Category Archive: Exercise

Know Thyself (Including Thy Body Type)

Working With What You Have

 

Have you ever wondered why there are some people (and I’m sure you know one or two) who seem to be able to eat whatever they want and not gain any weight? Conversely, perhaps you know others who only have to look at a piece of cake and seem to put on 5lbs? Is it just your imagination?

 

Actually, it isn’t. Contrary to our Declaration of Independence, we’re not all created equal, at least when it comes to body types…

 

Genetic Variables

 

There are ten major genetic variables affecting fitness, fat loss, muscle development, and athletic ability including 1) basal metabolic rate (BMR), i.e., the amount of energy (number of calories) you burn at rest just to maintain normal body functions such as breathing, circulation, digestion, thinking, etc.; 2) number of fat cells in your body; 3) limb lengths; 4) joint circumferences; 5) muscle insertions (although the muscles insert onto the same bones in all humans, the exact point of insertion can vary – even a tiny difference in insertion points can create large increases in mechanical advantage); 6) number of muscle fibers; 7) muscle fiber type; 8) digestive capabilities; 9) food allergies and sensitivities; and 10) insulin response and sensitivity to carbohydrates.

 

Somatotypes

 

In the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. William H. Sheldon, a Harvard professor, developed a classification system for body types known as somatotyping. He identified three basic body types: ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs, although pure body types are very rare; few people are 100% of one body type and 0% of another – usually people are a mix of two or even all three types. However, most people will tend to gravitate towards one type predominantly. Perhaps you can identify your body type(s) in the following descriptions?  

 

Ectomorph

 

Naturally skinny/wiry; long limbs; small joints, small-boned; small waist, narrow shoulders; angular, projecting bones; naturally lean (low levels of body fat without even working out); often call themselves “hard-gainers”; low strength levels prior to starting a training program; fast metabolism – they burn up everything, even when overeating; don’t store carbohydrates as fat – high carbohydrate diets are ok; high energy levels; tendency to be overactive and restless (hyperactive); natural born endurance athletes (successful at distance/endurance sports); sometimes hard to maintain weight, and extremely hard to gain weight; sometimes insomniacs.

 

Mesomorph

 

Medium joint circumference; small waist; broad/square shoulders; chest dominates over abdominal area; naturally lean (low levels of body fat without even working out); naturally muscular (muscular before they even started working out); naturally strong (strong before they even started working out); high energy levels; don’t store carbohydrates as fat – high carbohydrate diets are ok; highly efficient (fast) metabolism; controlling body fat is easy; gaining strength and muscle is easy; losing body fat is easy; responds very quickly to just about any type of training (fast results); natural born athlete (successful at strength and power sports).

 

Endomorph

 

Naturally high levels of body fat (often overweight); usually large boned, large joints, large frame (but not always); short, tapering arms and legs; smooth, round body contours (round or pear shaped body); wide waist and hips; waist dominates over chest; tendency to always store excess calories as fat (can’t get away with overeating); keeping fat off after it is lost is a challenge; tendency to be sluggish, slow moving and lacking energy; slow thyroid or other hormone imbalance (sometimes); fairly good strength levels; sensitive to carbohydrates (carbs are easily stored as fat); responds better to diets with higher protein and low (or moderate) carbs; naturally slow metabolic rate/low set point (fewer calories burned at rest); falls asleep easily and sleeps deeply; a lot of cardio is necessary to lose weight and body fat; extremely difficult to lose weight (requires great effort); bouts of fatigue and tiredness; often describe themselves as having a “slow metabolism”; tendency to gain fat easily as soon as exercise is stopped; tendency to lose fat slowly, even on a “clean”, low fat, low calorie diet; often overweight, without eating very much.

 

It’s Still Up To You

 

So does all this mean that the only way to succeed in your pursuit of physical fitness is to “choose the right parents”? No, not at all, although some may have to work relatively harder than others to achieve their respective goals. Genetics may contribute to your success, but, ultimately, it’s up to you to take responsibility for your results. Factors you still control include what, when, and how much you eat; what type, how frequently, how long, and with what intensity you exercise; your overall lifestyle; and your mental attitude about your situation. At the end of the day, as I’ve said before, it’s your choice.

 

There are four keys to being successful in your exercise and training program: 1) learn how to recognize which is your predominant body type; 2) learn how to adjust your training and nutrition to fit your body type; 3) be patient, persistent and maintain a positive attitude as you work towards your goal; and 4) assume responsibility for the outcome, for better or worse.

 

As the former UCLA Bruins basketball coach, John Wooden, famously said, “The good Lord in His infinite wisdom, did not create us all equal when it comes to size, strength, appearance, or various aptitudes; but success is not being better than someone else – success is the peace of mind that is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing that you gave your best effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

 

Exercise For Pregnancy: Could I? Should I?

Training While You’re Pregnant – Good For You And Baby

 

While it’s true that, as a man, I’ll never experience the intense discomfort and pain of the miracle that is pregnancy, my wife did not for one minute shirk from sharing hers with me during all three pregnancies of our children. I therefore have some inkling as to how the prospect of exercise can feel to a woman who is ″with child″; not good, to say the least. There are others who, while willing to be as healthy as possible during this challenging time, are unsure of what exercises are safe, or even whether any should be done at all.

 

Should I exercise if I’m pregnant?

