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Peddle Yourself Fit: How to Get the Most Out of a Stationary Bike

exercise bikeI run into a lot of people nursing injuries, or limited by joint issues. Unfortunately, as soon as someone is injured they often quit exercising altogether – but there is hope! It’s called a stationary bike.

If you have ever been to a rehabilitation center, you know physical therapist rely heavily on Stationary Bikes. It gets the patient’s joints moving without extra weight on the joint, it’s safe (less chance of falling off a bike than a treadmill) and it exercises the heart and lunges.

If you are unable to do weight bearing exercise (like walking, running or doing the elliptical), using a stationary bike is a great alternative – IF you use it right.

Here are 4 ways to peddle your way to fitness success.

big boy on small bike1. Learn proper set-up. Have you ever seen a big person on a little bike. It looks ridiculous doesn’t it? Well, it’s not just silly looking, it’s dangerous. Before you begin your workout, adjust the seat where your legs comfortably stretch out to reach the peddles. When your leg is stretched out all the way, your leg should only have a slight bend without locking the knee out at full extension. If you are bike shopping, don’t cut corners just to save money. Cheap bikes often are tipsy and not as comfortable. Your health is worth the investment. Look for a wide base, comfortable seat, heart rate monitor, built-in workout programs and sturdy framing to make your workout more enjoyable.

sleeping on exercise bike

2. No coasting. Many people get on a bike like they are going out for some kind of joy ride instead of actually working out. They peddle slowly, as if that is going to do something miraculous. Maybe it’s because they are comfortable. With recumbent bikes these days, bikes have nice cushy backs on the seat and even arm rests, so no wonder you may start yawning! You can’t coast your way to success. Ride like you are going somewhere.

3. Peddle with purpose. I see some people hop on the bike and mentally leave the planet into some far off land. If you want your bike exercise to change your body, and your health, you need to have a gang plan. Many bikes, like the NordicTrac GX 3.4, have built in workout programs. The GX 3 actually has 23 programs to choose from, so you could practically have a fresh new workout every time you ride throughout each month! If your bike has programs, USE THEM! Don’t just peddle at your own pace, use the programs to train and challenge you.

4. Track your heart rate. Your heart rate is the most accurate way to determine how hard you are working. First, find out your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age). Then, multiple that number by your desired target heart rate. 60-70% for beginners, 70-80% for intermediate training and 80-90% for advanced training. Interval workouts are even more effective for fat burning and conditioning. Interval workouts are when you exercise at a high peak of 80-90% of your maximum heart rate, followed by a recovery period at a lower heart rate. For example, 1 minute at 80-90%, followed by 2 minutes at 70-80% for a high intensity workout, or 2 minutes at 70-80% of your maximum heart rate followed by 3 minutes at 60-70% for a moderate intensity workout.

target-heart-rate-table1

Prevention: How to Recognize Signs of Muscle Deterioration

mother and daughterMy mom recently shared something with me that I think many of us can learn from. She was nice enough to let me share her story with you in hopes it could help others – and I’m sure it will.

“Over the past couple of years, I had noticed that my legs seemed weak, and the range that my legs could bend, and still be strong, was diminishing.  For example, getting out of a low car, standing up from the bath tub, and even getting up off the potty was becoming a challenge.  I couldn’t even squat from a standing position!  This was a girl that played softball for years and could once do a split to catch a ball and keep my foot on first base!!!

I realized that I was using my arms to help me push my body up (which I’ve been working out so I had the strength to do it) and not relying on my legs.  I was working legs out too….but not from a complete squat.  It dawned on me that I was ‘giving in’ to old age weakness – and I needed to do something about it.  

Tom and Julianne

The first thing I did was ‘confess’ to Tom (my husband and training partner) that I felt I was losing strength.  I knew this would hold me accountable in doing something about it.  The second thing I did was decrease my weight on my legs workout so I could go much deeper, even if I only pressed the bar or rack, and not weights. After implementing this in the gym, and after only 1 week, I noticed a HUGE difference!   I began making myself use my legs more (getting out of the car, tub, etc), and after only doing this for about a month, I feel like I am 80% better!” 

bathroom handlebar

Strong and Weak
My mom was not weak. She was piling plates on the leg press, but she wasn’t working in a full range of motion. As a result, she was only using the strongest part of her legs, and avoiding movement where she was weakest, like a deep squat. Her strong muscles were getting stronger, but her weak muscles were getting weaker. Finally, it started affecting her daily living. Many people would just give in to the weakness and start catering their life around that weakness, like installing a handicap bar. But my mom was NOT going to go there! Instead, she decided to fix the problem, not mask it.

Cause and Effect
When we squat, or leg press, people may only go to where their knees are at a 90 degree angel. Of course, when we squat down to pick up something, or get up off the ground, we aren’t always starting at a perfect 90 degree angle – but are often starting off well below 90 degrees. Unless you are purposefully strengthening those muscles, they will get weaker as you age.

In my mom’s case, I believe she started avoiding a deeper squats and deep lunges after injuring her knee a few years ago. Instead of reducing weight and increasing range of motion to rehabilitate the knee, she continued lifting the same weight, but just decreased range of motion. However, the best plan of action is to focus on strengthening your body for full range of motion. It really doesn’t matter if you can squat 500lbs if you can’t get up off the toilet. Our quality of life greatly depends on how we move daily, not how we move in a controlled area in the gym.

Daily Living Activities – Then & Now

BABY-SQUAT squatting

When we were young, we would sit in a squatted position for long periods of time  (and look at the great form on this baby! Nice posture kid!). However, as we age, we tend to play on the floor less, and don’t utilize those muscles as much. And, weight gain can make squatting even more challenging. So, as a result, we shift from bending with our legs less, to bending with our back more. If the gentleman in the above photo was younger, he’d likely squat down to pick something up. But, instead, he chose to bend with his back. It’s this type of repetitive behavior that trains the body to work around weaknesses.

bending down

Luckily, my mom is a fighter and recognized the warning signs. I’m sure, at first, it didn’t compute why she would be so weak, when she seemed so strong at the gym. But, after we talked through it, it all made perfect sense.

This is why functional training is so important. We need to perform exercises that closely mirror our normal daily activities, and we need to be sure to move safely in a full range of motion as long as our body will allow it. Although my mom does have some knee issues, she was able to successfully improve her range of motion by simply reducing her weight significantly.

Morale of the story. Mom says,Don’t give in to weakness. It isn’t ok to compensate on the muscle maintenance that we need to have to live a quality life. Listen to your body—it WILL tell you what you need.”

Runners Beware Part 2: Tips to Tweak your Fitness

After writing my last blog, “Runners Beware“, I hopped on a plane to New York with my FitFluential peeps, responding to everyone’s comments and feedback via phone and ipad on the go. With over 1,000 facebook likes and 20,000 views, it’s obviously a hot topic. As I sit in my hotel room this morning, with a great view of the new World Trade center buildings, I finally have a chance to squeeze in a follow-up post.

Luckily, most people who read the blog received the “bad news” pretty well. It’s never fun finding out you’ve been investing a lot of time and energy into something that may not give you the result you thought. I’m not implying that running is not beneficial (I RUN and LOVE it!), BUUUUT being fit (and looking fit) is more than going for a jog every day.

Why are more and more people running?
My answer: Because they can. As people get fit with the help of gyms, trainers, workout DVDs, etc they get fit enough to run – plain and simple. Before someone gets in shape, running is rarely an option or even appealing. However, as someone gets fit and discovers they are now ABLE to run, it becomes a natural response.  Unfortunately, people often drop their gym memberships, or programs, for running – but running is Read the rest of this entry

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