Category Archives: The Mind/Body Connection

The Benefits of Cold Exposure

Abominible Snow AlEvery time I take a shower, I go through a little battle inside my head.

Allow me to explain…

Several months back, I read Wim Hof’s The Way of The Iceman, and it inspired me to experiment with cold exposure training.

In the book, Hof suggests ending every shower by turning the dial all the way to the cold side, then staying under the frigid water for as long as possible.

The first time I tried it, I barely lasted 30 seconds and found the whole thing to be quite unpleasant.

When it was over, however, I felt a powerful surge of energy which encouraged me to do it again the next day. After doing this daily for a few weeks, I’d conditioned myself to withstand several minutes under the cold water.

Though I’m a bit skeptical of some of the bold claims certain proponents of cold exposure training have made, there are three clear benefits I’ve experienced from it, and that’s enough to keep me going:

1 – Increased Energy
Though I’m not typically lacking in vitality, I do feel especially energized right after a cold shower. When the water hits my skin, it really wakes me up and gives my nervous system a jolt.

The science also shows that when the body is exposed to cold, it causes the capillaries to contract and blood is rushed away from the extremities in order to keep the internal organs warm. In the moments following cold exposure, the capillaries expand and fresh blood is returned to those areas. That’s probably why I’ve had some really good workouts right after a cold shower.

2 – Improved Recovery
When you’re fired up, a cold shower is a great way to cool down. Though it may seem like a contradiction to my last point, cold showers are perfect after a workout, especially if you’ve built up a lot of body heat.

Cold exposure following an intense training session also seems to help relieve muscular soreness, which makes sense given the anti-inflammatory power of the cold. There’s a reason it’s common practice to put ice on a fresh wound or injury. The healing power of the cold is undeniable.

3 – The Ultimate Meditation
Frozen YogaThe cold has an amazing way of bringing you into the present moment. It’s pretty much impossible to daydream or think about anything other than the physical sensations you are experiencing while you are in the midst of cold exposure. All you can do is stand there, breathe and accept it.

Focusing on the breath is a cornerstone of virtually all forms of meditation training, as well as a major part of the Wim Hof Method. If you focus your mind deep inside your belly and take big, powerful breaths, it’s easier to keep from succumbing to the cold.

It can also be helpful to move around. If I’m doing outdoor cold exposure, this could mean hitting a few yoga poses and/or doing some light stretching. If I’m taking a cold shower, I might start by letting the water hit my back and legs for the first few seconds, then turn to the side for a bit and let it run over my shoulder, finally letting it hit my chest, armpits and face after I’ve had a little time to adapt to the sensation.

Cold War
Even after following Wim’s teachings for the last several months and experiencing the benefits firsthand, it’s still sometimes a struggle for me to turn the shower knob to the cold side. Occasionally there are days when I’m eager to feel the cold against my skin, but much of the time there’s a voice inside my head trying to talk me out of turning that dial.

And that’s a big part of why I keep doing it.

Forcing myself to override the part of my brain that desires comfort has made me mentally stronger.

Just like my calisthenics training, my experience with cold training has helped reinforce for me how to best approach potentially daunting tasks without getting overwhelmed. The key is to focus on breaking the bigger task down into smaller chunks.

Cold ExposureOn the days when I really don’t want to feel the cold, I tell myself I’m just going to do 30 seconds. Once I get to that point, it’s usually not hard to convince myself to endure another 30 seconds. After a minute, I try to convince myself to say in for another minute. Sometimes it even starts to feel good!

There are days when I time myself on my phone and make sure I do a full 5 minutes. Other days I don’t bother with the timer and just stay in for as long as I can handle.

In addition to cold showers, I’ve also experimented with outdoor cold exposure, ice baths and cold rooms (like the one in the photo to the left), which can all get very intense.

Of course, I do take a day off once or twice a week when I am feeling particularly dispassionate about experiencing the cold.

