Are You Functionally Fit?

In your everyday life, how often are you required to do something that even remotely resembles a bench press? And even though they are all the rage in the fitness world right now, how useful is a muscle-up to the average person?

This line of thinking has lead to the growth of functional fitness. This style of workout focuses on exercises that mimic, and therefore strengthen, movements that you would encounter in your daily activities. What sort of benefits come with this sort of training? Who can benefit from functional training? What sort of exercises make up a functional fitness routine?

The Benefits

There’s a good reason that functional fitness has gained footing so quickly: It has a plenty to offer.

Think about the classic bicep curl, for example. While some muscles such as those in your back, shoulders and abs may work to stabilize you, the vast majority of the emphasis is placed on movement across your elbow. A functional exercise, though, is a compound movement that crosses several joints. This type of activity more closely resembles what your body might go through when you’re cleaning the house or doing yard work.

A properly designed functional fitness routine can be tailored to fit specific activities in your life, as well. The idea is to pick exercises that target, not just muscles that are important to your activity, but entire motions. This means that if you’re training for basketball, for example, you may build up your jumps while holding a medicine ball or even do passing drills.

The Target Audience

While functional training has been adapted to appeal to athletes in a variety of sports, it has a particularly interesting application for more casual exercisers. Research regarding the efficacy of functional training has also focused specifically on older adults.

One study conducted by exercise scientists at the University of Wisconsin, assigned 24 volunteers aged between 58 and 78 to one of two groups. The first group would participate in a functional fitness training routine, the other would follow a more traditional exercise program. All of the subjects had some medical condition and were asked to complete a test that evaluated their strength, endurance, balance and agility in performing daily tasks.

At the end of the four week program, the groups were given the same test again. The researchers found that the group who followed the functional training routine had greater gains in all categories.

Designing Your Workout

The beauty of functional training is that it’s completely adaptable to you and your needs. As mentioned before, seek out exercises that mimic the movements of your particular sport. Even runners could benefit from incorporating balance exercises into their workout.

For a more personalized routine, do your research and consult with a fitness professional. Be sure to consider, not just the requirements of your sport, but those of your day-to-day life.

Some of the most common exercises featured in functional training include the multidirectional lunges. Practice performing the traditional lunge but also use reverse and side lunges to strengthen various parts of your legs. Although you may not realize it, you depend on similar motions when your vacuuming or even doing yard work.

A squat, immediately followed by a bicep curl is another exercise with many practical applications. The movement very closely resembles picking up a laundry basket or heavy bag from the floor.

Logically, after you pick up the weight, you’re going to need to carry it somewhere. Practice doing step-ups while holding dumbbells to simulate this final action.

Functional fitness is a highly customizable approach to fitness that could help to improve both your exercise performance and your daily life. However, you should always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.

Have you used functional training? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Returning to Running After an Injury

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I am very out of shape having broken my ankle last July.  I’m healed and released to exercise (low impact) and we just bought a Livestrong Elliptical.  I looked at the fitness fusion programs and there is no way that I can start at 20 minutes.  I’m more like 3 minutes.  I couldn’t even make it through the fitness test.  How can I get a plan or program that will help me start from below ground zero where I am?  Thanks very much.  ~Sarah

A: Hi Sarah. I’m glad to read you’re healed and ready for a comeback. You’re very wise to ask this question and avoid pushing through something that is beyond your fitness level right now. Doing so will only frustrate you and delay your progress.

The elliptical is a fantastic way to return to regular exercise as it is low impact, but weight bearing, which aids in improving balance, muscular strength and bone density without the risk of impact.

The key is to develop a plan that is tailored to what your body is able to accomplish now. Seeing that you’re coming back from an injury, it is even more important to take it easy early on. Here are a few strategies that will help make the process more fun and highly effective.

