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Ask an expert: How to train for your first marathon

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do I start training for a marathon if I’ve never done running before? – Jordana

A: Hi Jordana (pretty name btw). There are a lot of ways to train up for a marathon, but most only focus on the physical aspects. When going from the couch to the marathon, your body and mind need time to adapt to the demands along the way. For this reason, I recommend to go the route of slow progression to the marathon distance.

The best way to eat the elephant is one bite at a time. It is quite overwhelming to get up off the couch and think, “Okay, today is the first day of my marathon training.” It’s such a huge goal – it can overwhelm rather than inspire, not to mention it can quickly lead to burn out from jumping into too much too soon.

Rather than thinking marathon, think 5K. Find a run-walk program that guides you to get up and running a 5K in the next three months. I have a few free plans here [link:] that can get you started (Zero to Running is a solid strategy to get going). This is the time to be more conservative as your body will make the most gains early in your running program.

As you complete the program, graduate to a 10K and focus on training for the next two months to build to that distance. Again, the more gradual your climb in distance early on, the less risk you’ll experience burn out and injury. Plus, with time, your mental strength develops right along side your body and detours the negative emotions that can sneak up and bite you when you jump into too much distance. Every race becomes a mini goal and gives you a sense of accomplishment on your journey to the marathon.

After you cross the line of your 10K, set your sites on training up for a half marathon. With your 10K base of training investing a solid 12-14 weeks will give you enough time to adapt, run longer and stronger. Upon finishing the half, you’ve earned your wings to train up for the marathon. At this point, if all feels well, you can continue your training from the half marathon right up to the full distance in 10-12 weeks. This gives you time to recover post half, build your distance to the mileage necessary to run the marathon distance and include a taper as well.

Other ingredients that will help in your new running journey include flexibility (foam rolling, massage and stretching), strength training and cross-training with lower impact activities (i.e. Zumba, cycling, swimming or elliptical).

Finally, be mindful of your body along the way and stay in tune with aches and pains. It’s your body’s way of communicating with you that you’re likely resting too little or pushing too hard. In most cases, a day or two of easy cross-training or rest will do the trick and heal the minor little aches.

Your goal to run a marathon is quite ambitious, so just make sure to give yourself time to complete your goal in stages. Good luck on your marathon quest.  One race at a time!

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

What you should know about Creatine

Creatine is one of the most widely used and well-researched supplements on the market. In fact, the creatine market in the United States alone is estimated at $14 million per year and over 50 percent of professional football players report using the supplement.

Readily available in pills, powders and sports drinks, many athletes and fitness enthusiasts try creatine at some point, so it’s worth knowing all you can about the supplement.

As always, before taking any exercise supplement, discuss it with your doctor to be sure that it will not have any negative interaction with your medications or preexisting conditions.

What It Is and What It Does

Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally created by your body. It is also available in fish and red meat. Creatine is converted to creatine phosphate and stored in the muscles, which allows your body to use it immediately.

To understand why it’s so important to have creatine phosphate readily on hand, we have to understand how muscle contractions are powered. The primary fuel for all muscle movements is adenosine-triphosphate (ATP). The problem is that our muscles can only store enough ATP for short bursts of activity and it takes a relatively long time to synthesize. To compensate for this and speed up the process, a common compound, adenosine-diphosphate (ADP) steals a phosphate molecule from the creatine phosphate. This creates more ATP for immediate use.

Because creatine supplementation gives you excess reserves of this backup fuel, it primes your body for high-intensity, short-duration exercise like sprinting or weight lifting. Since you have extra fuel available, you should be able to do more reps and run longer, subsequently getting a more effective workout.

The research on creatine is mixed, although the majority of studies show that creatine can help to improve explosive speed, strength and lean muscle mass. Creatine doesn’t appear to be useful in long-distance endurance training, however.


According to the Mayo Clinic, many frequent users of creatine supplements ignore and exceed the recommended dosages. This is likely because serious fitness enthusiasts are either taking bad advice, or they figure they can’t get too much of a good thing.

