Tag Archive: workout

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.

 

Summary

 

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.

 

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.

“Kosher” Music During Exercise

Q.

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

 

A.

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