  •  Include a variety of activities in your comeback fitness routine. For instance, performing the elliptical three times per week (M-W-Sa) and walking or a strengthening workout 20-30 minutes on the days in between. This allows for a variety of body movements and keeps your program fresh. Including a total body strengthening routine will also help develop your core strength and improve all aspects of your health and well being. Plus, it’s a great complement to your cardiovascular exercise on the elliptical.
  •  Circle a date on your calendar three weeks from your start date. Commit to staying with the same routine for three weeks before you increase time or intensity. This is the secret to success as we all try to improve too quickly. Gradually increasing as your body adapts will keep you happy, loving your exercise routine and coming back for more!
  • Set the Livestrong Elliptical to Manual mode and to the lowest level.  This affects the resistance and incline settings on the machine and will allow you to adapt to the movement at its lowest setting first. Don’t worry about the fitness test or doing programs just yet. That will come in time. For now, focus on getting to know the movement of the machine in its natural state in the manual mode. This mode allows you to control the intensity, which is what you need right now.
  •  Start with moving only your legs in the first few weeks and hold onto the non-moving hand grips. Not moving your arms with your legs will keep your heart rate lower and allow you to perform the exercise longer with less energy expenditure to avoid fatigue.
  •  As you become more fit, add in the arm movement gradually. At first, warm up and cool down without the arms for several minutes. Then, weave in 30 seconds to one minute with the arm movement – followed by several minutes with just your legs. This is an example of how a workout might look at this level;
  1. Warm up 3-5 minutes – legs only.
  2. 10-15 minutes – alternate 30 seconds on arms+legs, followed by 2-3 minutes of legs only to recover and catch your breath.
  3. Cool down 3-5 minutes – legs only.
  •  Making these changes should allow you to perform the elliptical for a longer period of time. If you find that it is still a challenge, combine it with a walking routine. For instance, you could walk 10 minutes, perform the elliptical for 3-5 minutes and then walk another 10 minutes. As you gain fitness, you will be able to increase the time on the elliptical machine and you can reduce the walking minutes. You can also walk in place and perform intervals right there in your house.  Here’s an example of an interval workout;
    1. Warm up walking in place with high knees for 3 minutes
    2. Elliptical for 3 minutes
    3. Walk in place with high knees for 3 minutes
    4. Elliptical for 3 minutes
    5. Walk in place with high knees for 3 minutes
    6. Repeat this until fatigued and cool down walking in place for 3 minutes.

You are standing at the most challenging point in your return to fitness. The first step you take is healthy movement towards improvement. The secret is to listen to your body, practice patience and finish feeling fatigued but not exhausted so you’ll want to do it again soon.

You can do this…one step (or stride) at a time.

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

Get Up to Ward Off Diabetes

Do you sit down for more than four hours each day? If so, it’s time to get up!

Recent research suggests that the more time you spend sitting, the higher your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a dangerous condition marked by high blood sugar levels. It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., and it’s on the rise. Once you have diabetes, you have it for life; there’s no cure for this debilitating disease. Having diabetes also increases your risk of other health problems too, like heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and nerve damage.

The research

Results from two diabetes prevention programs were published in February 2013 in the scientific journal Diabetologia. The research showed that people who sat more than eight hours per day had the highest risk of diabetes, while people who spent less than four hours each day sitting had the lowest risk.

What’s also significant about these studies is that people’s odds for diabetes increased with sitting time regardless of how much they exercised. This means that even when physical activity recommendations are met, a person’s health can still be compromised if they sit for a large portion of the day. If you hit the gym for an hour each morning, for example, but you sit for long periods after that – whether at your desk for your job or on the couch in front of the TV – you’re putting yourself at risk for diabetes.

Move more throughout the day

In light of these findings, one step towards diabetes prevention would literally be taking more steps and sitting less. Experts say that reducing sitting time by 90 minutes each day may be enough to reduce health risks. Here’s how:

·         Stand up for breaks. At the bottom of every hour, get up from your chair, stand up and walk around for a few minutes. Those minutes can add up over the course of a day.

·         Make your job more active. Walk to a coworker’s desk and speak in person rather than using email, walk briskly around the office building during part of your lunch break and take the stairs instead of the elevator. A few times per week, consider active commuting. Walk, bike or run to and from work. If you use public transportation, get off the bus or train a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way to work.

·         Break up couch time. Don’t lounge idly on the couch in the evening watching TV. Instead, stand up often and move. Do squats and lunges during commercial breaks and spend a few minutes doing housework every half hour.