The general recommended dose is 20 grams of creatine per day, divided into four doses of five grams each. The duration of the supplementation will depend on your goals and there are plenty of conflicting opinions out there. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking creatine for 4-7 days for enhanced athletic strength and performance. Smaller maintenance doses of five grams per daycan be taken after that.

Although traditional gym wisdom supports cycling on and off creatine, this assertion has come under fire. There is no evidence to support that cycling improves the efficacy of the supplementation or that it will prevent side effects as long as you follow the recommended dosages. Despite this evidence, many people still cycle creatine.

Considerations and Potential Side Effects

Some people seem to have no response to creatine. Recent research suggests that these people may simply have a naturally elevated creatine reserve already.

Allergies to creatine are possible and will cause a rash, itching and/or shortness of breath.

Gastrointestinal discomfort as well as bloating from water weight are both common side effects of creatine supplementation. You may also experience muscle sprains or cramps that could lead to more serious injuries.

Although creatine was linked with kidney damage in the past, this connection has been weakened by modern research but not severed. Both kidney and liver functions may be altered, so users with preexisting conditions in these particular organs should talk to their doctor first.

Creatine has the potential to alter insulin activity, but more research is necessary. If you have diabetes or hypoglycemia or are undergoing any treatments that could affect your blood sugar, you should use caution taking creatine.

Have you taken creatine supplements? Share your experience with us in the comments.



Postpartum fitness: How to get back in shape after having a baby

After giving birth last fall, one of the first questions I had for my midwife was, “When can I exercise again?” I ran until I was 7 months pregnant, when I had to hang up my running shoes due to health concerns. So I couldn’t wait to get moving again. (Information on keeping a safe running routine throughout pregnancy can be found here.)

But starting a fitness plan postpartum requires that you take special care. Whether you’re an athlete eager to get back into your favorite sport or you’re looking for a way to shed the pregnancy pounds, you can safely get in shape after having a baby.

Getting Started

Being active boasts a bunch of health benefits for new moms. Exercise can boost your energy, reduce postpartum fatigue, fight stress, improve your mood, strengthen your muscles and help you lose weight. Plus, you’ll be setting up lifelong healthy habits and be a good role model for your child.

Before you head to the gym, though, you’ll need to get the OK from your doctor or midwife. Delivering a baby takes a toll on your body, and it can take weeks to recover (or even months if you delivered by cesarean section or had a difficult childbirth). Rest is usually best in the first few weeks after having a baby.

Experts say that most postpartum women can do some light walking as soon as they feel up to it. In general, women who delivered vaginally can start more vigorous exercise at 6 weeks postpartum, and women who delivered by C-section can engage in more intense activity 6 to 8 weeks after childbirth. But know that every woman is different and recovery times vary. Always ask your doctor how long you should wait after the birth of your baby before resuming or starting an exercise program.

Sticking With It

Still, even if you have clearance from your doctor, wait until your body feels ready before you move from walking to more intense activities. Once you feel ready to exercise, follow these tips for success:

·         Ease into it. Doing too much before your body is healed can be a recipe for disaster. You risk injury if you jump into intense exercise too soon. Take it slow and, in time, you’ll be able to gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workout sessions.

·         Have realistic expectations. You just had a baby! You are likely sleep deprived and stressed. If you don’t have the stamina for your planned workout one day, don’t sweat it. Just take a walk instead. Remember that even a little bit of exercise is better than none. Pop baby into a jogging stroller and get going! (with luck he’ll even finally fall asleep!)

·         Stay well hydrated. Be mindful to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. This is especially crucial for breast-feeding women because you lose fluids during nursing sessions. Drinking enough water throughout the day can help you feel more energized and combat fatigue.

·         Plan ahead if you’re breast-feeding. In the first few months postpartum, you may feel more comfortable if you exercise immediately after nursing your baby. Note that working out will not negatively impact your milk supply.

·         Watch for warning signs. If you have bright red vaginal bleeding that’s heavier than a period, stop exercising at once and get medical help.

New moms: how do you make time for fitness? I like to multi-task; I used to lift weights and do jumping jacks while my son played on his activity mat.


