Wednesday, September 23, 2009

10 Surprising Fitness Tips

Weird, unconventional exercise ideas that are so crazy they just might work.


By Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen for MSN Health & Fitness

If you think you've heard it all when it comes to fitness, think again! We've rounded up 10 things you never knew about working out—from the benefits of a post-exercise drink of pickle juice to why you should avoid your friends at the gym. These unconventional but expert-endorsed fitness tips will put the zing back in your workout.

1 of 10
Don't exercise with your "BFF."

Many experts recommend working out with friends to increase motivation, but it can backfire. "People end up talking more than exercising or slowing their speeds or [lowering] intensity levels to chat," says Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D., a psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Plus, walking or running with friends can prevent you from following your body's cues. If you want to speed up or slow down, for instance, you may not be able to coordinate that with someone else. Arrive at the gym with friends to increase motivation, but save the bonding for later.

2 of 10
Choose your workout clothes carefully.

According to psychologists, red can increase blood circulation and body temperature, which can boost workout efficiency. Light waves enter the eye and are converted to electrical impulses in the brain, explains environmental psychologist David Alan Kopec, Ph.D., an associate professor at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego. "Red is a long light wave that affects the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature, appetite and energy levels." He adds that reds and oranges increase body temperature, which pumps you up for exercise and keeps you energized for a longer workout.

3 of 10
Drink pickle and pineapple juices.

The salt and vinegar in pickle juice can help muscles recover from sodium loss and decrease cramping. "If you're training on a hot day or doing intense activities, drink 4 to 8 ounces of pickle juice 45 minutes and 8 to 10 ounces of water 30 minutes before your session," says certified nutritionist and fitness trainer Majid Ali of the Healing Center in Culver City, Calif. "If your stomach can handle it, drink 4 to 6 ounces after or during your session to speed recovery." Pineapple juice can also reduce post-workout inflammation. "The bromelain [an enzyme] in pineapple juice removes lactic acid buildup in the muscles, which causes inflammation," he says. Ali recommends drinking 6 to 10 ounces, 30 minutes after training.

4 of 10
Get off the elliptical trainer.

"The elliptical is mindless and by far the least effective machine for fat loss," says L.A.–based Torri Shack, who's certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. "It uses momentum, not muscle force. Most people don't use enough resistance." This machine may increase your heart rate and sweat level, but to burn fat using one, Shack says you'll need to exercise for 45 to 60 minutes and vary your levels of intensity and resistance. Shack adds that the elliptical machine is best for warming up before weight lifting or rehabilitating injured body parts. "If you can watch television or read while doing cardio, you're not working hard enough, and therefore not burning fat," she says.

5 of 10
Don't sweat it.

Sweat is your body's way of regulating your rising temperature, not a clear sign of increased calorie burn or an intense workout. "In the sauna, you'll sweat buckets, but you aren't burning fat," says Brad Schoenfeld, certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of The 28-Day Body Shapeover (Human Kinetics, 2005). "The best indicator of calorie burn is either heart rate or Rate of Perceived Exertion." RPE is a self-reported scale that determines intensity; it ranges from 1 (complete rest) to 10 (maximum effort). High intensity exercise—such as interval training—increases your heart rate, which equals more fat burn. So, don't aim solely for a sweaty workout. Go for an intense one.

6 of 10
Practice your "Get-Up."

"The Get-Up is one of the best kept secrets in the fitness industry," says Houston-based certified strength and conditioning specialist Sean Cashman. "It's one of the most functional exercises [meaning it trains your body for real-life situations], yet the majority of gym-goers have never heard of it. You move from lying down, up to a standing position, and back down, all while holding a weight above your head." Cashman suggests a 10- to 20-pound weight to start. "The Get-Up integrates all joints and muscles in one sequence," he says. "It increases your whole body's strength, stability, balance and flexibility."

7 of 10
Say "shhh."

As you say it, "Put your hands on your stomach and feel the contraction," says Jonathan Angelilli, a personal trainer in New York City. "That's your transverse abdominus and diaphragm contracting, creating tension in the core and strengthening your extremities." The louder your "sshhh," the better. It's most effective for core stabilization exercises such as squats, push-ups and Pilates moves. Angelilli says, "'Sshhh' also helps you breathe with your abs. Stress, [poor] posture at work and sitting too much over-activates our secondary breathing muscles in the neck and inhibits our primary abdominal breathing muscles." Saying "sshhh" oxygenates the body, increases strength, tones abs and reduces neck tension.

8 of 10
Beware the hump.

Most of us work our "sexy" muscles: the chest, the shoulders and the arms. "This neglects the upper back, where many of us have a distinctive hump, manifested by forward-rounded, contracted shoulders and a forward-leaning neck," says Andrew Sherman, M.D., associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Miami. "This can lead to neck and shoulder pain." To fight the hump, stretch your chest muscles and do exercises that retract your shoulder and neck, such as rows, front lat pull downs and upward dumbbell flys. "Don't forget to stick out your chest while doing them!" says Dr. Sherman.

9 of 10
Run barefoot.

According to proponents of shoeless running, shoes inhibit foot growth, development and flexibility. David Jenkins, D.P.M., professor at Midwestern University's Arizona Podiatric Medicine Program, says, "Running barefoot may increase foot flexibility and strengthen intrinsic foot muscles. This can improve toe function, balance and structural support, but more research is necessary." Running barefoot could decrease the likelihood of plantar fasciitis, a running epidemic unknown 30 years ago, which is possibly caused by over-controlling shoes and/or orthotic arch supports used on normal feet, says Dr. Jenkins. "A gradual buildup to barefoot sports is imperative," says Dr. Jenkins. "Barefoot running is an extreme change for people who have worn shoes most of the time." Of course, be careful to watch for hazards like broken glass and rocks when running shoeless.

10 of 10
Kick and shout!

IntenSati is "moving meditation"—a fitness program that uses the voice and mind to intensify physical workouts. Participants chant or shout empowering affirmations while kicking, jumping or lunging. For example, while punching, they yell, "I. Am. Strong. Now!" IntenSati creator Patricia Moreno says, "The repetition of a single statement moves you into a state of focused awareness—it's a very powerful practice." She claims these motivational chants boost emotional strength, increase self-confidence and distract participants from feeling fatigued, which increases the effectiveness of their workouts.

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