 

The many benefits of regular exercise that apply to other healthy individuals also apply to pregnant women who do not have any complications that would limit their activity. Additional benefits for pregnant women who exercise consistently include a lower risk of developing pregnancy-specific conditions such as gestational diabetes, as well as some of the fun but very normal associated symptoms such as backaches, constipation, and bloating. Most healthy women can continue to exercise throughout their pregnancy with minor modifications as their pregnancy progresses and physiological changes occur.

 

What physiological changes?

 

Pregnancy temporarily alters a woman’s physiology, anatomy, kinesiology, and biomechanics; these changes may be hormonal, physiologic, and/or musculoskeletal. Each trimester brings various challenges that may interfere with consistent physical activity, and each pregnancy (even of the same woman) is different. Therefore, close communication with healthcare providers is always encouraged before, during, and after the pregnancy. It’s especially important for pregnant women with specific medical conditions such as hypertension, gestational diabetes, and morbid obesity to see their physician prior to beginning an exercise program; exercise intensity and programming will need to be adjusted according to functional capacity, fitness level, symptoms, and daily energy fluctuations. Also, don’t forget, you turn into Super Elastic Woman…

 

Super-human powers?

 

The hormone relaxin greatly increases over the course of pregnancy, with up to 10 times pre-pregnancy concentration levels occurring within the first trimester. This hormone allows the ligaments and connective tissue to stretch, which is vital during the delivery process. However, all connective tissues surrounding joints will have the ability to stretch beyond their normal length, thereby compromising joint integrity and overall stability. Therefore, certain movements need to be performed with caution, such as turns, quick changes of direction, high-impact exercises, exercises that place weight on the wrist while in extension, and exercises that work the lower back. End ranges should be avoided during stretching so as to not permanently stretch out the supporting structures of the involved joints.

 

So I can still do my aerobics?

 

Aerobic activity is important for keeping the heart and lungs strong, increasing circulation, and otherwise enhancing a woman’s overall energy level. However, the increased blood volume and decreased venous return associated with pregnancy can compromise the cardiovascular system, so some precautions need to be followed in relation to intensity and volume of aerobic activity. That being said, moderate intensity should be safe for most participants, especially in the early stages of pregnancy. Activities such as low-impact aerobics, water aerobics, swimming, walking, and cycling are recommended for pregnant women of all fitness levels.

 

The recommended frequency for aerobic exercise is a minimum of three times per week, and can be daily for those already participating in a program when they become pregnant. Previously sedentary individuals should begin with a shorter duration (between 5 and 15 minutes) 3 days per week and gradually lengthen their workouts (building up to 30 minutes) 4-5 days per week as they become more accustomed to regular exercise. Usually women will feel the need to decrease intensity, duration, or frequency as pregnancy progresses, especially in the second and third trimesters.

 

How about “pumping iron”?

 

The goal of resistance training is to maintain one’s strength throughout pregnancy and prevent some of the common associated aches and pains. It’s extremely important to build the stabilizing muscles of the upper back and shoulder to a) counterbalance the increased weight (see below); and b) to be able to hold the newborn for extended periods of time without experiencing neck and shoulder pain.

 

While exercises such as squats and lunges (not forgetting Kegel exercises) are beneficial, deep knee bends should be avoided. Maintaining lower body strength and flexibility is important for being able to move the newborn both into and out of the bassinet. Be sure to walk around between resistance sets and after exercise; it’ll enhance circulation and venous return, mitigating the effect of a hypotensive response. Also, be careful transitioning from a lying to a standing position; move slowly and in stages rather than in one quick movement.

 

So wrestling matches and football games are out then?

 

Yes, sorry. Contact sports and activities that may increase the risk of trauma to the abdominal area or present a high risk of falling – either of which may cause harm to the mother or fetus – should be avoided. But it’s not all bad news…

 

Yay! You get to eat more…

 

The added increased metabolic demand of pregnancy requires the ingestion of an additional 300 calories per day. Therefore, make sure to eat a snack before exercising to ensure that adequate fuel is available.

 

But with great calories increase come great responsibilities…

 

…and an extra 25-35 lb too, primarily during the third trimester. This weight gain alters the center of gravity, and affects balance. The distribution of this excess weight is mainly in the front, which can make it difficult to see your feet; therefore, activities that challenge balance should be avoided.

 

Also, the thermoregulatory system is compromised during pregnancy, increasing the risk of overheating, so be sure to exercise in a cool and well-ventilated environment, wear loose-fitting clothes, and stay hydrated.

 

What about after the birth?

 

During the postpartum period, exercise can be resumed gradually, usually within 4-6 weeks after delivery, provided there are no complications. However, it’s crucial to resume exercise only when it is physically and medically safe to do so, and after you’ve been given the all clear from your doctor(s). Gradual progressions are recommended to enhance the new mother’s physical and mental well-being.

 

A healthy mother is more likely to give birth to a healthy baby, so be safe, be smart, be strong, and be well; you only get to do it once per child, so look after yourself and cherish this astounding miracle.

 

How To Lose 15lbs in One Week

Can It Ever Be True?

 

I bet that post title caught your attention, right? How about this one: “Gain That 6-Pack You’ve Always Wanted Without Exercising Or Giving Up Your Favorite Desserts”, or “Lose Fat And Gain Muscle In Only 5 Minutes A Day”. I’m sure you’ve seen similar claims in newspapers, magazines, and on the internet. We’re all looking for a quick fix, but does one really exist? Is there a special diet that works for you? Are there special exercises or training equipment that really “melts the inches off”?

