Fitness Series

Starting a Walking or Running Program

Spring’s warmer temperatures make it the ideal time to begin an exercise program. You’ll find people out strolling the park as well as pounding the pavement in their quest for fitness. So how do you know whether to lace up your shoes for a stroll or a serious sprint?

If you don’t exercise regularly, experts agree that a walking program is the safest, most accessible way to get started. “Walking is ideal for older people or anyone wishing to start and maintain a program of physical activity. It’s easy, it’s safe, you don’t need any special equipment except for a good pair of walking shoes and you can do it anywhere, anytime,” says Andrea Kriska, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Last fall, researchers at the School reported that starting and maintaining a simple walking program may be the best way to prevent heart disease and reduce surgeries and hospitalizations later in life.

As a general rule, any exercise that causes your heart to beat fast and can be sustained for more than 20 minutes is good aerobic exercise. With walking, in a sense you’re really targeting one main muscle-the heart. For walking to be truly aerobic, though, you must walk energetically, not merely stroll, for at least 20 minutes three to four times a week. “I tell women to walk like they’re in a hurry to get to a sale!” says Loren Middaq, a physical therapist with Peak Performance Physical Therapy in Los Angeles, California.

Ideally, while you walk you want to remain within your target heart rate for 30-60 minutes, but if you’re just starting out, adjust down accordingly. To determine your target heart rate, first subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate. Your target heart rate is 60-80% of this number. For example, if you are 35, your maximum heart rate would be 185 beats per minute, and your target heart rate would range from 111 to 148 beats per minute. If figuring out your heart rate is too much of a hassle, try the “talk test” instead. During your workout, you should be breathing hard but not too winded to carry on a conversation.

Stretching is also an important part of any exercise routine, even walking, to prevent injury and muscle soreness. “Walk first for five minutes, then stretch your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and back muscles, holding each stretch steadily and not bouncing,” says Mark Feiger, owner of Healthy Images Personal Training in Las Colinas, Texas.When you’re finished with your workout, take another five to 10 minutes to repeat the stretching exercises you did after your warm-up.

While walking is the safest form of exercise, nothing beats running for cardiovascular conditioning and working the large muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals. But there are definite hazards are associated with the sport. “If you’re an exercise beginner, I never recommend running. There’s too much risk for injury such as shin splints, knee problems, and tendonitis,” says Middaq. People with previous knee, hip or back problems or a history or risk of cardiovascular disease should avoid running. Tom Brunick, technical editor for Runner’s World Magazine and director of the Athletes’ Footwear Test Center at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, adds, “Running doesn’t do anything for skeletal strength or flexibility. To round out a running program, you should add a stretching and strength conditioning routine.”

If you still want to feel the wind in your hair by running, begin with a walk/run program to avoid injury. Budd Coates, four-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, recommends that a person with no running background begin with eight straight days of walking-first, four days of 20 minutes, then four days of 30 minutes. After that, introduce two minutes of running alternating with four minutes of walking. Repeat this five times for a total of 30 minutes per workout.

For walking, try lightweight walking shoes, and replace them every six months. You’ll find many elements of running shoes in walking shoes, particularly shock-absorbent heels and midsoles and extra heel padding. Dr. Carol Frey, M.D., associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, suggests replacing running shoes every 300 miles if you run on hard surfaces and every 500 miles if you run on soft surfaces. While your local athletic store offers a myriad of options, keep in mind that the salesperson may or may not be knowledgeable. Bob Wischnia, shoe advice columnist for Runner’s World Online, recommends spending at least $75 but no more than $90. For more information, check out the Running Shoe Database of the American Running and Fitness Association at http://www.arfa.org.

If possible, try to run on even, soft surfaces to help avoid ankle twists and sprains. If you must run on the roads, the Road Runners Club of America recommends that you run against oncoming traffic, and choose blacktop roads whenever possible. If you’re walking or running at night, remember to wear reflective clothing for safety and stay on familiar, well-lit streets. Finally, before you hit the road, “I’d walk over to see my doctor first for a complete checkup,” says Brunick.

Remember, sticking with any regular exercise program is a marathon, not a sprint. “Too many people try to do too much too fast and end up getting hurt physically, emotionally, or both. Never increase mileage more than 10% a week, and if you have any pain, that’s a warning sign. Stop and get it checked out right away,” he advises.

