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5 Ways to Improve Your Walking Workout

Improve Your Walking Workout

Walking is an effective exercise, but it’s easy to get into a rut with your routine. When you continue to walk for the same time and distance at the same intensity, your fitness is no longer challenged and you may no longer see results. This doesn’t mean you have to stop walking. Add some of these creative variations to your workout to get the heart pumping and to continue improving your fitness.

Add intervals

By varying your speed throughout your walk, you can boost calorie burn without overexerting yourself. Start at a leisurely pace, walk a little faster for 60 seconds, and then walk as fast as you can for 30 seconds to 60 seconds. Return to your leisurely place for 60 seconds and continue to repeat the intervals throughout your entire walk. If you’d rather not keep time, use landmarks for your intervals. For example, walk quickly to the stop sign and then recover until you get to the fire hydrant.

Alter your environment

A boring walk feels like it lasts forever and your lack of interest could slow you down to a shuffle. Choose walking environments that energize you or those that relieve your stress, and alternate where you walk to avoid boredom. Take time to investigate what types of walking environments you have access to. You might be surprised to find nature trails, beaches, paved trails around lakes, high school cross-country courses, and quaint downtown streets, which all provide enjoyable places to walk.

Find an incline

Whether you are on a treadmill or outside, increasing the grade on your course is a quick and easy way to increase the intensity. On the treadmill, instead of changing the speed during intervals, try increasing the incline. If you are outdoors, find a hilly route or stairs to instantly challenge your fitness.

Incorporate circuits

Your workout doesn’t have to be limited to walking. A 30-to-45-minute walk provides a great opportunity to work in some strength training. Walk for 5 minutes, stop and do a set of lunges. Walk for 5 more minutes and do a set of bicep curls with an exercise band. Adding some different activities will make your workout go faster and you’ll have both your cardio and strength training completed in one session.

Beat your time

Turn your walks into a competition with yourself. Stick with the same course and distance for two weeks. Record your total time on your first workout. On each walk that follows, try to beat the time before it. Not only will you increase your pace and challenge your fitness, you will gain a sense of accomplishment from achieving your goal.

Using a Foam Roller

Using a Foam Roller

The foam roller is a dense cylinder-shaped piece of foam used to give muscles a mini-massage with big fitness benefits. Foam rolling muscles lengthens and stretches the muscle, increasing blood flow.

Benefits

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, recent research shows that regular foam rolling can help decrease muscle soreness and improve range of motion. A reduction in muscle soreness may increase the likelihood that a person will stick with an exercise program. Improvements in range of motion (flexibility) may improve exercise form and overall performance. Research also shows that foam rolling can help prevent injuries.

Foam rolling can be used for myofascial release, which is a deep massage technique that reduces muscle tension by breaking down scar tissue and adhesions that form in the muscle. The tissue and adhesions can be caused by regular exercise, but they also develop due to stress, overuse, or low levels of physical activity. Foam rolling may also help relieve the pain associated with common conditions like IT band syndrome and shin splints.

Getting started

The foam roller can be used to massage most muscles including the upper back, quadriceps, inner and outer thighs, hamstrings, and calves. It’s important not to jump into foam rolling without some instruction. Massaging a muscle with the foam roller isn’t always comfortable, but it is important that you perform it correctly so that you achieve the mild discomfort that works the muscle and do not risk aggravating injuries.

If you plan to use the roller at a gym, ask a trainer to provide basic instructions and evaluate whether you are performing the moves correctly. If you purchased your foam roller for home use, read the instructions carefully and review exercise examples or DVDs that are included. You can also seek out instructional videos or articles online from accredited fitness organizations like the American Council on Exercise.

Making it a part of your exercise plan

Foam rolling should be an addition to your workouts and not replace other components of your fitness plan. Warm up, cool down, and stretching exercises are all still important. Foam rolling should be incorporated with these activities to stretch and massage the muscles further and to reduce muscle soreness, help improve mobility, and reduce the risk for future injuries.

How to Fuel for a 5K

Fuel for a 5K

Running 3.1 miles to complete a 5K race takes both fitness training and a healthy eating plan. It is important to start preparing several days before so that you get the fuel you need to feel your best on race day and perform well in your event.

Carb-loading and 5Ks

Carbohydrate loading is an eating method used to maximize glycogen stores (sugar stored for energy in the muscles and liver). It’s often associated with running, but not all distances require this dietary practice. Research shows that carb-loading is beneficial for events that take 90 minutes or longer to complete. Depending on pace, most runners will finish a 5K in 20 to 40 minutes. A mixed diet of about 50 percent carbohydrates is effective for giving you the fuel you need.

Low-fat and Low-fiber

About one week before the event, continue to eat your regular healthy diet. Aim to make it about 50 percent carbohydrates and include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fat. About three to four days before the event gradually reduce your fat intake and focus more on carbohydrates that are lower in fiber. While lean protein is still important, too much fat and fiber take longer to digest and they can cause stomach upset.

Don’t use your race as an excuse to load up on baked goods, sodas, or candy, which have little nutritional value. Continue to eat healthy and include low-fiber fruits without edible seeds and skins like bananas and melons. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and rice can also be helpful in getting the quick-burning carbohydrates you need to store glycogen during these few days before the race.

