Fit facts: Warm Up and Tone Up

Spend most of the day sitting? Chances are you have tight hip rotators, putting you at risk for nagging injuries like lower back pain and knee problems.

To keep your hip rotators loose and flexible try this: Lie on your back with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Bend your right leg and place your ankle just below your knee. Next, place your right hand on your knee and gently press the knee away from your body. (You can also have a partner gently pull the knee away from you.) Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, relax and repeat two more times. Switch legs and perform the stretch three times on the opposite side.

Did you know: When you're standing in a natural position, if your feet automatically point outward your hips are probably tight.

Why Warm Up?

When trying to fit a workout into an already packed schedule, many of us jump right into our exercise routine, skipping the all-important warm up. Here's why you shouldn't. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a gradual warm up:

 

  • Leads to efficient calorie burn by increasing your core body temperature.
  • Produces faster, more forceful muscle contractions.
  • Increases your metabolic rate so oxygen is delivered to the working muscles more quickly.
  • Prevents injuries by improving the elasticity of your muscles.
  • Gives you better muscle control by speeding up your neural message pathways to the muscles.
  • Allows you to work out comfortably longer because your energy systems are able to adjust to exercise, preventing the buildup of lactic acid in the blood.
  • Improves joint range of motion.
  • Psychologically prepares you for higher intensities by increasing your focus.

What constitutes a good warm up? According to ACE, progressive aerobic exercise that uses the same muscles you'll be using in your workout (e.g., if you're planning to run for 30 minutes, start with five minutes to 10 minutes of easy jogging or brisk walking; if you're cycling, start with easy gearing). Follow that with light stretching of the affected muscles, and you're good to go!

Lose Fat, Build Muscle

It's a goal personal trainers hear again and again: I just want to tone up! If you're looking to burn fat and add muscle, hit the weight room. Optimal toning, says strength and conditioning specialist Alwyn Cosgrove, can be achieved by alternating between upper and lower body exercises that emphasize a high number of repetitions.

 

Cosgrove suggests performing lower body exercises like squats immediately followed by upper body exercises like biceps curls, and then repeating both until you've done each three times. Do 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise (with a weight you're able to lift no more than 15 to 17 times).

Use two separate full-body routines, and alternate between them three times a week. Doing so will get you noticeable results in about six weeks.


Christina Gandolfo is editor and chief of Her Sports. Her book, The Woman Triathlete (Human Kinetics), was published in December.


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