Just like strength training, it’s good to give your body a break from all that stimulation occasionally. Typically when I skip a day, I’m more eager to go for it the next time.

Cold, Hard Truth
Studies continue to surface about the benefits of cold showers, ice baths and other forms of cold exposure therapy, yet many people are still hesitant to give it a shot. We live in a culture that encourages comfort above all else, but being comfortable all the time does not allow us to grow.

I’m sure you have a friend or two who thinks that you’re crazy for doing calisthenics. Keep that in mind if you think I’m crazy after you watch the video below:

If you’d like more info about cold training, pick up a copy of Wim Hof’s The Way of The Iceman.

Zen Fitness

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

Throughout my life, I’ve experimented with dozens of different exercise modalities.

I’ve used barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, sandbags, and just about every other heavy object I could think of to try lifting.

I’ve done parkour, martial arts, Marathons and yoga. I even tried a Triathlon.

I believe my various experiences have helped me become a more well-rounded physical specimen, but after all of those things, I always come back to the simplest, most direct way of training I’ve ever known – calisthenics.

I love calisthenics training because it requires nothing more than your body, your mind and your warrior spirit.

You don’t need to buy anything, go anywhere or put on any special clothing. Anybody can start right now.

As Maya Angelou once said, “Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.” (Or was that Ronnie Coleman?)

There’s a lot to love about calisthenics, but my favorite thing is how it keeps you in the present. When you’re working on developing a new skill, you need to give all of your attention to the task at hand.

When you are completely focused on your training, the division between body and mind breaks down and everything else seems to fall away.

This phenomenon has been called different things by different people. Whether you call it mindfulness, samadhi, flow state or any other name, it’s a beautiful thing when it happens.

This is actually the subject of my first book, We’re Working Out! A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness.

Over the years, I’ve learned and absorbed many things from different places, taken what’s worked for me, and used it all to develop my own theories and methods, which continue to adapt and take shape before my eyes. I’m constantly working to refine and expand my movement repertoire and I still look for inspiration in new and varied places.

I owe a thank-you to anyone I’ve ever trained, trained with, worked with, worked-out with or known in any capacity whatsoever. Some people have obviously had a greater impact than others, but everyone I’ve ever interacted with (even electronically!) has in some way shaped who I am today.

The video below shows a variety of exercises I’ve picked up (and in some cases modified) from different bodyweight disciplines, all blended into seamless, flowing movement.

Be present for your training, have fun and find your own path.

Playing With Movement

Movement is movement. Whether you’re practicing calisthenics, doing yoga, or lifting weights, the body moves how the body moves.

There are only so many ways that our joints can bend and flex, yet when you start playing with variations on basic movement patterns, you’ll find the possibilities are limitless.

Changing one small aspect of an exercise can vary it just enough to increase the intensity. Combining moves can also create new challenges.

Get Some Play
Working out is best approached with a joyous attitude and an open mind. Movement offers an opportunity for growth and self-discovery, but it’s also supposed to be fun! Take the time to really be present for your workout and feel what your body is doing. Exercise should be one of the least stressful parts of your day. Don’t over-think things – just move!

What’s In A Name?
A lot of people ask me what I call some of the unusual calisthenics moves that I do. Many of the moves have names, but other times I don’t have an answer. It really doesn’t matter what you call things though. That which we call a kip-up by any other name would still look as sweet.

Check out the video below to see me playing with some variations on familiar moves like handstands and back bridges. Plus a few other things that I don’t even know what to call!

If you want to get sandals like the ones I’m wearing in the video, check out Xero Shoes.

Death To Cardio

So long, Stairmaster!

After racing the NYC Triathlon last week, I’ve decided that I’m never doing cardio again.

In fact, I actually stopped doing cardio workouts a long time ago.

You may have seen me running, swimming and biking in this recent video clip, but that wasn’t cardio training – it was skill practice.

In the context of my overall training schedule, I don’t even see the race itself as cardio. It was a one-off endurance challenge, and really more mental than physical.

