Chest Exercises – Know How To Engage Chest Muscles For Better Toning

Think Fit III Form + Weight Training = Body Sculpting

Well shaped shoulders and arms, a taut chest and a head held erect. Picture this in your mind’s eye. Does someone come to your mind ? Do you see confidence and a certain dignity in this person’s bearing ? If so, you can relate it to the description in the first sentence of my article.

This is a third in the series of my articles on how Form and Technique are key factors in making muscle training/weight lifting efficient and effective. Please do read the entire first article in the series and the first portion of the second before you proceed to this one.

Toned chest muscles are important for both men and women. While men enjoy showing off taut chests, women may for reasons of being endowed in the way they are, not be so comfortable doing that. Nevertheless firm chest muscles are a result of hard work and add to the way you look and carry yourself. They also play a big role in all your push and pull movements in your daily life. There is no denying that and hence no ignoring.

A myth I would like to clear here. A friend at the gym came up to me sometime ago and asked if breast sizes would decrease with weight lifting. To her and to many others who think so, my answer would be : weight lifting/muscle training will only firm chest muscles and not let them sag with the onset of advanced age.

Here are a few chest muscle exercises I have listed and have detailed the form and technique in doing them right. But before that a look at the Chest ( pectoralis major ) Muscle structure. Chest muscles are composed of upper, middle and lower fibers, being a major muscle group in the body.

This is not to say that certain chest exercises completely target only one or the other. Exercises for upper chest fibers will always involve the lower chest to some extent and vice versa.

Chest muscle pectoralis

  • Remember to keep your tummy tucked in at all times and stand with legs hip width apart , soft on knees.
  • Keep your shoulders down and relaxed at all times. Working out the muscles is quite different from tensing the muscles.
  • Beginners can avoid attaching plates to the barbell. Do so as you progress.

Bench Press : Engage the chest muscles.

Flat Bench Press with Dumbbells

Flat Bench Press with dumbbells

Flat Bench Press with barbell

Flat Bench Press with barbell

Form : Lying back down on the bench with your feet flat on the ground, hold the dumbbells/barbell above your chest, with palms facing the ceiling and slightly wider than the shoulders.

Technique : Push the dumbbells/barbell up towards the ceiling while consciously engaging (pushing with) the chest muscles rather than the shoulders or the arms. As you do more repetitions, you will feel the chest muscles quivering lightly, when properly engaged. Remember to keep the elbows soft and at shoulder level when you lower the barbell towards your chest. Similarly, remember to keep the barbell right above your chest when you raise it rather than taking it above the mid chest level. Engage the chest muscle mind fully by contracting them. Here, the anterior deltoids and tricep muscles get worked too incidentally. This exercise can be done on the machine too, but it is advisable to take the help of a trainer.

Incline Bench Press : Engage the chest muscles.

Incline Bench Press with Dumbbells

Incline Bench Press with dumbbells

Incline Bench Press with Barbell

Incline Bench Press with barbell

Form : Start with resting your back fully against the inclined bench and your feet flat on the ground.

Technique : Hold the dumbbells/barbell at shoulder level on both sides, elbows at 90 degrees and push the weights up without locking the elbows. The upper fibers of the chest muscles and the anterior deltoids get worked most. The lower fibers will feel the load , but at a lesser level.

Decline Bench Press : Engage the chest muscles.

Decline Bench Press Dumbbell

Decline Bench Press with dumbbells

Decline Bench Press Barbell

Decline Bench Press with barbell

Form : Lie down with your back fully rested against the declined bench, your feet firmly supported by the foot-rest. Hold the dumbbells/barbell slightly wider than shoulder width.

Technique : Push the weights up against the ceiling as you would in the regular Bench Press. Fitness experts do not recommend this exercise for beginners. Those at the intermediate or advanced level of fitness can do this. The middle and the lower fibers get worked most.

People with low blood pressure issues, please avoid this exercise.

Flat Bench Flys : Engage the chest muscles.

Flat Bench Flys Dumbbells

Flat Bench Flys with dumbbells


Form :
Lying back down on the bench, with feet on the ground, begin with holding dumbbells, palms facing each other above your chest. Elbows rounded please throughout the exercise.

Technique : Move the palms with the weights away from each other towards your sides. Return to starting position. The range of motion would depend on the strength and flexibility of your chest muscles. Even so, a word of caution to those that extend the arms fully – it can lead to injury. The image below shows the model extending her arms to her full capacity, but as you can see, she is in an advanced stage of fitness.

NOTE : Avoid using the heavy weights that you used during the Bench Press. Use lighter weights to avoid injury.

Incline Bench Flys : Engage the chest muscles.

 

Incline Bench Flys Dumbbells

Incline Bench Press with dumbbells

Form : With your back rested fully against the incline bench and feet placed firmly on the ground, hold the weights in front of you, palms facing each other.

Technique : Extend weights to your sides just as you would in Flat Bench Flys exercise, the difference being, you hold the eights in front of you and not above you. Return to starting position. The upper fibres of the chest muscles and the anterior deltoids get worked the most.

Decline Bench Flys : Engage the chest muscles.

 

Decline Bench Flys Dumbbells

Decline Bench Flys with dumbbells

Form : Lie down with your back rested fully on the decline bench with your feet firmly supported by the footrest. Hold the weights above your chest, palms facing each other.

Technique : Extend your arms with the weights towards your sides as much as your range of motion allows you to without locking your elbows. The middle and the lower fibres get worked. This again not recommended for beginners.

Peck Deck Flys / Seated Machine Fly : Engage the chest muscles.

This is very similar to the Flat bench Fly except that you are seated. Most suitable for beginners as the lever or the machine is fixed and therefore more controlled.

 

Peck Deck Flys or Seated Flys

Seated Flys or Peck Deck Flys

Form : Sit with your back and hips supported firmly by the back rest pads. With feet placed firmly on the ground, hold the handles in both hands by the sides such that the elbows are soft and are at chest level. Keep your upper arms and fore-arms parallel to the floor.

Technique : Bring the handles together in front of you consciously engaging the chest muscles. Let the movement be smooth and avoid clanging the handles when they are brought together. Slowly return to the starting position. Remember to extend only as much as to feel a stretch in your pecks.

