Maximizing Training Efficiency

Last week, I shared a tip about building more muscle, more quickly by slowing down the speed of the movements you use when doing strength training.  I referred to this idea as “TUT”; time under tension.  In other words, the longer you hold the contraction of a muscle, the more work it does and the stronger and more toned it becomes.  While you are actually slowing down your movements, you’ll be speeding up your gains.  This week, I’d like to focus on the idea of exercising more efficiently.

The “Efficiency Rut” – Intrepidium Consulting Inc.

Efficiency is defined as the ability to produce something of value with a minimum amount of energy, effort, time or resource.  The way that I look at it is that if what you are doing is anything other than a hobby that you love lingering over, take steps to ensure that you get the most “bang for your buck”.

When it comes to exercise, one of the most frequent excuses that you’ll hear people make about not doing it is that they just don’t have the time for it.  I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that EVERYONE has the time to at least make themselves a little bit fitter and stronger.  We might not all have the time to become world-class athletes, but, we definitely have some time to devote to our physical, mental and spiritual health.

In my Top 10 list of back to basics fitness tips, I stated that training efficiency is more important than training volume.  When I first learned of this concept and then put it into practice, it literally changed my life and the lives of my clients.  Perhaps the most prevalent myth about exercise is that it takes lots of time to see results.  For the overwhelming majority of us, this just simply isn’t the case.  Granted, if you are preparing for a triathlon this might be a reality, but, for most fitness goals, exercise does not have to take over your life.

Here are 5 things to consider when trying to become more efficient;

 

  • Train with a plan. I have found that when I have very little time to exercise, it is even more important to take a couple of minutes to plan what I’ll be doing.  Even if this means taking two minutes to write an exercise sequence when you only have 15- 20 minutes to train!  Nothing makes a workout less efficient than wandering around thinking about what to do next without any direction.
  • Keep your work space clean. If you are exercising at home these days and you have to move dirty laundry or shift boxes of files or even search for your resistance bands under the couch, there’s a good chance you’ll skip more days than you actually do working out.  Efficiency means that every minute has meaning; searching, moving and cleaning before getting to work is simply not efficient.  Quality professionals leave clean, organized desks at the end of their work days; do the same with your designated exercise space.
  • Warm up with purpose. While there is nothing inherently wrong with walking for 10+ minutes on a treadmill (or peddling on an exercise bike) as your warmup, you can consider this time spent as “junk volume”.  Aside from bringing your heart rate up (maybe), it’s not really doing anything to get you ready to work your body with intention.  A more meaningful, efficient, way to warmup would be to go through a series of dynamic movements that mimic some of the exercises that you’ll be performing in your workout.  Medicine ball chopping movements and leg and arm swings are great ways to warmup as you’ll be building muscle endurance and core stability at the same time that you raise your heart rate and break a sweat in anticipation of the challenge to come.
  • Use active recovery. Rather than simply standing around and resting until the next set in your routine, do a low intensity exercise that complements what you’re main focus is for the day.  For example; you can do body weight squats for 45 seconds in between sets of pushups or chest presses to create workout “flow”.

Push to “fatigue” or relative failure.  If you are trying to get stronger or fitter, at some point you have to do more than what you previously did.  When you are lifting weights, you should reach a point where you can’t do any more repetitions between 10 and 20.  For safety, get to a point where you feel like you might be able to do 2 more reps (no more) and then put your weights down.  If you stop at a point where you could go on for another 5, 10 or more the weight you are lifting is not heavy enough to build strength or muscle tone.  Simply going through the motions is not efficient

Time Under Tension (TUT)

Last week, Fitness Solutions dealt with the importance of using free weights for strength training vs. machines.  While both are effective tools for building and preserving muscle, free weights also develop stability, balance and coordination in your body.  In other words, you can work more muscles and achieve more in less time when you use dumbbells and/ or barbells for your strength workouts.

King Tut Felled By Injury And Malaria, Not Murder : NPR

This week, I’d like to expand on some principles related to training efficiency.  If you are going to take the time to exercise on a regular basis, it makes sense to understand how to get the most out of your workouts.