Other ways to prevent diabetes

The key to warding off type 2 diabetes is reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. The best approach to lasting weight loss is to combine healthy eating with regular physical activity. Know that weight loss does not have to be drastic to cut diabetes risk. Lowering your body weight by 5 to 10 percent- just 10 to 20 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds- can significantly lower your risk of health threats.

Tell us: How will you stand up more today?


Exercise and Fibromyalgia

Conditions that cause pain in your joints and muscles can lock you into a terrible loop.
Often sufferers are afraid to exercise out of concern that it will worsen their pain.
Unfortunately, the lack of exercise will usually make their condition more difficult to bear.
Fibromyalgia, which affects 5.8 million Americans, is just such an illness.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Although it is not very well understood, fibromyalgia can be a debilitating disorder that is characterized by pain in the muscles and joints, fatigue and cognitive difficulties. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown but researchers suspect that it is linked to physical or psychological trauma.

The constant dull aching that is associated with fibromyalgia can make it difficult to sleep and is often experienced along with other sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.

Fibromyalgia also commonly occurs alongside depression, anxiety, endometriosis, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

When you consider the wide range of symptoms that accompany fibromyalgia, it is logical that people enduring it would avoid exercise. But research indicates that a properly designed fitness program could be an effective way of treating the condition.

How Exercise Can Help

One of the major concerns facing patients with fibromyalgia is deconditioning. The lack of activity will gradually make your heart, lungs and muscles function less and less efficiently. This will, in turn, cause greater difficulty in movement and increase the amount of pain in your joints and muscles.

Poor posture, tight muscles and limited range of motion are also byproducts of inactivity. Each of these factors can contribute to pain and difficulty moving.

If you struggle with fibromyalgia, the solution may be to do whatever is in your control to improve your body’s ability to move efficiently. Even light exercise can provide exactly that.

A large study that observed 170 fibromyalgia patients was funded by the National Institutes of Health in 2013 to gain further insight on the effect of exercise on the disorder. Each participant was given an exercise prescription based on their starting fitness level that gradually became more challenging, more frequent and longer over the course of the 3-month study. Throughout the study, and for six months following, they were also asked to fill out several questionnaires.

At the end of the study, it was found that they subjects who stuck to their exercise routine experienced less physical impairment and better overall well-being than those who abandoned their workouts.

One key element appears to be a steady increase in activity, which showed a corresponding decrease in pain. A rapid and short-live burst of activity didn’t produce any benefits.

Of all the participants who increased their activity levels, even beyond the length of the study, no one experienced an increase in pain.

How To Do It

Anyone, whether they have fibromyalgia or not, will experience pain if they jump in to a difficult workout too quickly. Start off gradually and incorporate both strength and endurance training.

Your strength training should consist of light weights so that you can focus on maintaining perfect form throughout the movement. Consider working with a trainer to be sure that your form is correct to help avoid injury.

Aerobic training should be your chief concern and should be performed at least three times per week. Stick to a moderate intensity, where you can comfortably have a conversation, and start at just a few minutes. Gradually increase the duration of your workouts to about 40 minutes.

Each session should begin and end with mobility training. These movements should be done slowly, emphasizing flexibility and a full range of motion.

If you experience flare-ups, when your pain is especially bad, take time off the recover. Pick up your routine again as soon as you feel better.

Do you struggle to stay active despite fibromyalgia? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Still Strong: Helping a Young Boy Fight Cancer