Trading Cardio
The difference between seeing your workout as “cardio” vs. seeing it as “practice” may be a subtle distinction, but I believe it is an extremely important one. People who “do cardio” tend to have one objective in mind: weight loss. As I’ve discussed before, exercise alone is not a very effective way to lose weight (you have to eat less crap in order to do that!), but the mindset you bring to any activity can greatly impact your experience.

Swimming for sure!

Rather than forcing yourself to simulate movement on a piece of machinery for a set amount of time, a better way to approach your training might be to work on skill improvement. While there are certainly benefits to “gym cardio” (improved circulation, increased cardiac output, higher oxygen uptake/utilization efficiency), part of what makes exercise worth doing is the activity itself. I personally never met anyone who genuinely enjoys an hour alone on the stationary bike, but it’s fun and exciting to do something like a triathlon – and all of us have that potential.

Skill Power
You can become a perfectly good runner without ever worrying about how many calories you burned, what your target heart rate is or even knowing exactly how much distance you’ve covered. And you’ll probably enjoy the process a whole lot more without wasting mental space on trivialities. Treat your workout as skill practice and the shift in perspective turns any health benefits into an added bonus. You might even forget you’re working out and start having some old-fashioned fun!

Don’t get me wrong – exercise isn’t always gummy bears and double rainbows, but it shouldn’t be torturous either. There are plenty of times when I feel challenged during a workout, but pushing through those uncomfortable moments leads to a better understanding of my body – as well as personal growth.

I firmly believe that any “fit” person ought to be able to run a few miles or swim to shore should they find themselves in such a predicament (in addition to being able to do some pull-ups, of course!). Besides, if you focus on improving at physical skills, you’re inevitably going to get in better shape along the way. Having a good body is nice, but being physically capable is empowering.

Calisthenics and Body Awareness

There is a lot to love about calisthenics and bodyweight training – besides being fun and cost-effective, zero equipment workouts are also convenient for travel.

My favorite aspect of bodyweight training, however, is how it teaches you to become aware of the subtle nuances of movement.

Using machines instead of your bodyweight (or free weights) neglects this key aspect of fitness. Don’t even get me started on people who read magazines or watch television during their “workout.”

Lost in Space
I am continually amazed at how out of touch the average person is with their body. For example, when I ask a new client to try moving their shoulder blades without moving their arms, they usually cannot find the coordination to make it happen. However, these types of subtle movements can be the difference between learning to do a pull-up correctly and injuring yourself.

Proprioception refers to the sensory ability to feel different parts of the body moving through space in relation to each other. I almost always do some yoga with my strength training clients to help with their proprioceptive capabilities. Only once somebody truly learns to feel how their body moves, can they make significant gains in strength.

Clearly I’m not a fan of exercise machines, especially when compared to bodyweight strength training or weight training, but those of us who feel that way are on the fringes. Go into any commercial gym and you’re bound to see way more machines than free weights. In some of these places, you’re lucky if there is even a pull-up bar or an open space to do push-ups.

Throw out your treadmill!

Rise of the Machines
Most commercial fitness facilities are not designed to get you fit – they are designed to get your money. The fancy looking machines you see in these clubs are all hype. They don’t work as well as bodyweight exercises, but they sure do look high-tech! Sadly, that’s enough to trick the average person into shelling out lots of money for a gym membership they’ll probably never even use anyway.

This doesn’t mean you can’t sculpt nice looking muscles using machines, it’s just a ridiculous way to go about it. Selectorized fitness equipment movement patterns are not natural, and will have less carryover into real life activities. Plus you’re much less likely to understand the movement of the human body if you’re never really moving! If everything you do for your workout involves sliding a fixed piece of machinery along a predetermined path, you’re just going through the motions. You’re not truly creating movement.

Less is More
While modern exercise equipment has only existed for a few decades, human beings have achieved fantastic physiques since the days of the ancient Greeks. If you want to build a better body, the only piece of equipment you’ll need is something you already have – YOU! Stop making excuses and start working out!