Straight Arm Dumbbell Pullover : Engage the chest muscles.

 

Straight Arm Pullover

Straight Arm Pullover

Form : Lie down with your back resting on the flat bench and feet firmly on the ground. Hold a dumbbell/ dumbbells in both hands just above your chest. This exercise can be done with a barbell and plates attached, but that is for the advanced.

Technique : Extend the arms across your head in such a way that they are in line with the head. Some over-extend as in the pic above, but that depends upon their goals and fitness levels. Keep your elbows soft and do not over extend. Return to starting position. The upper fibers get worked as also the tricep muscles to a certain extent.

Cable Cross Over/ Cable Cross Press : Engage the chest muscles.

 

Cable Chest Crossover

Chest Cable Crossover

Form : Stand with your hands clasping the cable pulleys on both sides. Take a step forward with one leg and lean forward.

Technique : Now bring your palms close to each other in front of you at your chest level or slightly lower, engaging or contracting your chest muscles, just as you would do in the Bench Press. Return to starting position. Remember not to extend your arms beyond the shoulders when you return to starting position.

Push Up :

The simplest of the chest exercises, it uses the body weight to give the workout. Beginners can start with pushing against the wall or a fixed bar. Stand with your legs hip width apart away from the wall and arms slightly wider than the shoulder width, palms pressed against the wall/bar. Bend the elbows and push as you gently lean forward, moving your body towards the wall/bar almost touching the surface. Remember to keep the body in a straight line. You may have to lift your heels off the ground while keeping the toes in place. Push your body back to starting position slowly.

Wall Push Ups

Wall Pushups

Floor Push Up is done with your toes on the ground and your palms on the ground, slightly wider that shoulder width. With abs held tight/tucked in, bend the elbows and lower your body parallel to the floor, then push against the ground to lift it up. Keep the elbows soft, do not lock them when you raise yourself. Head, neck and the spine should all be in a straight line.

Floor Push Ups

Floor Pushups

If in the beginning you find it hard to do these floor Pushups, you could try Modified Pushups as shown below.

Modified Push Ups

Modified Pushups

If you are travelling or do not have access to a gym, go ahead and do this exercise. All you need is yourself and the floor or the wall.

More muscle groups in my next few posts. If you like tips on any specific exercise/muscle, do post it in your comments and I will feature it.

Wishing Wellness and Fitness. Think Fit

 

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How To Get Sculpted Shoulders Using The Right Muscles – Workouts

Think Fit II  Form + Weight Training = Body Sculpting

 Just to recap my previous article that is a prelude to this guide on Form n Technique and using the right muscles in Weight Training, here are a few reminders. But please do read my previous article (even if you have already) to comprehend this one on using the right muscles better.

  • Each muscle needs to be focused on and targeted to sculpt it
  • Proper engagement of the right muscles required for each type of weight training exercise
  • I firmly believe that in order to stay fit and in shape, we have to understand fitness and not merely follow a trainers’s instructions blindly
  • Towards that, I would encourage readers to make out a chart for themselves from the information given here
  • If you have been relentlessly lifting weights for your upper body and yet there is a gap between the physique you want and your mirror image, then you better review the way you are doing weight training
  • Good posture is the body’s alignment with respect to gravity that we can never do away with. So posture is a given at every moment of our life, whether we are sitting, standing, moving or lying down
  • Resistance exercises or weight training when carried out in proper posture are more effective in toning the body and avoiding injuries
  • Most injuries in the gym are caused by improper posture and bad form

I had set out to detail form and technique tips for weight training for all the major muscle groups in one shot, but I can see it is going to be a really long post. So going to break it down to one muscle group per blog. Despite being into fitness for decades, I still find it hard to remember all that I read on fitness and store it appropriately. But if you are the smarter one, then you got to bear with me, for apportioning the post amongst the upper body muscles, one at a time.

Shoulders and Chest are two body parts that are of paramount importance in the way you carry yourself, both for men and women. The rest of the upper body muscles are largely dependent on how you bear these two. So we begin with shoulders.

Worked out, sculpted shoulders lend a certain dignity to your personality. Women, if you are addicted to sleeveless or off-shoulder outfits, pick up those weights and keep the following tips in mind when you work those muscles.

Shoulder workout’ is a layman’s way of saying ‘I am working my deltoids’. Since we are now progressing from being a layman to a better informed exerciser, deltoids it will be for most purposes.

  • Remember to keep your tummy tucked in at all times and stand with legs hip width apart , soft on knees.
  • Keep your shoulders down and relaxed at all times. Working out the muscles is quite different from tensing the muscles.

I am unable to provide videos for the workouts. If in doubt, take help from the trainers at the gym, but keep in mind these tips. The trainers may not have the time to supervise all your workouts and reps (repetitions).

Know the Deltoid (shoulder) Muscles

Deltoid Fibers, My Thought Lane

Deltoid Muscles , Courtesy build-muscle-101.com

Deltoids are divided into anterior (front), middle (lateral) and posterior (rear) fibers. Any shoulder workout should focus on engaging the shoulder muscles rather than loosely lifting the entire arm. Lift weights leading with your shoulders.

Primary exercises for Deltoids (the rest are variations):

Shoulder Press/ Military Press using Barbell /Dumbbell/Machine

Engage (lift) the anterior and mid deltoids.

Form : Stand with legs hip width apart, knees soft, or sit on a bench straight-backed. The best option is to sit on a seat that has an upright or an inclined back support. For dumbbells, hold them at ear level or a tad lower on both sides with your elbows pointing out. For barbell, grip the bar as shown in the figure below with palms wider than shoulder width.

dumbbell shoulder press standing, my thought lane

Shoulder/Military Press ( Standing ) , Courtesy : Picterest

shoulder press seated, My Thought Lane

Shoulder/Military Press ( Seated ), Courtesy : leanitup.com

shoulder/military press seated with barbell, my thought lane

Shoulder/Military Press with Barbell , Courtesy : Netfit

Shoulder Press Machine Seated. my thought lane

Shoulder Press Machine Seated Courtesy : bodybuilding-wizard.com

Technique : In all the versions, with palms facing forward, lift the weights slowly without locking your elbows and return to the starting position.

