Wise Work Out – At the Gym

It’s that time of year when New Year resolutions often involve starting or reviving an exercise program.  One very easy way to derail this is to end up getting hurt so here are some tips for injury prevention in the gym.

Listen to your body.  There’s a balance between pushing yourself and overdoing things.  It’s better to start out doing less and working up rather than doing more and ending up injured.  You do want to challenge yourself but it may take some time to figure out what is a challenge vs. what’s too much.  Give yourself the time.

Not all exercises are good for everyone.  Stay mindful of your body.  I’m don’t like to see people doing  high impact workouts where you’re jumping around a lot.  It puts a long of pressure on your joints and  cause damage in the long run.  If you have an area that’s been injured, get advice from a qualified person, like a chiropractor, about how to best work that region.

Avoid locking out your joints.  A locked joint is one that is in its end range of motion.  If you let your arms hang down, there is still some flex in your elbows.  If you totally straighten your arm your elbow is now locked.  A locked joint is particularly vulnerable because it has no give.  So if you’re doing an exercise like a leg press, avoid fully straightening your legs.  Same goes for a chest press, avoid fully straightening your arms.

Machine Adjustments.  While not everyone uses machines, if you do it is important that it is adjusted correctly.  Some machines and weight benches will be too big for a smaller person.  If you’re unsure, working with a trainer could be beneficial.

What else should you do at the gym.  Using machines isn’t the only way to work-out.  Free weights have a lot of benefit.  Standing up while doing an exercise will recruit more muscles, particularly core muscles.  The more muscles used, the larger the impact.  Using body movements without weights can also be good, again with the caution of doing low impact movements.  Cardio is another topic for another blog.

Body alignment.  If your body is moving properly to begin with, the chances for injury go way down.  Seeing a chiropractor can help get you started in the right direction as well as giving advice about what would be good to do and better avoided.

So don’t let injury occur and stop you from actually achieving your goals. Begin in a reasonable way, have your body in the best shape to start, seek good advice and ultimately see the benefits.


Live Longer: 15 Minutes = 3 Years

No it’s not bad math. It’s the results of a study recently reported in Lancet’s.  In Taiwan, 416,175 people were studied from 1996 through 2008.  The study found that the low-level activity group, people who did moderate exercise like brisk walking for 15 minutes a day, increased their life expectancy by three years.  They also had a 14 percent reduction in their overall mortality risk.

People who exercised more, showed even better results.


Currently it is recommended that we exercise anywhere from 30-60 minutes per day.  For some people that is just too much.  Between juggling work/school, commuting, family, etc., time can be a very precious commodity.  Knowing you should exercise and being able to find the time can be two very different things.

So while more exercise can give more improvements, it’s good to know that even carving out 15 minutes a day can have significant benefit.  Pretty much everyone can find 15 minutes to go do some brisk walking.  It doesn’t require fancy equipment, although a good pair of shoes is recommended.  You don’t need to invest precious time getting to and from a gym.  Just go out the door and walk briskly for 15 minutes.

Often people start an exercise program, but find that they just don’t have the time to keep up the routine. Then they stop everything. Exercise becomes an all or nothing proposition. While it is better to have a comprehensive program of weight lifting and aerobic work, it’s good to know that even doing a little can produce solid results.

So if you don’t have time to do the full gamut, see about adding those 15 minutes daily.  You might wind up with more energy and find the time to do even more. But at least you’ve still done something good for yourself.



The good workouts are tough, demanding, sweat & blood. So here’s a sneaky workout trick: add fun. And in this kind of heat, the best fun is kayaking.

Getting a kayak to move is primarily about the core muscles of the abdomen and back. Sure, arms are important, but you don’t want your arms doing all the work. Your torso’s big, your arms are small. Do the math.


Done right, plowing through the water is more about rotating your body. The central power comes from your core. That lets you go faster with less effort and fatigue.

Kayaking is easy, but you want to get some instruction. We’re fortunate to have plenty of great groups in Chicago to check out.