5 Tips to Maintain Your Fitness During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is notorious for decadent treats, calorie-laden drinks and a jam-packed schedule. So it’s no wonder that the Thanksgiving feast, watching football and festive beverages are in your top 10 list of things to be thankful for kicking off this holiday season. However, breaking out the elastic waistbands and stocking up on cookies and candies can wreak havoc on your health and fitness goals. With some careful preparation and using some tips from football, you can scoreboard the holiday season with confidence.

Have a game plan

Like many others, you may be spending the next couple months celebrating holidays with families, often traveling to get there, plus going to parties and managing your normal day-to-day on top of it all. It’s easy to let fitness fall by the wayside. But just professional football teams, going in with a game plan can make an enormous difference in setting yourself up for success. If you don’t subscribe to using calendars and lists throughout the rest of the year, try to make an exception for the holiday season.

Whether you prefer print or digital, there are a myriad of ways to create a to-do list and schedule. A weekly calendar and task list can give you an idea of everything you have coming up so you don’t feel blindsided by that child’s holiday party or Christmas dinner at Aunt Debbie’s you might have forgotten about. A daily to-do list with tasks and times can keep you focused on getting projects done without losing track of the day or forgetting what you were doing. Click here for a free weekly and daily organizer you can use to stay organized.

Start by adding any concrete meetings, appointments or parties in your schedule. Then start adding tasks you need to accomplish each day in order to be ready when your next event rolls around. Last, but not least important, schedule your workout. If you’re incredibly busy, aim for two or three workouts per week. It will keep you in the goal-achieving mindset without undoing all the hard work you’ve done throughout the year or making you feel guilty for not getting other things accomplished.

Optimize the plays

The play clock only has so many seconds on it, just as you only have so many hours in the day. Make the most of the time you’ve scheduled for a workout by performing the Sprint 8® workout. This amazing 20-minute aerobic workout has been medically proven to boost energy, reduce body fat, promote lean muscle mass, improve your cholesterol and increase bone density through the natural release of human growth hormone.

Each Sprint 8 workout consists of:

  • A four-minute warm up and cool down
  • Eight, 30-second sprints
  • Eight, 90-second active recovery periods.

That’s only four minutes of intense cardio per session. When performed three times per week, that equals 12 total minutes of high-intensity exercise per week and only an hour total of exercise.

Plan for substitutions

Exercise and diet go hand in hand. Although it’s extremely helpful to keep up with a semi-consistent fitness routine throughout the holidays, incorporating some healthy eating throughout can keep weight gain at bay. Of course, everyone indulges a little during the holidays, but some simple, tasty substitutions can allow you to enjoy without feeling guilty or miserable afterwards.

Love potatoes? Try mashed cauliflower. It offers the same creamy, fluffy texture without all of the starch and calories. You can still add some of your favorite mix-ins and toppings for a more traditional mashed potato flavor. Click here for a recipe idea. You can also forgo the sweet potato casserole by making baked sweet potatoes topped with a little butter, maple syrup and cinnamon. Or, try oven-baked sweet potato fries.

Can’t pass up dessert? Apple, blueberry, pumpkin and pecan – pies are the quintessential dessert of the holidays. It can be tough to say “no,” to one or more helpings with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Try eliminating some calories by taking out the crust and making “crumbles” instead of pies. You still get a little buttery, flaky crunch. Another tip is to make your fillings using fresh fruit instead of canned fruit. It’s extra effort, but the taste is equally, if not more, incredible and it’s more health conscious on many levels.

Take TV timeouts

Yes, there are parades and football games and Christmas specials to watch. However, scheduling some timeouts from TV-watching may be just the ticket to keep you from feeling lethargic and falling asleep during your third college football game of the day. Take advantage of nice weather and get outside for an hour.

Plan a sledding event with friends or family for a fun way to spend time with those you care about and get some exercise in. Schedule a game of two-hand touch or half-court basketball between dinner and dessert to stay awake and earn some of those sweets you’ll consume. Other ideas include building a snowman or snow fort, ice skating, skiing or snowboarding.