 

The short answer is “yes, absolutely”. For example, since our bodies comprise approximately 70% water, you can quickly dehydrate yourself by severely limiting your water, sodium, and carbohydrate intake, and then sweat out whatever else you can in a sauna for a day; you’ll probably lose at least 10lbs in less than 48 hours… of course, as soon as you stop this ridiculous undertaking and start drinking normally again, you’ll put all the water weight back on. You could also get liposuction (although recent research has shown that the weight just comes back in other areas of the body) or even cut off a limb or two. Personally, though, I would say any of the above options are really bad ideas.

 

The more appropriate long answer, however, is “no, and here’s why…”

 

You should always be wary of any fad diet, “miracle pill”, “super workout”, or “revolutionary exercise equipment”. Quite simply, if you can’t sustain the diet or activity for more than a few weeks, chances are it’s not a very healthy idea in the first place and likely can’t and/or shouldn’t be conducted at all. Furthermore, any changes that may occur by following these alleged claims will more than likely be temporary at best and may harm you at worst.

 

As I’ve found out myself the hard way, restricting or over-exerting yourself too much for too long will ultimately rebound on you. Becoming and being healthy must be an intrinsic part of your lifestyle if it is to be sustained. In fact, the true meaning of the word “diet” means what you eat, not what you don’t eat. Actually, if you want to get technical about it, the word “diet” originally came from the Old French word “diete” which came via Latin from the ancient Greek word “diaita” which meant “a way of life” – it did not mean “not eating cake and cookies” (because a world without cake and cookies would be a sad world indeed – more like a “way of death” than a “way of life”, don’t you think?).

 

Losing weight is not the goal; losing excess fat is the goal, being healthy is the goal. Let me remind you that muscle is metabolically-active tissue (i.e., it burns energy) and fat is not (it just hangs around your body, waiting to be used during those “emergencies” such as a famine). If you stop eating for a ‘prolonged’ period of time (and I mean, even as little as 3-4 hours), your body is far more likely to start eating away at your muscle for its energy source, rather than your fat. After all, if you were driving a car with a hybrid engine in a remote location, and you found yourself running low on gas, what do you think you should do, toss the excess baggage from the car, or toss the engine battery? Your body works the same way; if there isn’t enough food being consumed and therefore not enough energy entering the system, better to keep the battery (i.e., the fat) for its energy reserves, than use those precious few calories that are coming in to maintain heavy muscle that only burns calories.

 

The irony is further amplified by the fact that, when your body has less muscle, it therefore needs fewer calories to function; which is one reason why reducing your calories to lose weight may work initially, but then the weight loss will ultimately come to a grinding halt, which is typically when people do the absolutely worst thing they can do – cut their calories even further, thereby descending into a metabolic negative spiral.

 

So can you really lose 15lbs in one week? Not permanently, not healthily, and not enjoyably; no, you can’t.

 

So what can you do to lose your “excess baggage”? Eat a balanced diet (including three meals per day with snacks in between), consume fewer calories than you burn, exercise regularly, don’t eat anything within 2-3 hours of going to sleep at night, and get enough sleep at night (ideally 7 or more hours per night); do this, and the fat will come off. It will come off slowly, yes (ideally at a rate of no more than 1-2lbs per week), but it will come off. To quote Tom Venuto, you must “burn the fat, and feed the muscle”; i.e., eat to maintain your lean tissue (i.e., muscles, bones, and organs, etc.), and exercise to consume the excess energy reserves hanging around your body (i.e., excess fat).

 

The cold hard fact is that, once again, what your parents always told you is ultimately quite correct: “anything worth having usually doesn’t come easily or quickly”. Be wise, be patient, and work hard; in the end, that’s all you ever need to succeed in anything you want to accomplish in life.

Parsha And Yoga… Seriously?

A Book Review

 

Since my website went live in 2012, I’ve received calls and e-mails from people all over the world, from New York to San Diego, from Canada to Israel, and from England to Brooklyn (yes, Brooklyn, can you believe it?!?). Some people come for advice, some visit for support, and some offer business opportunities and ideas for future activities. Each person, however, shares the same goal: to maximize their God-given potential, and to better serve Hashem through optimal health.

 

It was in this vain, then, that I was sent a book a couple of months ago by Linda Hoffman in Dallas, Texas, titled Parsha and Yoga: Lessons from the Weekly Parsha and Yoga; Linda thought I might be interested in checking it out.

 

At first glance, when Linda initially reached out to me, I must admit that I thought it was a joke (sorry, Linda); I mean parsha and yoga? Seriously? What does one have to do with the other? I had images in my mind of reciting the psukim in the sedra while straining fiercely in Downward Dog or being contorted in some other tortuous pose. But I’m a big believer in extolling virtues or denigrating faults only after the person or item has been given an opportunity to plead its case; I never proclaim a book is a waste of paper… at least not until after I’ve read it, anyway, so I was willing to give this book a chance, and I’m glad I did.

 

 

The premise of the book is actually quite simple. In Linda’s own words, we need to protect and care for our body so that we can learn and develop to our highest abilities. We develop our soul by becoming the best “me” that we can be using the tools of the mind and the body that were given to us. Having studied yoga for more than 20 years, Linda shares different facets of her art, stating that yoga is a routine for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health; we discover ourselves on all these levels through yoga practice. Yoga enhances the way we live with wisdom, insight, discernment, mindfulness and acceptance. Linda also compares the study of yoga with the study of Torah: just as we understand Torah at the level of learning we have reached, so we practice our yoga at the level of flexibility and strength of our body.