Walking

Benefits: Improves cardiovascular fitness; lowers blood pressure; reduces the risk of bone loss; can do anywhere, anytime; low risk of injuries; only exercise virtually guaranteed to lengthen your life.
Cons: low on speed and action; for true cardiovascular conditioning you may need to pick up the pace
Must-Haves: Good walking shoes, safe place to walk.
Cost: $150-$180 year (based on two pair of walking shoes).
The Walking Personality: Very appealing to non-athletic types who are intimidated by gyms as well as those with a history of injuries; excellent for older people.
Running

Benefits: Superior aerobic exercise; good for weight management; minimal equipment needed.
Cons: Hard on bones and joints; impact injuries common; shoes must be replaced regularly; may be intimidating to novice exercisers.
Must-Haves: Good running shoes, safe place to run.
Cost: $150-$180 year (based on two pairs of running shoes).
The Running Personality: Tends to be driven, Type-A types who enjoy using running time for “decompressing” and problem-solving.

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No-Fault Fitness

 

If you think that the hard-charging game of tennis is only for 17-year-old superstar “wonderkids,” you’re playing on the wrong court. All that swinging, lunging, and slamming the ball past your opponent can add up to some serious fitness benefits-no matter what your age. “If you think you can’t play tennis anymore because it requires too much activity and running around, recreational doubles is the answer for you. By getting out and playing two or three times a week, you can complement other fitness programs such as walking or swimming,” says Tammi Ketler, an exercise physiologist and director of the USA TENNIS program in New York City, New York.

In fact, more than 40% of the 19.5 million recreational tennis players in the U.S. today are over age 35, according to Kurt Kamperman, president of the Tennis Industry Association in Hilton Head, South Carolina. “And the two fastest-growing groups are 25-49 year-olds and those age 50 and over,” he says.

What those Baby Boomers and seniors have discovered is that tennis can deliver the health and strength building benefits of interval training along with the fat burning advantages of aerobic exercise. “Tennis is a ‘play for life’ sport. If you can walk, you can play. If you’re participating in it for the health benefits, it doesn’t really matter what your intensity level is-it’s still good for you to get out and move,” says Amy Simpson, 1999 International Health, Racquet and Sportclub Association Fitness Director of the year. According to LGE Sport Science in Orlando, Florida, three hours of moderate tennis per week will burn 1397 calories, and competitive tennis burns even more.

Another advantage of tennis, even for novices, is that it works all the major muscle groups, particularly the quads, hamstrings, shoulders and upper arms. “For intermediate and advanced players, the sport is very aerobic, but that doesn’t mean that beginners can’t get benefits from it. People are concerned about getting a good workout from their game today, much more than they used to be,” says Tim Barnard, USPTA-certified tennis pro at Brookhaven Racquet Club in Dallas, Texas. In response to that trend, Brookhaven offers popular classes in Beginner Aerobic Tennis that provide a challenging total-body workout through non-stop drills and practice. “The students are on the move for an hour and a half, but they still get to learn,” Barnard says. Tennis offers psychological benefits as well. In fact, it outperforms other sports in developing positive personality characteristics, including spontaneity, competitiveness, and mental focus, according to Jim Gavin, Ph.D. of Concordia University and author of The Exercise Habit.

Tennis does have one major downside, however. All of that start-and-stop action can be pretty tough on joints and tendons. “The real hidden costs of this game, among those who passionately play it, are the injuries, like sprained ankles, pulled muscles, and bad backs,” says Annemarie Marek, an amateur USTA member and 1998 4.0 Women’s Doubles Winner. To help avoid problems, it’s smart to come to the court in good shape. “Spend some time working the lower body with weight training and range-of-motion exercises. Strong thigh muscles will help protect knees and ankles from pounding on the court and give you strength to push off at high speed,” says Ed Burke, Ph.D., director of exercise physiology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and Olympic athlete trainer.

In addition, basic leg exercises such as squats, leg extensions, and curls will increase strength, while ankle stretches and toe raises will keep the lower legs limber. “Leg lunges are terrific for tennis players because they bend your knees and work the quads, hamstrings, and gluts. You can also do side lunges, which imitates stepping into a tennis ball. Start with one set of 8-10 and work up to two sets after three to four weeks,” says Kitler. Court tip: while playing, instead of scooping the ball up with your racquet, squat down to pick it up, which will help flexibility in the legs and groin. You can also cross-train with an aerobic sport like cycling to toughen up knee joints.

While you’re training, don’t forget to add some upper body exercises, including wrist curls and dumbbell work, and include some oblique crunches to strengthen the back and give you more power for your swing. “To help specifically with serving and shoulder strength, try lat raises and lat pulls. Since tennis is a one-handed game, don’t forget that it’s important to work the other side of your body as well,” says Kitler. You can even use your duffel bag as a free weight to strengthen deltoids. Hold it in one hand as if it were a dumbbell, and extend your arm out from body without bending your elbow. Do 8-12 reps, then switch sides. Experts say that jumping rope is also excellent for tennis players to improve foot speed and increase stamina. Try to work up to 15 minutes a day.