Lateral raise

Engage (lift) middle deltoids.

Form : Stand with legs hip width apart, knees soft, or sit on a bench straight-backed. Weights in your hands by your sides, palms facing each other. The pits of your elbows aligned at 45 degrees to your body.

Lateral Raise standing, my thought lane

Lateral Raise standing, Courtesy : popsugar.com

 

Lateral raise seated , my thought lane

Lateral raise seated Courtesy : bodybuilding-wizard.com

Technique : Lift weights sideways, palms facing the ground as you lift. Do not lock the elbows but keep them soft. Lift only as high as shoulder level and return to starting position.

Front Raise

Engage (lift) anterior deltoids.

Form : Stand with legs hip width apart, knees soft, or sit on a bench straight-backed. Arms in front of the thighs with dumbbells/barbell. Pits of the elbows facing each other.

Front Raise Standing, my thought lane

Front Raise Standing

Lateral and Front Raise Seated, My Thought Lane

Front Raise Seated , Courtesy Fitness Rx

Technique: Lift the weights in front of you, do not lock elbows and do not lift above shoulder level. Return to starting position.

Arnold Press

Engage (lift) anterior deltoids as you lift weights overhead. Engage middle deltoids when you twist your wrists to face outward.

Form : Stand with legs hip width apart, knees soft, or sit on a bench straight-backed. Hold dumbbells in front of you, elbows bent and palms facing your body and close to the body.

Arnold Press Standing, My Thought Lane

Arnold Press Standing, Courtesy : community.tribesports.com

Arnold Press seated, My Thought Lane

Arnold Press seated, Courtesy bodybuilding.com

Technique : Lift the weights overhead without locking the elbows. You are engaging the anterior deltoids now.

Twist your arms/wrists to face the palms outward at the peak of the lift. You are now engaging the mid deltoids. Hold for a few seconds, twist your arms/wrists to let the palms face your body and return to starting position.

Upright Row

Engage (lift) middle deltoids and upper trapezius .

Please read this carefully. Upright Row best done with a barbell. Caution – Avoid using close grip as that places more load on rotator cuff, which can be injurious. Using wide grip would be the best way.

Know your Trapezius Muscles

division of trapezius muscles, My Thought Lane

Division of Trapezius muscles

Form : Stand with legs hip width apart, knees soft. Palms facing the body as you grip the dumbbells/barbell.

Upright Row Dumbells , My Thought Lane

Upright Row Dumbbells, Courtesy : picterest.info

Upright Row Barbell , My Thought Lane

Upright Row Barbell Courtesy : leanitup.com

Technique : Slowly slide the barbell along the body i.e. close to the body, with elbows leading the movement, as they move upwards. And as the barbell is being raised, the focus shifts to middle deltoids. Return to starting position.

Shrugs :

Engage (lift) trapezius.

Form : Stand with legs hip width apart, knees soft. Dumbbells in both hands by your sides, palms facing each other. If you are using the barbell, follow the form as shown in the image below.

Dumbbell Shrug, My Thought Lane

Dumbbell Shrug Courtesy bodybuilding-wizard.com

Barbell Shrug , My Thought Lane

Barbell Shrug Courtesy myprotein.com

 

Technique : With dumbbells in both the hands, raise the shoulders aided by trapezius muscles towards the ears and ease them back gradually. Keep the raising and lowering controlled and gradual. Do not round the chest. The same applies to the barbell variation except that the palms face the body while gripping the barbell.

The Upright Row and Shrugs help in rectifying rounded shoulders/hunchback posture to a large extent if done properly.

There are many variations in the above exercises that advanced fitness can achieve. As you go along and get fitter, you will discover more ways of bringing variations in your workouts. But till then, it is best to follow these simple ones.

More muscle groups in my next few posts. If you like tips on any specific exercise/muscle, do post it in your comments and I will feature it.

Wishing Wellness and Fitness. Think Fit

Are You Looking For Weight Training Basics To Get a Sculpted Body?

Form + Weight Training = Body Sculpting

Being a fitness enthusiast for God knows how many years, I get worked up when people do not employ proper form in their exercises. This article is an attempt to highlight technique. Each muscle needs to be focused on and targeted to sculpt it. I have divided this article in two parts. This one will focus on the nuances of FORM, starting with the right standing posture to weight training. Also included are :

  • Human Anatomy
  • Types of Muscle Contractions
  • Joint Movements
  • Muscle Groups
  • Basic Rules in Weight Training

The next one will detail the proper engagement of the right muscles for each type of weight training exercise. If they are combined, I doubt anyone will have the patience to absorb so much information. This is particularly useful for beginners, who may not be well-educated on the dos and don’ts of weight training. I have spoken to fitness professionals in detail to get the facts right.

Reading, absorbing and implementing what we all read on fitness are three different things. I firmly believe that in order to stay fit and in shape, we have to understand fitness and not merely follow a trainers’s instructions. Towards that, I would encourage readers that need this information, to make out a chart for themselves. Haven’t we heard that writing makes it perfect? So here, when you make your own chart, the chances of the information getting registered and recollected at a later time for implementation are much higher.

There is more to weight loss and body sculpting than merely lifting weights. There is FORM, which means employing the right technique and posture during weight training. If you have been relentlessly lifting weights for your upper body and yet there is a gap between the physique you want and your mirror image, then you better review the way you are doing weight training.

good Standing posture, mythoughtlane

Image courtesy : Pinterest

Before we go on to exercise specific muscle…….

Good posture is the body’s alignment with respect to gravity that we can never do away with. So posture is a given at every moment of our life, whether we are sitting, standing, moving or lying down. Our joints, ligaments and muscles are forever in conversation with gravity. Best not to interrupt them if you want to look good and feel good.

Try this posture test: When viewed from the side, an imaginary vertical line should pass through your earlobe, the tip of your shoulder, midway through your trunk, over the bony part of your thigh, and then through both your knee and ankle. If there is any deviation from this alignment, like if your ears are in front of your shoulders or your shoulders roll toward your chest, you are set for potential injury.

