My Small Step Philosophy: A fit life is attained by making small, realistic and sustainable changes in food consumption and exercise over time. This allows a person time to create and hone new, fit habits that then become adopted and integrated into her everyday life. The result is a person who is living a fit lifestyle each and every day, making her healthy and strong for a lifetime. I have used this philosophy to create my One Small Step blog series. Each month, I give you one healthy change to work on for that entire month. Sometimes it’s a diet change, sometimes an exercise change and sometimes one of each. The idea is to concentrate only on that one change for a month so that it becomes ingrained into your daily meals or weekly exercise routines, making you able to take on another small change at the beginning of the next month. Just discovering the series now? No worries, the Small Step changes don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another. You can begin this month, follow along the rest of the year and incorporate what you’ve missed next year.
If you’ve been following my Small Steps toward a fit life program in 2014, you’ve taken control of your daily calorie intake (January’s portion control), practiced planning ahead to minimize high calorie meals and maximize opportunities for exercise (February’s plan ahead), used strategies to manipulate your environment to avoid falling back into unhealthy habits (March’s accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives), improved the quality of your food choices and quantity of daily activity (April’s substitutions), revisited healthy habits of the past when we were slimmer and healthier (May’s go old school), added strength training and more fresh produce to your bag of tricks (June’s +1), used the mid-way point, July and August, to reflect upon, revamp and renew your commitment to fitness and harnessed the power of technology in your fitness quest (September’s embrace technology). Congratulations!
Whew! We’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. The Small Steps series is heading into the home stretch and the last two months of the year are the most difficult for most of us to stay on track with healthy eating and exercise. So I’ve chosen a less taxing goal for this month’s small step. However, it is no less vital in the series. Flexibility training and its sister component, balance training, is often overlooked in the realm of fitness. But, it is just as important as cardio and strength training and eating healthy if the goal is a fit life. You can read why flexibility training is necessary here.
If you aren’t doing any stretching on a regular basis, then your assignment this month is to finish every exercise routine you do – at the gym, walk in the neighborhood, ride on the bike path, strength training routine – with stretches. Don’t stretch cold muscles before your workout, stretch only at the conclusion of workouts when muscles are warmed up. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and stretch especially tight muscles a second time. At minimum, stretch all the muscles that were the primary workers during your exercise. But, if you have the time, it’s even better to stretch all the major muscle groups. Here are some examples of stretches for each of the major muscle groups, courtesy of acefitness.org: Cobra (Abs, Back); Child’s Pose (Abs, Back, Thighs, Glutes); Cat-Camel (Chest, Back); Seated Straddle Stretch (Back, Thighs); Standing Lunge Stretch (Hip, Thighs); Standing Calf Stretch (Calves, Shins); Modified Hurdler’s Stretch (Hamstrings, Thighs); Triceps Stretch (Back Upper Arm); Seated Biceps Stretch (Front Upper Arm).
If you already stretch after working out, consider incorporating one yoga or mat Pilates routine weekly. This can be accomplished at your health club, individual yoga or Pilates studios, by DVD or online. These disciplines have the added benefit of training balance along with flexibility. Balance training is often over-looked in the average workout but is so beneficial as a functional training tool. These disciplines also run the gamut of intensities and forms. So, if you’re thinking that you just don’t have the time in your week to add one more fitness routine, consider replacing one of your usual cardio or strength routines with a yoga or Pilates class that incorporates cardio or strength. Or, perhaps time isn’t the issue but, rather, you’re wanting a break from the intensity of the traditional modes of exercise. In that case, find a gentle or relaxation yoga class/DVD. These also offer stress relief and proper breathing practice.
What you’ll find is not only is flexibility training good for the body but the mind and soul as well. What a perfect thing to practice before heading into the hectic holiday season.