Once you’re out on the court, always take the time to warm up slowly before you play, hitting the balls lightly and allowing your muscles to warm up through all of the stroke movements. “Being fully hydrated, warming up, and stretching before and after your game will go a long way to avoiding injury, especially for older players,” says Barnard. Finally, to avoid the dreaded tennis elbow, which is usually caused by incorrect form, get some good instruction. The USA Tennis program, sponsored by the United States Tennis Association, offers reasonably priced lessons for adults and children nationwide this summer. Visit their website at www.usta.com and click on the USA Sections button to find a phone number for a local facility near you.

When selecting an instructor, be sure to look for someone who is enthusiastic as well as knowledgeable. “I’d look for a USPTA or USPTR certified pro who’s experienced at teaching. And remember, just because someone was a great player doesn’t mean that they’ll be a good teacher,” warns Kamperman. Once you’re got a few lessons under your belt, you can play and practice for free or a nominal fee, since public courts are available in most cities and towns. “Tennis is a fun sport that doesn’t require a lot of structure to play. It’s easy to find one partner. If you have a racquet, balls, and a friend, you’re good to go,” says Simpson. “You can play a game in an hour and get a good workout,” says Kamperman. “And it sure beats sitting on a Lifecycle reading a magazine!”

Benefits: Improves flexibility, stamina, speed, and strength; better eye-hand coordination; social benefits.
Cons: Can be tough on joints, ligaments and tendons; tennis elbow possible.
Must-Haves: Racquet, balls, shoes, and court.
Cost: Racquet $75-100; balls $ 2.50/can; shoes $75; strings and stringing $25-40 per replacement; court time varies, but average cost per 1.5 hour use at public facility averages $4 -10; lessons $60-$80 for intro lesson package.
The Tennis Personality: Tend to be adventuresome high achievers who are easily bored and enjoy the quick movement inherent in the sport.

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Going the Distance

 

Congratulations. You’ve worked hard to make exercise a regular part of your life, and you’re committed to it for the long haul. But let’s be honest: running and cycling around the block all the time is getting a bit, well, boring. You need a goal…something you can work towards achieving. So why not tackle a triathlon?

Believe it or not, you don’t have to be a superhuman athlete, nor must you sign up for the Ironman to compete. All you need is the proper training and a little dedication. According to USA Triathlon, about 80,000 people a year sign up for at least one of 700-plus amateur races that are held every year. “There are so many kinds of triathlons out there that it really need not be intimidating,” says Jonathon Bender, physical therapist at the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch, Outpatient Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Department in Chicago, Illinois.

Triathlons may be getting more popular due to the fact that the sport that this relatively new sport is growing up. In Sydney, Australia, next year, the event will make its official debut as an Olympic event, featuring a 1.5K swim, a 40k ride, and a 10K run. Before you go for the gold, though, you’ll probably want to start off with a mini-triathlon, perhaps one of the more manageable distances such as a 1K swim, a 20K ride, and a 5K run.

“Triathloning is a fantastic physical sport, because it gives you so many health benefits: increased cardiovascular capacity, improved muscular strength and endurance, weight control, stress reduction, and more. And you won’t find a better way to burn calories,” says Troy Jacobson, member of the USA Triathlon Coaches Committee, Ironman athlete, and president of Troy Jacobson Multisport LLC in Baltimore, Maryland.

The great thing about participating in triathlons is that by varying your activities, you cause less trauma to your body than you would if you focused strictly on one event. “Because you’re utilizing the principles of cross-training, you have less of a tendency to overdo any one sport and injure yourself,” says Steve Black, PT, ATC, CPT, and owner of Sports Performance in Boulder, Colorado. Plus, the variety you’ll get from training will keep things interesting, too.

To get started, all you’ll need is a bike, a swimsuit, and running shoes. Some triathlons take place in cold water, so a wetsuit is also a good idea. Because swimming is the most difficult event for most people, it’s important to learn how to use proper technique and to vary your strokes, because each places a different emphasis on the major muscle groups. “The first thing that the novice triathlete needs to learn to do is swim properly,” says Jacobson. To find a certified coach, call USA Triathlon at (719) 597-9090; to find a triathlon club in your area, visit the USA Triathlon website at www.usatriathlon.org. You might also want to pick up a copy of PC-Coach, a software program available in most computer stores that offers sample workouts and advice on how to train.

