Category Archives: Exercise

You Have the Time to Exercise

I saw a quote from Nike on a friend’s daughter’s website:

“A one hour workout is 4% of your day”

Do you really not have time to exercise?


Muscle Endurance, One Component of Fitness

A little while ago, in a post about the phenomenon of “Skinny Fat”, I started writing about the Five Components of Fitness which are (in no particular order):

  1. Muscle Endurance (how long a muscle can work without fatigue)
  2. Muscle Strength (i.e.: how much force a muscle can exert a single time)
  3. Cardio Vascular Endurance (the ability of the heart and lungs to work together to provide the body with oxygen)
  4. Body Composition (percent of body fat vs. lean muscle tissue)
  5. Flexibility (ability for the joints to achieve full range of motion)

For our bodies to be physically fit, we must be fit in all of these areas which is why it is so important to cross train.  I know that when I concentrate too much on running, while my cardiovascular system improves, my muscle strength and my flexibility suffer.  Therefore I try to add in some weight training and yoga to the mix.

But I want to go a little deeper into exactly how we can train to improve these different areas of fitness. In this post I am going to talk about training for Muscle Endurance.

While training for strength and training for endurance can both be accomplished at the gym with the same equipment, they are actually quite different.  When just starting out, it is advisable to start with a program for Muscle Endurance, and to work each of the 8 major muscle groups.

Before starting any exercise program check with your doctor to ensure that are healthy and that you don’t have any health issues or concerns that should make you avoid certain types of exercise.

Training for muscle endurance involves low intensity and high volume workouts.  In other words, you should lift weights at about 50%-75% of your max, doing 15-20 repetitions per set, for 3-6 sets.  So for an average person v grip pushdownstarting out try these weights for your major muscle groups.  Adjust as needed.  All machines are not equal.  There are other factors besides the weights such as the weight of the machine itself and the ease of its movement that effect the weight you are lifting.  If you can easily do 20 reps, increase the weight 5 pounds, if you can’t make 15, decrease the weight:

Muscle Group Exercise Men Women
Chest (Pecs) Chest Press Machine 30-60 lbs 10-30
Upper Back (Lats) Lat Pulldown 60-80 40-50
Shoulders (Delts) Overhead Press Machine 40-50 10-30
Biceps Bicep Curl (w/dumbbells) 10-15 8-10
Triceps V Grip Pushdown 25-40 15-25
Quads and Hamstrings Leg Press Machine 50-90 20-50
Lower Back Back Extension Machine 45-95 25-45

legpressIt is a good idea to keep a notebook and record your weights, reps and sets.  The goal is to slowly increase the weight and the number of sets — start with 3 and work up to a maximum of 6.  If you can do 5 or 6, it is time to increase the weight!

Prior to starting a Muscle Endurance training program, it is a good idea to do a test to see where you are starting, and then do a test at the end of 6 weeks to see your progress.

The generally accepted test for muscle endurance is the push up test  To to this push-up-exercise test, do as many good form push-ups as you can.

Either full push-ups on your hands and toes, or modified push-ups on your knees, either way, watch your form!modified push up

The above post is intended to give an explanation of muscle endurance and a sample of a muscle endurance program.  It is not a personal recommendation.  It is advisable to consult a physician prior to starting any exercise program and to work with a trainer for a program designed specifically for your needs.  If you have any general questions, feel free to ask in the comments section and I will try to give you some general information.

Time in the Garden has Mental and Physical Health Benefits

I spent a few hours yesterday working in my garden and with my flower boxes.  

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I enjoy gardening, it is fun, the results are rewarding,  it get me out in the fresh air, it provides exercise and much needed vitamin D in the form of sunshine!    As it turns out these heath benefits of gardening are well documented by research:

Gardening improves our mental attitude.  Did you know that according to a Texas A&M study, gardeners have more “zest for life” and greater optimism.   A recent study in the Netherlands found gardening for even just 30 minutes fights stress even better than other relaxing leisure activities.  Not only did these people report being in a better mood, but they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

 Yard work and gardening is a form of  weight-bearing exercise (pulling weeds, digging holes, lugging around soil, mulch, etc).  A University of Arkansas study found that women gardeners have lower rates of osteoporosis than women who just do aerobic exercise.

Studies also show that gardening help people with depression and anxiety disorders.  As a matter of fact, there is a whole field of medicine called horticultural therapy that helps people deal with depression, anxiety and sleep issues. 

Some research suggests that the physical activity associated with gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia.  Studies have shown that older adults who garden regularly had a 36% and 47% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners.  While these studies are preliminary, they point to the idea that the physical and mental activity involved in gardening may have a positive influence on the mind.

Gardening helps calm agitation, leading to better sleep patterns and improved quality of sleep.

And of course if you grow vegetables, there is the nutritional benefit of eating fresh veggies!






Have you tried Bikram Yoga?

Following is a guest post written by Kelsey Duke (my daughter) who is a Bikram yoga proponent.  Her experience makes me strongly consider going back to Bikram yoga!

I find myself in the hot room for the first time in over six months, after half a year of inconsistent workouts and trips to the gym. I recently started a new job that requires long hours, happy hours, and fancy dinners that drag on for hours. When I walk in, the heat hits me as soon as I walk in but my brain has been here before, instantly it seeks to shut off the panic mechanism, “you’re okay, this is what you need.”