 

The book’s structure comprises short 5-10 minute easy-to-read synopses of each weekly parsha, intertwined with Linda’s own thoughts, as well as various mefarshim and insights. An illustrated simple yoga move with explanatory text can then be found at the end of each parsha outline.

 

According to Linda, the book is primarily marketed to mid- to late-age women who are less observant, early-stage baalei teshuva, and reform and conservative Jews who are interested in incorporating some exercise into their lifestyles. Having said that, however, she tells me that she’s received good responses from people across the “frumkite board”, and, having read the book myself, I see no reason why that shouldn’t be the case. 

 

I found the book to be accessible and fun to read. I found myself strongly agreeing with many of the points that were made, and look forward to practicing much of the advice that was imparted. In fact, in many instances I wished the key points were further elaborated upon, but understand that the author wished to keep each section brief. The summaries of each parsha are concise and colorfully written, mixing biblical narrative with midrashic tales. The yoga poses are well described and illustrated, and are suitable for the beginner; more seasoned yogis, however, may crave more challenging positions. Although there are one or two factual inaccuracies throughout the book, it’s generally well presented and edited.

 

Personally, rather than exclusively surrounding myself with points of view and hashkafot that I already agree with – thereby bolstering my own ego and ingrained mindset – I try to expose myself to a wide range of attitudes and beliefs outside my comfort zone. Yes, this has the potential to be somewhat detrimental at times, but I believe that is how we grow best; when we’re challenged, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Reading this book reminded me of how true this notion is. Rather than dismissing this publication as something “not for me”, there were indeed pearls of wisdom buried within its pages.

 

In her introduction, Linda states that our mind, our body, and our soul are encompassed in one entity. Our life goal is to be the best “one” that we can be using all of our qualities. Speaking more broadly, I would add that we, our Nation, should cumulatively strive to be the best “one” that we can be. Each neshama is a conduit from and to Hashem; each has something to offer.

 

Parsha and yoga? Yes, even parsha and yoga. More often than not, if you don’t see Hashem’s connections in everything around us, the problem isn’t that the dots can’t be joined – it’s more likely that you’re missing some dots in the first place; the key is finding ways to discern and discover the countless dots in this beautiful world.

 

In describing yoga and its connection to the Torah, Linda writes we practice mastery over the physical for the benefit of the mind… BeautifulI couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

The Miracle Cure-all is Strength Training

Another good article by Alan Freishtat, an A.C.E.-certified Personal Trainer, about the importance of resistance training, and how cardio alone just doesn’t cut it.

Click here for full article.

Getting Younger As You Age

Excellent article by Alan Freishtat, an A.C.E.-certified Personal Trainer, about the importance of exercising and maintaining your health as you age.  For some reason, so many older people believe aging includes atrophy and poor health; it’s endemic in our society.  This is just not so.  One can do so much to delay and soften the aging process.

Click here for full article.

Shatter Your Limitations – Leaving Your Mitzrayim

What Will You Do With Your Freedom?

 

What would you like to be?  What would you like to do? So nu, what are you waiting for?

 

Yeh, if only life were that simple…

 

           “I can’t because I have no time”;

           “I can’t because I have no money”;

           “I can’t because I have no control” (of my food, of my job, of my family);

           “I can’t because I have no support” (of friends, of family, of coworkers, of supervisors);

           “I can’t because I have no will or ability” (to do what is necessary).

 

Does any of this sound familiar? How do these excuses appear to you? Unbreakable shackles? Overwhelming obstacles?

 

Mitzrayim, the land from which we were redeemed, literally means “borders” or “boundaries”. In fact, ancient Egypt prided itself on its exclusivity and superiority; they had everything they needed, and there was no need or desire to leave its borders. Its workers were both physically and emotionally trapped, with no will or thought of escape. This was the land in which our nation developed. After two centuries of gradual constriction, we became slaves with a slave mentality, inured to our state of being, unable to make a difference in our own destiny. We blamed others for our downfall, we blamed others for our failures, we blamed others for our inability to pull ourselves back up.

 

Some of us, unfortunately, have not changed much in nearly three and a half thousand years. “I can’t because I have no…”? You need something from someone else before you can move forward? Why? What have YOU done to alleviate your misfortune? What have YOU done to attain your goals? We blame our parents, our coworkers, our boss, our spouse, and the list goes on… Enough! Change starts with YOU, not anyone else. If you don’t surround yourself with inspiring motivating supportive people, time to move on and find a new place to call “home”. In the end, your power can only come from within and from Above, nowhere else; you must use your abilities and your intellect to make it happen, and to find people who can help you make it happen yourself – the strength must come from you. Be intrinsically motivated and driven, not extrinsically pulled and cajoled.

 

When Hashem gave us the freedom to escape Mitzrayim, he gave us the ability to break through our own boundaries and limitations. But most people don’t push themselves hard enough. Most people don’t do what it takes to realize their God-given potential. Laziness is not an excuse; “I have no…” is not an excuse. What have you sacrificed to achieve your goals? Where are your priorities?

 

“If only life were that simple…”? The truth is, at the end of the day, life is that simple, and only our excuses complicate it. It’s time to shed the slave mentality.

 

When your body is tired, push a little more; when your mind is weak, push a little longer; when your will is drained, push a little further. Always press your limits. If you don’t, you’ll never know how much you can attain and of how much you’re truly capable. Always push against your own “Mitzrayim”.