Celebrate your success

When football players score a touchdown, they don’t wait to get home to do their end zone celebration. You shouldn’t have to either. Only ate one piece of pie? Skipped the potatoes? Ate white meat instead of dark? Good for you! Celebrate your small successes with family and friends in person, on the phone or online. You may even want to join a like-minded group on an online community like SparkPeople ahead of time to stay inspired and to have a place to brag where your achievements will be supported. You can even post your success here in the comments section.

The holidays are a flurry of activity, but it doesn’t have to be a time of dread or diet deceit leading up to the New Year. Following these simple tips will help you stay on the ball and keep you focused on your health and fitness goals throughout even the busiest weeks.

Have a plan in place or maybe some tips that have helped you in the past? Share them in the comments.

6 Home Fitness and Diet Strategies for a Healthy Thanksgiving

Stay Healthy and Happy this Thanksgiving with These Practical Tips for the Whole Family

It’s not so much the single feast of Thanksgiving Day that undoes many well-intentioned athletes, as it is the fact that Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the downward spiral of gluttony otherwise known as “The Holidays.” (From what I can tell, this time actually begins with the candy of Halloween and ends with the chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks of Easter). If you’re determined to ring in the New Year in the same (or better) shape than you began the fall, it makes sense to employ a few simple strategies to keep the feasting under control.

Strategy 1: Eat Your Breakfast

It’s tempting to try to save your calories for the turkey feast taking place later in the day, but this self-imposed starvation sets you up for plummeting blood sugar, overindulgence and a tendency to store your feast as fat. Try, instead, to have a breakfast containing both protein and carbs to fuel a morning workout that you might otherwise be tempted to skip.

Strategy 2: Squeeze in a Morning Power Workout

If you’ve got the time on Thanksgiving morning, check out for virtual running events or Turkey Trots in your area. For most of us, however, time is tight and this isn’t going to be the day we go the distance on our morning run. The great news is, an intense workout that leaves you burning calories for hours afterwards (making sure that turkey feast is used as recovery rather than fat storage) doesn’t have to take all morning. Try using your Horizon Treadmill, Elliptical, or Recumbent Bike to complete 15 minutes of intense intervals. Simply warm up for two minutes, use your interval program and then cool down for another 3 minutes. Now you’ve burned off your breakfast in the time it took to brew coffee and are ready to put your turkey to good use building muscle in your recovery. For the most effective use of this workout, try to schedule it less than two hours before your turkey feast. If you aren’t able to do that, don’t worry. You’ve still benefitted from the extra calories burned and insulin stabilization this workout provided you.

Strategy 3: Fill your Feasting Plate with Protein and Healthy Carbohydrates

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking an extra serving of turkey at the Thanksgiving table. Packed with lean protein, turkey is exactly the type of food athletes and dieters can use to build muscle and keep themselves feeling satisfied. Round out your plate with the best looking vegetables and sweet potatoes you can find and you’ve got a meal that will leave you stronger. Limit indulgent starches such as mashed potatoes, dinner rolls and stuffing to those that you NEED to have and only enjoy at holidays. Have enough to keep you from feeling deprived, but don’t build your meal around these.

Strategy 4: Space out the Sweets

Get your family away from the table and then back for pie and coffee later in the afternoon. This will make everyone enjoy the dessert more, when they’re no longer stuffed from the meal itself. You might also prevent the likelihood of taking killer second helpings of dessert later in the afternoon (I’m not the only one who does this, am I?). Need to fill a little time before dessert? Try….

Strategy 5: Heading Outside

I know, I know. The couch is calling you for a much needed snooze, but that’s only the turkey tryptophan talking. Shake it off and grab your favorite cousin to breathe some fresh air with a nice walk or game of hoops before you load up on sweets and seconds. You can stay inside and catch up on the family gossip by getting actively involved in the clean up as well.