For more information, check out my book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment.

Avoiding Injuries in Strength Training

Anyone who’s worked out consistently for long enough has no doubt had to deal with an injury at some point. Setbacks can be frustrating, but if you train hard, eventually some type of injury may be inevitable.

In spite of over two decades of strength training, however, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid anything serious. The worst I’ve had to deal with was a strained rotator cuff, some mild tendinitis and a few cuts, scrapes and bruises (mostly from freerunning and parkour). If you train smart, you should be able to avoid any serious injuries as well.

Listen to Your Body

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “Is it okay to work out every day?” There is no universal answer that applies to everyone, as individual conditioning varies greatly from person to person. As a general rule, however, let your body rest if you feel sore, achy or tired. If you want to work out and you’re still sore from a previous session, you might take a day to focus on flexibility or work around your sore muscles using a split routine. Another option is to simply do a low-intensity active recovery workout.

You might not always like what it has to say, but listening to your body is the best way to avoid injury. When you have aches and pains, you need to back off. Pay attention to how your body responds to different training programs and act accordingly.

Balancing Act
It is important to make sure that your strength training routine doesn’t favor any one movement pattern too heavily. The phrase antagonistic balance refers to maintaining a healthy symmetry between opposing muscle groups. If your routine is all push-ups and no pull-ups, you’ll likely wind up with shoulder problems and poor posture. Likewise, neglecting your glutes, hamstrings and lower back can also lead to joint pain and postural issues. This is why deadlifts and/or back bridges should be a mainstay of any fitness regimen.

Gradual Progress
People who get injured in training usually do so because they attempted something far outside of their capabilities. While ambition is a great asset, you’ve got to be objective about what your body is realistically capable of handling. I’m all for pushing the boundaries of human performance, but you have to do so gradually!

Check out my master list of exercises to get an idea of how to progress intelligently in the world of bodyweight strength training. You’ll typically want to get to about 10 reps of a given exercise before moving on to harder progressions. For static holds (like planks and L-sits), aim for a 30 second hold or longer.

Live and Learn
Injuries may sometimes be unavoidable, but I believe we are all ultimately responsible for our own fate. Be smart, stay humble and pick yourself up when you fall. If you do get injured, perhaps you can learn from the experience and avoid repeating your mistakes. Remember, an expert is just a beginner who didn’t quit.

The Rest/Pause Method

The mind is the most powerful muscle in the body, for without the mind, your physical muscles are useless. The rest/pause method will test the limits of both your body and your mind, while allowing you to push your strength and endurance to new heights.

The rest/pause method involves taking short breaks during a long set in order to get more total reps. Instead of stopping after you reach a pre-determined number of, let’s say, push-ups, just rest at the top with your arms locked out once fatigue sets in. Take a breath or two, then keep pushing out one rep at a time, with several seconds in between reps if need be. This will allow you to push the boundaries of muscular failure.

Incorporataing the Rest/Pause Method

Push-ups are one of the best exercises to use this technique with, but rest/pausing works great with pull-ups, squats and even muscle-ups.

After an intense session using the rest/pause method, it’s important to have a rest day or a recovery workout the following day. Rest/pause workouts are best used as a shocking technique, so they shouldn’t be done more than once or twice a week.

The power of using your mind and taking it one rep at a time can often lead to groundbreaking workouts. The rest pause method recently allowed me to set a new personal best in muscle-ups. Luckily, I was able to get it on film!

Check out my brother Danny rest/pausing his way to an epic set of over 100 push-ups!

It All Starts in the Mind

Photo courtesy of brightroom.com

You can have anything you want. It all starts with your mind.

Exercise is the most clear cut example of how we can use our minds to manifest the reality of our choosing. Once you put that mental focus into action and start a consistent workout routine, your body starts to change right before your eyes.

