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4 Stretches for a Healthier Back

Stretches for a Healthier Back

Muscle tension and tightness can contribute to back pain, making core flexibility an important factor in keeping your back healthy and pain free. Stretches that gently elongate the back muscles should be a regular part of your core strengthening routine. Ease into these stretches, and hold each for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat two to three times.

Cat Stretch

Move onto your hands and knees on the floor. Position your knees so that they are hip-width apart and your hands so that they are about shoulder-width apart. Contract your stomach muscles as you round your back and slightly tuck your chin. Release the stretch and return to a flat back before repeating.

Spine Twist

Sit up straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Rotate your upper body to the right, and place your right hand at the edge of the chair where the back of the chair meets the seat. Place the left hand on the edge of the seat, just under your right thigh. Sit up tall as you rotate at the torso and stretch the back muscles. Slowly return to the starting position, and repeat on the other side by rotating to the left.

Knees to Chest

Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly pull your right knee into your chest. Grasp your your leg at the top of your shin and gently pull the knee in closer. Return the right leg to the starting position, and repeat the stretch with your left leg. Next, pull both knees in towards your chest at the same time. To deepen the stretch, as you pull one leg into your chest, extend the opposite leg out along the floor.

Seated Forward Bend

Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your feet flexed. Sit up straight and raise your arms straight up in the air over your head. Gently bend forward at the waist as you reach your arms out towards your feet. Let your hands rest wherever is comfortable, such as at your knees, shins, ankles, or feet. Reach only as far as you feel a stretch with slight discomfort, not pain. To deepen the stretch, you can grasp the end of a rolled towel or yoga strap in each hand and wrap it around the balls of your feet. Gently pull the towel towards you as you bend forward into the stretch.

5 Ways to Stay Focused on Your Fitness Goals

Stay Focused on Your Fitness Goals

Your goals will be your number one priority when you set out to adopt healthier habits. As time goes on, without constant reminders, you may lose sight of why you started. To stay motivated and persevere, it’s important to keep the focus on your fitness goals.

Hang them up

Physically keeping your goals in plain sight helps you make smart choices when you are faced with tough decisions, like what to eat and whether or not to skip the gym. Write down your goals and use them to help guide your choices at the moment you need to make a decision. Stick them on the refrigerator and the snack drawer, list them on your daily calendar, hang them near your computer monitor, or set regular reminders on your smartphone.

Share them

A strong support system is important for reaching your fitness goals. Don’t keep your goals to yourself. Share them with those who you know will support you. These people can help cheer you on when you feel discouraged and join you in celebrating your successes.

Meditate

Add short sessions of meditation to your day that allow you to focus on your end goal. When you visualize yourself accomplishing it, this can boost your confidence and motivation to keep you on track.

Incorporate regular rewards

Don’t let small accomplishments go unnoticed. Incorporate rewards for each small step you conquer towards your goal. These rewards serve as reminders that you are working towards something worthwhile and continuing to make progress.

Revise them when necessary

Your goals should change as you do. As you lose weight, drop clothing sizes, or run further you will need to continue to set new goals to stay motivated. It’s also important to remember that the goals you set when you first start out may not be a good fit for you as you progress. Perhaps a scheduling conflict makes it impossible to attend a fitness class, or it turns out you’d rather jog than walk. Revisit your goals often and make sure they are challenging enough to keep you motivated.

Exercise Gear to Improve Your Workout and Recovery

Exercise Gear to Improve Your Workout and Recovery

Performing well during exercise is important to get the results you want. Your performance is dependent not only on a challenging workout, but also your exercise recovery. Check out some of this affordable exercise gear that can improve your workout and your recovery so that you can give your best during every exercise session.

Foam Roller

A foam roller is a cylinder-shaped piece of firm foam used to give you a mini-massage that lengthens and stretches the muscles. Regular foam rolling has been found to decrease muscle soreness and improve range of motion.

Leg Sleeves

Leg sleeves are one of the many forms of compression clothing that have gained recent popularity. While most research has not found a direct link between compression sleeves and better exercise performance, studies have shown that they may help with exercise recovery. In some cases, leg sleeves have been found to reduce muscle soreness.

Tennis Ball

A tennis ball is a simple piece of equipment that can be used to massage and stretch small target areas. For example, you can place the ball on the floor and put your foot over it. Then, slowly move your foot around to massage the soles of the feet. In a similar way, the balls can also be used to massage specific areas of the upper back.

Exercise Bands

Performing your strength training routine with exercise bands allows you to challenge your muscles in a new way. The bands are a great alternative to add variety to your routine. They are also ideal for traveling and can be used during stretching exercises to improve flexibility.

