Tools for fitness
We’ve all wished we had our own ‘on-call’ masseuse at some point – especially after a hard work out session when our muscles are tight and sore. With fantastic self-massage tools available like the spikey ball and foam roller, you can give yourself a DIY massage.
The Spikey Ball originated in Denmark, where it was used to stimulate and arouse psychiatric patients. It has been used by physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths all over the world, for relieving pain, improving postural problems and home exercises.
A foam roller is a foam cylinder of various sizes, lengths and densities, often denoted by the colour of the roller. Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release technique often used by athletes and physical therapists. In essence, you roll the foam roller under each muscle group until a tender area or ‘trigger point‘ is found and maintain pressure for 30-60 seconds.
“The foam roller and massage ball are great self-massage tools that can be used to release tight muscles and connective tissue to promote optimal body function,” said Kristin Lewis, Director of Life Personal Training.
“These tools work in much the same way as a remedial sports massage - the roller is good for longer 'strokes' over larger muscles such as the outer thigh muscles and the ball is good for specific trigger points or more targeted areas.
Kristin reminds us all that maintaining the optimal length of our muscles and connective tissue helps to optimise our posture.
“The foam roller in particular can also be used for certain core stability exercises, by creating a less stable base of support.
“There is also evidence that it is helpful to use a foam roller prior to exercise rather than at the end of the session,” he said.
As with any new activity, Kristin recommends seeking the assistance of a personal trainer or physiotherapist before using either tool.
“It’s important to understand the right way to use these tools and your trainer or physio can work with you to develop a series of exercises that are right for you.”
The perfect time to workout
Personal trainers are often asked if there is an optimum time to work out, morning, afternoon or in the cool of the evening. In hot weather, the decision seems even trickier.
Kristin Lewis, Director of Life Personal Trainers, says that the best time to exercise is the time when you are most likely to make it happen!
“While many athletic records have been set in the afternoon or evening, if you are just looking to get moving and maintain fitness, you really need to choose a time that works for you,” he said.
“Consistency is the largest driver of success with exercise for busy people. Many people plan to exercise but the key measure is the number of sessions each week that they actually do, week in, week out.”
Kristin suggests that some changes in habit might be necessary to find the right time for you.
“If the end of your day is unpredictable, with meetings often going overtime, then you need to learn to be a morning person! The only thing that can go wrong in the morning is between you and your alarm clock.
“For others, exercising at the end of the day is a great way to de-stress and a nice 'spacer' between work and going home,” he said.
“The bottom line is there is no right or wrong. Think about when you are realistically going to fit exercise into your week, put it in your calendar as a recurring appointment and make it happen!”
While we are on the topic of heat, we also asked Kristin about the best temperature for exercise. The “Smart Play' policy is set at 37 degrees or over, which means that at this temperature, organised amateur sporting events are cancelled.
“It is ok to exercise above 37 degrees but consider modifying your workout to reduce intensity and consider exercising indoors. These are good days to get exercise done early, before the day warms up.
“From a hydration perspective, you certainly need to consume more water when it is hot - but it is also possible to drink too much,” said Kristin.
Kristin says that consumption of too much water prior to exercise can divert blood to the stomach. Excess water consumption can also affect blood sodium levels – in other words, more is not better.
For specific details on how much water to consume, consult a sports dietitian.
Choosing your own pace can bring great results
We all know that getting into an exercise pattern that becomes a healthy habit requires perseverance and determination. It also helps if the choice of exercise is something we really enjoy.
But what is better - choosing your own exercise intensity or following a regimented program?
Choice Health Reader recently profiled a study by the University of South Australia, looking at whether people get improvements in their fitness and health if they are able to select their exercise intensity and focus on their own internal cues and motivations, rather than an exercise program that dictates repetitions and intensity.
Over eight weeks, a group of previously sedentary volunteers exercised three times a week, either following a prescribed program or undertaking exercise at a self-selected intensity. The self-selected exercise intensity was determined by a rating of perceived exertion, between six (relaxed) and 20 (maximum exertion).
The participants who were allowed to choose their exercise intensity tended to increase their activity during the training sessions, shifting from a low base towards a perceived exertion level of 13. After eight weeks of pleasant and self-selected exercise training, there were comparable improvements in both heart health and fitness in both groups of exercisers.
The evidence is clear. A complicated exercise program isn’t essential to improve your health and fitness – and there are great benefits in selecting exercise that we enjoy.
This article is drawn from a report by Professor David Cameron-Smith, published in Choice Health Reader, September 2012. You can subscribe to Choice Health Reader here
Source: Health Choice Reader: A pleasant way to improve fitness, Professor David Cameron-Smith. Reference: Parfitt G et al. Perceptually regulated training at RPE13 is pleasant and improves physical health. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise Epub online February 9, 2012. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31834d266e
Walking or running: which is better for you?
If you currently class yourself as a runner or a walker, you’re likely to be pretty happy in your camp. But if you’re thinking about picking up the pace or even slowing it down or you’re new to the habitual exercise scene, read on to discover the good, bad and the downright ugly from Dr Nathan Harten, Exercise Physiologist at iNform Health & Fitness.
The good - As a lower impact form of exercise, most people are capable of walking. Plus, a daily walk delivers many cardiovascular health benefits
The bad - If your exercise goal is weight loss, you’ll need to do a lot of walking. Walking is a slow way to burn calories and won’t challenge your cardiovascular fitness levels as much as running will.
The ugly - Each year, thousands of Australians are hobbled due to a walking-induced pain or an old exercise injury that has been aggravated by walking.
The good - As a higher intensity form of exercise, running has been proven to offer greater fitness, weight loss and overall health benefits. This, of course, also means you don’t need to exercise for as long to stay fit.
The bad - Running puts more pressure on your body, and you’ll need to have a certain level of strength and function to run well. To avoid the consequences of the repetitive impact, regular runners need to develop management techniques like stretching, massage, functional strength exercises and other cross training activities.
The ugly - Chaffing. Need we say more?
Which is more suited to you?
Most of us are guilty of gravitating towards activities we do well and avoiding those we could improve upon. Dr Harten says, “don’t be afraid of stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying something new.”
Just starting out?
If you’re new to the world of regular exercise, walking is definitely the best way to start. Most people don’t realise they need to get their body fit to run—not the other way around. Dr Harten recommends beginning by determining the level of exercise you can comfortably do, “even if this is just a 20-minute walk around the shops. Then gradually build up to your workout goal by walking at least 5% further or faster each week.”
Pre-existing injuries or concerns?
If you have specific issues with any part of your body, Dr Harten says obtaining expert advice before hitting the walking or running track is important: “a suitably qualified professional like an exercise physiologist can help to identify your body’s weak or excessively tight areas and recommend the best form of exercise to suit your capabilities.”
Wanting to pick up the pace?
Dr Harten’s top tip is to listen to your body. Quite often less is more, so don’t push yourself through unusual pain or discomfort. However, he says it’s important to challenge yourself to the point where you feel some level of breathlessness or muscular fatigue—without this, your body can’t grow fitter and stronger.