If you have the mental focus to be in tune with your body, and you practice using that body, you can actually effect physical change in yourself. How cool is that? Really think about it.

The amazing thing is, everything else in life is pretty much the same way. Anything that you give your full mental focus to can be yours. That doesn’t mean it’s going to come easy, but if you want it badly enough, and you take the necessary steps towards that path, things that may have seemed impossible can become possible!

There were many challenges I once deemed out of my reach, but have since overcome; muscle-ups, human flags and one arm chin-ups were all exercises that once intimidated me. When I doubted my ability to perform these feats, I shut myself off from my potential. Once I realized that, however, I began to adjust my beliefs and start taking action to manifest my dreams. With practice and discipline I have since trained my body to do those feats and many others. And you can too!

Want a better body? It’s yours for the taking.

Pain and Discomfort – Knowing the Difference

When conducting a personal training session, one of the worst things to hear from your client is, “this hurts!” After all, I am there to help them, not to mess them up!

However, a lot of the time when a client complains that something “hurts,” what’s really happened is that they’ve confused pain and discomfort. Pain is something to avoid; discomfort, on the other hand, is something to accept. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.

Experiencing a burning sensation in your muscles (and/or lungs) during exercise is common, and should not be mistaken for pain. Once you can accept this and get on with what you need to do, you can really start to get somewhere. A common characteristic amongst great athletes is a high tolerance for physical discomfort.

Soreness following a workout – even extreme soreness – can be unpleasant, but it doesn’t mean that you are injured or over-training. When people experience the severe soreness that results from doing a serious leg workout for the first time, it’s not uncommon to be concerned that something has gone wrong. Rest assured this is not pain, just discomfort.

Real pain, if you are ever unlucky enough to experience it, doesn’t leave any vagueness as to its nature. True, you’ll hear the occasional story of the guy (or girl) who walks around on a broken foot for 3 weeks without realizing it, but those stories are exceptional because when bones break and muscle tears happen, it’s usually painfully clear what has occurred.

When performing a given exercise, you may get a twinge of something minor that has gone awry; this can usually be fixed with adjustments to your form or changing the resistance. However, there are certain movements that can be problematic due to contraindications that may exist from previous injuries – which is one reason why it’s great to hire a trainer if you have special needs or if you are particularly concerned about injuring yourself. Otherwise, use common sense, just don’t wimp out when the going gets tough.

Rethinking Running Sneakers

The beach is a great place for barefoot running.

I’ve run many races over the years, usually wearing high-tech sneakers and my heart rate monitor, while meticulously selecting the best running playlist for my iPod. When I run the Brooklyn half marathon next month, however, I am going to try something new; I’m planning to leave all those things at home.


A few months ago I made this post about running sneakers, in which I proposed that high-tech footwear was ideal for safety and performance. However, I have since come to reconsider my opinion on the matter.

I’ve been a proponent of forefoot running for a long time, but my recent experiments with barefoot running have led me to realize how highly cushioned shoes decrease your ability to sense the way your foot is landing; this is potentially the root of most running injuries.

Of course barefoot running is great if you’re on the grass or the beach, but I’ve even gone barefoot at the track. I still prefer to wear something on my feet for road-running, but it doesn’t need to be anything fancy–just something comfortable and lightweight. In fact, the less cushioning the better. The same way that wearing thick gloves will decrease your dexterity with your hands, wearing overly cushioned sneakers can make your feet heavy and clumsy.

I'm planning to run 13.1 miles in these!

The reason so many people tend to get running injuries is more often poor form than poor footwear. Running barefoot or in minimal footwear will quickly improve your running form for the simple reason that bad form actually hurts when you don’t have an inch of padding under your feet. While that padding can be enough to desensitize you to the impact, it isn’t enough to protect your joints. Thin soled shoes will force you to be light on your feet, which will likely improve your speed as well as your safety.