Exercise Ball

A study by the American Council on Exercise rated crunches on the exercise ball number 3 among numerous exercises tested for effectiveness. The exercise ball can also be used to improve balance and challenge smaller muscle groups while performing moves like push-ups and shoulder presses. It can also be used during stretching -- especially for the upper and lower back, abdominals, and hamstrings.

Tips to Start Swimming for Exercise

Tips to Start Swimming for Exercise

Swimming offers an effective low-impact workout, and it adds a new activity to spice up a boring routine. If you’ve been thinking about adding swimming to your workouts, use these tips to get started.

Don’t Overdo It On Gear

All you need to start swimming is a training swimsuit and goggles. Most people also prefer to wear a swim cap to keep hair dry and away from your face. A waterproof watch can be helpful, but isn’t absolutely necessary if there is a clock at the pool to help you track your exercise time.

Start with the Basics

Begin by identifying your goals. Do you want to simply include swimming as another form of exercise, or do you have a long-term goal of competing in a triathlon? Once you know what you’d like to accomplish, get yourself familiar with the pool.

Consider taking an aquatics class or grabbing a kickboard to do simple laps when you start out. Give yourself time to get acquainted with how it feels to exercise in the water and to learn what your fitness level will allow. When you are ready to start swimming laps, the standard freestyle stroke is the best place to start. From there, you can determine if swimming freestyle for 30 minutes a few times a week is what you need to reach your goals, or if you’ll need to become familiar with other strokes, speeds, and distances to compete in an event.

Find a Convenient Pool Time

If you aren’t comfortable with being in a crowded pool, plan to visit at different times throughout the day to find one that is less busy. Most recreation centers and gyms have free swim times when the pool is not being used for lessons or classes. Experiment with completing your swim workouts early in the morning, taking a late lunch break, or later in the evening when group classes have ended.

Seek Out Basic Instruction

There are several things you will need to master to swim efficiently. Breathing with water coming at your face and creating a rhythm with your breathing can be difficult. Be patient with yourself and take breaks as you need them. You can practice strokes and kicks on dry land before you hit the water to ensure you understand proper form. If you are completely new to swimming, seek out a beginner class at your local recreation center, or hire a swim coach to learn the basics and assess your performance in the water. Often just a session or two can help you get the hang of things, and then you can return to solo workouts to apply what you learned.

5 Types of Squat Exercises

5 Types of Squat Exercises

The squat is a classic lower body exercise known for working the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. A squat can be incorporated into any exercise routine. You can perform them without weight, on exercise machines, with dumbbells, or with a barbell.

While you may be be familiar with the standard squat, the idea of using a squat as the basis for more challenging exercises that target more muscle groups may be new to you. If you need some variety in your lower body strength training routine, try these squat exercises.

Standard Squat

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend the knees as you push your bottom back, like you are going to sit in a chair. Lower to the point where your thighs are parallel to the floor, or as close as you can get to this position. In order to prevent knee injuries, it is important to keep the knees from extending past the tip of your toes during squat exercises. Hold for about two seconds and then squeeze your glute muscles and push through your heels as you slowly raise back to the starting position.

Narrow Squat

Stand with your feet together. Squeeze your legs together and bend the knees as push your bottom back and squat down, like you are going to sit in a chair. Lower to the point where your thighs are parallel to the floor, or as close as you can get to this position. Squeeze the inner thighs and glutes as you stand back up into the starting position.

Squat with a Leg Lift

For this exercise you will perform a standard squat. As you stand up from the squat position, shift the weight to your left foot and lift your right leg out to the side for a standing leg lift. Lift just to the point where you feel the muscles of your bottom and the hips engage. Lower the leg to the starting position. Repeat the squat and this time lift your left leg. Continue to squat and alternate leg lifts.

Jump Squat

For this exercise, you will also perform a standard squat. Once you are lowered into the squat position, push through your heels to jump up and propel yourself into the air. Land in the starting position, repeat the squat and jump.

One-Legged Squat

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Shift your weight to your right foot. Bend your left knee to lift your left foot off the floor. Slowly bend your right knee and move into a squat position on your right leg, pushing your bottom back. Lower as far as you can, working towards getting your right thigh parallel to the floor. This exercise is very challenging so you may only be able to lower a little bit when starting out. You can also place your hand on a sturdy chair or wall to help keep your balance during the movement. To make the exercise more challenging, extend your left leg out in front of you as you squat down and back up. Switch sides and repeat the squats on your left leg.

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