Pre-race

Learning what to eat and when to eat before a 5K takes some trial and error, but here are a few tips to help you prepare in the final 2 to 12 hours before the event.

  • Instead of eating a large dinner the night before, consider eating a larger lunch and a small dinner. This helps reduce the risk of overeating and feeling stuffed the next morning before the race.
  • Keep your pre-race meals low-fat and low-fiber and high in carbohydrates. People tolerate fat at different levels. For example, while nut butter on toast may work well for some, others may find that it causes a stomach ache.
  • Test your pre-race meals and snacks. Try eating what you plan to have on race day before a few training runs a couple weeks prior to the event.
  • If you feel like you need a meal before the race, consider getting up early so you can eat at least four hours before the event and give it time to digest. Otherwise a snack about 2 hours before the event is good for most people.
  • If you find food hard to tolerate before an event, consider drinking a sports drink or similar product to supply a few calories and carbohydrates before your run.
  • A few ideas for pre-race snacks include: toast with jam, a low-protein energy bar, low-fiber cereal, a banana, or almond milk.

Keep Knees Safe During Exercise

Keep Knees Safe During Exercise

The knee is a complex and resilient joint that can absorb loads more than four times your body weight. Knees are used in almost every activity, which leaves them vulnerable to injury. This doesn't mean that avoiding activity is the best way to protect knees. Research shows that exercise helps prevent knee osteoarthritis by maintaining cartilage for healthy joints. The key is to keep knees safe during exercise to stay pain and injury-free.

Set things up.

Weight machines have adjustments so you can set the seat and levers according to your your height and the weight load according to your strength. Machines like the leg press, leg extension, and leg curl can stress the knee joint if not adjusted for your individual needs. Ask for an orientation on all gym equipment before getting started, and make a note of the settings so that you can adjust the equipment correctly yourself during each workout.

Use correct form.

Squats and lunges are notorious for causing knee pain when performed incorrectly. The general rule has always been to keep the knee from moving forward beyond the toes when squatting or lunging. According to the American Council on Exercise, new recommendations state that it’s more important to hinge the hips by pushing them backward before lowering into the exercise position. The knees should align over the second toe so that the knee moves in the same direction as your ankle joint. Depending on height and limb length, for some people this may cause the knee to appear to move forward beyond the toes. For these individuals, this is considered a safe movement because keeping the knee further in can increase stress on the lower back.

Be selective about surfaces.

Hard surfaces like concrete can add stress to the knee joint during running, walking, and jumping. Move your workouts to softer surfaces to protect the knees. Tracks, dirt trails, grass, asphalt, and the treadmill all provide better shock absorption.

Know what you can handle.

Experienced athletes can perform exercises, such as deep knee bends or squats, without adding unnecessary stress to the knee joints. Problems arise when you attempt these exercises before you understand correct form and before you have built the necessary strength to handle the movement. If your goal is to perform more advanced exercises, seek the advice of a trainer to guide you through a program that will teach you proper form and gradually build your strength to meet your goals.

Wear quality shoes.

A quality pair of athletic shoes with good arch support helps with shock absorption and alignment, which protects the knees during exercise. Pay attention to the age of your shoes. Minor knee pain could be an indication that you need a new pair. It’s recommended that athletic shoes be replaced every 300 to 500 miles or every 3 to 6 months.

4 Reasons for a Shorter, More Intense Workout

Shorter, More Intense Workout

You want a challenge.

By alternating high-intensity intervals with short recovery periods, you can get health benefits in less time while challenging your fitness. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the high intensity intervals are performed at 80 to 90 percent of your max heart rate, followed by a rest session working at 40 to 50 percent. The intervals can last anywhere from five seconds to eight minutes each and total as few as 20 minutes for a complete workout. These short workouts have been found to improve fitness, blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin sensitivity.

You are easily distracted.

An hour spent on a cardio machine can leave you bored and unmotivated. This quickly leads to little things that lower your intensity and calories burned. You might stop to change your playlist, pause to flip through television channels, or slow down so you can read or send a few text messages. Short, high-intensity interval workouts allow no time for distraction. Moving rapidly from one exercise to the next, whether you are doing cardio or strength training, will capture and hold your attention. The time will pass quickly and you will have no need to distract yourself from a long and boring workout.

You skip workouts because you don’t have time.

Lack of time is the number one barrier to exercise. If you find that you skip exercise because you can’t commit a full 30 to 60 minutes, stop using time as an excuse and take advantage of shorter workouts. A 20-minute session is much easier to fit in over the lunch hour or to squeeze in first thing in the morning. Focus on reducing time and increasing intensity to make exercise a regular part of your daily routine.

You want to lose weight.

High-intensity interval training has been found to reduce abdominal fat and total body weight while helping you to maintain muscle mass. According to the American Council on Exercise, one study analyzed men and women who performed shorter bouts of high-intensity exercise lasting fewer than 10 minutes. Results showed that each daily minute of higher intensity activity lowered the odds for obesity by five percent for women and two percent for men. This result led researchers to conclude that it may be the intensity of an activity that is more important than duration when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. Not only did these shorter bouts appear to reduce risk of obesity, but exercisers were more likely to reach the recommendation of 150 minutes of exercise each week when focusing on shorter, more intense sessions.

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