While you’re training, a good rule of thumb is to spend 25 percent of your time swimming, 50 percent biking, and 25 percent running. It’s not necessary to do more than one event per day, but most experts suggest that you aim for one “brick” workout every couple of weeks. A brick workout is a stacked workout, meaning you will go for a bike ride, for example, then immediately follow it with a run. “It’s good practice for your transition and gives you the feel of running on “bike legs,” says veteran triathloner Kara Thom. In the last six years she’s finished 25 triathlons, three of them half-Ironmans.

To help avoid injury, as in any sport, stretching before and after exercise is essential, and remember that “less is more.” “The one thing I recommend for everyone is to start out slow. The most important thing is to do it regularly. If you can’t do 30 minutes at a time, it’s still better to do 10 or 15,” says Dr. Kim Griffin, assistant director of the Cardiac Surgical Care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, New York and a champion runner. According to Dr. Griffin, some of the most common injuries in triathloning, including tendonitis, Achilles heel problems, and shin splints, can be minimized by using proper technique and running on soft surfaces. To stay healthy, remember to always progress moderately with respect to frequency, intensity, and duration. “Never increase any one of those three by more than 10% a week,” says Black.

When you’re just starting out, you may want to join a local roadrunners club and walk a few races to get the feel of things. An organized program such as the Avon Running Global Women’s Circuit, a series of 10K runs, 5K walk/fun runs, and workshops for beginning women runners and walkers, can serve as a useful stepping stone towards triathloning. “So many women, in particular, don’t envision themselves as athletes when they get into their 30s and 40s. Get out there with a friend and have your first experience in something like an Avon race. When you’re out there with 5000 other women, it helps you understand that you really can do it,” Dr. Griffin says. “There’s nothing greater than seeing a 70-year old woman out there walking a race.” More information about Avon running events nationwide is available at www.avonrunning.com.

Although triathloning is an exciting sport, it does have two potential downsides: expense and time commitment. It can be a rather expensive sport, if you travel to other triathlons frequently and purchase a top-of-the-line bike. Plus, “If you don’t have enough time to train, it can be very frustrating and become an additional stressor in your life,” says Black. One manageable way to squeeze training into a busy lifestyle is to train just three to four hours during the week, saving the longest and the “brick” workouts for weekends. Although many tri-athletes do resistance training and flexibility work during the off-season, Jacobson warns: “The bottom line is if you want to be a triathlete, you need to spend your time training in the sports that you’re competing in: swimming, biking, and running. It’s really important to develop those skills.”

Finally, don’t get frustrated by comparing yourself to others, and don’t worry about how fast you are going. Your training should fit your needs, not someone else’s. Set a goal of just finishing a triathlon, then go for it! “Don’t watch the pros,” says Jacobson. “Go watch a race with real people in it. Once you see all the different types of people who finish, it will give you the confidence that you can do it, too.”

Benefits: Great cardiovascular benefits; total-body workout; increased stamina and endurance.
Cons: Can be time-consuming and expensive; risk of injury when over-training.
Must-Haves: Swimming instruction, bathing suit, wetsuit if swimming in cold water, bike, helmet, and running shoes.
Cost: Swim lessons, from $5 a lesson to $60 a month; swimsuit $20-$75; wetsuit goggles $20; swim cap, $5; wetsuit $200; bike, anywhere from $100 used to $5000; helmet $100; bike shoes $75-250; bike gloves $20; cycling shorts $30-$75; running shoes $100.
The Triathloning Personality: Successful Type-A professionals, most often in their 30s and 40s, who want new challenges, enjoy achieving goals, and don’t like downtime.

Starting a Cycling/Mountain Biking Program

 

Those first-graders pedaling around your neighborhood with the gap-toothed grins are on to something that a lot of adults have forgotten: in addition to being a liberating form of aerobic exercise, biking is good old-fashioned fun. And the best news is that cycling is not just for kids anymore. In fact, about 20 million adults get on their bicycles at least once a week looking for fitness and fun.

For maximum cardiovascular benefits, most experts recommend that you bicycle 30 minutes in duration at least three times a week. If you’re out of shape, though, begin slowly. Limit initial rides, whether outside or inside on a stationary bike, to 20 minutes, and work up gradually. “With a 20-minute ride one day and a 30-minute ride the next, you can sneak up on fitness without overdoing it,” says Jacquie Phelan, bike skills trainer and founder of the Woman’s Mountain Bike and Tea Society (WOMBATS). As a non-impact sport, Phelan says that mountain biking is great for older women. “The media has misfiled it under ‘Fun for Boys,” she remarks. “Mountain biking offers a terrific full-body workout that really works the quads, forearms and triceps.”