Did you know just sitting and standing in correct posture can burn a few calories? When you maintain proper posture, your muscles are being worked to maintain the alignment of the body, thereby adding to your calorie burn. Resistance exercises or weight training when carried out in proper posture are more effective in toning the body and avoiding injuries. Most injuries in the gym are caused by improper posture and bad form.

Ramona Braganza, the celebrity trainer has this to say – “Lift (weights) slower with control, connecting your mind to the move”. In fact, proper form and technique matters, in whatever you lift, at the gym, home or on your shopping sprees. Till you are sure of the form, do not increase the weight or the number of repetitions during your workouts. Breathe correctly, don’t hold your breath lifting weights. Exhale as you lift weights and inhale as you lower them.

Technique

A few things we should all know:

Learn Some Anatomy :

When you know the basic structure of bones and muscles in your body, you are able to connect each exercise move with the targeted muscles. You can then engage those muscles appropriately, thereby reaping better results.

Full body muscles human anatomy mythoughtlane

Image courtesy : Internet

Types of Muscle Contractions:

Isometric contraction

Image courtesy : Internet

Isometric contractions: when the muscle does not lengthen.

An example of this is, pushing against a wall.

Isotonic Contractions : when the muscle length changes. The shortening phase is called Concentric contraction while the lengthening is termed Eccentric contraction.

Concentric & Eccentric Contractions

Image courtesy : Internet

Joint Movements :  Muscle contractions and joint movements go in tandem. There are four important joint movements – flexion, extension, abduction and adduction (not addiction!!!!)

Flexion – when the angle at the joint is decreased, as in when you raise a dumbbell upwards.

Extension – when the angle at the joint increases, as you lower the dumbbell.

Flexion & Extension

Image : teachmeanatomy

Abduction – when you move a body part away from the middle of the body towards a side or above. Eg; when you raise leg outwards.

Adduction – when you bring the raised leg back again.

adduction-and-abduction

Image : teachmeanatomy

A peek into the muscle groups :

  1. Deltoids (shoulder) – anterior / mid / posterior
  2. Trapezius
  3. Pectorals (chest)
  4. Latissimus (back)
  5. Biceps
  6. Triceps

Rule #1: No muscle ever works in isolation. While one muscle is targeted for workout, corresponding surround muscles also get the benefit. For instance, shoulder muscles are put to work in every upper body exercise.

Rule #2: At any given point while weight training, the neck has to be neutral, not protruding, not pulled backwards. Chin to be tucked in.

Rule #3: The ideal ratio of lifting to lowering is 2:1:2:1 for beginners. Intermediate and advanced can use the 2:0:2:0.

Rule #4: Beginners should start with lighter weights till they get the form right. It is very likely for form to be compromised when beginners try to lift heavy weights.

Rule #5: Breathing is as important as proper form. Exhale when you exert (lift weights ) and inhale when you lower weights.

Rule #6: The rep math to keep in mind is to start with 10-12 repetitions per set.

My next post will contain instructions on engaging the right muscles for the targeted exercise of the upper body. Till then (which could be tomorrow), happy gymming. Season to eat and make merry of course, but if you have shopped for new clothes for Christmas and New Year’s Eve and want them to fit you well, you know what to do !!!!

Ciao!

Treat High Heel Hangovers With These Tips And Stretches

Which hangover would you treat first, alcohol-induced one or the high-heel hangover? Both are equally painful!!!! We will let alcohol be for the moment though.

Adding style to the feet

Adding style to the feet

Been there, done that! That glorious time we all had the previous night, strutting around in those gorgeous high-heeled shoes was unbeatable!!! But, the ‘morning after’….. felt like our legs had been boxed and beaten! And just like ‘no-more-alcohol-for-me’ , ‘no-more-high-heels’  thoughts crept into our fogged minds, only to be washed out of memory by the end of the day.

But there is good news. Just like you don’t have to give up alcohol completely (sic), you don’t have to abandon your towering high heels either. Australian podiatrist Philip Vasyli says that rationing high-heel wearing moments can help preserve the health of your feet. In his words, “The human body was not intended to walk in high heels, so the most logical thing is to either not wear them or, better, to save them for special occasions or the weekend”.

One hour, six minutes and 48 seconds to be exact, is how long it takes for feet in high-heeled shoes to start aching, according to a recent survey by a College of Podiatry. Some very delicate darlings start wincing after just 10 minutes of wearing high heels. Some others who are oblivious to the pain while they dance and hop,  spend the whole of next morning nursing their aching feet. But we still don’t give up, do we ? Didn’t someone famous say, “if there is a problem, there has to be a solution too” ?

The answer to this problem (is it really a problem for women?) lies in being careful about the shoes you wear, how you walk (yes, yes, FORM again!!!), strengthening your leg muscles to handle high-heel wearing more efficiently and lastly treating those poor sore muscles.

You can get away with wearing tight inner wear(not really!!), tight jeans and tight blouses, but you can’t cheat your feet into tight or ill-fitting footwear. Yes, yes, those red pumps are to die for!! And the price is even better!!! But they are just a centimeter small and you still want to buy them! That one centimeter will convert itself into several inches smaller after a few minutes of wearing the footwear. Forget them, you will find better ones soon.

These are the number of muscles that we put to work when we wear high heels. Shouldn’t we keep them in order ? They have to last us a lifetime.

Anatomy of the lower leg

Anatomy of the lower leg

How your shoes fit you depends on what time of the day you buy them.

Peoples’ feet are normally smaller in the wee hours of the day and progressively get larger by the end of the day. Fluid flowing downwards into the feet through out the day will obviously swell the feet a little and hence, that is the best time to buy new footwear, if you want to avoid shoes that pinch and bruise.

How you walk with your heels is important:

Walking form is always the same, at home, at work, at parties or fitness walks. Heel first, roll then to the ball of the feet and finish with the toes. Of course, with high heels, the roll of the feet cannot be so precise, but it helps to start the tap with the heel first rather than placing the feet flat on the ground.

Check out this video from Wendy’s Lookbook

Why do we wear high heels at all?

We got to be kidding if we said “just to look taller!” We have heard time and again that long legs are sexy and why not ? They add a certain style and attitude to our personality. While we appear to have never-ending legs with wearing heels, the story happening in the inside of our legs is that the shin muscles are forced to lengthen while the calf muscles get shortened. The Achilles tendon (attaching calf to the ankle), with repeated wearing of high heels, gets shortened and inflamed. Beginning of problems!