Today, LIVESTRONG Day, shows how the LIVESTRONG Foundation and its partners, including Johnson Health Tech, are Still Strong: strong in our commitment to adapt and flourish, and strong in our commitment to help those affected by cancer. How is Johnson Health Tech Still Strong (#StillStrong)? Earlier this year we were contacted by a LIVESTRONG by Johnson customer, Theresa. Theresa is the mother of Joshua, a young man who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in 2011 when he was only 18 years old. After one doctor told Theresa he “could do the surgery, but…,” she sought a second opinion. They took an ambulance to a different hospital to meet with a different neurosurgeon and Joshua’s brain tumor was removed during a 7 ½ hour surgery. Although the surgery was successful, Theresa and Joshua spent the next year traveling 3 ½ hours each way to complete his chemotherapy and radiation treatments, sometimes five days a week. He completed chemotherapy in August 2012 and continues his path to recovery. Joshua also completed 14 months of occupational and physical therapy after his surgery. In order for him to continue to exercise, a vital component of his recovery, Theresa purchased a LIVESTRONG LS13.0T treadmill for Joshua to use at home since he still tires easily. Theresa quickly learned that the treadmill, as she purchased it, would not work for her son. Unfortunately, Joshua’s balance was severely affected by the cancer. He was unable to adjust his stride to walk on the treadmill without kicking the motor cover because the handlebars did not go back far enough for him to hold on while walking. Theresa wanted to know if we had longer handles to use on their treadmill. Frustrated, but hopeful, she sent an email to our Customer Technical Support Department requesting a solution that would enable her son to use the treadmill comfortably. “When I saw the note from Theresa, I just thought it was a great opportunity for us to use our skills to help someone directly,” said Bob Najduk, senior project manager – global retail. “The problem was unique because the frame wasn’t designed to work with medical handlebars.” Although Najduk was unsure it was possible to meet Theresa’s request, after passing some communication around, the product management team collaborated with the model shop to create custom medical handlebars to retrofit Theresa’s treadmill. “Rick Mobley and Noel Johnson took a look and found an incredibly smart solution that had never been thought of before,” said Najduk. “Rick spent time out of his day perfecting the design with such detail and focus that when I went back to see the final result I was truly speechless.”

livestrong_treadmill_handlebars2 (3)

Theresa’s story really hit home with Johnson Health Tech Model Shop Lead Rick Mobley. “I lost my nephew to cancer last year so I am very familiar with the toll that battling this disease takes,” he shares. “I felt that anything I could do to help someone else that is going through it would be time spent in the best possible way.” Joshua is thrilled and Theresa tells us the extensions make it much easier for him! Several weeks ago he had another MRI and all is still well. “…Wow I could not have expected how hard you all would have worked to help one person. I thought you might give me some suggestions but to have them build and ship a new design to us went way beyond my expectations!” said Theresa. livestrong_treadmill_handlebars (3) This story truly inspires our team to keep looking for ways we can make a difference in our customers’ lives. “We spend every day using our knowledge and skills to help people improve their fitness and this time it was extra special because we could help someone who needed more than most,” said Najduk. How are you Still Strong? Who are you Still Strong for? Tell us in the comments and share your story on our Facebook page using hashtag #StillStrong.

Remembering Keiko Fukuda

The world lost a living treasure in February when Keiko Fukuda died in her sleep at the age of 99. Ms. Fukuda was the last living student of Judo founder Jigoro Kano, a quiet activist for women’s rights and an inspiration to generations of athletes, male and female alike.

The “Women’s Division”

Fukuda joined judo’s “Women’s Division”  in 1934 at the invitation of Kano, who knew her mother when she was just 21 years old. She remained in Tokyo during the bombings of World War II, driving through the ruined city to teach lessons. After the war, she represented Judo on the world stage, including a demonstration at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games that led to Judo’s induction as an Olympic sport. When Kano asked several of his students to volunteer to learn English in order to bring Judo to the west, she alone took the challenge.

In 1966, she took her art to Mills College in Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco. She taught Judo at the college and in her San Francisco school until her death this year.

Male Prerogative

Despite Kano’s progressive decision to create a women’s division for Judo, Japanese culture in the pre-war 20th century held women as second-class citizens. Neither Kano nor any other members of Judo leadership felt any woman needed rank above a 5th degree black belt. Sensei Fukuda remained at that rank for nearly 20 years, watching male students of hers surpass her rank due to the sexism inherent in Judo culture at the time.

One of her long-time students and friends was Shelley Fernandez, an influential member of the National Organization for Women. Starting in the early 1970s, Fernandez led a movement to get Fukuda promoted, a movement that included pressure from Yale University and the State of California.

Sacred Treasure

Fernandez’ work was fulfilled in 1972 when Sensei Fukuda was promoted to 6th degree black belt, making her the highest-ranked female Judo player in the world. In 2011, she became the first woman to receive the rank of 10th degree black belt in her art. Because of her example, and Fernandez’ advocacy, she will not be the last.

In 1990, the National Government of Japan awarded Sensei Fukuda the title of “Sacred Treasure.” Her life story has inspired many, including American Judo Gold Medalist Kayla Harrison and Bronze Medalist and UFC Champion Ronda Rousey. Even in her late 90s, “O-Sensei” (a title she earned with the rank of 10th degree) taught class three times a week and hosted both a women’s training camp and an annual tournament.

