Monday, August 13, 2012

What's the Definition of Insanity? Part III: The Beauty of a Schedule

While goal setting and program development are critical for improved fitness, the real beauty of goal setting and program development is scheduling. If I had a dime for every client who told me they didn't exercise because they "don't have time", I'd have a lot of dimes. I think one of the reasons people feel they "don't have time" for exercise is because they can often feel aimless when it comes to exercise. When you don't have a goal and don't have a program, you don't really know how long to exercise, what to do or how often to do it. When we are directionless, in exercise and in life, I find we often do nothing.

Programming for your fitness goals greatly increases the chances that you will have time for exercise and you will in fact do it. Exercise is more beneficial when you actually exercise.

Let me use my own programming as an example. I just began a new strength training program last week. It's an 8 week program and involves 4 days/week of the back squat and bench press. Two of those days are "light" and as such, don't require a heck of a lot of time in the gym. The remaining two days are heavy on the volume and require significantly more time in the gym -- around 90 minutes. Since I have a program and can see what is required of me each week, I can schedule my workouts into my weekly calendar. My lighter days will be mid-week and the longer days on Fridays and Sundays when I have more free time.

This friends, is the value of programming: the ability to plan your exercise sessions in advance.

When you schedule a meeting, what do you do? Chances are you look at your calendar, coordinate with others who need to attend the meeting, pick a convenient time and then mark it on your calendar so you don't schedule anything else during that time and create a conflict. Chances are that this scheduling takes place at least a few days in advance of said meeting.

Scheduling your exercise sessions should work the exact same way. Meetings are important -- important for your career, your family, your education; and exercise is important -- for all those same reasons, plus your health and wellbeing. You want to schedule time in your life for all important things. At least for me, if I don't schedule it, it doesn't get done.

When it comes to my exercise schedule I sit down Sunday evening and map-out the upcoming week. I look at my training program to see how many days I need to workout and what the workouts entail. I schedule "easier" (read: shorter) workouts during the work week, and longer ones on weekends. I coordinate with my husband to see when he's going to workout so at least a couple times per week we can train together. I look at my class schedule, work schedule, puppy schedule and then I put my workouts on the calendar at times that are convenient. This way, just like if I had a meeting, I get a friendly reminder email from Google telling me it will be time to hit the gym in 15 minutes.

I strongly recommend this approach. No, strongly isn't a strong enough word. I emphatically encourage? Still doesn't sound like enough. Beg, borrow and steal? The context may be off... In any case, I have found that the key to progressive fitness over time is to create a program and then stick with it by creating a weekly schedule of workouts. When you know what to expect from your training sessions and you know when those training sessions will occur, you will find that miraculously, you do have time to exercise.

And with that I'll have to end this post, my Google calendar just reminded me I have a workout in 15 minutes.

Posted by Rachel May
School of Health Sciences

Friday, August 10, 2012

What's the Definition of Insanity? Part II: Road Trip To Fitness

Have you ever taken a road trip?  That’s a silly question, of course you have.  When you plan a road trip, what’s the first thing you do?  Chances are you choose your destination, right?  You think about how nice it would be to take a weekend trip to the beach or visit Aunt Sue or check-out  the World's Largest Ball of Twine (Cawker City, Kansas).  With your destination in mind, you’ll then need to determine when you’re going and how you’ll get there.  A good road trip requires a road map – you wouldn’t want to have your heart set on the Ball of Twine only to end up at the beach – imagine the disappointment! 

Fitness is like a road trip to the Largest Ball of Twine (or anywhere, but why would you want to go anywhere else?) – you need to identify a destination and create a road map.  I am always surprised when I meet with clients and they can’t tell me a single fitness goal.  Why would you get in your car for a road trip without knowing where you’re going? 

The first step in any fitness program is to establish a goal.  When establishing fitness goals I have my clients ask themselves the following questions:

1)      What do I want to accomplish with my fitness?  Is the pursuit of my goal something I will find enjoyable or will it feel like a chore?  (Hint: if it feels like a chore, you’re probably not going to enjoy it). 

2)      Is my goal attainable?  Be honest with yourself about your capabilities.  If your best 5K time is 45 minutes (not that there’s anything wrong with that) is competing in the 2016 Olympics in the marathon realistic? Setting unrealistic fitness goals is a sure fired way to become discouraged and quit.

3)      How much time is required to meet my goal?  Much like picking a weekend to visit the Ball of Twine, you also want to have an idea about when your goal will be accomplished.  Don’t choose “run a marathon” as your goal for next month if you can’t walk around the block.  Duh.

