There are no shortcuts when it comes to fitness. You have to make an investment and stay committed. Lifelong changes are a series of daily commitments strung together. You must recommit every day and stick with it for the long haul. Exercise is work, and sweat is the sign that you are working. (The Athlete’s Way ~ Christopher Bergland)

The Long View & Baby Steps

Fit for Life…Everyday Exercise 1 of 10

SQUATS! This move is at the top of my list because it accomplishes so much for us by targeting the major (largest) muscles of the lower body together with multiple joints (hips, knees, ankles). The core (abdominals, spine and obliques) is also activated and as such this exercise helps enhance balance.

How To: The basic squat begins by standing tall with your feet hip-width distance apart, shoulders relaxed and head held high. Look straight ahead to keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine. Hold your arms straight out in front of you (this is best if you need extra balance) or place your hands on your hips. When you’re ready, keep your core tight and maintain a neutral spine as you slowly squat down (as if you were about to sit in a chair behind you). Be sure to keep your heels firmly planted on the ground and to keep your torso upright. Pause for a beat before slowly returning to the starting position. Repeat for 8 to 12 repetitions.


Add 1 or 2 repetitions to your daily squat routine; when you can complete 3 sets of  squats (12 repetitions each set), then you are ready to add some variation to your routine. I’ll list a few options below.

  • Prisoner Squat (with hands held behind head)
  • Plié squat
  • Curtsy squat
  • Squat jump
  • Squat jack
  • Squat with side kick
  • Split squat (also known as a lunge)

If you would like explanations or pictures for the squat variations, just attach your comments or questions to this post. Functional fitness exercise number 2 of 10 will be posted soon…in the meantime, keeping squatting!

Fit for Life…A Functional Exercise Plan (A Series of 10)

In recent years, ‘functional fitness’ has become a buzz word in the fitness industry to sell and package a wide array of exercise programs to potential training clients. Whether sports specific or generalized training is sold, functional fitness terminology is used so frequently that it often means different things to different populations.

For purposes of my Fit for Life Series, I define functional fitness (exercise) as a strength training plan which involves performing work against resistance (preferably body weight resistance) in such a manner that the improvements in strength directly enhance the performance of movements found in those activities of daily living. Yet, before I continue with a discussion of functional fitness, I would first like to define the dual components of fitness.

The health related  components of fitness measure an individual’s cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition (% fat vs. lean tissue). The skill related components of fitness rate an individual’s agility, coordination, balance, power, reaction time and speed.

Used in this context, a functional, Fit for Life, exercise plan would train your body for life, rather than for a specific sport or for a certain aesthetic appearance. This type of training is especially helpful for older adults because it addresses muscle imbalances and asymmetries, and it addresses improvements (strength, flexibility) for the ways we move  throughout our daily activities.

There are five basic movement patterns that we use in everyday life:

1. Bend-and-lift movements. In the gym we call it squatting, in everyday life it’s getting in and out of a chair or squatting down to lift a bag of groceries from the floor. Bend and lift movements require strength in the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, but also plenty of stability in the core, and flexibility in the knees and ankles.

2. Single-leg movements. You’ll often train single leg movements in the gym with a variety of lunging movements. In real life, single-leg movements are called for when you walk, when you climb or descend stairs, or when you bend and reach forward on one leg to get something from the floor. Like the bend-and-lift movements, single-leg movements require combined strength, stability and flexibility with an added element of balance over a changing center of gravity.

3. Pushing movements. Pushing movements typically involve your upper body pushing forward (opening a store door) pushing overhead (putting an object on a high shelf) or pushing to the side (lifting your torso from a side-lying position). In your workout you can train for pushing movements with pushups, overhead presses or side planks.

4. Pulling movements. Pulling movements in your activities of daily living might include pulling the car door shut, pulling the sheets down from the top shelf of the linen closet, or pulling your suitcase off the floor. In your workouts you’ll train for pulling movements by developing core stability, strength in your back and shoulders, stability in your shoulder blades and flexibility in your shoulders.

5. Rotational movements. Your thoracic spine rotates with every step you take and any time you swing a golf club or tennis racket. Any time you reach across your body or twist through the spine, you’re engaging in a rotational movement. This complex movement pattern requires a great deal of core stability and strength to support the spine during the rotational motion.