But this blog is not about abandoning high heels ; it is about managing high heels and its accompanying woes. So here are a few things you could do to alleviate the pains.

Strengthen / condition your leg muscles before wearing high heels:

  • Stretch your calf muscles before and after wearing high heels.
  • Stand with your feet together, hands stretched out to either sides. Bend forward from your waist and as you do so, lift your leg back straight, keeping it parallel to the floor (it’s called doing a T). Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
  • Stand with feet together. Extend one leg behind you as far as you can get it, both feet firmly on the ground. Straighten the back leg, hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Wall-Calf-StretchSit in the child’s pose, relaxed, with your feet tucked underneath or on the balls of your feet. Lean forward and stretch out your arms, with head in line with the spine.
  • Do a few lunges to stretch out the hips. They can get cramped when you wear heels.

Repeat these stretches soon after you get back from your event or after a little while. If it’s a night out, the next morning probably.

How many of you have worn high heels through a long evening, danced in them and ripped off your shoes in the car? And walked out from the car to your door bare feet? I have and I know balls of the feet can be killing. Here is what we could do to better manage the pain.

  • Ice Remedy : An exhausted body after a long day needs a hot bath, but feet that have become sore with high heels need a cold pack to bring down the swelling caused by long hours of wearing high heels. Place your feet in a cold tub for 15 minutes and then apply a good foot moisturizer before you crash.

Now let’s be practical. We know high heels are bad for us; that they put a lot of strain on our ankles, calves, knees and lower back. But not much in the world is going to stop us, high-heels lovers from wearing them. So, let’s get our leg muscles used to high heels.

  • Lets alternate between mid to low heels on most of the days and after that big fashionable day of those sky-scraper heels, lets take a heel holiday.
  • Wear flats, take a pedicure and stretch out those muscles.
  • Shall we stick to 1.5 or 2 inch and a quarter high heels, with wedge or cat heels for those practice days? Because that is what most podiatrists and orthopaedicians recommend for better health of our feet. Three inches is allowed occasionally, but any higher than that, we stand to risk. Higher the heel, more stylized the walk, I agree, but at the cost of our gait and the backs of our legs.
  • Thin silicone or foam pads placed inside the shoes for the balls of the feet absorb the impact and can give some relief.

Another set of exercises to calm your screaming leg muscles:

Down Dog Calf Stretch. Image source : POPSUGAR Studios

Down Dog Calf Stretch.Image source : POPSUGAR Studios

  • The downward-facing dog position is ideal for soothing the high heel hangover, since it gets the blood flowing back to normal in the legs. Stand with your feet slightly apart, bend forward till you are able to place your hands firmly on the ground. Raise your bottom towards the ceiling and hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Bend your right knee, shifting weight to the left leg. Hold for 10-15 seconds and then switch sides. Repeat a few times.
  • Stand with your feet slightly apart. Bend forward slowly and touch your toes. Straighten out your knees and keep the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Repeat a few times.
  • Sit down on the floor with legs stretched in front of you. Lift one leg off the ground, flex the toes and stretch them alternatively.
  • Circle with your feet starting from the ankles (not the whole leg) clock-wise and anti clock-wise, 10 times each. This will help your ankle muscles.
  • Let only your heels hang from the edge of a step of a staircase, while you support yourself holding the wall or the balustrade. Hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds, repeat a few times.
  • Now, place your feet firmly on the step of the staircase. Extend one leg in front of you on the higher step to reach your hip height. Extend your arms in front of the body, without rounding your lower back. This soothes the leg and back muscles.

Useful Tips :

Mix it up and show off your shoe collection. One day heels, next day flats, wedges on the following day, boots next and so on. This way, your feet learn to adapt to changes and will be better geared to handle high heel woes.

According to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, we should limit high heels to two and a quarter inches and wear them for no more than two to three hours each day. And this holds good for people all over. The Achilles tendon is under continuous stress if high heels are worn for prolonged periods and can cause a world of leg and back issues over time.

Don’t grow long toe-nails if you are a high heel addict wearing closed shoes.

Soak your feet in warm water with Epsom salts. Warm water opens up skin pores letting the minerals of Epsom salt dilate the body blood vessels, offering respite to aching feet.

Higher the heel, pointier the stilettoes, stronger the high heel hangover!

Click here for proper Walking Form.

I would love to get your feedback. I look forward to more tips from you all, it will help.

Walking for Fitness – Proper form can help you lose weight

Have you noticed your face glow after a good cardio workout ? Fitness professionals tell us, that the best facial before a party is not in the beauty salon, but in your high-intensity cardio workouts ! Try it and see your moods soar too! Tweet this : http://wp.me/p5pXA6-8K and spread awareness.

Walking is a primal pattern. Is that why it is the simplest way to shedding some weight? Could be. To lose weight and then keep it at bay, we all need to keep moving.

At a moderate pace for 30-60 minutes or with a brisk walk, our bodies can burn stored fat, build muscle and speed up metabolism. Can cut the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes and stroke. Add to it the benefit of feel-good-after-a-fitness-walk factor.

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I prefer outdoor walking to walking on the treadmill, in a gym. Fresh air, luxury of space and nature, and the opportunity to be with yourself is rejuvenating. Yes, practice enjoying your own company, it clears your head! On a lighter note, “if you don’t like being by yourself, then you are in bad company”!

Being with yourself

Being with yourself ( image borrowed from internet )

I enjoy walking by myself, if I have to do it as an exercise. Allow me to list the plusses of walking alone down the line. But if you need to get the best out of walking, as a cardio-vascular exercise, here is how:

Priority #1: Choose Appropriate Shoes

Your feet have to last you your lifetime, give them all the care you can. There is no ‘one’ best shoe for all walkers. If your eyebrows have risen even as you are reading this, then its time to get your stride analysed. Visit a sports-medicine doctor or a reputed sports store, they will guide you on buying shoes that suit you best, in terms of proper support, flexibility and cushioning. If you have foot-pronation issues, they will suggest shoes that can compensate for the stride problems.

