The other day I set up a fitness program for a woman who is entering Dr. Oz’s Transformation Nation: Million Dollar You challenge.
She wants to train in a club setting, so we met there. In touring the facility, I noticed more people sitting or lying down than standing or moving around. It looked more like a waiting room, a spa, or massage business than a gym.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a time and a place for sitting and lying down, but that time is not during your workout, and that place is not in the club or home gym.
Use your instincts for a moment instead of your book, TV, magazine or “learn by watching others” knowledge. If someone said to you, “Wow. I am so out of shape. I really need to work out and boost my energy level,” would you envision that he or she would then lie down on the floor and start slowly lifting and lowering their hips?
More likely you would picture someone running, jumping, shuffling side to side, raising some weights over her head, etc. You would picture something really active with lots of full body movement. Those instinctive visions of what it means to exercise are correct.
The training practice of sitting on some selectorized (single movement) machine to “isolate the muscle” is out. Really out.
Try something different for your workouts this year: DON’T SIT DOWN.
Most of the physically demanding work you do in a day is done standing, so prepare for that type of work by training in that position. When I asked my husband, who still likes to use selectorized equipment at his company gym, how doing his bicep curls sitting down prepares him for practical, functional tasks, he responded, “Obviously you don’t understand how heavy the pens are at work.”
Think of exercise as an activity that conditions you for the physically demanding aspects of life: lifting, carrying, pulling, pushing, reaching, shoving, running (even for a short stint), lunging, climbing, etc. Your exercises should reflect those everyday movements and be done in positions that resemble regular tasks.
Consider sit-ups. How often is your body required to sit up, face up, from a lying position…especially over and over? Almost never. Most people, when they get out of bed or get up from the floor roll on to their sides first.
Let’s look at the reclining linear leg press. You lie on your back with your knees bent toward your chest and with your feet against the weighted plate. You then push the weight upward and outward, like you do with a toddler if you’re playing that airplane game. Unless you also play this game with your spouse, you’re unlikely to ever have to use this type of strength in this position. And unless you need to use a hundred pounds of force to push the gas pedal on your car, the horizontal leg press, in which you sit facing forward and push a weighted plate away with your feet, doesn’t prepare you in a practical way either.
These are just a few examples of the many that illustrate the less-than-perfect practical application of most pieces of heavy-duty training equipment.
What should you use then? Free weights, tubing, cables or variations on them. And when you use them, stand up. Don’t sit to do your overhead press or your curls. I repeat: stand up! You use more calories when you stand, both because you have to support your body weight, but also because stabilizing muscles have to work, requiring more energy. And standing exercises are likely to train your body in a more functional way to meet the demands of your life, from work to recreation. In addition, standing, functional exercises condition your body in a balanced way, leading to a nicely proportioned shape.
By the way, the same goes for your cardio. While there’s nothing wrong with a bike ride or with rowing, do most of your cardio standing up. Walk, run, use the stairs and use the machines that keep you on your feet.
As with almost all rules of thumb, there are exceptions. People in therapy settings, those with balance issues, or individuals with various muscle, joint, or bone considerations may be best served by doing certain exercises lying down, sitting, in the pool or using specialized equipment.
But if you don’t fit in those categories, give sitting a pass and take a stand in 2012.
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