4)      Is my goal measurable? One of the mistakes I see people make over and over again is setting an ambiguous goal like, “get in better shape” (see: New Year’s Resolutions).  We want goals that are measurable so we know when we’ve reached them and if we’ve been successful. 

Now that you’ve established your fitness goal, you’ve got to figure out how to get there.  This is where programming comes in.  Programming is the road map to your fitness goal.  When it comes to designing a successful program you must consider:

1)      Your current level of fitness.  If your goal is to run a marathon and the longest distance you’ve run was last Thanksgiving’s 5K Turkey Trot, the first training run in your program should not be 10 miles.  A successful program starts where you are.

2)      How much time you have available to train.  Let’s stick with the marathon goal.  If your training plan requires 10 hours a week of running but you have a full time job, new baby, church commitments, a Ball of Twine project and are reading War and Peace, running 10 hours a week might not be reasonable.  Make sure the program meets your schedule. 

3)      Overload and progression.  Recall from our previous blog post the importance of overload and progression.  Failure to overload your body with appropriate stress will fail to create fitness improvements.  Failure to program overload over an appropriate amount of time (progression) will likely lead to injury or failing to reach your goal. For example, running a 5K 3 days per week for 6 weeks will not help you improve at the marathon distance.

One thing to note about designing a program, don’t be afraid to steal.   You may not know this, but there are people out there who design fitness programs for a living.  You could if you wished actually employ them to design your program.  We’ll call these people “coaches”.  But if paying a coach isn’t for you (and I would argue unless you are pretty well advanced in your fitness you don’t need a coach), then use the internet.  Hundreds (thousands?) of websites exist that have pre-designed programs for a variety of fitness goals: running, strength training, cycling, body building, ball of twine building – wait, how’d that get in here?  Just be sure though when you use someone else’s program that it meets the above criteria—don’t get trapped in a program that’s not right for you.

So now that we have identified our fitness goals and created (or stolen) an appropriate program for achievement, we’ll next tackle the hard part: doing the program.  Stay tuned!
Posted by Rachel L. May
School of Health Sciences
Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What's the Definition of Insanity? Part I: The Importance of a Program

When it comes to exercise, the only relevant question you need to ask yourself is, "What is the definition of insanity?" The answer of course is, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." To be honest, I have no idea if that's the definition of insanity, but when it comes to the above definition I can assure you there are lots of insane fitness-minded people.

There are two key principles of exercise:

1) Overload: When it comes to fitness, the body must be exposed to a stressor (overload) which results in an adaptation by the body to the stressor thus performing better next time the stressor is encountered. We typically think about the overload principle in regards to strength training (if your goal is to bench press 200 lb but your maximum today is 150 lb you need to overload the body to create an adaption that allows you to move 200 lb) but the same applies to endurance goals like an improved 5K time.

2) Progression: This is basically the "how" of overloading. We want to progressive create overload to make ourselves stronger/faster/buffer over time. If we take our bench press example from above, appropriate progression would not involve loading the bar with 200 lb (when my max is 150 lb) and praying. Nor would benching 150 lb for months at a time get me any closer to my goal. Progression is basically the sweet spot of overload -- increasing your overload in a way that maximizes adaption while avoiding embarrassing things like being pinned underneath a 200 lb bar at peak gym time. Yikes.

So what's the relationship between insanity and the principles of overload and progression? Unfortunately, I see it every day. If I were a wagering individual, I would say that greater than 75% of fitness enthusiasts are insane -- meaning that day after day, month after month, year after year, they are doing the same exercise program. They jog the same 5K, they take the same spinning class, they do the same strength training circuit -- and don't get me wrong, this is great, as long as their goal is to simply maintain their fitness.

But for most of us in the gym (or on the road or pool or whatever) we're looking to be better/faster/stronger/hotter than we were a year ago. If you are doing the same exercise program over time, you are going to get the same results. If you're fine with that, if you're Michael Phelps perhaps, then by all means, keep doing what you're doing. But if not, then this week's blog will help you set goals, create an appropriate program and then stick with it. There's a lot of insanity in the world, let's keep it out of fitness!

Posted by Rachel May
School of Health Sciences

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ocean Breath

I love the ocean.  The vast expanse, the rhythmic rise and fall of its waves, and the inevitable sense of calm it instills in me.  I am eagerly anticipating our next visit to the ocean in a few days. But most of the time, I'm not at the ocean.  Luckily, there is another way to reach out and grab a piece of that calm and stillness;  Ujjyai pranayama, or Ocean breath.

While often called upon during Yoga asanas, or poses, to cool the body and focus the mind, Ocean Breath can be used during meditation as well.  It's a great tool to create the stillness and focused attention that meditation requires.   I encourage you to try it out.  Here's how:

1. Find a comfortable seat.  Maybe it's a chair, or cushion on the floor.  Find what feels good to you.

2. Inhale deeply and exhale completely.  Feel your chest and belly expand and rise with the inhale and condense and fall with the exhale.  Do this until you begin to feel your body relax.

