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Exercising Those Demons

The gym is the last place an addict wants to go, clean or not. Here's a pep-talk and some tips from a personal trainer on how to sweat yourself to happiness. One step at a time.

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By Brian Donahoe

03/19/14

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I'm not going to call it working out. You work hard enough. I've seen it every day in the gym—clients come in dreading "working out." Therein lies the problem, the labeling of exercise with the association of work. It shouldn't be work, one should enjoy the benefits that come from exercising. Resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, yoga, whatever it may be, should be viewed as an escape. I am not taking away from the fact that exercising to get back in shape—or even get back on track—is tough.

If starting an exercise routine was easy and common, you wouldn’t need to read this article. But when the idea of exercise is changed from dreaded work to a more positive light then new doors can open. The anxiety of taking that first step becomes easier when there are well-established goals. What do you want? How often are you going to commit to exercising per week? Answer those questions, check that off the list, then move forward to the how and why.  

If you decided to quit whatever was dragging you down, you know that was harder than anything that could happen to you in a gym.

Mental clarity is a goal that I strive to achieve just as much as weight loss or muscle gain. When one feels the mental clarity due to hormonal responses during exercise a whole new world opens up. If waking up each day is a struggle and you have nothing to look forward to, then it is apparent that the hormonal euphoric response that the body can provide daily is missing. Daily exercise, even in small doses, will provide the body with the hormonal boost to lift your mood. According to David J. Linden, Ph.D, of Psychology Today: “Sustained physical exercise, whether it be running or swimming or cycling or other aerobic activity, has well-known health benefits, including improvements in the function of the cardiovascular, pulmonary, and endocrine systems” [hormones]. Once you’ve proven that feeling good can be directly associated with the act of exercising, every anxiety about beginning a training regimen can be tackled.  

The next step is, ‘Okay yeah I get the benefit speech but what am I supposed to do once I get myself into exercise-mode?’

Choosing exercises that are in line with your established goals can be a difficult task without the guidance of a personal trainer. But if you don’t have a few hundred bucks lying around to hire a trainer like me you’re not out of luck. Websites like www.coreperformance.com are great for someone looking for exercise guidance. I use it in programming with my clients to track their progress and even show them take home video instructions for exercises on their own time. The information there can go into further explanation on how to organize your training day by day to fit into a long term program. When you can see where the progress is going, it’s not like navigating through a dark maze, and programming sessions yourself can be quite fun. Tracking your progress is a great way to keep motivation going on those days—and we all have them—when we ask ourselves what’s the point? Now it’s not the only way to boost motivation.  

A trick that I use—and many of my clients have adopted—is to write your goals down for 30 to 90 days, and to carry that piece of paper in your pocket. Knowing you have them with you, subconsciously, will keep you focused on the task at hand. That focus will keep you in the gym, in your basement, in the park or wherever you choose to train. Make this a big part of your life, not just a six week fling.

I could add how the CDC recommends that just to maintain a healthy lifestyle, one must engage in strength training—six to eight exercises twice a week and 150 total minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week. But what does that even mean? It means that even the bare minimum to maintain your health fitness requires a significant commitment. There are 168 hours in a week total, fitness professionals such as myself are asking for at least four to five of them. Those hours will change your life if you commit 100% to them.

I know life is tough right now, but if you decided to quit whatever was dragging you down, you know that was harder than anything that could happen to you in a gym. That is harder than anything.

Now fill that void with something that can boost and lift you physically, mentally and yes, spiritually. Add it to your list of things to do—groceries, gas, bills and now exercise. It is contagious—get that ball rolling and you will feel the unstoppable force to make your body the best it can be. Treat it like a holy temple, it’s the only one you’ve got, blah blah blah.

The bottom line is fitness equals happiness. Plain and simple. The level of fitness for everyone is different, but the one constant is that it is essential to being a strong and healthy you. A wiser man (Buddha) once said, “To keep the body in good health is a duty... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

Enough preaching, let’s get down to brass tacks. A simple starter workout to get you going! First part, CDC wants strength training twice a week and six to eight exercises. Go with this example, two days strength training Monday and Thursday. Let’s show love to the whole body, and address all planes of motion in those two days.  

Always a WARNING: Do not perform any exercises until you have been cleared by a doctor.

Dynamic Warm up

  1. Hands against a wall swing your legs side to side. Allow the hip joints to open up. Imagine your moving leg to be pendulum on a grandfather clock. 10 swings side to side, turn your body parallel to the wall and swing forward and back 10 times per leg.
  2. “World’s Greatest Stretch” 2x leg
  3. Y’s T’s W’s 
  4.  Glute Bridge—Head and back lying on the floor with the knees bent. Position the feet slightly wider than shoulder width.  Press heels into the ground and thrust the hips toward the sky. As you thrust you want to actively squeeze your glutes, aka your butt.

Cardiovascular Work

Walk up a flight of stairs continuously for 7 minutes, skip every other step. Long strides. Try to keep from leaning over at the waist or even rounding/bending the spine.

Strength Circuit

Perform All the ‘A’ and ‘B’ labeled exercises together in a circuit style

Example: Exercise A1 → Minimal Rest (< :30 sec) A2 → Minimal Rest (< :30 sec) A3

Repeat 3 rounds of that for each circuit.

Strength Circuit 1

A1 - Wall sits – With your lower half of the spine positioned against the wall.  Sit down to an “imaginary chair” or as low as you feel that you can return to standing position.  Hold the seated position for an extended time. Ex: Goal: greater than 30 seconds.

A2 - Abdominal static crunch – Lying on the floor, lift the feet and bend your knees 90 degrees.  Lift up your head and shoulders.  Press your palms into the top of your thigh.  Provide contradicting force both from your thigh and palms into each other.  Hold for more than 20 seconds and/or up to 1 min.  

A3 – Push ups – Can be done on your knees.  Make sure your low back is stable, the same muscles engaged in the static crunch before should help achieve that spinal neutrality.  Avoid enhancing the existing natural curvature of the spinal, go for a more flat low back.  Try this challenging variation, place your hands shoulder width and underneath your armpits.  Perform the push up with your elbows tightly close to your abdomen.  

Strength Circuit 2

B1 - Bent Over Row – If dumbbells are available, great.  If not, use any weighted object with a firm handle to grip. Stand hinged over at the waist holding a dumbbell in one hand.  Slide your shoulder blade back and then drive your elbow toward the ceiling, pulling the weight up toward the side of your rib cage.  Lower the weight back to the starting position.  Complete the set on one side before repeating with the opposite arm.

B2 - Mountain Climbers -  Go into a high push up position.  Alternate bringing the knees to the chest in a marching fashion.  Stay stable at the hips, do not sway left and right. Stabilize the low back throughout the exercise.  :30 seconds as many as possible.

B3 -  Lateral Raise –  Dumbbell optional or two equally weighted objects with a firm handle.  Hold the weights with straight arms to the side.  Lift the weights to shoulder height all while keeping the arms in line with the torso. As you raise the weights, squeeze the shoulder blades together.  10-15 repetitions.

And you're done! Till next time.

Brian Donahoe is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Certified Personal Trainer at Clay Health Club in New York City.

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