If you are a fast walker, find out if you need walking shoes or running shoes. Click here to know more.

Walking vs Running shoes for demonstration purposes only ( borrowed from internet )

Walking vs Running shoes for demonstration purposes only ( borrowed from internet )

Priority #2: Choose a good venue/walking track for your fitness walk

When I say “good venue”, I mean a nice long stretch of mud road or macadamized road. Walking in the sand is only for the strong-legged and those in advanced stages of fitness. If your walking track is a short one, like those in small parks, you will, most likely, get bored or run out of patience doing several-several rounds.

Fitness walkers can lose weight, improve their aerobic conditioning by building their speed, and following a variety-program of interval and endurance workouts. You can bid good-bye to fat and other health risks, with moderate to vigorous intensity walks.To achieve the above, you need a walking track that can afford you space and distance.

Boat Club road in Chennai is my comfort zone, but I push MY comfort zone by altering and modifying the intensity of my walks every other day. A 6.0 km distance covered in 60 minutes, modified periodically.

Priority #3 : Warm – up and Stretching

Make sure your clothing is comfortable and shoe laces tied firmly. Wait , getting off your motor-bike, or out of your car and plunging straight into brisk fitness walking is a no-no. You would want to wake your muscles up and let them know they are going to be active for a while.

Warm up for 5-7 minutes with an easy-paced walk. Why warm up ? Because if you  start walking straight away at a high-speed, your cells do not get the signal that it is going to be a long-term activity. Instead of pulling fat out of storage, they burn up sugars only, in order to meet the energy needs.

Stretching is to improve your flexibility, avoid injuries and make your walking comfortable. Warm-up and flexibility in that order. If you stretch cold muscles, you are likely to hurt them. Start with stretches for the top of your body and work your way down. Here are two links to stretching, before your fitness walk. Follow the ones that are suitable, depending on the venue of your walking workout.

http://walking.about.com/video/5-Stretches-for-Walkers.htm

http://walking.about.com/od/stretching/ss/warmupstretches.htm#step1

Now that you are in motion, lets look at Form/Posture and Technique.

Priority #4 : Form and Posture 

Not all of us are gifted with good gaits and not many really concern themselves with a good walking posture. If you are one of those, now is the time to correct it perhaps? Look at the benefits of a good walking posture. Your posture, your foot motion, your stride and your arm-swing motion go a long way, in making your fitness walk efficient and effective. Helping you breathe deeper, relax your shoulder and neck muscles and avoid back pain. You can use the same walking technique, whether you are walking outdoors, or on the treadmill (read my earlier article Why Not To Bounce On A Treadmill). Your gait speaks a lot about you. Correct it and flaunt it! So……

Walking posture ( image borrowed from internet )

Walking posture (image borrowed from internet)

  • Hold yourself erect, without arching your back.
  • Do not lean backward or forward. By doing so, you are only straining your muscles and additionally losing power in your walk.
  • Keep your eyes looking forward, not down, rather 20 feet ahead.
  • Keep your chin parallel to the ground. Be kind to your neck and upper back muscles.
  • Keep turning your head to your left and right, now and then, to avoid stiffness in the neck.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed, do not round them.
  • Tuck your stomach in and hold without straining to breathe. This will help maintain normal back curvature.
  • Arm motion can lend power to your walking, burning 5-10% more calories and can lend balance to your leg-motion.
  • You have two options : a) let them hang loosely and swing them as you start walking (that’s easy and hence no image provided),  b) bend your elbows at 90 degrees and swing them back and forth.
Proper arm motion

Proper arm motion

  • In both cases, keep your fists in a soft closed curl, never clenched. Clenching can raise your blood pressure.
  • With each step, swing your arms back and forth, in a straight line and not diagonally. Correct your arm stance, over a few days, if you have to.
  • Keep your elbows close to your body. No chicken-winging.
  • The forward hand should go only as high as your breast-bone.
  • If you are in the process of correcting your arm-motion, you may find it tiring at first. Rest the hands for a while and resume. The benefits are long-term!

Priority #5: Watch Your Step 

Actually, this should be priority #1. I would say, watch your step (pun intended !) everywhere, at home, at work, at play, in the gym, at parties, at a trek, literally everywhere. Because every time we take a step, we are exerting a certain kind and amount of pressure on our feet, and it better not be wrong !

Roll of the walking step

Roll of the walking step

  • At your fitness walk, your step needs to be a rolling motion.
  • Strike the ground with your heel first.
  • Let your foot roll through the step, from heel to toe.
  • Push off with your toe.
  • Bring the back leg forward and strike the ground , heel first and carry on.

If you want this motion to be smooth, remember priority #1, i.e., good flexible shoes ! If your strides are not in keeping with this technique, a bit of practice will help. Again, benefits are long – term ! Try this technique, your speed will  increase proportionately. I am a light and brisk walker myself already and it has helped me, in effortlessly increasing my speed.

Now, this is why I suggest you walk by yourself,  if your fitness walk is to yield results. No I am not anti-social, neither am I asking you to be. Lets socialise  after the walk ? This one hour or more is dedicated to doing good to my body and I demand 100% from it. Engaging in conversation or laughter, takes away your energy and focus from your body, posture going for a toss ! Instead, plug on your headphones and listen to some music, stay with your thoughts.

An imp tip: Practice being light-footed. Horses, deer and other animals can sprint, because they are light on their feet ! Those that walk with a heavy step tire easily and lose out on speed.

 Priority #6 : Cool It Off 

So you have now come to the last lap of your fitness walk, assuming you have walked enough, to fetch you cardio-vascular benefits. Slow down your pace to an easy one, for the final 5-7 minutes, letting your body cool down and your heart-beat being back to normal. Do not forget to repeat a few stretches, before you hop on to your bike, or into your car.

Now that we have the form and technique in order, a few useful tips :

Over-striding is counter-productive :

Overstride in a walk ( image borrowed from racewalk.com )

Over-stride in a walk ( image borrowed from racewalk.com )

The key to a good walking stride, is to avoid over-striding. Some people take long strides, in order to burn more calories and increase speed. Doesn’t work that way, Over-striding is inefficient, and can harm your back and leg muscles.