 

Every day, be a better person than you were the day before, spiritually, physically, emotionally, financially, and intellectually. Progressive development, as I’ve written before, allows you to take small steps each day to achieve your goals. Your only deadline is your “deadline”, so don’t procrastinate – as long as you move forward every day, striving to do better today than you did yesterday, with the ultimate goal of being better tomorrow than you are today, one day, with Hashem’s grace, you will realize your potential.

 

We weren’t put here to just be, we were put here to become. This isn’t a fanciful philosophical notion, this is our chiyuv. A day without trying to improve oneself and/or one’s environment is a day wasted.

 

We ALL have this ability, each with our own strengths. Inspire yourself, inspire others. After all, look who led us out of Egypt: an 80-year old stuttering little brother; a humble fugitive who, ultimately, found his calling and realized his own abilities.

 

Freedom means the ability to choose – so choose wisely… what are you going to do with your freedom?

 

 

How Much Should I Exercise?

Working on the Whole of You

 

For some people, asking “how much should I exercise?” is the wrong question. In some cases, “should I exercise at all?” or “what exercise is best for me?” are more suitable questions. I will answer the first question by simply responding ‘yes’, and will address the second question by responding “exercises, plural”. Let me elaborate.

 

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the general exercise recommendations for healthy adults include at least five days per week of moderate intensity aerobic (cardiovascular endurance) activities, weight-bearing exercise, and flexibility exercise (or at least three days per week if the exercise is vigorous); and two to three days per week of muscular strength and endurance (resistance), calisthenics, balance and agility exercise. This applies to most healthy adults, regardless of age or gender; this means, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, these should be your exercise goals. Quite a lot of exercise, right? But what defines “moderate” and “vigorous” exercise, and how are you meant to pack all of that into one week? Which exercise is best for you?

 

Well, unfortunately, no single exercise will best provide the physical challenges needed to enhance all aspects of your fitness. Weights/resistance training will improve your strength and musculature, but is not the best option for development of your cardio-respiratory system. Running is great for your heart, but will not improve your flexibility as much as yoga, Pilates or other similar stretching routines will.

 

It is a common misconception (particularly of women and older individuals) that weight training is “not for them” because they “don’t want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger”. That performing resistance exercises will inevitably “bulk you up” is simply not true. Unless you train specifically to gain mass (including consuming the requisite large number of quality calories necessary to promote and sustain muscle growth), you will not develop huge muscles. Instead, you will become strong and toned. Similar to your teeth – you only have to brush those you’d like to keep – muscles work the same way: you only have to exercise those particular muscles you’d like to keep; if you don’t use them, they’ll likely deteriorate. After all, why should your body allocate its valuable resources and energy to a part that isn’t being used? Like any efficient company, departments are downsized if they’re not profitable. So, in short, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, everyone should incorporate resistance training into their weekly exercise regimen.

 

Another common misconception (particularly of men) is that flexibility training, such as yoga, is “only for girls”. This is also a fallacy. First of all, yoga is pretty tough, if performed correctly. More importantly, though, if one doesn’t train one’s body to extend through a full range of motion, muscles will stiffen and injury will ultimately occur when, inevitably on occasion, one has to perform a physical activity that necessitates a wide movement (picture reaching for something and feeling something “go”). Again, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, everyone should incorporate flexibility exercises into their weekly routine.

 

Finally, while some people (often men) strive to become more muscular, focusing primarily on [anaerobic] resistance training, one should not forget to train the cardio-vascular system as well. Yes, working with weights can improve your heart health, but it cannot completely negate the value of pure aerobic exercise. Once again, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, everyone should perform some aerobic exercise at least three times per week.

 

That being said, some workouts aim to satisfy several requirements of physical fitness development simultaneously, such as resistance circuit training (think of weight training without stopping for long breaks) or power yoga (intense isometric poses that push your muscles to the limit; definitely NOT sitting cross-legged and humming ‘um’). Be warned, however, while these more extreme training methods can save you time, they’re definitely more intense than a leisurely jog on the treadmill or a walk around the block.

 

Most of us are, baruch Hashem, reasonably healthy, and so have a wide array of exercises to choose from with which we can maintain and better our wellbeing. Others, though, may currently be unable to perform certain exercises due to poor health, rachmana litzlan. However, this typically does not preclude the performance of ALL exercise for these individuals. Though heavy resistance or high-intensity interval training may be contraindicated in certain instances, training with lighter weights to build muscular endurance, brisk walking to maintain a healthy heart, or gentle stretching to improve balance and flexibility is likely perfectly acceptable and should generally be encouraged. With a little creativity, there are always alternatives and options for those who want to maintain and improve their health.

 

Most importantly, however, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, whatever you end up choosing, the following two mindsets should always apply:

 

Progressive Development: always aim to improve, no matter what exercises you choose. If you perform resistance training, increase the weight you lift or the reps/sets you complete; if you stretch, try to increase your range of motion or the amount of time you can hold a difficult pose; if you run or perform another aerobic workout, try to increase the incline or the distance, or keep the incline and distance the same but aim to beat your last time, or try to gradually improve your heart rate response. Every moment you exercise is an opportunity to evolve, to be better today than you were yesterday, to test your limits and realize your true potential.

 

Prioritize: exercise should not be something you squeeze into your schedule. It should not be a chore to cross off your to do list. Exercise should be part of your healthy lifestyle, as much as eating meals or learning Torah. We exercise so that we can be strong and continue to serve Hashem with all our abilities. To not do so, I believe, is a repudiation of our true purpose as frum Jews; we must be strong and healthy physically, so that we can be strong and healthy spiritually.