Strategy 6: Bragging Rights

Try making a public commitment to have a healthy Thanksgiving Day, and end your day by bragging about what you did well. Use your social community (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to pull together a group of like-minded friends for a special online support group, or join a more anonymous community. You can also post a comment below to tell us your plan. Whatever you do, put your commitment out there before Turkey Day and log in that evening to post how the day went.



About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.

The many benefits of a morning workout

Not many of us wake up, hop out of bed with full energy and can zealously tackle our workout first thing in the morning. The natural inclination is often to put if off, generally until the end of the day, when all the other important things like work and school have been accomplished.

But is this wise? What are the benefits of a morning workout, before you go about the rest of your daily activities?

Start The Day Off Right

In a recent post, we discussed the fact that a balanced breakfast can help to set a healthy tone for the rest of your day. Morning exercise seems to have a similar effect, for several reasons.

First, numerous studies have shown that exercise can improve your sense of well-being and overall mood. For longtime exercisers, this won’t come as a surprise but it has important implications. If you exercise first thing in the morning, elevating your mood, you are more likely to eat healthier foods and enjoy your day more.

Additionally, once you experience these benefits, you’ll want to continue exercising so that you can keep enjoying them. Speaking to U.S. News, Julia Valentour, program coordinator for the American Council on Exercise, said that “People who exercise in the morning are more likely to make it a habit, as there’s less chance of scheduling conflicts that get in the way of exercise.”

Razor Focus!

Closely related to the improved sense of well-being is a heightened alertness throughout the day. Although you have to drag yourself out of bed and struggle to start your workout, once you do you’ll wake up quickly. Not only will you be able to give your workout your full attention but, by the time you get to work, you’ll already feel awake and accomplished.

A key factor to consider when discussing how to set a good tone for your day is the effect that exercise has on your metabolism. Recent research has shown that not only do our bodies burn calories during exercise, but that increased caloric burn continues for hours after. One study found that men who biked at a high intensity for 45 minutes burned an extra 190 calories over the 14 hours following the workout. Other studies have backed these findings but, they all note, that low or moderate intensity workouts don’t show the same substantial results.

Sleep Better

It may seem counter-intuitive, but waking up early to work out may help you sleep better. A quality night’s sleep is dependent, to a large extent, on regularity. We need to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Scheduling your workout in the mornings can be a valuable step toward creating a regular sleep pattern.

Research also indicates that people who exercise at night or in the evenings have more difficulty falling asleep than those who work out earlier in the day. Not only will the improved sleep help you be more focussed and energetic, but sleep plays an important part in weight loss. Several hormones that control your appetite and metabolism are regulated by your sleep patterns so creating a healthy sleep schedule can have a positive effect on those systems as well.

Avoid Conflicts

How often does your day go exactly as you had planned? Things pop up unexpectedly that force use to make last minute changes. We may have to work late, deal with some emergency or handle an errand we forgot about, and any of these things can suck up the time you’d planned for your workout. By taking care of your exercise as soon as you wake up, you lessen the chance of something else getting in the way.

What benefits have you experienced from working out in the morning? Please share them with us in the comments.


Ask an expert: What is the best way to recover after a race?

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do I recover after short and long races – 5K to marathon?  ~Jeff

A: Great question, Jeff! The short, sweet, tweet-sized answer is – invest one day for every mile in the race. Although this is very general, it can work in keeping things simple. So, the shorter the race, the shorter the recovery necessary and vice versa.  This is why you can race multiple 5Ks in a season with less risk than racing multiple half or full marathons in a season.

The longer answer is it truly depends on a host of variables including: your running experience, your training season, your health, stress, nutrition, race intensity, the elements, age and more! I know that’s a mouthful and quite a lot to think about, but ultimately it comes down to creating your personal recovery program and understanding that every post-race recovery is unique. That way, you tune into what works for you, learn to optimize your down time and ebb and flow with all types of recoveries.

Contrary to popular belief, post-race recovery doesn’t mean sitting on the couch watching your favorite reality TV show. It simply means getting off the structure of a training program for awhile to let things heal and rejuvenate – much like the winter season or a good night’s sleep. Our body functions in cycles and when you begin to train and race in cycles, you make the most of every season. The fun part is it allows time to explore activities you may have ignored due to training. There are a myriad of options for active recovery and here are just a few ways you could go for each race distance.