3. On your next inhale, softly constrict the back of your throat.  These are the glottis muscles, the same muscles that work when you have a quick intake of breath. Breath deep and slow.  You will hear the air flowing into your lungs, and understand where this breath got its name.

4. Exhale slowly.  Keep that same slight constriction at the back of the throat.  Try to make your exhale as long as your inhale.  Repeat for at least 10-15 breaths.

Meditation can be intimidating.  But this simple little breathing exercise isn't.  Try it out; you'll feel the vast expanse, the rhythm of life, and the stillness that helps us appreciate it. 

Breathing in…….and out,

Kristin Henningsen, M.S., C.H., R.Y.T.
Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Family Affair

Yoga is not just for adults anymore.  More and more research has come out on the benefits of yoga practice for children of all ages.  From the cooing baby to independent teenager, Yoga can benefit all ages.  While there are more and more Yoga classes are geared towards these different age groups, there are also a lot of ways to engage your kids at home.  Introducing Yoga to your kids will not only help them be physically active, self-confident, and able to handle stressful situations; it will also help you do the same. 

To get your kids involved, it's a good idea to start by doing yoga with them.  This doesn't require that you enroll in expensive classes, however.  There are many resources that you can explore at home.  Below is a list of my favorites.  Books, Cd's, websites, and videos.  Check them out and have fun!


Bersma, D. & Visscher, M. (2003) Yoga Games for Children. Alameda, CA: Hunter House Inc.

Solis, S. (2006). Storytime Yoga. Boulder, CO: The Mythic Yoga Studio.

Tummers, N. (2009). Teaching Yoga for Life. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Wenig, M. (2003).  Yoga kids: Educuating the whole child through yoga. New York, NY: Stewart, Tabori, & Chang.




Once your kids are engaged in Yoga practice, try out some DVD's, or explore those classes in your area.  You can enroll in classes with your children, or register them in a class with their friends.  Find what works for you and your family.  The benefits will be great!

Kristin Henningsen M.S., C.H., R.Y.T.
Friday, August 3, 2012

Consistency in Chaos

If your summer is anything like mine, it's been an almost daily get up and go, go, go!  It seems that every day is a new excursion and adventure for me and my two little ones.  Beach, camping, hiking, biking, picking fruits and veggies, museums, trips to the library…. I'm getting tired just writing it down.   While I love the spontaneity of summer, I tend to thrive when I have a routine.  Some things just don't get done when there's chaos! 

However, this summer I have been particularly proud of myself at the consistency I've kept with my home Yoga practice.  This is usually the first thing to go.  But when you compromise on your healthy practices, the next thing you compromise is your health.  Here's some strategies I've used to keep my home practice consistent this summer. 

1. Get Up
    Okay, this is a no brainer.  But in the summer it can be easy to sleep in, especially when your kids are sleeping late (aka 7:30). So…. get up!  Before the kids and have some alone time, even if it means going to bed a little bit earlier or setting an alarm.  Quiet Yoga in the morning= bliss.

2. Make it a Priority

    Yes, you need to vacuum, sweep, and clean the bathrooms.  But first…. you need to practice.  It will make every action and interaction for the rest of your day so much more engaged, peaceful, and meaningful.  If you don't get to the sweeping, forgive yourself and smile.  You stood up for yourself and what you believe in.

3. Get Creative
    Yoga doesn't always need to be on the mat.  In fact, I most often do Yoga off my mat.  While making pancakes, waiting in line, while the kids are taking their time, even driving.  It's easy to find time and space do practices breathing exercises and meditation.  Even some standing postures and balance postures are totally appropriate for public.  Get your kids involved and engaged in a family practice.  More on that later...

4.  Break it up
    Sometimes I feel like I am at the constant beck and call of my kids.  And I am.  It is a rare event that I get to practice Yoga without being interrupted by someone or something.  So, I break up my practice into bits.  Warm-up sequences here, sun salutations after breakfast, standing postures after clean-up, final stretches before bedtime…You get the idea. 

5. Forgive and Forget
    If you don't get to your Yoga practice one day, it's okay.  Forgive yourself and move on. Tomorrow is another day.  The important thing is that you are aware of how important your practice is to you, and that you honor yourself by taking the time for it every day that you can. 

And now…time for my Savasana (Corpse Pose) for the day.  Ahhh!  The sweet rewards of practice!


Kristin Henningsen M.S., C.H., R.Y.T.

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Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness
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