When designing a workout routine for a client, the starting point is something called the FITT formula.  FITT is an acronym that stands for; frequency, intensity, type and time.  Essentially, the formula gives us the ability to “tweak” workouts and training regimens over time as needs, goals and limitations change.  Using it is a gentle reminder that things are never stationary; everything is changing all the time.  It’s pretty easy to understand when looking at our current reality in “lockdown” with limited access to traditional workout facilities!  We have the same needs and desires to be healthy, lean, strong and energetic, regardless of what’s happening in the world around us.  This is where the FITT formula can help.

As our reality shifts, we can make changes to our fitness regimen in a thoughtful way by manipulating the amount of times that we exercise in a week (frequency), how hard we exercise (intensity), the kind of exercise that we do (type) and the duration of each session (time).  In my top 10 list of back to basics fitness tips, I suggested lifting weights more slowly as a way to build more muscle.  This is an example of changing the variable of “intensity” as a way to continue getting positive results from a program.

One of the variables that influences how much muscle and strength you will gain through lifting weights (or doing other resistance training activities) is the duration of the muscle contraction that occurs while performing the exercise.  This is a concept known as TUT.  TUT means “time under tension”.  In general terms, when a muscle is contracted for longer, more work is required and the muscle responds by getting stronger and more toned.  Here is an easy way to understand this; imagine doing a shoulder press overhead, using 10lb pound dumbbells.  If you lift the weights quickly (1/2 second pushing up, no rest and ½ second coming down), the total time under tension for the target muscles is 15 seconds.  If you lifted the same weights more slowly (1 second up, 1 second pause, 1 second down), you will have increased the total time under tension to 45 seconds; a 300% increase!

When I messaged Dr. Stuart Phillips (Director of the Centre of Nutrition,

Exercise and Health Research at McMaster University) for his opinion on TUT, he replied… “It works!”  The thing that I really like about getting his input is that it is always based on evidence from clinical research.  He went on to explain that his favourite work to rest ratio is to have exercisers lift for 2 seconds, pause for 1 second and then return to start for 2 seconds.  While there is evidence that a 3:1:3 ratio works even better, it is too grueling for the average exerciser to handle and best left to very experienced strength trainers.

As with all of the other tips that I am providing, the idea of greater time under tension is simply one more “tool in the tool box” that you can use at this time when we have to become creative to continue to see results in our fitness programming.

Free Weights

This week, I’d like to expand on another of the 10 “back to basics” fitness tips that I listed in this column a couple of weeks ago.  One of them was to perform your strength training workouts using free weights as opposed to machines whenever possible.  While both can provide you with great results, there are some benefits that come from using free weights that just aren’t realized when relying on strength training machines for your workout.

Top 15 Biceps Exercises For Women - A Step-By-Step Guide

If you are new to exercise and to strength training in particular, free weights are dumbbells and barbells.  “Free” meaning that they aren’t affixed to anything and can move freely in any direction that you move them.  Strength training machines, on the other hand, are apparatuses with weights attached to them that can be selected by moving a pin to different locations along the stack for more or less weight.

The main difference between free weights and machines is in the amount of movement and range of motion that an exerciser can achieve with either type of equipment.  Since machines are fixed in place, they can only move in specific, linear, motions.  While this can be a benefit when trying to strengthen and tone specific muscles, it is a limiting factor since there can be no variation in the direction that you push or pull the load provided.  Additionally, if one has an arthritic or injured joint and the specific line of movement on the machine causes pain, there are no options to adjust or modify the exercise to make it more comfortable.

Strength training workouts can be traced back in time all the way back to civilizations like the one that existed in Ancient Greece.  At that time, weight was provided by lifting rocks, logs, animals and even other exercisers.  The movements used were all multi-joint and required balance and stability as well as pushing and pulling strength.  This meant that not only were participants strong, they were able to perform complex movements like those required for sports and/ or for military service.

