Category Archive: Exercise Q&A

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.




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?  




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.




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).




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.


Clothes Maketh The Man… And The Workout

Suit Up Right, Work Out Well


Pesach has ‘passed over’ for another year, and it’s usually around this time, with spring fighting to break through, that thoughts turn to exercising outside and enjoying the beautiful weather. But what to wear, what to wear? My mother always taught me, “clothes maketh the man”, instilling in me the importance of respecting one’s own body – for it houses our precious neshama – and dressing accordingly.


In addition to purporting an accurate self-value, and serving as protection from the elements, the choice in clothing can affect one’s outlook, both internally and externally. Furthermore, choosing the wrong clothes can often result in detrimental consequences, stripping us of our confidence or ability, hindering our true potential. More specifically, with regards to exercise, running in the wrong sneakers, for example, can hamper your gait, and sweating in the wrong fabric can chaff your skin; not to mention the fact that, as frum Jews, dressing appropriately for exercise comes with its own set of unique challenges.


Let me suggest 9 tips for choosing the right exercise clothes, and getting the most out of your workout:


1)    Head Covering


Most Jewish adults wear some sort of head covering, including kippot or hats for men, and sheitels, snoods, or teichels for women. Needing to cover one’s head can sometimes feel like a blessing (for all you balding guys out there) and sometimes feel like a curse (sheitels in the summer, need I say more?), and figuring out the best way to adhere to religious protocol while also training hard is no exception. Everyone’s situation is different – long hair or short; summer or winter; sweat like Niagra Falls, or merely “glow” with minimal perspiration – the best choices of head covering will keep hair and sweat out of your eyes, and wick moisture away from your skin (see below).


2)    Material


Cotton and other natural fibers are soft and comfortable, and are good for light workouts, such as walking or stretching, but, due to their absorbent quality, aren’t very good if you anticipate sweating a lot; when cotton becomes sweaty, it can feel heavy and cling to your body causing chaffing and soreness, far from ideal for more intense or aerobic activities. Choose a fabric that provides wicking – i.e., it draws the sweat away from your body – this will help keep your body cool while you exercise, and also minimize chaffing. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, Lycra and Spandex are effective.  


3)    Fit


Depending on your own body image and personal style, you may prefer workout clothes that are loose and cover most of your body, or tighter and more form-fitting. Either way, choose clothes that are not restrictive, allowing you a full range of motion.


4)    Know Thy Season


If you’re exercising outdoors, always be cognizant of the weather. Temperature, precipitation, humidity, lighting, and particulates in the air can all affect the quality and safety of your activities.


Layer your workout clothes during colder months, and even during fall and spring if you exercise in the early mornings or late evenings. Wear items you can easily remove (and carry or wear around your waist) as your body temperature heats up during your workout. You lose 40% of your body heat through your head and neck, so choosing the correct headgear is very important; in the winter, double-layered hats are a good option, and in the summer, I find a light bandana made from a synthetic material (rather than a bulky cap) works very well.


Wear lighter-colored clothes in the summer, and be weary of slippery leaf fall in the autumn and ice in the winter. Puddles after a heavy rain aren’t too much fun either if you happen to jog right into them.


Finally, for those men who favor running often, you may consider adapting a dedicated running top to incorporate four distinct corners, allowing you to attach tzitzit directly onto the top, circumventing the need to wear an additional layer underneath that may be uncomfortable during hotter temperatures. I advise consulting with your Rav further to discuss the options.


5)    Tailor Attire To Activity


Tailor your attire to the specific activity you’re conducting. If you’re running or biking, don’t wear long pants that might get stuck in the pedals or cause you to trip; or, if the weather is colder, tie the pant legs close to your legs to secure loose fabric that might get caught. For yoga and Pilates practitioners, avoid clothing that feels restrictive during different poses. If you’re running outside at night, be sure to wear reflective clothing that will allow you to be seen by motorists.


6)    Get Inspired


Choose clothes that you find attractive. While function and fit are the most important elements, you want to feel good while you’re exercising. Certain clothes, cuts, and designs may inspire and motivate more than others. Don’t underestimate or disregard the importance of feeling well-dressed – you’d be surprised at the difference it makes.


7)    Supportive Undergarments


Incorporate supportive undergarments into your workout wardrobe. Women should look for a good sports bra that offers support and flexibility, and men should use a protective cup if they’re playing contact sports. Supportive undergarments are also important for plyometrics and similar exercises that include jumping and high impact movements.