 

Find exercises you can enjoy (either by yourself or with friends), and perform them as you would any other mitzvah – with love, energy, and passion. Every day is an opportunity to grow stronger, grow wiser, and grow closer to Hashem; don’t let your excuses shield you from your potential. If you haven’t found any exercises you enjoy, you haven’t finished looking.

Making Exercise Meaningful

Appreciating the Mitzva of Maintaining Your Health

 

“Running on the treadmill is tedious and boring”; “lifting weights up and down is tiring and repetitive”; “sweating and feeling uncomfortable is not fun or exhilarating”… the list goes on and on… all the many reasons why people don’t like exercising. I feel your pain. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, all things being equal, I’d prefer to sit on the couch and read a good book, rather than exerting myself every day in the wee hours of the morning, exercising and sweating while the rest of my family sleeps comfortably in their warm beds.

 

Unfortunately, all things are not equal.

 

Ever since Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, thereby blending nature’s disparities, it has been our mission to discern the true essence of our environment, extricating the pure from the impure, and the holy from the unholy. In particular, as Jews – as emissaries of Hashem’s holiness in this world – we claim as such during Havdalah, as we start each week anew, pledging to transcend a little higher every day, shedding the visceral drives with which we all battle daily.

 

By its very definition, though, isn’t exercise the very quintessence of bodily focus? If we place emphasis on the physical aspect of our being, do we not stand the risk of losing ourselves in the vanity of corporal pursuit? How, as frum Jews, can we instill the maintenance of our health with spiritual meaning and sanctity?

 

As is the Jewish way, permit me to answer the questions with some questions. With what do we build our Succah?  With what do we walk to shul? With what do we carry home our groceries in preparation for Shabbat?

 

Our body isn’t a mere vessel that houses our soul. No. It’s far more than that. It’s our tool, our only tool, that Hashem has graciously given us in this world, with which to perform mitzvot and live a Torah existence. Of course, we need our mind to study the Torah, but we need our bodies to perform that which our mind examines.

 

Without a healthy body, our soul is hampered, trapped inside a physical prison, unable to realize its potential; unable to serve Hashem with the love with which it was given.

 

As you know, we don’t eat or drink anything without first reciting a bracha. We are continually mindful of the gifts Hashem kindly bestows upon us. Moreover, by concentrating on a blessing prior to partaking of our food, we instill in that food a sacred purpose; an apple is so much more than an apple when the nutrition is provides powers the body that performs mitzvot and learns Torah. 

 

Well then, so too should our bodies be similarly energized. The arm that lifts that dumbbell will also lift the Arba Minim; the legs that run on the treadmill will also run to visit the sick; the back that struggles with a pull-up is the same back that must be strong enough to hold its children and grandchildren. Every repetition is a step towards a healthier and better version of you; every stride is a mitzva that moves you closer towards Hashem. The heart that exerts itself on the elliptical will be better prepared to endure, to survive another day, to be strong and bring kedusha into this world for many days and years to come.

 

By maintaining our health and striving for both spiritual and physical excellence, we can imbue our body, our soul’s amazing instrument, with a divine aura that is both sacred and organic?

 

In our own way and with our own strengths, each of us has been blessed with awe-inspiring godly potential; I urge you, with all my heart, not to waste yours.

The Successful Vacation: Coming Back Healthier

 

Going Away Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

 

As the temperature drops, and the snow falls, many of us dream of hibernating over the long cold winter, curling up in front of a cozy fire and beneath several warm blankets. Some lucky souls have other plans – to escape this perishing weather for warmer climates, if only for a few days.  While both options sound tempting, and as beneficial as it may be to “conserve” your energy, or  lap up much needed rays of sun and relax with friends and family, it’s also very likely that, in doing so, healthy eating and exercise regimens will be “put on hold”. After all, “I’m on vacation”, right? 

 

Wrong! Now, more than ever, we need to show resolve, and adhere to a healthy diet and exercise routine. But doing so while on vacation can sometimes be challenging. Food choices are often limited; access to a gym cannot be assumed; and space to exercise is often unavailable. So what’s a frum healthy Jew to do? Here are my 7 tips to coming back from your vacation more relaxed AND healthier than before you left:

 

1)    PLAN AHEAD: Don’t arrive at your vacation, only to use the “but I didn’t bring my sneakers” excuse. If you’re going to pack 10 pairs of shoes, make sure you can exercise in one of them. Bring at least one pair of shorts or jogging bottoms that can [also] be used to workout. Bring a stopwatch. Bring an mp3 player and headphones. Don’t leave your motivation at home.

 

2)    BRING EQUIPMENT: True, it’s difficult to pack your entire set of dumbbells in your suitcase, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bang out an invigorating resistance workout. Bring a sturdy bag with handles, such as a backpack, that you can fill with books, cans of food, bottles of water, or even bags of sand. Exercise bands (essentially over-sized rubber bands) are also another excellent tool that you should add to your training equipment arsenal; they’re light, easy to pack, and are exceedingly versatile.

 

3)    GET CREATIVE: Don’t have any equipment? No problem. Grab some furniture – improvise and be resourceful; all you need is a couple of chairs: work your chest and triceps with dips and incline pushups; work your shoulders by lifting each chair with mostly straight arms in different directions away from your body; work your back by resting a broomstick or something similar over the top of both chairs and hang down from it, using it to reverse row; work your legs by standing facing away from the chair, resting one foot on the chair seat behind you, and dip down with the front leg (making sure the front knee doesn’t track over the toes); work your abdominals by lying on your back in front of the chair and either resting your feet on top of the chair seat or hooking them underneath the chair to perform crunches. Two chairs, and you can work your entire body. Add a few books to adjust the angles of movement, and some water bottles to use as resistance weights, and the possibilities are endless. You can find everything you need in any hotel room or public park. You’re only limited by your imagination. Get creative.