5K – 10K:  

In-Season, Post-Race Recovery:

Day 1 – Rest, massage or very light, low-impact activity for 20-30 minutes (cycling, elliptical)

Day 2 – Cross-training with lower-impact activities for 30-45 minutes at an easy effort level, plus flexibility exercises (foam rolling, stretching)

Day 3 – Easy effort run for 30-45 minutes, plus flexibility exercises

Day 4 – Cross-training for 30-45 minutes at an easy to moderate effort level

Day 5 – Easy effort run for 30-45 minutes, plus flexibility exercises

Day 6 – Rest

Day 7 – Continue on with your 5K training regimen, adding higher intensity and longer duration runs back into your regimen if all feels well. If you have any aches or pains, invest a few more days of easy effort runs and cross-training to assure recovery.

Post-Season Recovery:

Weeks 1-2:

Include easy to moderate effort cross-training, easy effort runs that are shorter and flexibility exercises, keeping the workout duration to no more than an hour. Reward yourself with a massage!

Example Week

Monday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus a strength workout

Tuesday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Play – an activity you love to do (hike, bike, play with the kids, dance)

Thursday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus strength workout

Friday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Saturday – Easy effort run – 60 minutes on a new trail, route or path

Sunday – Rest

Weeks 3-4:

Include moderate effort cross-training, easy effort runs that are shorter, a harder effort short run and flexibility exercises, still keeping the workout duration to no more than an hour.

Example Week

Monday – Easy effort run for 30-40 minutes, plus strength workout

Tuesday – Cross-training 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Play – an activity you love to do (hike, bike, play with the kids, dance)

Thursday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus strength workout

Friday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Saturday – Alternate one week with a longer, slower run (45-60 minutes) with a shorter, harder effort run (30-40 minutes – Fartlek, which is a form of road running in which the runner varies the pace significantly during the run)

Sunday – Rest

Half Marathon Marathon:

Longer races require long training seasons and more effort and stress on race day. Therefore, at least 3-4 weeks of low-key, unstructured activity is a great way to fully recovery mentally, physically and emotionally. Here is an example of what that might look like for a runner that normally trains four times per week, plus cross-training.

Week 1 – Keep the effort easy and activity short:

Monday – Rest, massage and very light flexibility exercises

Tuesday – Cross-training for 20-30 minutes at an easy effort, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Cross-training for 30 minutes at an easy effort, plus flexibility

Friday – Rest day or light walk for 30 minutes

Saturday – Easy effort run for 30-40 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest or light walk for 30-45 minutes

 Week 2 – Keep the effort easy, and build the activity time slightly:

Monday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Tuesday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Thursday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Friday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 60 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

 Week 3:

Monday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Tuesday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Friday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 60-70 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

 Week 4:

Monday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Tuesday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Wednesday – Moderate effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Thursday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Friday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes or cross-training

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 70-80 minutes (or hold at 60 minutes if that’s more comfortable), plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

7 Tips to Consider When Purchasing a Treadmill

Are you looking to buy a treadmill in the near future?

Walking into a fitness store can be an overwhelming event. There’s typically a wide variety of equipment to view and consider buying for your home. But it doesn’t have to be a fearful experience. Armed with some sound advice, you can find the perfect treadmill to bring home and enjoy for years to come. Knowing a little in advance what you may be looking for will help your specialty fitness retailer provide suggestions on the treadmill for you. Here are seven tips to consider when purchasing a new treadmill.

1. Never ever buy a treadmill you don’t have an opportunity to try first

This advice should be applied to the purchase of any piece of fitness equipment. The way a treadmill fits and feels to you is perhaps the single most overlooked consideration and will have a tremendous influence on whether or not you enjoy using it and whether or not you want to get on and use it again. Reviews are helpful, but do not rely on reviews alone. Even if you shop direct from the manufacturer, usually you can find a store that carries the machine you want to try.