Instead, take smaller steps. Your focus should be on the stride behind your body, on the back leg, where your toes push-off the ground. Your forward leg has no power, its your back leg that is propelling you forward. Do you agree ? Ask fast walkers and marathon runners, they will tell you that they train to increase the number of steps, rather than lengthen their stride.

Speed or Distance ? Answer is distance, if you want to burn calories effectively.

Did you know that speed matters less? Its your weight and the distance you cover, that determines the quality of your fitness walk.

The best way to burn more calories : simply walk further. Concentrate on building distance rather than speed in your fitness walk in the beginning. Build more time and distance into your walk gradually, till you can walk 30-60 minutes at a time. Aim to walk thus 5 or 6 times a week. If you can achieve the speed of walking a mile in 13 minutes or less, you will burn more calories per mile.

Most efficient walking is achieved at moderate speeds. It’s true that at higher walking speeds, you burn more calories. As you advance in your fitness levels you could increase your speed, but without compromising on your form. When you walk at higher speeds, you put more muscle groups into work due to your arm motion and race-walking stride.

Brisk walking :

Moderate speed is translated to as brisk walking. It’s also called a ‘fat-burning’ or ‘determined’ pace.

At this rate, your breathing could be a tad harder, but yet you should be able to carry on a conversation in full sentences. This is just a guideline, no indicator that you should walk and talk. No! Or, it should feel like you are 10 minutes late, for an important appointment. At this speed for 30 minutes, you will start dipping into your stored fat.

The Rule of Thumb for brisk walking : The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes brisk walking, as covering about five kms per hour, or 12 minutes per kms. However, fitter people are likely to cover 6.5 kms per hour.

You can use this walking pace calculator to find your walking pace, by entering your distance walked (miles or kms) and time, to get results in minutes per mile, or minutes per kilometre . Or, you could use the various apps and walking speedometers, if you want to track your pace and progress.

Please do consult your doctor if you have any health issues, before embarking on brisk walking. And consider your age, to determine how strenuous your walking workout can be.

If your walking workout leaves you feeling sore, or worn out the next day, take a day off. Rest the body and resume.

Add Speed Intervals :

There are innumerable ways of adding intensity to your fitness walk. These variations, will not only make your walk more effective, but will also keep you alert, and add variety, making your walk more interesting. Interval training, can be incorporated into your walks, as well as in muscle-training exercises in the gym.

Interval training is nothing but interspersing ( or shall we call it spicing ? ) your regular workouts, with high intensity levels periodically. Which means, you do a low/medium intensity workout followed by a sudden high-intensity one, thereby surprising your body. That in turn makes your body work harder to cope with the new pressure. Resulting in burning more calories. Isn’t that what we are looking for ?

So, after you settle down in your pace, after the warm-up and stretches, choose a stretch of your walking track, where you will walk briskly for a few minutes  and then suddenly, slow down the pace to normal. Next, break into a light jog for another few minutes, or steps and then walk briskly. Slow down, then do race-walking for another few minutes and slow down again. Choose what you want to do, when. Be your own trainer. Set your own limits. That way, you will slowly build up endurance without being under pressure to perform. If you are able to run, add short running intervals. It will help you burn more calories and do more in that specified time.

For best results, strengthen your core and abdominal muscles. They are crucial for a good fitness walk, in building speed and maintaining walking form.

Walking by itself does not strengthen your core, you need to do a separate set of activity for it.

Walking works the hamstring, glute and shin muscles. That is why you need to stretch after a walk.

Walking  can help build strength in weak knees. Click here to know more. But if you already have issues with your knees, take guidance from a sports-medicine doctor.

Try walking on a variety of surfaces  as you grow stronger. It helps in improving your body’s sense of balance.

A Few Dont’s;

1) Absolute beginners, do not rush into trying out too many things. Get your form right and everything else will follow easily. Build speed gradually, work more on increasing time and distance.

2) Carry weights :

Tying ankle weights, or wrist weights  is not a great idea. They exert unnecessary pressure on the joints. However, if you absolutely want to carry weights, experts advise us to limit them to not more than 10 pounds. Carry them in a weight vest, backpack, or at the hips, so that body remains balanced and posture is not thrown off. By the way this is called ‘rucking’ , a combination of walking with a rucksack. Works very well only if proper form is maintained, else you are likely to injure yourself. So please try this under supervision.

Rucking ( image borrowed from internet )

Rucking ( image borrowed from internet )

 Beginners will build leg muscles with gradual increase in time and distance.

Some people carry light/medium dumbbells, or similar and incorporate light weight-lifting arm movements. Please, please don’t! Weight training is meant to be a stationary activity, where all your focus needs to be, on how you lift weights. Wrong form can injure you.

Finally did you know you can burn calories while you sleep ? The only way to achieve this is to build muscle. You can burn calories while you rest – it’s called the basal metabolic rate. When you add muscle to your body, your basal metabolic rate goes up. So it is best to add muscle-training, or weight training  to your fitness workouts. That way, your entire body gets a workout. Your fitness walk then contributes and complements, making it a holistic fitness activity.

Did you find these tips useful? Leave a comment or add info if you think I have missed out on something. It will help all of us, walkers !

Why not to Bounce on Treadmill , Elliptical or Bicycle

Proper Posture + Workouts = Weight Loss 

Intro pic

Stand up straight and lose pounds ! Sit up straight and lose pounds ! Its true ! You got to believe in this happy marriage of good posture / form and weight loss. Health and fitness professionals will tell you that keeping good posture will not only strengthen your core , but will also add a small calorie burn associated with the effort to maintain the posture or position.

In fitness lingo , posture is most often referred to as FORM and form is what we will stick to. Lets look at form and cardio.

Lets leave aside the definitions for now.

Lets categorize a lil bit here. Those that love cardio exercise per se , those that know the importance of it and push themselves to do it and those that hate cardio , but yet do it because either a friend or a trainer has impressed upon them that cardio is the key to weight loss. What they havent learnt is that there is a form ( posture ) to be followed for cardio exercises just like for weight training , swimming or any other physical activity.