In more recent times, the popularity of bodybuilding has resulted in an approach to strength training that focuses on specific muscles that are worked in isolation.  If you’ve been to a commercial gym, you’ve likely heard someone say “I’m training back and biceps today”; meaning that they’ll be isolating those muscle groups in an effort to overload them and make them stronger and more toned.  One of the more popular ways to do this is to use machines designed to work the chosen muscles in isolation, requiring little if any assistance from muscle groups that provide balance and stability.

A clear advantage to using free weights is that the training effect carries over to everyday activities to a much greater degree.  Pursuits like gardening, shopping and playing golf, move the body through an infinite number of stabilizing and balancing adjustments.  When doing strength training movements with free weights, secondary muscle groups and stabilizers are called into action to make the exercise more efficient.  An illustration of this would be the standing dumbbell biceps curl.  While the “prime movers” in this movement are the biceps, muscles in the back, abdomen, hips and even feet must be actively firing for the exerciser to be able to curl the weight.  The equivalent curling exercise on a machine isolates the biceps while doing all of the balancing and supporting that the exerciser’s body would normally do.  In other words, you can work more muscles in less time using free weights.

In my opinion, the best time to use weight machines is towards the end of a workout when fatigue may be a factor.  At that point, having the stabilizing done by the machine is a good thing to minimize the risk of injury.

 

 

Plan to Succeed

There is great value in creating a fitness plan before starting to exercise if you are trying to achieve specific outcomes.

Last week, I started expanding on my list of ten “Back to Basics Tips” to help you get into great shape.  Today’s tip emphasizes the need to follow a plan, before getting started with exercise if you want to achieve specific results beyond simple “maintenance”.  While I recognize the value of simply becoming more active, I’m referring to a structured outline that leads to more strength, less fat, greater endurance and improved functional capacity.

When I meet with a client for the first time, I tell them that the body changes and becomes fitter and stronger when given a “stimulus” that it isn’t used to.  The new stimulus is something that the body must adapt to.  It does this is by increasing muscle, improving cardiovascular fitness and decreasing body fat.  In simple terms, if you never change the way that you exercise and/or eat, you will hit sticking points where you just seem unable to make any new fitness gains.

In my Top 10 list, I recommend designing training protocols that cover 6 to 12 weeks at a time with specific goals for each week.  In my experience, the best way to do this is to challenge yourself to go through “phases” of training; focusing on different fitness measures and even different body systems with each phase.  While it might not always seem like it, the body is very good at adapting to new stimuli and because of this, I like to plan for phases that last only between 2 to 4 weeks before moving on.

There are 4 of these phases that I use with clients to help them achieve positive results in a relatively short period of time.  The power of this style of training is that once complete, the process begins again since there have been several weeks since the first phase ended; meaning that the stimulus will be new and different again.  Having completed several weeks of training, the client starts anew with a stronger, leaner, fitter body, more able to go further than they did previously.  The 4 phases are as follows;

Conditioning The goal of the “conditioning” phase is twofold; it allows “over exercisers” who may be experiencing burnout to recover and to start moving in a positive direction while it helps new exercisers increase their level of exercise tolerance before adding intensity.  This phase uses mostly bodyweight exercise, resistance bands and exercise balls for multi-joint movements.

Strength/ Muscle In this phase, resistance training will be the primary modality.  The emphasis will be on increasing loads handled using weights or other methods like machines, bodyweight exercise or thicker resistance bands.  The goal in this phase is too safely lift heavier weights in an effort to build muscle that will improve fat burning capacity, body shape and athletic and/or daily activity performance.

Endurance The shift to training for endurance means that cardiovascular fitness will be emphasized along with higher repetitions using lighter loads for building muscles more adapted for longer activity (as opposed to pure strength in the previous phase)

Metabolic/ Fat Burning The final phase uses appropriate high intensity training protocols, like circuit training, for maximizing caloric and fat burning.  My favourite way to do this is to used timed “work to rest ratio” sets with full body workouts that always include a cardiovascular training component (as opposed to counting repetitions).  I have found that 30 seconds of work to 15 seconds of rest works best for 5- 10 rounds of exercises, according to individual fitness levels.

Based on an individual’s personal goals, the duration and emphasis of each phase is subject to change.  For example; to build muscle, the Strength/ Muscle phase will be highlighted and to burn fat, the Metabolic/ Fat Burning phase would last longer than the others.