2. Space and placement

Know where you want to put the machine and measure the space before you go shopping. If you are considering a folding unit, know that this feature adds to the cost of any unit and ask yourself if it is a necessary feature, meaning will you actually fold it up when you are not using it.

3. Don’t think that just because you plan on walking that the motor isn’t important

Walking can, in many cases, create more work for a motor than running. This is because at slow speeds the amount of time your foot is in contact and “dragging” or being pulled across the deck surface is longer than when running. Your push off at the end of a running stride will also “push” the belt. This push is missing while at walking speeds. This “push” also occurs when walking at inclines, both of which assist the motor. When the motor is running fast it also has the assistance of inertia.

4. Programs are not bells and whistles

There is a varying degree of quality and effectiveness in programming options, but in general, programs should help you achieve your goals faster while keeping you engaged in your workout. Ask yourself if your current or past “routine” is getting or had gotten you the results you are after. Ask your sales consultant if the unit has any programs that are specific to the goal you are trying to achieve. Great examples of this would be Sprint 8®, Glute Burn, 5K, HR Control and Virtual Active™ programs.

5. Controls

Are the controls for speed and incline displayed and accessible in a way that is easy and comfortable for you to use when walking or running on the treadmill the way you will use it at home? Can you change speed and incline while running or walking at full stride or a high incline without jeopardizing your safety? Again, it is important that you try the treadmill before you buy it, go shopping in comfortable, preferably workout, clothing. Don’t forget to consider the design of the side steps: Are they wide enough, and are they slip resistant?

6. Where you buy is important

Buy from a dealership/salesperson that you can come back to for support and questions after the sale. Although a treadmill purchase can be a pricey endeavor, remember that it is still a mechanical item with many moving parts that must work in unison. And even the very best quality exercise equipment has the potential need for support and service.

7. Prepare yourself for an investment

Know that a quality treadmill should last you for many years and that it is a long-term investment. Although everyone should work within their budget, don’t skimp where you don’t have to. This purchase is a long-term commitment to yourself, and you’re worth it. You don’t want something you won’t enjoy, and you don’t want to buy a treadmill every couple of years.

Print these buying tips out, write them down or save them in a file on your computer. However you choose, make sure you consider these tips when walking into any fitness store to make the next treadmill purchase for your home.


Antioxidants, free-radicals and you

“Antioxidant” has become one of the most persistent, and successful, buzzwords in the fitness industry. The substances are portrayed almost as microscopic superheros, patrolling our bodies to fight against the evil free radicals. Prevailing theories tell us that antioxidants fight cancer, aging and just about every other disease and condition out there. But emerging science has shown this view to be a potentially dangerous oversimplification of a very complicated system.

What is the role of antioxidants, then? Are free radicals really the villainous molecular marauders that they’re made out to be? Is there any harm in antioxidant supplementation?

Poor, Misunderstood Free Radicals

Even at the molecular level, everything likes to be in balance. One of the ways that molecules maintain their balance is by having pairs of electrons. When a molecule has a lonesome, unpaired electron, it becomes a thief and tries to steal an electron from a neighboring molecule. The victim now becomes a thief, trying to replace its lost electron. These are free radicals and, through their criminal activity, they damage cell walls and cause disease.

It is true that antioxidants neutralize free radicals and prevent them from damaging further cells but this is only part of the story.

Free radicals aren’t all bad and, in small doses, may even be vital since they are used in energy production at a cellular level. Certain free radicals, like those produced by hydrogen peroxide, actually play a key role in a healthy immune system. This means that megadoses of antioxidants, which destroy these free radicals, may be counterproductive, according to several studies.

The Science

The chief study that points to the benefits of the much maligned free radicals was conducted in 2010 by researchers at the Department of Biology at McGill University of Montreal, Canada. The study found that worms that had higher levels of free radicals actually live longer than normal worms. Additionally, when the worms were given antioxidants, their lifespan returned to a normal length. More research is needed, though, to fully understand this relationship as well as the effects in humans.