 

4)    STUCK IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE: OK. You’ve been dropped off on a desert island or you’ve been incarcerated, and there isn’t anything to work with except the floor you’re standing on. What now? Well, notwithstanding the fact that being incarcerated isn’t really my idea of a vacation, it still shouldn’t be a problem to workout. Enter the biggest known secret in the health world: calisthenics. Although the fitness industry would have you believe you need to spend your hard-earned money on expensive gym memberships and fancy exercise equipment to be healthy and strong, it’s a total myth; all you need is your body. Pushups, pull-ups, air squats, jumping jacks, core exercises, and anything else that gets your heart pumping are all the moves you need. There’s never a time when you can’t exercise. There’s never a time when you can’t mix things up and create a fun workout with which to challenge yourself.

 

5)    FAMILY SANITY: You’re on vacation with your family and, assuming you’re like most families, it won’t take you too long before one or more of you start going stir crazy with all the “quality time” you’re spending with each other. Before someone says something they’ll regret later, work off the tension with a family run, or friendly competition to see who can do the most jumping jacks in two minutes. Get the blood pumping and keep the love flowing.

 

6)    MORNINGS MATTER: Don’t sleep too late and fritter away the day. Sure, you’re on vacation, so sleeping in a little can be beneficial, but waiting too long to rise will set a poor tone for the remainder of the day. One thing is for sure: gathering the strength and wherewithal to exercise at the end of a long day vacationing is highly unlikely; not to mention the fact that the temperatures and humidity in areas with subtropical climates, such as Florida, grow grizzlier as the day progresses. Instead, grab a quick workout in the morning, before you rush off (or not) to enjoy the rest of the day. Get your heart racing for at least 10-15 minutes, and your whole day will start on the right foot. You’ll also enjoy all those vacation meals more; you’ll have earned them.

 

7)    SNACKS: Going on vacation is often thought of as the perfect excuse to get away from not only your work or school, but also your healthy diet. Well, not by you or me. You should definitely treat yourself to good tasty food while you get away from things, but you should treat yourself similarly when you’re at home too. With a little careful planning, excuses such as “but there was nothing to eat apart from that bag of chips or that chocolate bar” will be moot. Instead of snacking on candy, take healthier food with you on day trips, such as a big bag of vegetables or fruit, or a small bag of nuts. If you’re going to graze, graze with style.

 

As frum Jews, we must become adept at surviving as Jews in the non-Jewish world. Maintaining our frumkite is, quite frankly, not overly challenging when we’re surrounded by our friends and family in our tight-knit orthodox communities. The true test is when we’re away from our familiar protective environment. This is true spiritually, and it’s true physically as well. Going on vacation doesn’t mean you stop davening or learning, and it doesn’t mean you stop exercising either. Rejuvenate your soul, rejuvenate your body, and come back stronger than before you left; invigorate and revitalize yourself inside and out to better serve Hashem.

 

Finally, don’t forget to bring back a little sunshine for the rest of us who’ll be stuck here with the snow and ice… sure, shoveling is also good exercise, but I’d much rather be keeping fit in 72’F weather.

 

Progressive Development: The Key To Realizing Your Potential

 

How To Be The Best You Can Be

 

In the last post I presented eight ideas to enhance your exercise experience, adding fun and inspiration to what, for many people, can feel like a chore at best, to something that should be avoided at all costs at worst.  In fact, viewing exercise negatively at all is, I would argue, tantamount to disdaining one of Hashem’s mitzvot.

 

Indeed, like many commandments we must perform, one can demonstrate differing levels of commitment and love.  If you exercise at all, do you do it halfheartedly and sporadically?  How important is being healthy to you?  Yes, something is better than nothing, and learning even a single pasuk a day is better than never opening up a sefer; but is that why Hashem created us?  To cruise through life, only aiming for a “C-grade”, setting our bar low enough to barely succeed, just so we can stroke our ego and kid ourselves into thinking we’re doing all we can?

 

Don’t treat your health as something you merely maintain; view it as something to improve.  Don’t grow older, don’t grow tired, just grow.  It’s a myth that we must all age, with progressive degeneration our only lot in life.  No!  Rather than “progressive degeneration”, let me impart to you the secret to achieving one’s potential: PROGRESSIVE DEVELOPMENT.

 

This simple idea allowed Alexander the Great to create one of the largest empires in the ancient world; it forged the very heart of the United States; and it’s the essence of humankind’s continual advancement.  Progressive development is simply the principle that one must always move forward, always strive to do better today than you did yesterday, with the ultimate goal of being better tomorrow than you are today, and one day, with Hashem’s grace, realizing your potential.

 

Progressive development is not a lofty philosophical aspiration; not only should you view it as absolutely attainable, but a chiyuv for each and every one of us.  A day you haven’t tried to improve yourself and/or your environment is a day wasted.

 

With regards to exercise, this could mean running just 10 seconds longer than you did yesterday; finishing one more rep than you pushed out during your last workout; or lifting a few more pounds on the barbell than you managed the previous week.  Whatever the improvement, always improve.  Never stay stationary; never be satisfied with simply repeating the same workout week after week, month after month.  Never let your workouts grow stale.  Never let your ambitions wither.  Never let your life fade before your eyes; just as we should evolve, one day at a time, so can we also falter, gradually, but very surely, one day at a time.