Exercise Order and Getting Lean

 

Get to the next level of your physical and mental development.

Last week, I introduced readers to a list of 10 “back to basics” fitness and nutrition tips and strategies in an effort to de-mystify just what it takes to get into great shape.  We live in a world of so much information overload that I have found people become overwhelmed with too many options when it comes to exercise, nutrition, performance, recovery etc…  When this happens, they become like the proverbial “deer in the headlights” and freeze.  In other words, when they have too much to consider and no idea where to start, they do nothing.  After enough time has passed and they realize that they’re in a worse place from the time that they “froze”, they’ll usually seek out more information in an effort to get going; adding to the overwhelm, more freezing and a continuation of the cycle.

 

So, starting this week, my job is to reduce your overwhelm and help you get started or help you get to the next level of your physical and mental development.

 

The first item on my list last week concerned the importance of the sequence, or order, of your exercise routine.  If you are attempting to burn fat and get leaner with exercise, than it is important to do your strength training first and your aerobic exercise second.

 

The reason that the order of exercise is important is because your body uses different types of fuel to power through different physical demands.  In an effort to keep things as simple as possible; imagine that you have two main fuel tanks in your body.  These hypothetical tanks are filled with either sugar or fat.  As long as both tanks are full, the body’s preferred energy source comes from sugar, therefore, to start emptying the fat tank you first need to empty the sugar tank.

 

As mentioned above, the body’s preferred source of fuel comes from sugar (otherwise known as glucose).  This is especially true when doing strength training which is typically performed in brief, intense spurts; think of the time and effort that it takes to do a set of pushups or dumbbell squats.  If you perform 10 to 15 repetitions of either exercise, the set will take 30 seconds at the very most.  The sugar that is stored within your muscles, or in your blood from the foods that you’ve eaten, is the most easily accessible form of energy for your body to use when presented with the strength training activities described above.  Conversely, stored fat is very rarely (if ever) used as a fuel source when performing strength training.  It is used to a much greater degree in activities of longer duration and lower intensity.  Activities like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming etc…

 

Whenever you do engage in aerobic exercise at a moderate level of intensity, your body draws from it’s preferred source of fuel.  If sugar is available, it will be the primary source until it runs out.  In the absence of sugar, stored fat (body fat) will then be made more readily available to be “burnt” and the exerciser will burn fat a higher rate than before.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, I frequently view my role as being that of a “simplifier”.  People work better and more successfully with simple, clear direction.  Having said that, I realize that the energy systems in the body are much more complex than I’ve lain out and that the description I’ve given here may be overly simple; that’s the point.  If someone is looking for something small that can potentially reap great rewards, this is one of those things.

 

In conclusion; if you changed nothing in your workout other than the order that you performed strength and aerobic training, you have a much greater chance of burning fat and getting leaner.

 

 

 

10 Back to Basics Tips and Strategies

Whether you are working out in a gym or doing your best to stay in shape at home, there are some basic, fact based principles that will guarantee that you succeed in reaching optimal health and fitness.

Here are 10 that I have collected over the years;

Bodyweight exercises are a great way to add variety to your regular workouts.

  1. If the goal of your workout is to burn fat and to become leaner, you should do your strength training first and your cardiovascular training second.

-You will deplete your body’s stored sugar (glycogen) levels when doing weight training and then your body will be forced to use body fat for fuel when doing cardiovascular training. 

  1. Design training programs over 6-12 weeks with specific goals for each of the weeks.

-Having something short-term to focus on will increase your motivation greatly from one week to the next.

  1. Whenever possible, choose free weights over machines.

-When you do strength training with free weights, a much greater amount of muscle is used to provide balance and stability.  In other words, you will get more work done in less time.  The “carry over” to real life will also be significant as compared to training on a machine where all of the balancing is done for you.

  1. Lifting weights more slowly will help to build more muscle.

-If you move slowly through each repetition of each set of each exercise, you will increase the total time that your muscle is “contracted” while it is working.  This is often referred to as “time under tension” or TUT.  This time is very important and will have a large impact on whether you get stronger or not.