8)    Appropriate Footwear


Selecting the appropriate footwear for the exercises you perform is one of the most important decisions you’ll make – choose wisely, and your activities will likely be enhanced; pick poorly, on the other hand, and you’re likely to be less productive at best, and may injure yourself at worst. Be sure to wear a comfortable athletic shoe that supports your feet and ankles. Wear running shoes for running, and cross-training shoes for high impact plyometric training/sports (the interior supports are structured differently). Also, be aware that the life of your sneakers is finite; the older the footwear (i.e., the more you use them), the less support they offer – so going running in those dusty 10-year old sneakers you pulled out from under the bed may not be as beneficial for you as you might think.


9)    Tzniut


As frum Jews (and as respectable human beings too, for that matter), we must always be mindful of the image we portray, both to the outside world, and to ourselves. Tzniut isn’t just something specific to women, and it’s not just something to which we adhere only at certain times or in certain places. Respecting your body through exercise should be similarly mirrored in the manner in which we dress. That being said, sometimes exercising – and exercising outside in particular – can be challenging; supportive clothing is often figure-hugging, and warmer climates beg the need for reduced covering.


Maintaining a requisite level of tzniut does not automatically preclude the ability to exercise. Woman can wear sweatpants or loose leggings beneath skirts, and if you aren’t comfortable in the clingy fit of stretchy synthetic fabrics, try wearing a sweat-wicking undershirt beneath a larger looser cotton top. Supportive undergarments are important from a tzniut perspective as well. There are numerous options available these days, including modest swimwear, and double-layered tops. Gender-specific exercise classes also allow an added measure of comfort.




While many people want to look good while they exercise, your workout clothes should be less about fashion and more about comfort and fit. What you wear can impact the success and safety of your workout. Some forms of exercise, such as biking and swimming, will require specific items of clothing. For general workouts, it’s best to wear something that fits well and keeps you cool. Choose the right workout clothes by considering fabric, fit, and comfort.


Whatever you choose to wear, always dress respectfully; exercising is a mitzva and should be honored and venerated accordingly.


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


5)    PLAY: On the other hand, if you fancy something a little less “cerebral”, with the advent of 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.

“Kosher” Music During Exercise


“What are your top picks for kosher, Jewish, kol isha-free workout music.  Thanks!” – Posted by Shalom I.



This is a great question, and an important one too, given the number of studies that have come out over the last couple years extolling the numerous benefits of listening to music while working out (see the recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, as cited in the Nov 2012 edition of Men’s Fitness).

Let me start by pointing out that “workout music” can fit into different categories, depending on what your workout consists of, each played at a different speed (or tempo), measured in “beats per minute” (bpm) – i.e., the quicker the song, the higher the bpm.  For example, music for indoor cycling typically has a tempo of 60-110 bpm; high-impact and low-impact cardio music typically have tempos of 135-155 and 120-140 bpm, respectively; and music for yoga/Pilates typically has a tempo of <110-120 bpm).  Rhythms are usually in a 4/4 time signature (i.e., 4 beats/measure), (see Resources For The Group Exercise Instructor, 2012, American College of Sports Medicine).

Secondly, I believe that the music one listens to during a workout should inspire, motivate, and from a Jewish perspective, elevate the workout from something we do to merely benefit our body to something we do to signify our love for Hashem, challenging our body to be better so that our neshamot can become better too.  For this to be true, I believe the music we each listen to should be a personal choice; after all, we are all different, each with our own personal preferences.

Finally, most Jewish music albums comprise a mix of fast and slow songs, and unless we’re talking about music for slower exercise routines, such as yoga, we’re mostly interested in fast songs with a rapid tempo (>120 bpm).  Therefore, we’ll need a mix from many places, rather than relying on a single album for our source of motivation.

That being said, my personal choice of Jewish workout music (at a tempo between 120 and 160 bpm) include songs from the following artists/groups:

Lev Tahor; Shimon Craimer; D’veykus; Andy Statman (and other Klezmer bands); Yaron Gershovsky; Kol Achei; and Idan Raichel, among others.  Some of my other favorite “kosher” workout music includes bluegrass and Celtic instrumentals; anything with energy and passion.

I suggest crafting your own playlist and set it to play in a random order; mix the song sequence up, and keep things exciting.   

If anyone has any other suggestions for good [kosher] workout music, let me know.


Respectfully Yours,

Chemmie Sokolic,

The Personal Trainer