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Sure, headstands are killer core moves with big bragging rights, but "make certain you can pass this strength test before you try one," says Cyndi Lee, founder of Om Yoga in New York City and a FITNESS advisory board member: Aim to stay in downward dog pose -- an inverted V with your palms and feet flat on the floor and your hips lifted high -- for five minutes. Even then, follow this how-to sequence only when a teacher is on hand to supervise that you're not putting too much weight on your head and neck.
1. Facing a wall, crouch and place the crown of your head directly on a yoga mat that's flush against the wall. Clasp your fingers around the back of your head, knuckles brushing the wall and forearms slightly flared out on the mat to act as kickstands. Lift your hips and walk your feet a few steps toward your face. Bring one knee to your chest, hold for a count of five, and put it down. Repeat three times with each knee, then rest in child's pose: Kneeling on the mat, fold your torso over your thighs, stretch out your arms and lay your forehead on the mat. When you get to the point where there's zero pressure on your neck or rounding in your spine as you perform the drill, move on to step two.
2. Beginning in the same start position as in step one, lift one knee to your chest, then the other, so you're in a fetal position with both feet off the mat and your back against the wall, your body forming a little ball. Hold for a count of five, then rest in child's pose. When that becomes easy, move on to step three.
3. From the little-ball position above, slowly extend one leg up the wall, then the other. Keep your legs snugly together, just your heels touching the wall, your hamstrings and butt off the wall. Bring your shoulder blades toward each other behind you and avoid rounding your spine. As you become stronger, you can try taking one leg and then both legs away from the wall.How to Do a Pull-Up
So you've graduated from girly push-ups to the real thing, and now you want to truly hang with the jocks. "The pull-up is challenging for both men and women because it uses more of your lats and forearms than your typically stronger biceps," says New York City-based trainer Sue Fleming, an expert with Gold's Gym Fitness Institute and creator of the Buff Fitness DVD series. Complete each move below two to three times a week until it feels easy, then progress to the next.
1. Semi-hang: Simply hang straight-armed from the pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing forward and feet just barely off the floor. Build up to where you can hold the bar for 30 seconds, then rest 60 to 90 seconds. Do three reps.
2. Flexed-arm hang: Stand on a bench so that your chin is just above the bar; grasp the bar with your palms facing forward, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, elbows bent by sides. Step off the bench and hold 30 seconds; rest 60 to 90 seconds. Do three reps. MAKE IT EASIER: Grasp the bar chin-up style, your hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing you.
3. Negative pull-up: Beginning in the same start position as in move two, step off the bench and slowly lower yourself on a count of six until your arms are fully extended. Step back up on the bench; repeat. Work up to six reps.
4. Baby pull-up: Beginning in the same start position as in move two, this time step off the bench and lower your chin two inches below the bar, then pull yourself back up. Repeat once, then step back up on the bench to rest. Do four reps.
5. Assisted pull-up: Standing on the floor, have a workout buddy lift you up to the bar to get into start position and provide a boost on each upward pull. Alternatively, use the gym's assisted pull-up machine set on a weight slightly less than half your body weight (see fitnessmagazine.com/machines). When three or four reps becomes easy, you should be ready to fly solo. If you want to practice at home, install Everlast's Multi-Function Chin Up Bar ($40, everlast.com) in a sturdy door frame.How to Touch Your Toes
Been a while, huh? Being able to inspect your pedi up close requires flexibility in the muscles and tendons of the ankle, knee, hip, and back. "Getting even 30 percent closer significantly minimizes daily stress on these joints," says Marty Jaramillo, founder and CEO of I.C.E. Sports Therapy in New York City and a FITNESS advisory board member. After your workout or a 10-minute warm-up -- stretching while warm is the key to success -- hold the following seven stretches for half a song (one and a half to two minutes) each, leaning farther into them every 10 to 15 seconds as you exhale. Stretch this way every day and within six to eight weeks, you should be nose-to-knees -- or close enough!
1. Upper-calf stretch: Stand with your arms extended and palms against a wall. Take a large step back with your left foot, heel flat on the floor, and hold for two minutes. Switch sides and repeat for one to two minutes.
2. Lower-calf stretch: From the same start position, take only half a step back with your left foot, bending both knees slightly and keeping heels flat on the floor. Hold for one to two minutes. Switch sides and repeat.
3. Hamstring stretch: Lying faceup, raise your left leg straight up. Clasp your hands behind your left thigh and pull gently toward your chest; hold. Switch sides and repeat.
4. IT band and piriformis stretch: Lie faceup with your knees bent 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor. Cross your left ankle onto your right knee, left knee bent out to the side. Clasp your hands behind your right thigh and pull gently toward your chest; hold. Switch sides and repeat.
5. Hip-flexor stretch: Standing with feet together, bend your left knee and grab your left foot behind you with your left hand, pulling the heel toward your butt; hold. Switch sides and repeat.
6. Adductor stretch: Side lunge to the left with your left leg, both feet pointing forward, and hold. Switch sides and repeat.
7. Back stretch: Kneel on the floor and sit back on your heels. Extend your arms overhead and bend forward at the hips, resting your hands on a stability ball or bench in front of you. Hold.