Right here at the lakefront we have the Lincoln Park Boat Club (http://www.lpbc.net/). It’s a great place to learn paddling. Join the club and you can take out a wide variety of boats. It’s located across from the Lincoln Park Zoo, which means easy access to Lake Michigan. That’s a great jaunt on a hot day.

Kayak Chicago (www.kayakchicago.com) does tours and rentals as well as lessons. They go out on Lake Michigan or various points along the Chicago River. You can do skyscraper paddling near downtown, or explore shady byways back in the neighborhoods.

In the forest preserves, Chicago Kayak(http://www.chicagokayak.com/) holds classes in the Skokie Lagoons. They also do organized trips. They even have a club of their own.

If you already have your own boat, you’ve got to know the Chicago Area Sea Kayakers (CASKA http://www.caska.org/ ). These are paddlers who do local trips most weekends, plus the occasional get-out-of-town-and-camp adventures. You’ll get to learn the best places for paddling, and meet some great people in the process.


How Are Your Feet?

Chiropractors work on backs, right? Well that’s true. However we also work on all joints in the body, and I must admit that I am particularly fond of adjusting feet. Our feet are the foundation of our bodies, and if they aren’t moving properly everything else gets thrown off: knees, back, and even the neck. People are often surprised how minor adjustments to their feet can translate into immediate improvements in their bodies.


Most runners know the value of good shoes to decrease the impact of running, but that is usually the only attention paid to the feet. Common problems arising from improper foot movements include knee pain, plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis.

Wearing shoes gives our feet support but also weakens them in a way. Actions in our feet are controlled by large (extrinsic) and small (intrinsic) muscles. Because we wear shoes, the smaller muscles do not get much work. We don’t tend to flex our toes as we walk, and these muscles can get weak. Being aware of toes while walking and making a point to flex them can help. A good way to actively strengthen these muscles is to spend some time picking up marbles with your toes.

Another exercise is to focus on your big toe and move it sideways away from the rest of your toes. Try to keep the movement level where the toe is neither pointing up or down. Do a similar maneuver with your little toe, moving it to the side away from your other toes and again keeping it level. Moving the little toe individually will take more effort and concentration than moving the big toe. Walking barefoot in the sand is also good for strengthening the feet but may not be the most practical day-to-day approach.

Like so many things, most people don’t acknowledge their feet until something has gone wrong and pain shows up. The pain may not actually show up in the feet. It could be felt in the knees, hips, pelvis, and/or the low back. Because of this, it’s important to make sure that all of the joints in the body are moving properly. Take care of your feet so that the rest of your body can feel better.

Getting Back in Shape

There’s a lot to be said for getting in shape. You feel better and look better, and your clothes start fitting better. But what if you haven’t done much for a while? How do you even start?

Fitness woman holding dumbbells - detail

Starting your program

  1. Start where you are now. If you spent the last ten years on the couch flipping channels, you can gain a lot just by getting out the door and walking. As you get used to walking, increase your pace. If you are already pretty active, you will probably need cycling, running, or workout machines to challenge your body and see the effects.
  1. Watch your ego. It is easy to start out gung-ho.“YES, I can lift 100 pounds, and work out for hours.” You might feel good at the time, and walk out of the gym tired and excited. But by the next day you will be in real pain. Not just the usual sore muscle pain, but pain from muscle tears and overuse. This will set you back, not move you forward, and will make it harder to continue working out.
  1. Lift amounts that actually challenge you. For best effect, use weights heavy enough to allow you to do 6-8 repetitions. Repeat for 3 sets. If you can do 15 or so reps, your weights are too light. Too many people at the gym are working out and never see a change in their bodies. They’re probably not working at a level that challenges their muscles.
  1. Include some kind of cardio workout. This does not mean hours on the elliptical or treadmill. In fact, the latest research shows that people do better with intensity training of short bursts and quick rests. (I’ll write more about this later). This short, intense workout will increase lung capacity as well as cardiac output. Two really good books about this type of work out are Ready, Set, GO! by Phil Campbell and A.C.E. The 12-minute Fitness Revolution by Al Sears.
  1. Keep at it! You need to stick to your program long enough to see positive results. That may be just a week or two, but give your body time to change.