O-Sensei Fukuda is the subject of a documentary named after her life motto: Be Strong. Be Gentle. Be Beautiful. She voluntarily took on spreading Judo worldwide instead of taking a husband or having a family, but her influence lives on through Judo players and martial artists who would never have trained without her journey, and women who experienced greater opportunity because of her courage.

5 Fitness Books (You Didn’t Know Were About Fitness)

Athletes understand the value of cross-training, but did you know that cross-reading can be just as valuable? Some of the best insights into your training will come from experts in other fields. If you’re looking for something to read this spring, try one of these fitness classics from other sections of the library. Bonus points for getting the audio version to listen to while you work out.

Getting Things Done (David Allen)

This classic business book sells as a formula for “stress-free productivity.” There’s a good chance you’ll apply its core ideas to organizing your life and business, just like millions already have.

For fitness, you’ll focus on the first section of the book. It’s all about priorities and setting goals, and will help you frame exactly why you’re working on your fitness, and how you’re going to get where you want to be.

Tao of Jeet Kun Do (Bruce Lee)

One look at the iconic photo of Lee’s bare torso and you know he has a thing or three to say about fitness. Tao is the central treatise on the martial art he developed after exposing his early Wing Chun training to other martial influences in Seattle and Los Angeles.

It also espouses a simple philosophy. Study hard. Use what’s useful. Discard the rest. Understanding and internalizing this concept, especially in Lee’s context of physical and personal development, will help anybody’s fitness program.

Strength Finder 2.0 (Tom Rath)

Rath’s concept turns the typical model of personal development on its ear. If you work to improve the areas where you’re weak, after years of effort you end up average. But if you spend that same energy on areas where you’re strong, you can become world-class in that arena.

Fitness is a bit different. If you’re strong and flexible, but overweight, you haven’t reduced your exposure to illnesses like heart disease and type II diabetes. Still, Rath’s insights into development and motivation can help you develop a fitness program that keeps you excited about your workouts and meal plans.

The Four-Hour Work Week (Tim Ferriss)

This one’s all about “lifestyle design,” and offers techniques and philosophy for creating exactly the life the reader wants to live. It tends to over-promise on what’s possible for the average working family, but still offers a compelling mindset and oodles of tools.

In terms of fitness, you’ll read this for the time and life hacks. Those tools include dozens of ways to find three or four extra hours of time or productivity each day … so say goodbye to “I don’t have time for fitness.” If you love this, also check out The Four-Hour Body and The Four-Hour Chef, two fitness-centric titles by the same author.

The Way of the Peaceful Warrior (Dan Millman)

A classic in the martial arts community, this is the fictional biography of a competitive gymnast who meets a spiritual guru and how that changes his life. It’s usually filed under “inspirational” and fits the description.

The fitness advice has as many myths as it does proven advice, but read this one for stress relief. The narrator learns life lessons and simple meditation techniques you can put into place tomorrow, and use for the rest of your life.

Honorable Mention: Biographies

Any biography, any time. Whenever you start to feel that your fitness goals are too much, read the biography of somebody like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eleanor Roosevelt, Kevin Maynerd or Conrad Hilton. Nothing’s quite as inspiring and true stories of people who did incredible things.

The Best Martial Arts for Fitness

People sign up for martial arts lessons for a variety of reasons. Self defense, anger management and being able to say “I Know Kung Fu” like Neo in The Matrix are just a few. Although there is no such thing as a superior martial art, some arts are better than others for accomplishing specific goals. If fitness is your main reason for getting your karate on, these styles can get you where you want to be.


This style comes from Brazil and is as much a form of dance as a style of fighting. Practitioners play in an intense dance circle called a roda and practice gymnastics, static postures and flexibility exercises. In some ways, it’s like doing yoga to music while somebody tries to kick you in the head.

Pros: intense workout, fun atmosphere

Cons: can feel intimidating during the first few classes, not appropriate for people with disabilities or health problems


“Mixed Martial Arts” is what you see in the cage on UFC night, but most MMA training doesn’t involve that kind of fighting. At your typical MMA gym, class will be an intense combination of free weight and bodyweight exercises, calisthenics, light sparring, grappling and hitting various bags or pads. It’s a highly athletic sport with a highly athletic culture.

