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It’s that time again for a round-up of some of the most popular questions I get about fitness. In case you missed some of the earlier posts with fitness information, check out these:
Before we begin, remember: fitness isn’t black and white. What works for one person may not work for the next person. And every personal trainer and group fitness instructor has their own theory on what is the fastest way to get in shape or recover. The only way to know what is the ideal method for you, is to assess your goals and give it a try. But here are my thoughts …
Readers’ biggest fitness questions answered: Part two
How can I protect my knees while working out?
Knee problems are so darn common, and they often occur when you are doing too many activities with impact, like running or jumping. They can also occur when you do a lot of squats and lunges and have improper form. Knee alignment is very important, and you should check your form in the mirror or seek help from a personal trainer to make sure your knees are not tracking in or out too far — they should go toward your second and third toes. And when doing a lunge or split squat, your front knee shouldn’t go too far forward past your front foot. In fact, the front knee should be aligned with the heel and ankle underneath it.
In order to protect your knees, first of all, make sure you are wearing fresh sneakers. If you only wear your sneakers to the gym, they may never get dirty, but that doesn’t mean that the cushioning inside can’t wear down and open your feet up to injury. And feet injuries lead to knee injuries. You should be changing your gym shoes every six months at least. And it’s better to have more supportive cross-trainers for jumping activities and flatter trainers for stationery weightlifting. (And if you run a lot, that’s a whole other story — get your feet fitted for running shoes, and change them out every three months!)
Another way to check on your knees is to use a foam roller on your IT bands before and after your workout — this will loosen up the tissue around your knees. The IT band is a very thick piece of fascia running from the hip to the knee, and if it gets stuck, your knees may start to feel pain from the pull. (For an overview on how to foam roll, check this out this foam rolling 101 tutorial .)
(The best foam roller and my sweet pal, Rudy.)
Overall, a lot of times, knee issues can be remedied by a rest day, a change of sneakers, some self massage and some icing. If you think your knee issue is greater than that, seek help from a physical therapist for sure.
How can I get back on track after time away from the gym?
If you never take any time off of the gym, you may never appreciate how much you like feeling in shape. I think it’s totally fine to skip workouts on vacation or take a break when you get sick, but that does mean it may be a little bit more difficult to pull yourself out of bed when it’s time to return to your workouts.
If you are planning a trip, then make sure you plan the day when you will return to working out. For instance, if you are supposed to get back on Saturday afternoon, plan to hit up the gym on Sunday morning. And have an idea of what you will accomplish during that sweat session. I often find that a great way to ease back into workouts is a sweaty power walk on incline on the treadmill (try this routine) followed by some stretching and foam rolling. You could also book a hot yoga class (yay detox), or even go for a swim. If you take too much time off from the gym, know that your first few workouts back will feel tough. Your legs will feel heavy. Your lungs will feel tight. And that’s okay. Know that your body will find its way back to a fitter space soon enough.
No matter what you do, try to ease back into fitness a few days a week and continue to keep your once or twice weekly rest day, with plenty of stretching and foam rolling as well. Don’t go super hard right off the bat upon your return and risk an injury, which could sideline you for even longer.
What are the best stretches for tight hamstrings?
Oh hamstrings. They are so big, and they get so tight. In case you don’t know, hamstrings are the large muscles that run behind the leg under the butt and above the knee on the “posterior chain” of the body. There are three muscles total that make up the hamstrings. You use the hamstrings to bend over, to flex and extend the knee and to walk. The best exercises to work the hamstrings include the deadlift, leg curl and back extension, but there are plenty of other variations.
(Near a table or bar? Put your leg up on it for a great hamstring release like I’m doing above.)
The thing with hamstrings is that they are often very tight on many people and that can affect your ability to bend over to pick something up. If you have trouble bending down to touch your toes, then your hamstrings are tight.
Here are my favorite ways to stretch the hamstrings: Standing forward fold. Seated forward fold. And kneeling hamstring pose. You want to do these static stretches AFTER your workout and hold them for about 30 seconds each. However, in order to mobilize your hamstrings before your workout, you should do some dynamic warm-up moves like butt kicks, front kicks and walk-outs and also hit the foam roller to get your blood flowing.
Another thing to mention about feeling muscle tightness is that it could be related to dehydration. You want to drink plenty of water and fluids every single day, especially before and after a workout.
I recently had the chance to try Premier Protein’s new line of clear protein drinks, and these babies are tasty and go down smooth. With only 90 calories per container and with 20 grams of protein, it’s the perfect way to recover and hydrate after a workout on a hot day. More fluids = more lubricated tissue and joints = better mobility and less pain.
(Enjoying a Premier Protein Clear Protein Drink in tropical punch.)
How should I change my fitness routine as I get older?
While I really only know what it’s like to work out at my own age, I do know that things can get harder as you get older. And as you age, you shouldn’t try to compete with those around you at the gym if they are younger than you, but you should try to work to your maximum, smartly and safely a few times a week, while also doing some less-intense workouts and always including at least one to two rest days a week.
You may find that it takes you longer to get warm before exercise, so if you are going to do a group fitness class, hit the gym extra early and do some incline walking on the treadmill, big arm circles and breathing, followed by light foam rolling to get your blood flowing at least 15 minutes before class. That way you’ll be extra primed for the workout at hand. You could also focus on taking longer breaks between working sets and devote plenty of time to cooling down and recovering after each session to maintain your flexibility.
One of the biggest things that women and men see go as they age is muscle tone, and you don’t want that. Make sure you are including at least two resistance sessions a week utilizing primarily functional movements incorporating more than one muscle group. During these sessions, don’t be scared to pick up heavier weights and focus on keeping good posture and a braced core through the entirety of your work. A great option for you is also to attend a BODYPUMP class.
(You don’t need a ton of weights in BODYPUMP to feel the burn.)
Also, because balance and flexibility tend to decline as you age, try some coordination exercises and one-legged exercises to keep your body smart and nimble.
That’ll do it for today’s second edition of readers’ questions! For some short workout ideas and other fitness-related posts, head to the fitness page.Some of your biggest questions about #fitness answered by trainer @apstyle. Check these out ... Click To Tweet
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Premier Protein. I received complimentary product and compensation, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you, as always, for supporting the A Lady Goes West community. Also, there are affiliate links in this post.
I’m planning to do a follow-up readers’ questions post about wellness and diet topics too, so feel free to ask those in the comments, and I’ll get to them soon. Thanks, friends! 🙂
Questions of the day
What’s something you’d like to ask about fitness or wellness?
What was your last workout?