A piece of stretchy rubber seems like simple enough equipment. But then, how stretchy is too stretchy? And where in your house are you supposed to tie the thing? Kit Rich, a Los Angeles-based celebrity Pilates instructor, clears up the confusion: If you're new to exercise, choose the lightest band to start, usually the equivalent of a three-pound dumbbell. If you already work out, go with the next level, five to seven pounds of resistance. (Bands are typically color coded. Try the GoFit Power Loops kit to get three levels of resistance; $15, gofit.com.) "To increase the resistance of any band, just shorten it, by holding it closer to where it's anchored," Rich adds. Depending on the exercise, you can anchor the band under your feet or tie it around a doorknob, a sofa leg, or a bedpost. Center the band before tying it to create two ends; tie it closer to one end for a single strap. Avoid placing it beneath a heavy object or closing it in the door itself, where it could slip or rip, Rich says, unless you are using a door anchor made for this purpose, like the Thera-Band Door Anchor ($5, amazon.com).How to Use the Split Function on Your Sports Watch
If you haven't learned just yet what all those buttons on your new toy do, this is one you'll want to get acquainted with. "Splits can help a runner maintain an even effort, which is usually the most successful race tactic," says Ian Torrence, head coach of ultrarunning for the McMillan Running Company in Flagstaff, Arizona. The term simply refers to the time it takes you to run a certain portion of your total distance. On your next outing, break your route into four equal parts; start the stopwatch as usual, then hit the "split" button. When you reach each quarter mark, press the button again; the watch will record the time elapsed between presses. If your last two splits are slower than your first two, rather than equal to or faster than, you'll know to take it easier at the beginning next time out.How to Put On a Swim Cap Without Pulling Your Hair
It's a double-edged sword: By trying to protect your locks from chlorine, you end up yanking out a strand or two each time you suit up. There is a method that will keep your mane intact and not looking like an abnormal growth under your cap, says Kathleen Donoghue, product manager for Speedo swim caps. First, sweep long hair back into a low, loose ponytail at the nape of your neck. It can be wet, dry, or coated in conditioner -- whatever your personal preference -- but the cap should be dry, Donoghue advises. Put both hands into the cap and spread your fingers as if you were playing cat's cradle. Bring the cap up to your face, catch the front edge on your forehead just above your eyebrows, and pull the cap up over your head. Slide your hands out and adjust the cap so it's smooth and where you want it. Make sure the seam of the cap runs down the center of your head from front to back. Then split your ponytail into two sections and tuck them up under the cap on either side of your head, distributing the hair as evenly as you can to prevent lumps. Voila! To peel the cap off, grip it on both sides by your ears and pull up with both hands at the same time.How to Pop a Running Blister
Feeling the burn can be a good thing, but not so much when it's on your feet. "Adding mileage often brings on blisters," says Megan Leahy, a podiatrist at the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute in Chicago. "If they're not affecting your walk or run, leave them alone. Otherwise, so long as you don't have any health or circulation problems, drain them." Sterilize a needle with rubbing alcohol; then hold it horizontally at the side of the blister and make one or two holes in the skin. "Coming in from the side is less likely to injure the underlying tissue, and leaving the roof of the blister intact speeds healing," Leahy says. Press on it lightly to empty the fluid. Wash the area with water infused with Epsom salts (one cup for a footbath of lukewarm water; two cups for a whole bathtub): This helps the blister drain even more. Next, let it air-dry before applying antibiotic ointment and a fabric bandage, which will breathe better than a plastic one. Don't let the adhesive touch the open areas of the blister. For extra padding during a run, use bandages made especially for blisters, such as Band-Aid Advanced Healing Blister bandages ($5, cvs.com), and air the blister out for a few hours post-run to help it dry up.How to Wear Spandex Without a Muffin Top
Stretchy pants are the ultimate frenemy: so comfy and accommodating that you never want to take them off -- until you realize they're stabbing you in the back fat. FITNESS fashion director Argy Koutsothanasis offers these tips for making them more wearable.
Check labels. Pants material with just 2 percent spandex is the most flattering, since it's not quite as snug as those that are more stretchable.
Go wide. "Thin waistbands can cut into your belly, making you look like a cinched sack," Koutsothanasis says. Choose a wider one that sits an inch or two below your natural waist and an inch above your hip bone. Try Nux Textured capris ($43, nuxusa.com).
Top it off. Hide any lumpiness where the pants end by wearing a tank that's formfitting in the bust and has an A-line shape or Empire waist that makes it flow out from the body. Draw the eye up with a pop of contrasting colors in your tank and sports bra. We like Champion's Seamless Empire Long Top ($36, championusa.com). "Avoid the oversize tee at all costs!" Koutsothanasis says. "It adds bulk, not camouflage!"How to Get Rid of a Side Stitch
What causes that sudden sensation mid-run, as though you'd been jabbed in the gut? "I'm about 99 percent sure that stitches are caused by friction between your organs and the membrane separating them from the abdominal muscles," says Darren Morton, PhD, a physiologist at Avondale College in Australia, who's conducted extensive research on the topic. "Since the trigger is just now being nailed down, studies have yet to focus on treatment, so aim for prevention." Dehydration or a full stomach makes internal friction more likely, so drink plenty of H2O in the hours leading up to a workout, less just before, and smaller amounts regularly during long sessions, Morton advises. If you're struck by a stitch nonetheless, try one of these kitchen-science tricks until a proven cure is concocted:
Slow down, bend forward at the waist, and gently press inward and upward on the painful spot with your hand.
Exhale through pursed lips.
Clench your abs as though you were about to be hit.
Switch up your breathing pattern so that you're inhaling and exhaling on different feet than before.
If it's too painful to go on, stop and stretch that side of your abs by bending to the opposite side.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, March 2011.