Pros: bonus stress relief from hitting things, higher-than-average self-defense value

Cons: culture can be overly aggressive at some gyms

Traditional Karate and Tae Kwon Do

The workout your kids do at their weekly karate class is fun, but traditionally taught “hard styles” like karate and tae kwon do condition your body until other bodies will literally break when they slam into it. You can expect isometric exercises, long periods in demanding stances and lots of calisthenics. You’ll train for flexibility and strength using a combination of traditional methods and modern exercise science.

Pros: interesting training methods, focused instruction

Cons: hard to determine traditional programs from less demanding training without a guide

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Remember how hard you worked to reach a point where you could lift your body weight? Now, imagine something that heavy is actively resisting your attempts to lift it, using a combination of dirty tricks and leverage. That’s what BJJ feels like. A 60- to 90-minute class will include a demanding warmup, practicing several moves on a partner your size, then several rounds of “rolling” — light competitive wrestling against a skilled opponent.

Pros: full-body workout like none other, very common — available in most towns

Cons: not everybody is comfortable grappling

Tai Chi

The above choices are for able-bodied, already active people who want to up their fitness games. Tai Chi is a slower art, focused on balance and gently building strength around your joints and stabilizing muscles. If you’re injured, elderly, severely overweight or simply way out of shape, Tai Chi can either get you in good enough shape for something more aggressive or simply help you prevent your condition from deteriorating further.

Pros: gentle, safe, focus on wellness

Cons: not effective for weight loss

8 Vital Injury-Prevention Practices for Your Workouts

If you get hurt working out, you have to quit exercising for a while. Although it’s true that you should expect some “burn” or discomfort during your workout, real pain is a warning sign that you’re doing something wrong. To keep doing right, observe these 8 injury-prevention tricks from the pros:

1. Know the Danger Zones

Mayo Clinic resources split exercise injuries by cause. Training errors are injury-causing mistakes that happen because you’re training too aggressively. Technique errors are hazardous problems with your form. A session with a personal trainer can help you spot and avoid both types of errors.

2. Warm Up

Exercising without warming up is like stretching a cold rubber band, says “Get Fit Guy” Ben Greenfield. Instead, warm up with some light cardio or simply do some preliminary sets at very low weights to get your body ready to work out. Although stretching is a common warmup in amateur circles, it’s not the best choice. It’s not as good as light cardio for injury prevention, and stretching for flexibility is best done at the end of your workout.

3. Periodically Change Workouts

Changing your workout every six to eight weeks accomplishes two important safety goals. It helps avoid repetitive stress injuries by shifting the focus of your workout. It also avoids the risk of training a specific muscle group so much that surrounding, unworked muscles can’t handle the load.

4. Dress Right

This injury prevention tip happens before your workout even starts. If working with machines, avoid loose clothes and clothes with straps. If jogging, wear good shoes with comfortable socks to avoid blisters. Exercise outside requires clothing appropriate for the weather. Ask your personal trainer or gym staff if you have any questions about the right ensemble for your workout.

5. Set Reasonable Goals

It’s easy to get excited and aggressive during the first months of a workout routine, which often means going too hard, too soon. Martial arts teacher Tom Callos recommends setting low short-term goals to ease into your regimen. Gradually increase those goals over the long haul for impressive overall gains.

6. Check Your Equipment

Workout equipment is only safe if properly calibrated and checked for problems. Before you begin any workout, scan the device for damage. Confirm that settings like the seat height and angle of lift are appropriate for your body. If you’re not certain, check with gym staff.

7. Hydrate Early and Often 

If your muscles are even mildly dehydrated, they’re more susceptible to cramps, pulls and tears. Moderate dehydration can affect your judgment and cause dizziness. Drink before your workout and sip during. Remember: if you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

8.  Protect Your Back

Back injuries are among the easiest to get while exercising, among the most debilitating while you have them and among the hardest to recover from. According to resources at, most back injures are due to improper form while exercising. The best form for protecting your back varies by exercise, but as a general rule keep your back straight and aligned. Move using your back muscles only if an exercise specifically requires it. Otherwise, use your legs and hips.