  1. Training “efficiency” is more important than training “volume.”

-Muscles respond best to intense, but brief, work followed by adequate rest and recovery.  The most common mistake by frequent exercisers is doing too much and pushing the body beyond its ability to recover.

  1. Learn how to read food labels to get the most out of your workouts.

-Training without eating in a “supportive” manner, will yield only minimal results.  Aside from understanding what is meant by “Grams” of fat, protein and carbohydrates, try buying (and eating) foods that are low in sugar.  4g of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon, therefore a yogourt with 16 grams of sugar contains 4 teaspoons of sugar which will make it very difficult for you to burn fat and become lean.

  1. Always allow at least 1 full day of recovery per week.

-To keep things fresh and interesting, even if you don’t feel like completely resting 1 day per week, doing so will aid immensely in both your mental and physical well-being and will help you to keep improving in the long run.

  1. Learn the joys and benefits of Cross- Training.

-To continue challenging your body in a positive way, try activities that are new to you.  This can have a tremendous impact on your overall strength and endurance and you might find that when you go back to your regular routine, you’ll find yourself stronger and fitter as a result.

  1. Always have a back up plan.

In Case Of Emergency!  Always think of at least 2 or 3 activities, or workouts, the can yield similar results so that you never have to miss a session.  For example; if you do not have the time to get to the gym, learn a “back to basics” workout using little or no equipment to do at home.

  1.   Don’t believe the hype!

 -If it appears to be too good to be true, it probably is.  Real sustainable fitness results last a lifetime.  Don’t rush things or fall prey to hype and hyperbole; use your head, plan and follow through.

 

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be expanding on these 10 tips and providing ideas on ways to implement them into your daily lives.

 

Spring Tune- Up!

The way to successfully navigate a lifetime of fitness and activity is to keep at least a minimum level of strength and endurance at all times and then to prepare, or ramp up, efforts before significant events, seasons or occasions.  This means that some preparation should go into effect before golf or ski season, before day tripping cruises and also before each season, which bring unique challenges into our lives.

Preparing the body for spring activities make them safer and more pleasurable.

The challenges that spring presents to us can be related to activities that many of us pursue when the weather starts getting warmer and more pleasant after a winter of being cooped up in the house.  This is typically the time of year when regular people start working on their properties, gardening, hiking, cycling and playing sports like golf and softball.  Although everything is going to be delayed somewhat this year, there is no reason not to prepare for the inevitable return to normal.

As I was thinking about the activities mentioned above, I identified 5 types of movements that are necessary to perform them safely and efficiently.  They are as follows; Bending and pulling, twisting and rotating, carrying and stabilizing.  I’ve also identified 5 exercises that could easily be added to a daily fitness regimen for the next several weeks and would like to outline them here.

  • Sumo squat. The sumo squat is like a regular squat, performed with the feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and the toes turned out slightly.  Begin with your hands clasped in front of the chest while bending at the knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor (less if you have knee pain or arthritis).  Complete 2- 3 sets of 15- 20 repetitions while keeping your eyes and chin up and chest high.

As you get stronger, hold a weight between your legs to increase the challenge.

This move simulates some of the demands on the inner thighs and back of the legs that you would experience while gardening.

  • Bentover rowing. The bentover row is performed by bending forward and bracing yourself with one hand on your thigh, just above the knee.  Hold a weight in your other hand and let it hang to the floor (you can use a dumbbell or bag filled with cans of food or bottles of water).  In one smooth motion, drive your elbow upwards, pulling the weight up and drawing your shoulder blade back, without standing up. Lower the weight to the floor and repeat for 2- 3 sets of 15- 20 repetitions.

Note: When you are in the bentover position, avoid rounding your lower back and do not hold your breath.

 

  • Diagonal chopping. The “wood chopper” is a tremendous compound exercise that uses muscles throughout the body in one seamless move.  Stand with feet about shoulder width apart with a 5lb weight in your hands (a dumbbell, medicine ball or bottle of water) and then bring the weight to the outside of one knee.  In one smooth motion, swing the weight over the shoulder on the opposite side of the body while standing upright.  The movement is not unlike throwing a pail of water over the shoulder!  Repeat for 2- 3 sets of 10- 15 repetitions and repeat with the other side of the body.