 

Last time we discussed setting short, medium, and long term goals to push us forward.  Losing 50 pounds might seem impossible, but losing 5 pounds is certainly doable.  Completing 20 pull-ups or 50 pushups in a row may seem like the stuff of legend when doing even 5 in a row can feel impossible, but surely performing just 1 or 2 reps is well within everyone’s reach.  The idea of running a marathon is likely totally preposterous to most people, but jogging around the block should not be something that scares you.  To butcher the famous quote of Lao-tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, “A journey of a thousand steps starts with one”.  We must all begin somewhere.

 

You CAN be that strong, you CAN run that distance, you CAN do anything you set your mind to.  It took you a while to get to where you are now, and it’ll take you a while to get to where you’re going, so be prepared for the long haul.  There’s no easy fix, there’s no magic bullet; just hard work, discipline, commitment, and the determination to take things one step at a time, one meal at a time, and one day at a time.  Small steps are easy and, just like the shaky steps of a toddler, even though you may fall down, you must resolve to get right up again, brush yourself off, and keep on moving.  All you can do is your best.  Each day, moving just a little more, growing just a little more, pushing your limits just a little more.

 

You are confined only by the walls you build yourself, and are constrained only by your imagination and emunahMitzrayim, the land from which we were redeemed, as we are currently reading, literally means “borders” or “boundaries”.  When Hashem gave us the freedom to escape Mitzrayim, he gave us the ability to break through our own boundaries; we shattered our shackles, and that’s why we survive.  Always push your limits.  If you don’t, you’ll never know how much you’re truly capable of.

 

Let me end with a poem I’ve always held dear to my heart, written by Donna Levine:

 

There is inside of you all of the potential to be whatever you want to be – all the energy to do whatever you want to do.  Imagine yourself as you would like to be, doing what you want to do, and each day take one step towards your dream.  And though at times it may be too difficult to continue, hold on to your dream.  One morning you will awake to find that you are the person you dreamed of – doing what you want to do – simply because you had the courage to believe in your potential and to hold on to your dream.

 

No More Excuses – Part III: “But I Hate Exercising…”

 

Making Workouts Feel Less Like Work

 

I’m going to let you into a little secret, one that you might find surprising, given the fact that I’m a personal trainer:  I don’t like exercising. In fact, I’d much rather curl up on the couch with a good book and a hot cup of tea.  So how do I find the will to get up at 4:30 every morning to work out?  How do I make exercising fun and enjoyable; something for which I want to get out of bed? Here are 8 ideas that will hopefully inspire you, and keep you moving during these short cold days:

 

1)    GOALS: Set small, medium, and long term attainable goals for yourself; if you’re unsure what goals are realistic and which are a little “overzealous”, do some research, or simply drop me a line. Rejoice in your successes, and reward yourself when you reach a goal (although preferably NOT with food). Buy yourself something nice after losing X lbs; take a day off after exercising consistently over a set period of time; go on a small vacation once you’ve dropped X inches around your hips or waist. Work hard and play hard.

 

2)    FRIENDSHIP: Some people prefer social interaction when they exercise and some people prefer solitude. If exercising with friends will spur you and keep you on track, there are many ways nowadays to find an exercise partner or group and keep each other motivated, both on- and off-line.  Working out with friends, or engaging in another physical pursuit or sport with your peers, is often enjoyable and enthusing. Each encourages the other; each inspires the other.

 

3)    MUSIC: Put a few playlists together, making sure the tempo is fast enough, and enjoy exercising to your favorite songs. Let the rhythm move you. When you think you can’t go on any more, your body willing to give up, just push yourself to the end of the next song.

 

4)    LEARN: Be twice as productive. Exercise while listening to a shiur. Better yet, set yourself a goal of completing a set of shiurim or even daf yomi, and nourish your neshamah as you exercise your guf. You can also watch or listen to lectures (check out www.thegreatcourses.com).

 

5)    PLAY: On the other hand, if you fancy something a little less “cerebral”, with the advent of Hulu.com and Netflix, as well as “old school” DVDs, you can put on your favorite show or a good movie and lose yourself for a while. If you don’t finish the movie or have more episodes to watch, there’s the added incentive to exercise again and finish what you were watching.

 

6)    VARIETY: Mix up your workout routines. Don’t repeat a workout so often that it gets stale. Try different exercises. Switch around your exercise order. Your options are only limited by your creativity and imagination.

 

7)    EXPERIENCE: Try different cardio options. There’s more to life than the treadmill. Try rowing, cycling, stair climbing, or the elliptical. Try interval training, yoga, Zumba, Pilates, kickboxing, hip hop classes (I did this one myself last year, it was great), or sports you can play inside such as basketball or 5-a-side soccer. Sign up for a “bootcamp” training session. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new.

 

8)    APPRECIATE: Finally, although winter is coming, start thinking about the spring now. Get out more. Try bike riding, hiking, running, sports, or even surfing; the list goes on and on. Aside from the exercise, the fresh air is healthy for you too. Take time to “smell the roses” and appreciate this amazing world Hashem has created for us.

 

Most importantly, remember, you’re exercising to be healthy; do it for yourself – turn off your cell phone, ask your spouse to look after the kids (or get up half an hour earlier before they wake up), and treat yourself to some “alone time”. You deserve it.

 

When you’re done, take an additional few minutes to care for your body and purify your soul’s wondrous instrument; no shower feels as good as the one that is earned.

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