Lately I’ve been running in Vans slip-ons, a casual sneaker that almost feels more like a slipper. They are very comfortable and as an added bonus, I don’t ever have to worry about my shoelaces coming untied! I might get some weird looks at the start line for the Brooklyn half, but I’ve never been one to let that bother me.

(Editor’s note: Check out this post on running the Brooklyn Half Marathon in Vans to find out how that went.)

Beginning Parkour Training

I am a big proponent of personal training–not just for my clients–but for myself, too!

I’m always eager to learn new ways to exercise and have fun, so when my friend Rick Seedman of the Bar-barians offered to teach me about parkour, I jumped at the chance. (Literally!)

About Parkour
Parkour comes from a French word meaning “obstacle course.” Basically, it involves navigating an urban landscape with quickness, efficiency and grace. As Rick says, “Parkour is about expressing yourself through movement.”

Parkour training is playful and less structured than most formal types of exercise, but there are a few basic moves that all traceurs (that’s what parkour practitioners like to be called) should be comfortable with.

Precision Jumping

One key aspect of parkour is precision jumping. Just like the name implies, this movement involves jumping and landing (often onto or off of an object) with the utmost precision–something I am still working on!

Underbars

An underbar involves passing between a narrow, horizontal opening by jumping through the obstacle and landing on the other side. The most common situations to use underbars are passing through rails, trees, or scaffolding.


Rolling

Rolling is used primarily to spread the impact of a jump throughout your body (so you don’t take it all in your knees and ankles). Rolling also allows for a smooth transition into the next movement.

Pain and Posture

This is a guest post by Jamie Nischan.

Old “Doc” Plume, the local hardware store owner, who was known for his miraculous cures for arthritis, had a long line of patients waiting outside the door when a little old lady, completely bent over, shuffled in slowly, leaning on her cane.

When her turn came, she went into the back room of the store and, amazingly, emerged within half an hour, walking completely erect with her head held high.

A woman waiting in the line said, “It’s a miracle! You walked in bent in half and now you’re walking erect. What did Doc do?” She answered, “He gave me a longer cane.”

It’s funny, most of the people with bad posture or pain syndrome that I run into want to know a miracle exercise that will cure their dysfunction. Sure, exercise can help and be a big part of a program designed to deal with pain and posture, but more often than not, it is the little things in our everyday lives that could use some adjusting. With that, here is a short list of activities to be mindful during:

Driving
Do you slouch, or lean to one side more than the other? Maybe you keep one hand high on the steering wheel and the other low, causing you to shrug one shoulder more than the other. The point: try to shift and change positions often if you spend lots of time in the car. The best position will always be hands at 10 and 2, holding your back tall and flat against the seat.

Desk
You should know by now that posture at the desk is important. You’re in this position for several hours at a time and it can have BIG repercussions on your health. Get up often and be aware of any favoritism to any particular positions you might find yourself in. Reaching and twisting from a seated position is a big no-no. Try to organize your desk to be more spine friendly by putting often-used folders and materials within arm’s reach.

Sleeping
Our sleep posture is one of the most overlooked aspects of our life. You spend 8 hours (hopefully) a night in either one or various positions that could have a large impact on your posture during the day. Do you pile the pillows high? This leads to excess stretching of the extensors in the neck, possibly contributing to a forward head posture. Do you pull the bed sheets tight over your feet, pulling your toes into a pointed position? This can lead to limited ankle mobility, which then affects your entire body mechanics, from walking to sitting. Do you sleep on your side with one leg bent and across your body? This can lead to an imbalance between your left and right spinal erectors, which then could be contributing to your back pain. Paranoid yet? I didn’t even mention how sleeping on your stomach can contribute to an excessive lordodic curve, which may then lead to excessive compressive forces on your lumbar spine!

Final Thoughts

We need to pay more attention to our bodies when they’re NOT in motion. It’s the little things like these that add up and contribute to a life of constant, nagging pains. Practice a technique known as mindfulness. Every once in a while turn your attention inwards and ask yourself, have I been in this position for too long? Could I do something to make my current posture more comfortable and back-friendly? Before you know it, the pain that once prevented you from doing normal everyday tasks will have disappeared and become a thing of the past.