This move has direct carryover to the lifting and moving that happens in yard work as well as in the act of swinging a club or bat.

  • Farmer’s walk. This exercise is performed by holding weights in both hands and… walking.  It is a loaded carry exercise that targets the upper and lower body as well as the core muscles of the abdomen all at the same time.  It builds gripping strength and when performed with enough effort can build endurance as well.

If you don’t have dumbbells to hold to provide the load, you can carry grocery bags or even fill pails of water or sand!  Get creative when putting deciding on what to carry.

Start out light so that you can maintain good posture throughout and breathe naturally while completing 2- 3 sets of 30 seconds.  Increase the load over time.

 

  • Bird Dog exercise. The “Bird Dog” is an exercise that can build strength, endurance and stability in the muscles up and down the back.  Get down on the floor on your hands and knees.  Assume a position where your lower back is in a “neutral” position with no rounding or arching.  Slowly raise your right hand straight out front of you while your left leg rises to the rear.  Hold for one second and then lower before repeating with the other arm/ leg.  Complete 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions per side.

 

To see a video demonstrating all of these exercises… click HERE

If you are new to exercise or are managing a medical condition, seek the approval of your physician before attempting this routine.

Counting up small victories can keep you on track

As the month of August wraps up, I’ve been taking stock of how my clients are doing and noting their progress. It’s been quite a rewarding experience as people have been telling me about their successes. One of my clients has never (ever) seen his blood pressure reading lower than 140/ 90 … until last week when his doctor recorded it as 127/70! A woman I have been working with just told me she has delayed her quarterly cortisone injection for shoulder pain because she just doesn’t feel like she needs it. You might also remember the guitarist that I mentioned several columns ago. He sent me a text to let me know that he is now practicing for the first time in years without being in agony following the session. You can imagine how gratifying it is to get this kind of feedback.

On the other hand, I’ve also been noticing clients who are feeling frustrated by what they feel is a lack of improvement to their pain or dysfunction levels. When someone decides to start building their strength and endurance to help manage a medical condition, it isn’t something that is undertaken lightly. Some of the people I see have been dealing with their problems for years and have, finally, built up the courage to try to make things better. When improvement isn’t immediate, or consistent, it can be very frustrating.

I’ve been in an interesting position in 2016 to be able to really empathize with the clients I work with. In April, I had shoulder surgery to address multiple rotator cuff tears, bursitis and arthritis. That meant I have been going through a rehabilitation process of my own at the same time as I’ve been guiding my clients through their workouts. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that while progress does happen it is very rarely, if ever, linear. Things get better for a while … and then they don’t! I can think of specific times when I felt like I was actually in MORE pain than before surgery. During these times, I was able to stay motivated and focused on my recovery plan by taking stock of some of the accomplishments that I’d experienced in the weeks since my operation.

In the book “The Dip,” author Seth Godin characterizes “dips” in enthusiasm, momentum or success as temporary setbacks that can be overcome. The dips I experienced in physiotherapy were always followed by a week of noticeable improvement. The same goes for the clients I outlined above. Like everyone, they started their fitness journey with enthusiasm and energy. After initial success, the first dip appeared as lack of progress, pain or undue fatigue. Recognizing that these are all normal and to be expected over the long term, we made adjustments and reassessed their plan until they started to move in a positive direction.

The real challenge then is to be able to recognize if you are in a dip and should persevere, or if you are facing a dead end where quitting is the best option.

I’ve found that the best way to understand if you should keep going through a dip is to take stock to see how far you’ve come. Knowing that you’re moving in a positive direction goes a long way in keeping you on task.

When I first meet with a client, I ask them “What would you like to be able to do, that you can’t do now?” If you can answer this, in very specific terms, you’ll be able to come up with milestones along the way to let you know you are “getting there.” For me, the answer was “I want to be able to throw a baseball again.”