How to Eliminate IT Band Pain

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I’m struggling with ITB pain on the side of my knee.  Do you have any exercises that are helpful for this?  Thanks, Emily

A: I’m sorry to hear about your ITB issue Emily, but there are several exercises that can help. Before I get to them, let’s talk about what the ITB is and does…

The ITB (Iliotibial Band) tightness is a common running injury among all levels of runners. The ITB is a band of tissue that runs from the gluteus down to the outside of the lower leg just beneath the knee. Its main role is to extend the leg and stabilize the leg while you run.

It is important to mention that the key to healing is to identify what may be causing the condition to begin with. For instance, bumping up your mileage or intensity too much too soon is one of the greatest reasons for developing ITB. Also, changing to new shoes, running on a cambered road (slanted) and having weak core muscles and muscle imbalances can cause this pain. Part of your ITB recovery plan should include an inventory of your training and other variables to allow your body to heal without aggravating it and prevent it from happening again in the future.

In many cases, making changes to your regimen, weaving in cross-training with low impact activities (elliptical), and focusing on strength and flexibility can resolve the ITB issue. If it lingers for more than a few weeks, it is time to get a proper diagnosis from your doctor.

Here are three exercises to improve strength and mobility.


ITB Foam Roll – [Excerpt from Running For Mortals]

This exercise is similar to rolling out cookie dough or pie crust. Lie on your side and position the foam roll under your hip. Put the top foot and hands on the floor for stability. Use your arms to slowly roll your body over the foam from just below the hip to just above the knee. It’s a little like a “Search and Rescue” mission. When you find a knot, stop, hold and breathe. Try to stay on the knot for 15-20 seconds until it releases. Walk your way in reverse and repeat 10 times.

It may feel very uncomfortable at first and maybe even painful. If it is so painful you can’t lie on the spot, try to get as close to the spot and work into that area. Little by little, the foam roller will help release the knot as well as the pain. Perform this exercise before or after your run or workout.


Bridge with Ball – [Excerpt from Running For Mortals]

Lie on your back with your hands by your sides on the floor and a playground ball or rolled up towel or foam roll between your knees.

Using your gluteal muscles (buttocks), squeeze and lift your hips off the floor until you make a diagonal line from your knees to your hips and shoulders. Only the shoulders and feet are on the floor. While lifting, press the knees in toward the ball and contract your buttocks muscles, squeezing in an up and in motion. This will activate the gluteal and adductor (inner thigh) muscle groups. Pause for a few seconds and lower your hips back to the floor continuing to press in to the ball and repeat. Draw your naval into your spine and focus on two motions, pressing into the ball or towel and squeezing up toward the ceiling.


When this gets easy, progress and make it more challenging by lowering to a few inches off the floor and repeat. Even harder – put your arms on your stomach while you perform the exercise, or try the exercise with one leg.


Single Leg Stance – Hip Huggers

The single leg balance activates and strengthens your stabilizing muscles from your feet and ankles all the way up to your hips and improves your balance, too! If you sit all day like most of us do, your gluteal muscles that stabilize as you run stride for stride are deactivated. When these muscles atrophy (decrease in strength and stability) they no longer engage and support your leg and hip as your foot lands on the ground and can cause friction inflammation in your knee and hip.

Stand up with your feet hip width apart. Keep your arms out to your sides for balance. Lift your left leg a few inches off the floor and hold for 30-60 seconds. Engage your hip muscles to create a long, neutral line up your body.

Let your hip on the planted leg side relax out to the side and then tighten and contract it to align it under your shoulders. Try this in front of a mirror and you’ll see your hip go out of alignment and as you contract the hip your body will realign as pictured above.

Repeat for 30-60 seconds on each side or until fatigued, approximately two to three sets. You will feel the muscles in your foot, ankle and hip fatiguing in seconds! This is a great exercise you can do anywhere – even in line at the grocery store!

When this is easy, progress to performing the exercise without wearing shoes.

When that gets easy, stand barefoot on a towel, pillow or pad to further challenge the muscles and balance.

By performing these three exercises daily, your ITB pain should diminish or disappear, as well as improve strength and mobility for future runs.

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