I lay my mat down strategically in the middle of the room since I’m not new but I’m not entirely ready for this. When class begins with breathing exercises I notice that my breath has become more shallow, my stomach looser and my knees wobbly. “Oh no,” I think to myself. Then “just breathe, you made it to class just do what you can,” a mantra echoed by the yoga teacher.


Then an amazing thing happens, muscle memory. My postures come back, with more balance than before and almost the same depth. My mind is already trained to focus on breathing, listen to the teacher’s constant stream of instruction, and focus my attention and thus all my energy on myself.

When I started this class I thought it would be a good supplement to my workouts, a nice stretch, another way to burn calories. But as I leave with my wet towel and heavy mat, I’m reminded why I need to practice Bikram Yoga more. My mind is clear, my face is radiant, my energy is new and positive thoughts come easily.

For the first time in months my entire being is calm. The worrisome cycle of thoughts, the restless legs, the rash decisions are gone, replaced with a natural, easy peace. “This is why I love it,” I think to myself, “this is how I come to know peace.”

Are you Skinny Fat?

Have you ever heard of skinny fat?  A skinny fat person is not overweight, but lacks lean muscle tissue.  This person may be underweight, or they may be of average weight and look great in their clothes, but are flabby underneath.  A skinny fat person may appear to have a “good” body, but they actually are not physically fit.  The medical term for this is metabolically obese normal weight (MONW).

The amount a person weighs or their height to weight ratio (BMI) is not necessarily an indicator of their level of fitness.

There are actually 5 distinct components of fitness, and to be physically fit we need to work on each of them.

The 5 Components of Fitness are:

Muscle Strength (i.e.: how much force a muscle can exert a single time)

Muscle Endurance (how long a muscle can work without fatigue)

Cardio Vascular Endurance (the ability of the heart and lungs to work together to provide the body with oxygen)

Body Composition (percent of body fat vs. lean muscle tissue)

Flexibility (ability for the joints to achieve full range of motion)

No individual component is more or less important than the others, while at times we may work on enhancing one or two of these components over the others, it is important to work on all 5 in order to truly be physically fit.

As I started this post talking about Skinny Fat, let’s address Body Composition first.  To determine your body fat composition, a quick analysis can be done by a trainer at your health club or by your doctor.

Even fit adults have body fat.  There is an Essential Fat Level of 10-13% for women and 2-5% for men.  Anything below this level is unhealthy and can be physically and mentally damaging (as in the case of anorexia).

Athletes have a slightly lower percentage, 14-20% for women and 6-13% for men.  These are people who are training at an intense level.  These low body fat levels are unrealistic for the average person or recreational athlete.

A Physically Fit Person has a body fat composition of 21-24% (women) and 14-17% (men).  These people are thin and have some muscle definition.

The Average Women has a body fat composition of 25-31% and the Average Man 18-24%.  The average adult has a higher body fat percentage than is optimal, although it is still at a healthy level.

Anything over 32% for women and 25% for men is considered Obese.

These charts from Built Lean puts things into perspective:

So we really want to strive for a body fat of 21-31% for women and 14-24% for men.

While exercise is important for us, the absolute best way to improve your body composition is through your diet.  I don’t mean going on a crash diet!  But rather by eating a healthy diet which can be summed up as:

  • Eat foods high in lean protein-rich (fish, lean cuts of grass fed beef and farm raised chicken, fermented soy products, beans, nuts)
  • Eliminate, or greatly reduce, added sugars and refined carbs (cakes, candies, ice cream, desserts, white bread, white rice, white pasta)
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Eliminate or greatly reduce trans-fat, and saturated fats from animal sources (full fat or 2% dairy, ice cream, beef, sausage, etc.)
  • Eat healthy omega-3 rich, healthy fats (organic salmon, avocados, almonds)

As far as exercise goes, cardio workouts such as brisk walking, running, cardio equipment at the gym, and cycling will help burn fat.  Weight training will help build muscle.  I will be sharing more information on cardio and weight training in future posts.

If you want to see some more examples of what skinny fat looks like, check out these photos:


Photos of Skinny Fat Stomach


Back Out On The Road

Achilles-injuries-1trialI went for a 4 mile run this morning for the first time in two weeks or so.  It felt great!  The reason I wasn’t running is that my Achilles tendon had flared up and would hurt for days after I ran.  I figured that rest (and some ice) was in order.  Now the reason for my tendinitis was most likely due to my sudden training for a half marathon after a winter of minimal running.  Yes, I knew better, but I did it anyway.  For reasons totally unrelated to my Achilles, I didn’t even run the half marathon!  But when I started running again, the pain and stiffness began, so I had to take a break.

While I wasn’t running I went back to the gym, and back to yoga.  It was really yoga child's posegreat to concentrate on weight training and yoga.  I managed to get each in a few times a week.  Now that I am going to add running back into the mix, I hope I don’t let yoga and weight training fall off (as they have in the past)!

Crazy New England Weather

True to form, New England weather is insane.  Over the weekend (Memorial Day Weekend that is), the weather was March-like.  Low 50’s, rainy and very, very windy.  As a matter of fact in Northern Vermont and NH it actually snowed several inches!  Killington reopened for a few diehards.  I turned my heat back on.

But that was over the weekend.  Today. Thursday, it is 87 degrees!  …  And, I thought it would be a good day for a run.

I haven’t been running for 2 weeks as I was resting a very sore Achilles tendon.  So the long rest period, combined with the outrageous heat made for a very, very difficult 3 miles!  (if it even was 3 miles, it felt like 8!)

I have a funny feeling that the air conditioner will be going on tonight!