Here are five milestones that I noted when I was frustrated by pain and what I thought was lack of progress;

• I slept through the night

• I was able to sleep on my shoulder.

• I was able to shave with my right hand.

• I could play a game of darts.

• I rode my mountain bike 50k.

Although I haven’t thrown a ball yet, looking at my list of accomplishments makes it clear that I am moving in the right direction.

If you are trying to manage a painful or limiting medical condition, ask yourself these two questions;

“What would I like to be able to do that I can’t do now?” and “How will I know that my plan is working and I am getting closer to my goal?” Be as specific as you can and you’ll have a powerful tool for getting through the inevitable “dips” you’ll face as you work on your health and fitness.

Getting ready for the fifth season

It’s been said that in Canada, we don’t just have four seasons, we actually have five. Winter, spring, summer, fall and … “hockey season.”

We are a country that thrives despite long, cold winters. We win big at the Winter Olympics every four years and many of us learn how to skate before we can run. For millions of Canadians, playing hockey is a given. It’s a rite of passage and for many of us; it is something that we never willingly give up. There might be a time where your “bad back” just won’t let you play anymore or when your “old knees” protest every time you try to rush the puck, but, for those who play, the game is never given up easily.

Now that the season is nearly upon us, it seemed the right time to address some of the specific needs for older players who are about to return to the ice within the next 4 to 8 weeks.

When I design fitness plans for sports, I break things down into three areas. The exercises that I choose for athletes help them to perform at a higher level as well as help to protect them from injury and the demands of the game. These exercises can also be worked into a plan to help an athlete lose body fat or gain muscle based on their need.

For the mature, adult league player, I’ve highlighted three areas of the body that are susceptible to injury and need to be strong to play hockey at a high level:

• The lower body, specifically the knees and the hips

• The core (the lower back and abdomen)

• The upper thoracic area that includes the chest, shoulders and upper back.

From years of working with adult hockey players (I hate the term “Old Timers”) and from my own pre-season preparation, I’ve come up with a routine that features only 6 movements and can be used by someone who hasn’t been physical since last season or added to the routine of a regular exerciser. All you’ll need to complete the routine is a medium-to-heavy resistance band with handles. You can find a band like this at any department store that sells fitness equipment.

Here is the workout:

Warm up with 5 minutes of rhythmic movement such as marching, treadmill walking, stair climbing, stationary biking, jumping jacks or skipping and then get right into the routine. Perform each of the exercises for 15 repetitions and repeat the entire routine 3 to 5 times, 3 times per week.

1. Single Arm Band Pull. Wrap the resistance band around a banister and hold both handles in one hand. Extend your hand in front of you to start. Slowly pull the band back toward you and bring your hand to the bottom of your ribs. Your abdominals should be tight at this point. Pause for 2 seconds and then return the band to the starting position. Repeat for 15 repetitions and then continue with your other hand.

2. Single Leg Floor Touch. Balance on one foot and bend at the knee while reaching to the floor with the opposite hand to your working leg. Complete 15 repetitions and then repeat with your other hand and leg.

3. Resistance Band Core Rotations. Loop one handle of the band through the other and attach the band to your banister. While standing perpendicular to the attachment point on the railing, grab a single handle with both hands and extend them in front of you. Move away from the attachment point until you feel your abdominals contract. While keeping them tight, move your straight arms back and forth in front of you. The width of the movement should only be from one shoulder to the other. After doing 15 repetitions, repeat facing the other direction.

4. Pushups. Next, you’ll be doing a classic pushup, from your toes, with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Attempt to bring your chest to the floor before pushing back up to straighten your arms.

5. Plank. Following the pushups, stay on the floor and balance on your forearms and your toes. Hold this “plank” position for 30 to 60 seconds, keeping your abdomen tight and while breathing easily. This move is very important in developing core “stiffness,” which translates into a much stronger shot in hockey.

6. Elevated Hip Bridge. After the plank, roll onto your back and place your heels on a chair. With your hands down at your sides by your hips for stability, thrust your hips upward while contracting your hamstrings and the muscles in your buttocks.