 Starting a fitness program at any age is possible and will just about always produce benefits. Our bodies are highly adaptable and will be able to make changes at almost any age. So see what you can do and stick with it. You’ll probably end up living longer and better for you efforts.

Core Muscles

You hear a lot about core muscles these days. Even the army is focusing on core muscles. But what are core muscles, and what do they have to do with your workout?

Well, let’s say you’re running or working out at the gym, and before you know it your back starts hurting. Or you’re kayaking and your endurance just isn’t what you’d hoped for.Chances are, your core muscles are too weak to support your efforts, even as your legs or arms get stronger.

A strong core means you’ll use less energy to get better results.

What’s core?

Your core muscles are primarily:

  • abdominal muscles
  • muscles of the buttocks
  • muscles of the hips
  • muscles of the back

I know. You’re thinking, “You want me to have a strong butt???” Well, yes.

Core muscles hold you upright

Weak core muscles make it hard to hold good posture. That translates to bad running form, bad gym form, bad kayak form. It also alters your center of gravity. Add weight, and you’re stressing your body in ways it was never meant to be stressed.

This will take a toll. It will drag on your endurance, and eventually cause pain and inflammation.

Core muscles are shock absorbers

Think of running: lots of shock. Walking on cement, lifting weights, even hard cycling: a steady dose of small shocks.

When your core muscles aren’t strong enough, the shock hits areas of your back which were never designed to take a lot of shock.

Strong core muscles dissipate shock, and spread it around the entire abdominal cavity. This protects your back and takes pressure off the weak spots.

What you can do

You can strengthen core muscles by exercising at home, using machines at the gym, or taking a yoga or Pilates class.


There are great exercises for your core, some that you can do anywhere. Check here:


You’ll like how it feels once your core starts getting stronger. Whether you’re running, kayaking or lifting weights, you’ll feel better and your body with thank you.

My Hamstrings Are Too Tight!

Lots of people tell me how they stretch and stretch but they still have tight and shortened hamstrings. This can cause tightness in the legs and predispose you to back pain as well as muscle pulls in the back and front of your thighs. The hamstring muscles originate in what’s commonly known as your “sit bones,” more technically called the ischial tuberosity. Tight hamstrings will create abnormal pull on the pelvis and can eventually lead to back pain.

Young woman on floor stretching out her leg and hamstrings.

Young woman on floor stretching out her leg and hamstrings.

So what to do beyond the traditional stretches if these haven’t worked for you? Contracting and then stretching the muscle will set up a neurological reflex loop that will ultimately allow the muscle to lengthen and relax. This technique is known as PNF, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. It can be done either assisted or alone.

Let’s assume that you don’t have someone to help you stretch. You will need a chair and a towel. Sit on the chair and raise one leg so that it is parallel with the floor. Take a towel and place it by your ankle while holding the ends in both hands. Pull on the towel until the hamstrings let you know you’ve pulled enough. Do not over-pull, but get enough tension in the muscle.

Depending on your flexibility, your leg may now be off of the chair or still on it. This does not matter. Keeping the tension on your leg by maintaining the tension on the towel, push your leg down into the towel for about 5-10 seconds. Stop pushing, making sure to keep your leg at the same level, take a deep breath in and out, and then use the towel to further stretch the muscle, lifting the leg higher with the towel. Do not over-stretch, be aware of the comfortable end of your range of motion. Keep the leg at this new level and repeat this 2 more times.

It is important to maintain the towel tension on the leg, and while you do want to stretch the muscle, you do not want to over-stretch it. The contraction and then stretching allows the muscle to more fully stretch. This technique is using your nervous system to your advantage and is a great way to loosen up muscles quickly.