It also worth noting that, despite all the positive press, there is no research that conclusively proves all of the touted benefits of antioxidants. In fact, beta carotene, vitamin E and vitamin C have all produced lackluster results in studies on human. Beta carotene supplementation actually increased the risk of lung cancer by 28 percent and the death rate by 17 percent, in one study. An extensive U.S. Women’s Health Study also suggested that vitamin C supplements could accelerate atherosclerosis in diabetics.

Should You Supplement?

Each of these studies on various antioxidants are performed with a pure extract of the substance and point to something interesting: Taking supplements that contain the purified forms of the compound is no substitute for a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

The tests that initially led to the fame of antioxidants were performed in a test tube, not in the human body. When they were reproduced in humans, researchers found that the antioxidants had little to no effect since the human body only uses specific forms of the substances and excretes the rest.

People who already have a deficiency in a given antioxidant, vitamin E for example, are the exception. But you should only supplement under the direction of a doctor since even these substances can have side effects when taken in large doses.

As is the case with most health and fitness topics, balance is the key. Science still cannot full explain the relationship between free radicals and antioxidants, apart from knowing that they are both important in the right doses. The safest course, then, is to stick to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and let your body do the rest.


5 Healthy alternative Thanksgiving meals

There’s a reason Thanksgiving dinner leaves you wanting to fall asleep in the middle of the ballgame, and it’s not just the fact that you ate until you had to unbutton your pants. The quantity was certainly a factor, but the quality of your meal — all those simple carbohydrates, the heavy gravies and the extra helping of dessert — not only gives you an immediate energy crash but pose some serious threats to any health or weight-loss diet you had in the works just a few days earlier.

When you’re planning your Thanksgiving feast for this year, keep your most important centerpiece dishes, but consider swapping out some of your sides with these healthier alternatives:

1. Veggie Platter

Yes, we’re aware that the veggie platter you lay out every year is the one plate that’s still mostly full when it’s time to put away the appetizers. This isn’t because of the veggies, though. It’s because you’ve set it on the same table as those cookies and the meat-and-cheese board. This year, offer only veggies, plus maybe a little fruit. Folks will still want to munch, but they’ll munch much better. Great seasonal candidates for platterdom include celery, carrots and broccoli crowns. Although they’re not in season this time of year, it’s not too hard to get some bell peppers and cucumbers to add to the mix.

2. Fruity Salads

It almost isn’t Thanksgiving dinner until somebody breaks out the bowl full of Jello with fruit in it. That wobbly bit of wonderful may taste good, but it’s got about as much sugar in it as the dessert pies. This year, jettison the Jello. Replace it with a varied green salad made of crisp greens, some cheese and sliced apples or pears. Throw some nuts or dried fruit on top to garnish. If you don’t want to experiment, try this salad with figs and almonds.

3. Soup of the Day

Soup is a quintessential holiday food, a steaming bowl of yummy that reminds you how warm it is inside at the table. Lots of soups are high in sodium and the simple carbs that thicken the broth — especially if you’re serving it out of cans. One of the best things about soups is they’re very forgiving, so experiment with scratch-cooking a nice pumpkin soup this year. It’s a verified superfood, low on sodium and carbohydrates, and thematically matched with Thanksgiving culinary expectations.

4. Lose the Potatoes

With apologies to Idaho, potatoes are among the worst foods you can choose from a health standpoint. A simple baked potato has the same effect on your endocrine system as a bottle of soda. Try replacing your mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes with steamed green beans or carrots. Make them a bigger hit by adding a simple garlic sauce for the beans, or a honey glaze for the carrots. For an alternative that better matches the color and texture, try mashed cauliflower.  It’s nutritious, lacks the starch, and you can spice it to match anybody’s taste.

5. The Upper Crust

The trouble with your fruit and pumpkin pies is the sugar content, much of which is in the pastry crusts most people put at the bottom. By switching to a low-sugar crust, you can enjoy this holiday must-have while cutting down on the calorie load. Another trick is to simply make less dessert. Nobody needs four helpings of pie — so get an accurate head count and cook accordingly.