Phelan recommends starting out easy by pedaling briskly on fairly flat surfaces. To make your ride a truly aerobic activity, you need to move your legs at least twice as fast as you would during a brisk walk. As you get comfortable with your bike and workout schedule, you can begin maintaining your target heart rate for the duration of the workout.

Whether you’re a road runner or a mountain biker, your conditioning workout should emphasize strength training for both the upper and lower body. In addition to the quads and outside thigh muscles, cycling works the upper body because it helps to steer and control the bike. John Graham, director of the Human Performance Center at the Allentown Sports Medicine and Human Performance Center in Pennsylvania, recommends barbell and dumbbell curls to strengthen the biceps, overhead extensions for the triceps, and wrist curls to give you strength to keep the bike stable. One-arm dumbbell row sand bent-over rows will also increase muscle strength for the upper back, and squats, leg presses, and leg curls will maintain proper balance between the quadriceps and hamstring muscles. For a Core Routine that will serve as a good starting point for cycling fitness, check out The Men’s Health Guide to Peak Conditioning (Rodale Press, 1997).

One of the biggest misconceptions about mountain biking, according to Dan Vandamis, advocacy associate with the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), “is that you have to be super-aggressive. You don’t have to have a ‘gonzo’ personality to enjoy the sport. You just need to be someone who’s willing to try new things.” Vandamis says that the difference between cycling and mountain biking is that “in mountain biking, the terrain is rougher, and you use your upper body and arms a lot more to get over the roads. Physically, you need more power than you do when just cycling. It’s a great full-body workout.”

For serious off-road riding, Vandamis suggests that you spend somewhere between $400-500 for a good mountain bike. To select the right bike, first consider your needs: will you require a racing, mountain, or touring bicycle? Racing bicycles are lightweight, with low-slung handlebars and many gear settings; mountain bicycles have sturdier frames, more upright handlebars, and wider tires with heavy tread; and touring bicycles are somewhere in between.

A dedicated bike shop is usually the best source to buy a bike, Vandamis says, because, “A specialty bike shop will fit you correctly, which will help avoid knee problems. Good bike position is really important.” Rhonda Hoyt, owner of Richardson Bike Mart in Richardson, Texas, says, “To get road-ready, you’ll need a bike, a helmet, a tire tool, patch kit, spare tube, pump, water bottle and cage, and some money. Add a cell phone, and you can go across the country!” Hoyt said that you can get a good recreational bike for as little as $250. “If you’re just riding around the neighborhood with the kids, you’ll do fine on a touring bike with platform pedals and a good stiff shoe. If you plan on riding more seriously, you might consider the snap-in type pedal and a cycling shoe that will give you more power to pedal.”

Your local bike shop can also put you in touch with nearby biking clubs, or you can attend an instructional clinic to get up to speed quickly. Dirt Camps Inc. in Boulder, Colorado offers a variety of instructional safety clinics for novices nationwide. “One of the most common injuries is when someone breaks a collarbone from taking a fall and sticking their hands out to try and break their fall,” according to vice president Elias Bachmann. “We offer instruction on the right and wrong way to fall and teach trail riding clinics covering topics like ascending and descending hills and how to get fitted correctly on a bike. If people are fit wrong, they can have knee and back problems, and if their cleats are positioned wrong, it can also cause strain on the knees.” For more information on Dirt Camps, check out their website at http://www.dirtcamp.com or call (800) 711-DIRT (3478).

When riding on the highway, always follow the traffic as if your bike was a motor vehicle. Keep reflectors clean and install lighting to ride at night, and wear reflective clothing and attach reflective strips to your helmet. Finally, keep your bike in good working order, and take it in for a tune-up regularly. See you over the top of the next hill!

Cycling and Mountain Biking

Benefits: Good total-body aerobic exercise; easy entry into sport; increases stamina and endurance.
Cons: Higher startup cost than other sports such as running or walking; may be difficult to bike in adverse conditions; risk of falls/collisions.
Must-Haves: Bike, approved safety helmet.
Cost: $250 for a recreational (touring) bike; $500 for entry-level mountain bike; helmet $35; basic clipless pedals, if desired: $35; clipless shoes, if desired, $60; tire tool, patch kit, spare tube, and pump $30; water bottle and cage, $15.
Biking Personality: “The great equalizer”; appeals to all personalities; mountain biking tends to satisfy thrill-seekers who enjoy varied terrain and changing conditions.

 

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