Jamie Nischan owns and runs a successful fitness coaching business in Stamford CT. Through the use of posture correction and exercise he treats pain often associated with excessive use of computers. More about Jamie can be found at www.thebuffgeek.com.

Working out in the Morning or the Evening?

Split legged front leverDo you have a hard time fitting workouts into your busy schedule?

People often ask me when is the best time of day to exercise.  Let’s weigh the pros and cons of a few different approaches:

Morning People
A lot of people like to exercise first thing in the morning in order to get it out of the way. If you do your workout before the stresses of the day start to pile up, then you don’t have to worry about life getting in the way and derailing your plans. I like this approach.

On the other hand, a good night’s sleep is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Sacrificing sleep in order to get a morning workout might be solving one problem, but it creates a new one in the process. Besides, you’re unlikely to muster up the energy for a great workout if you’ve only had 4 or 5 hours of sleep.

The Lunch Crowd
If you can slip away from the office in the middle of the day, it can be a great time to fit some exercise into your schedule. Gyms are usually pretty quiet in the afternoon, which can let you get your workout done without a lot of distraction and wasted time. Just make sure you don’t skip lunch. Nutrition (especially post-workout) is a key part of the fitness equation.

After Work
The evening is generally the most popular time to go to the gym. After a stressful day, exercise can be a great way to blow off some steam. Plus you don’t have to wake up any earlier than usual!

The downside is that the gym can be very crowded and you may wind up spending half of your time waiting for the equipment you need. It’s helpful to have a back up plan and to be able to improvise in these situations.

Additionally, some people find that evening workouts rev them up too much and cause insomnia. If you are going to the gym in the evening, you might want to give yourself a few hours to settle down before bed.

Trainer Tips:
It takes time to make a habit stick–eventually early risers will go to bed earlier and it will get easier. But for night owls, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can allow for deeper and more restful sleep.

No matter when you get your workout in, the important thing is consistency. Get it in when you can fit it in, but don’t stop working for it or it might stop working for you!

More of Al's Best Running Playlists

Running w MusicWhat makes for a great running playlist?

Well besides the obvious stuff, like picking your favorite genre (I like rock music) or finding songs with inspiring lyrics, I like to find songs that I can sync my pacing with rhythmically.

When I time my foot strike with the beat, it helps me to keep my footing even. It also enhances my focus when I match my movements to the music.

Depending on how fast I want to try to run, I can select songs with various beats per minute (bpm). The bpm of the song correlates with the amount of strides I’ll take in a minute. I usually take around 170 strides per minute, but I’ll sometimes go a bit faster or slower depending on the circumstances.

Here are some songs I like to warm up to:

Judith–A Perfect Circle–Mer De Noms
Long Division–Death Cab for Cutie–Narrow Stairs
Another Space Song–Failure–Fantastic Planet
I Want You So Hard (Boys Bad News)–Eagles Of Death Metal–Death By Sexy

Below is a playlist comprised of faster songs. I used this playlist for my recent 4 mile race:

Closer–Nine Inch Nails–The Downward Spiral
Heroes–Shinedown–Us And Them
Fill My Little World–The Feeling–Twelve Stops And Home
Elite–Deftones–White Pony
Dandelion–Audioslave–Out Of Exile
Sound Of Madness–Shinedown–The Sound Of Madness
Defy You–The Offspring–Greatest Hits
Blood And Thunder–Mastodon–Leviathan

Click here for my marathon playlist.

What are your favorite songs to run to?

Stretching: Before or After Your Workout?

Sophia is very flexible!

Sophia is very flexible!

Most fitness professionals agree that stretching is a worthwhile part of a well rounded exercise routine, but lately there seems to be a lot of debate about when to stretch.