If you want to create more of an endurance workout, perform up to 3 minutes of cardio exercise between each round and complete your workout with up to 12 more minutes of endurance work such as treadmill walking, stationary biking or stair climbing. You will be a much stronger, fitter athlete and will decrease your risk of energy when you perform this routine and develop your “hockey muscles.”

Exercise yourself to better cholesterol numbers

If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you’ve probably wondered what you can do to improve your numbers.

Part of your regimen might include medication that your doctor prescribes as well as changes to your diet. A less obvious tactic is to add an exercise routine if you aren’t currently involved in one. If you are already working out, then there might be some value in changing things up and adding intensity to what you are normally doing.

When I work with clients, I like to provide insight or education about the process of working out and how it affects the body. I don’t like just giving people exercises to do without some real understanding of what’s going on internally.

In the case of cholesterol, there are three numbers that are measured with a blood test that is referred to as a lipid profile or lipid panel. Lipid is another word for fat. The three numbers that make up the panel are; “good” cholesterol or high density lipoprotein (HDL), “bad” cholesterol or low density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides, which are a type of fat that is stored within cells. Besides measuring these three things, a lipid profile will also give a number for total cholesterol (both good and bad) and the ratio of your HDL (“good” fat) as compared to your overall total.

LDL cholesterol is called bad because it has been shown to increase the build up of plaque (or cholesterol deposits) within the arteries, increasing the chance of a heart attack or stroke. My favourite description of how this process works is to imagine that you were pouring oatmeal through a drinking straw. Some of the oatmeal will stick to the side of the straw and build up will occur over time. The opening of the straw will become smaller and eventually will close up completely. To get anything through the straw will require great pressure. LDL is low in density and sludgy … like oatmeal.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, HDL cholesterol may help to prevent the clogging of arteries that occurs with excess LDL levels, by helping to transport bad cholesterol to the liver to be disposed of by the body. If you think back to the “oatmeal in a straw” example, HDL is more like a marble rolling through that drinking straw. It passes through without leaving “guck” to build up on the walls.

High triglyceride levels are linked to low HDL levels, excess body weight and poorly controlled diabetes.

The good news is that there is evidence that one of the ways that you can raise your levels of good cholesterol as well as decrease potentially harmful triglyceride levels is by exercising on a regular basis. In this case, the “right” kind of exercise is a combination of aerobic and strength training to decrease your body fat and increase your body’s lean muscle tissue. Being overweight or obese increases the level of bad fat in your body while it lowers your level of HDL and increases your risk of diabetes, heart attack and stroke.

Here are three things that can help you to build a leaner, fitter, more efficient body over time.

1. “Cycle” your workouts around a muscle building phase. This is crucial as the amount of skeletal muscle on your body will play a large role in the efficiency of your metabolism.

Plan to focus on general conditioning for 4 weeks doing calisthenics, body weight exercises, yoga, Pilates, walking, etc … before focusing for 4 weeks on weight lifting exercises that challenge your body at a higher level. During the muscle building phase, do full body exercise routines where you are only able to complete 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise. After the 4 week muscle building phase, return to the lower intensity conditioning routines and repeat the cycle throughout the year.

2. When combining aerobic and strength exercise, the sequence in which you do them is important. If your goal is to burn body fat, do your strength training first. When you do this, your body will use stored sugar (or glycogen) to power your muscles through their workout, leaving stored body fat for fuel during the aerobic exercise part of your training.

3. Become more active outside of your exercise program. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that everyone should be active up to 150 minutes per week. While this might seem like a lot, the activity can be broken into smaller segments, as little as 10 minutes at a time.

While formal aerobic and muscle building exercise are vital to building a lean, fit body, it is just as important to make your life as active as possible. Park far from the mall door, take the stairs, rake your leaves instead of using a blower, go for a walk after dinner … all of these consistent, little things add up to big changes over a lifetime.

Like most of the challenges that I’ve been writing about over the past several months, the take-home lesson should be that you do have some control over how well you manage your condition.

Listen to your health care provider and do what he or she recommends, and then decide to take charge of the things that are within your control.