So these are the ones that bounce , bob up and down and swing , be it indoor or outdoor ; trust me , they look like monkeys on a machine ! I feel bad to see them doing it wrong , it bothers me no end . Either the trainer has not educated them on proper form or has given up after correcting them a few times. And they have not concerned themselves to ask , question and learn either. It’s just a blind activity for them.

You think I am obsessed with appearances only ? Nah. Not keeping proper form hurts. Injures the joints over a period of time , in some unfortunate cases , immediately.

So why not to bounce on an elliptical , treadmill or the stationary bike ?

Bouncing is letting gravity do the work for one. Is that why you are not seeing the desired results ? Fitness experts scream that heart rate is not the only indicator of how much work you are doing , but few listen. Power measurement is much better.

Work out in front of a mirror and if that’s not possible , have someone watch you for proper form and correct yourself.

Form dos for all the Three :

  • Stay tall , be it on the treadmill , elliptical or the cycling machines.
  • Stay tall , but no straight knees at any point , be it walking , running or cycling.
  • Keep your chest out , never rounded
  • Pull your shoulders back to hold yourself erect , never round them.
  • Keep your head in line with the spine. Most of the time.
  • Hold your ab muscles firm and tight at all times
  • A television in front of you kills form like nothing else , don’t make watching it the main activity.

If you bounce :

Treadmill :

Danger zone : Knees , hips and ankles.

You probably are raising your feet and knees too high and thereby creating a bobbing movement. Your knees , hips and ankles will hate you for being forced to absorb the impact when you bounce-walk or bounce-run. If you want your legs to keep you in good stead , you will need all the three joints – hips , knees and ankles , so don’t injure them. Next , nerve tissues can get compressed and fail to communicate with the brain. We don’t want pain , we don’t want mobility issues. Third , swinging your hips is for dancing when you move your entire body in a graceful stance and not while exercising on machines. Swinging while exercising can in fact rob you of the intended benefits of the particular workout , for it takes away the focus of the exertion that’s intended for a specific body part or muscle.

Guide to form on treadmill

Guide to form on treadmill

Correction :

Mind your stride : Practice maintaining a wide stride , placing each foot forward in front of the hip and not under it. Though the treadmill is stationary , we need to focus on creating a forward movement , as if progressing from the current spot.

Strike with the ball : The secret of avoiding injuries is to land on the balls of the feet and not the heels. Striking with the heels can place a lot of stress on the ankles as you will land with a mild or a strong thud depending on your pace. So land lightly , brushing the moving belt gently coupled with knees slightly bent. All this will create a smooth movement preventing a spring back action , thereby avoiding the bouncing.

Elliptical :

Danger zone : Lower back , hips , knees and ankles.

You probably are on your toes more , you are not distributing your weight on your entire feet. If feet are placed firmly with a just a slight lift at the heels , bouncing can be avoided.

You probably have set the resistance too low and the ease of the movement will allow room for bouncing. Swinging hips again a no-no. Maintaining a proper upper body posture plays an important role in avoiding injuries to the lower back.

Correction:

Foot postioning on an elliptical is of utmost importance. Place feet firmly close to the inside rim of the pedals. Avoid placing them in the center or at the extreme right.

Make sure the legs are bent slightly in order to spare your knees of any strain.

Next , hold on to the bars lightly , just enough to facilitate push and pull movement – clutching on to them will hinder your pace. Make sure hands are not above shoulder level. Avoid leaning backwards at all costs. Some trainers and cardio programs will tell you to lean back while pedaling , but do not follow that. Use only the arms and shoulders for the push and pull movements , take care not to twist your upper and mid portions of your body. Finally , set a good enough resistance to make the time you spend on the elliptical worth the effort you put in.

Targeted muscles on an elliptical

Targeted muscles on an elliptical

Just check out the number of muscles that benefit when you work out on an elliptical. So doing it right is like a whole body workout.

Cycling :

It’s easy to pedal fast indoors , the mechanics of the indoor bike is such. Fixed gear systems with weighted flywheels simplify it so much that high cadences can be reached most easily compromising form in the process and as a result cyclists bounce all over the place. Unless you become a stickler for form , reaching your fitness goals will remain a dream. Indoor cycling provides some fantastic benefits , its simple and safe , provided proper form is maintained.

Danger zone : Lower back , knees.

Sufficient resistance is the key to getting the best out of indoor cycling. You could pedal away as furiously as you fancy and bounce all over the saddle , if you don’t set the right resistance. Your heart rate may be high , but the fact is , you are being ridden by the bike instead of you riding the bike ! Just letting the legs spin as fast as you can is a waste of time and can put tremendous strain on your calf and quadricep muscles. On a spinning cycle indoors or regular bicycling outdoors , be assured of a back pain if you slouch and forget to tuck your tummy in.

Correction:

The answer to success on an indoor cycle lies in that resistance knob! And the technique !

Be in control. Seat your self with tummy tucked in and shoulders and upper back rounded just enough to reach the handl-bars comfortably , not more.

Warm up with easy resistance , work it to moderate and then on , enough to challenge you.

Concern yourself with the right form and the right resistance depending on your fitness level , let speed not be the guiding force. An upper limit could be 100 rpm , but that’s only for cyclists with a smooth pedal stroke or for those that have corrected their form already.

For best results , shift your focus from pushing downward ( that’s a natural given , we have all done that on our tricycles ) to pulling upwards pedal stroke.

If at any point you revert to bouncing , raise the resistance and reach a cadence that just about surpasses your comfort zone

Here’s to riding better !

Cycling right

Cycling right

A Tip : Cycling – Cardio For Your Butt

Cycling works wonders for hips , thighs and glutes ( indoor or outdoor ) , besides working the heart.

Here we go : Lead with your heels when you push down on the pedals i.e keep your feet parallel to the ground and not slanted. This way you engage the glutes.

Make an effort to pull up the pedal on the upward swing if your feet are strapped.

Working on the above tips ensures you give work to all muscles of the legs.

Add Isolations : Increase resistance , lift yourself off the seat and slowly pedal using only the legs. Remember no bouncing , no swaying and swinging and upper body relaxed.

I try this FORM once a weak at least and I find that I burn more calories get a good-legs-have-worked-out feeling

FORM is IMPORTANT ! And finally I am tempted to insert this little ad-video to stress on FORM FOR ALL !