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that stretching should be performed before your workout, as a means to loosen up the muscles.

The theory behind it being that tight muscles would prevent athletes from being able to perform at peak levels, and that loose muscles were also less likely to get strained. This is still common practice for many recreational athletes.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

However, recent studies, like the one mentioned in this article from last years New York Times, have indicated that stretching prior to exercise can potentially loosen you up too much, thereby actually decreasing performance capabilities while increasing susceptibility to injuries. Go Figure.

Personally, I am not a big fan of stretching before a strength training or cardio session; stretching tends to have a calming effect on me, whereas I want to be amped up before a run or training session. Stretching at the end of a workout when my body temperature is already up and I am more relaxed has usually felt better for me.

I don't recommend you try this unless you're warmed up

I wouldn't try this without a warm up first!

On the other hand, stretching can be a means of warming yourself up. Flexibility is a cornerstone of yoga practice–and I am a big advocate of yoga (I do it myself, in fact). If you do like to stretch as a warm up, just be careful not to push your stretches too far at the start. You have to ease in.

Like I often tend to point out, there are so many different approaches and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for your body. I know a lot of people who want to just be told what to do without having to think, but I urge you not to take that path!

Pay attention to your body while you are working out and experiment with different approaches to see what feels right. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to make mistakes; there aren’t always such clear cut distinctions between right and wrong. Case in point–this recent article from the Times suggests that having tight hamstrings could actually be beneficial!


For more information, pick up a copy of my new book, Stretching Your Boundaries.

Assisted Stretching

Hamstring/groin stretch It’s common knowledge that flexibility is an important part of overall fitness, yet many people still neglect this key component of a well rounded exercise regimen.

One way to make stretching more interesting (and in many cases more effective), is by having a partner or trainer to assist you.

One great stretch to do with a partner is for your hamstrings and inner thighs. Start by sitting upright with your legs stretched out in a V shape.

Have a partner sit across from you in the same position with one person’s feet pressed up against the other persons ankles. The person with shorter legs should have their feet on the inside (see photo). Grab your partners wrists and have them pull you in.

Keep your back straight and your chest up and take the stretch in your hips and legs. Hold for at least 20 seconds and then switch and stretch your partner.

Chest stretch Another great stretch to have a partner assist you with is the one pictured to the left.

Sit with your hands behind your head and your fingers laced together. Have your partner stand behind you and pull back on your elbows. It may be helpful to have your partner’s knee or torso pressed against your back for leverage. You will feel this stretch in your chest and shoulders.

Remember to breathe deeply and try to stay calm while stretching. Of course, thinking about relaxing always makes it harder! Simply focus on your breath to help you relax.

Headstands and Handstands

There are a lot of different ways to do a headstand.

There are a lot of different ways to do a headstand.

It’s important to use your head when you’re working out–literally!

Headstands and handstands are great ways to improve your balance, core stability, and upper body strength. They are also a lot of fun!

Using the tri-pod technique is one way to learn to do a headstand. Start by placing your head on the ground with your hands about shoulder width several inches below your head. Your head and hands should be in a triangular formation. (See the video clip below for a full demonstration.)

Next, straighten your legs so that your hips are over your head and walk your legs up onto your arms. Slowly shift your weight into your head and lift your legs away from your body. I recommend practicing with a wall behind you in the beginning since you will likely lose your balance a lot at first.

There are other ways to get into a headstand but this is a good one to start with. Eventually you may even try to work up towards doing a hands-free headstand.

Handstands are generally harder than headstands for most people because less of your body is in contact with the ground. Handstands are not only great for building strength and control in your core, but also in your shoulders, arms, and hands–a lot of being able to do a handstand is in the hands themselves.

I haven’t had any sort of formal gymnastics training but through practice and dedication, I have taught myself how to do these moves. I continue to practice regularly and it continues to be something that challenges me. Consistent practice is the common theme here, people!

See the video below for demonstrations and more:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BehQ8snueU