you, it’s time to practice.  With consistent daily repetition, the physiological activities of the routine become connected to a clear state of mind and relaxed body. Each time you complete the routine you should feel great,  ready to face whatever is next in your day!   Once your routine has become a habit you can use it before going into a high pressure situation with the same result: a clear mind and relaxed body that’s capable of performing a the highest possible level.

Build Your Routine

So how do you go about building your routine?  Ideally it will consist of a few simple activities that you enjoy.  It could be doing cartwheels, punching a pillow, dancing a jig, or whatever you like!  I do strongly suggest that a deep breathing exercise is included.  It is the best way to bring the mind and body together which is essential in any high pressure situation.

It’s also a good idea to create a routine that you can take on the road.  Including equipment that is cumbersome to travel with can make it difficult to perform your routine if you’re away from home.  You’ll often need your routine the most while traveling, so keep it simple and portable.

How long should this routine be? It’s helpful to have a long version taking as much time as you like.  A 30-60 minute routine can be helpful to unwind after a long week or whenever you find yourself with a little free time. It is very important to have a short, condensed version of your routine that takes just a few minutes and can be used at a moment’s notice.

With consistent repetition this peak performance routine becomes your ‘ace in the hole’.  It’s the ideal tool to use whenever you need to perform your very best.  Put together a routine you enjoy, use it liberally, and you’ll find yourself going above and beyond when the game is on the line!

Be sure to check out this video on building your routine by my friend Coach Jim Shorts!

The Original Fitness Inspiration

When I was about 10 years old, I saw an infomercial for a fruit and vegetable juicer.  The man promoting it was a little 80 year old dynamo!  I’d never seen anyone with such energy and vitality.  His enthusiasm for health and fitness was palpable.  I soon found out that this was the one and only Jack Lalanne and he had been doing this for 60 years!

Lalanne 1

Nowadays fitness personalities are everywhere.  But in the early to mid 1900’s there was one man who was light years ahead of all the rest.  Jack, the Godfather of Fitness, was a pioneer of in the health and wellness industry.   In a time just after the industrial revolution where physical activity became an ever decreasing part of our daily lives and packaged/processed foods were becoming the norm, Jack Lalanne stood atop a proverbial mountain shouting the gospel of daily exercise and whole food nutrition.
Let’s take a look at the long illustrious life of this fitness legend…

In his early years, during the roaring 20’s, Jack was a self proclaimed sugar and junk food addict.  He attributes his severe behavior and health problems to his poor nutritional habits.  But that all changed one day when Jack was 15 years old.  He attended a nutrition lecture that changed the course of his life.  The speaker promised that if he would exercise and eat a proper diet he would regain good health.

After that day he was “born again” focusing on good nutrition and daily exercise.  This transition wasn’t without it’s challenges.  Much like the workplace culture of today, Lalanne felt that his healthy habits alienated him from his peers.

“I had to take my lunch alone to the football field to eat so no one would see me eat my raw veggies, whole bread, raisins and nuts. You don’t know the crap I went through.”

But Jack persevered.  In his early 20’s he opened one of the first health clubs in the nation, packing it with free weights as well as many cable and pulley machines that he invented himself!  And although doctors warned that lifting weights would give people heart attacks and take away their libido, Jack built a chain of health clubs to teach people the value of vigorous exercise.

His TV program, “The Jack Lalanne Show”  aired for 30 years!  From the 1950’s to the 1980’s he came to people’s living rooms encouraging them to “get out of your seat and onto your feet”.  Jack was a living example that age should not be an excuse to slow down. To prove this point, he orchestrated some amazing feats of strength and endurance that he would perform on his birthdays. A few of his many famous birthday feats include:

-Age 40 he swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco while handcuffed.

-Age 45 he completed 1,000 pushups and 1,000 chinups in 1 hour 22 min on live television.

-Age 60 he swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco while handcuffed, shackled and TOWING A 1,000 LB BOAT!

-Age 70 once again handcuffed and shackled, fidgeting currents he towed 70 boats with 70 people for 1.5 miles in Long Beach to the Queen Mary.

Read that last one again.  The man was 70 years old when he did this!

With all of the quick fix exercises and diet pills we are bombarded with today, Jack’s philosophy on lifelong health is like a breath of fresh air.  He was a real life example that age need not be an excuse to slow down.  And if I have a day where I don’t feel like breaking a sweat, I’ll remember this: the day before Jack Lalanne passed away at 96 years old he did his daily 2 hour workout.

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