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Fine-tune your workout for top benefits

It is easy to become frustrated when you commit to exercising on a regular basis, but do not see any noticeable gains. Some exercise enthusiasts take a short route to fitness by dedicating their workouts to working only specific areas that they feel need improvement, such as their abs and glutes. • "In order to have a strong, well-functioning body," says Jayne Johnson, who has a Ph.D. and is spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise, "we need to incorporate workouts that address the total body through multiple planes of movement, hitting the muscles in a variety of ways." • And then there are those who become sidelined because of pulled muscles as a result of poor exercise technique, and others who simply become disenchanted due to boredom. What better time than a new year to fine-tune your workouts.

Your body's on to you

Performing the same exercise over and over can most definitely lead to boredom, and your smart body senses it doesn't have to work so hard, which means you will be exerting less energy and burning fewer calories. If you always use machines for strength training, try working out with free weights. Mix up the order of your exercises and vary the repetitions. Introduce a new training technique every four to six weeks with options such as body bars, resistance bands and fitness balls.

Breathe

Strength-based exercisers subconsciously will hold their breath while lifting weights, causing an increase in blood pressure. To maximize benefits from strength exercises, exhale slowly on the exertion, which is the most difficult part of the movement, and inhale slowly on the easier movement. The breathing will also slow down the movements, making the muscles work much harder.

Treadmill walking

This has become a great way to meet your cardio needs, however, you need proper walking form to avoid "gym slouch." A very common sight to see in the gym is people leaning forward with rounded shoulders, buttocks protruding; this posture can negatively impact the back. Picture your body as a straight line from ears down to the ankles. Contracting abdominals and tightening buttocks will help you walk in an upright position.

Abdominal crunches

They're at the top of the list of exercises being performed incorrectly. Neck discomfort is an indication you are doing something wrong. The power for lifting your torso should be coming from abdominals, not the neck. Placing fingertips and thumbs lightly beside your head instead of lacing hands together will help to avoid any neck jerking. Another error is lifting the torso straight off the floor instead of curling it upward; crunches with straight backs can strain lower backs. And the most prevalent mistake, as in most all exercises, is performing the exercise too rapidly. Using muscle power instead of momentum provides a much safer and more effective workout.

Squats and lunges

Allowing knees to extend beyond toes can place undue stress on the knees, while leaning too far forward and overarching the back will create too much pressure on discs in the lower back.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at slafit@tampabay.rr.com.

. Your move

This month's workout focuses on compound exercises, which mean that you are strengthening more than one muscle group, in the squats and lunges. Both exercises strengthen buttocks, thighs, lower backs and calves. And it wouldn't be January without some abdominal crunches. Lee Ann Lambrecht, 65, of St. Petersburg shows us the moves.

Sally Anderson

Squats

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees in alignment with the direction of toes. Keeping eyes looking forward, contract abdominals and slowly lower your body as though you were sitting in a chair, keeping weight on your heels. Use arms as a counter balance. Slowly stand up while pressing through heels.

Lunges

Stand tall with hands placed on hips. Keeping eyes focused forward, contract abdominals and take a long stride forward. As foot touches the ground, bend both knees until front thigh is near parallel to floor and back thigh is perpendicular to floor; back heel will lift off floor. Pause, then push off back heel and return to original position. Hold onto a support if needed.

Abdominal crunch

This works all of your ab muscles. Lying on your back with knees bent, place feet on floor, hip-width apart. Placing hands at the sides of your head with elbows slightly curved and eyes looking up and forward, contract abdominals. Curl up and forward, lifting head, neck and shoulder blades off floor; torso should be in a slightly rounded position with elbows curved like the letter C. Pause, slowly return to shoulder level and repeat.

Fine-tune your workout for top benefits 01/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 3:30am]
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