Over the next few weeks, I will post ten articles. Each article will fully describe and illustrate the activities I believe are the best exercises to perform each day to improve fitness and function for life.

My next blog entry will describe the basic squat exercise with options for various progressions as improvements in strength are realized. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and these training tips with you, my blog reader in the days ahead; I invite your comments and questions should you desire to engage in a conversation on this topic.

Paradoxically, it’s the emptiness of things that lets us glimpse their full capacity. Most musical instruments are hollowed out, because if they weren’t, there would be no music. Guitars are hollowed out. String instruments are hollowed out. Drums are hollowed out. Reed instruments are hollowed out. This is a great example of the necessity of emptiness in order to make music. It’s true with our lives. Each of us is an instrument that experience hollows out in order to have our souls release their song.
(The Endless Practice ~ Mark Nepo)

Of Music and Paradox

Beginning Again…Mindful Transformation

Transformation: change in form, appearance, nature, or character.
A form resulting from any such change; a metamorphosis.

With the advent of the autumn season, my senses are on full alert. This is my favorite time of year, when the cooler daytime temps move in synchrony with the shortening day light hours. These autumn days are greatly anticipated after the intensity of the summer season in the southwestern desert. And yet there is always a foreshadowing sadness with the arrival of the shortening days; because what comes with all the exterior, seasonal changes, naturally motivates me to move inward ~ physically and emotionally; to curtail outdoor activities in favor of indoor pursuits. This prompting, this inward wrapping around and into, seems to be preparing all creatures, great and small, for the coming season of rest and renewal. The crispness of the air on the wind foretells that wintertide is near.

I well know this pull towards the interior; it comes naturally to me, an introvert by nature; and like all introverts, I flourish in the solitary, inward pursuits of the mind and body. So even though I highly favor this season, with its inward draw, I struggle with this transition more than any other time of year. This is the time of year when the holidays and celebrations typically require an outward extension: into our families…into our communities…into our finances…into excesses of every kind it seems. I think perhaps this is why I often struggle to transition happily into the wintertime, because it so often brings requirements to expand, to get outside of myself.  That is not a comfortable ‘transformation’ for this introvert to make.

The journey of living requires us not just to understand, but to enter. Transformation begins when we stop watching.
The Endless Practice ~ Mark Nepo

But what does comfort have to do with growth and change and transformation? Nothing! Comfort has nothing to do or associate with change! Maybe this is why I feel compelled to write about this time of year so that I may remind myself to stay vigilant…especially in regards to my interior, to stay open and not closed down. I want to remind myself to stay on guard, to be aware of those situations, and those stressors, which may trigger me to excuse myself from the very opportunities which could trigger growth and renewal.

I have a hunch that I am not alone in this end-of-year struggle. It seems that once the days grow cooler and shorter, the desire to huddle and linger indoors is as natural as the changing colors of autumn leaves. And the activities that center and quiet me…the walks and runs out of doors, become more challenging to keep on my calendar. As a personal trainer, I have noticed that many of my clients likewise struggle to keep their health and fitness goals on track during this season. Surely there must be a better way to transition into year’s end, especially if we have positively progressed in the months leading up to this juncture.

“To strengthen what is possible, we can imagine and spend equal time with what might go right as with what might go wrong.” Mark Nepo

But is it possible or even reasonable to actually plan, and act, and expect that this year could end on a positive note rather than on a negative, back sliding one? Or is that just wishful thinking? No, this season can be different; but I recognize that it must begin with an intention; my intention; my over-arching purposeful act to make a change. I will begin again by entering…via this record…my intention to depart from the habitual ‘turning in’ (closing down) and instead use that habit to prompt myself to open outward, to soften. Even as I write these words I can hear that other voice within, full of complaint and denunciation. I have struck a chord, I must be on the right track!

Yes, it is my privilege to choose what I will believe and hold as truth; And I believe that what I think, ultimately propels me in one direction or another. My beliefs have the power to alter (transform) my behaviors and actions. So begin again, I will; it only requires a disposition and a readiness to move, to activate:  body…mind…spirit.