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Is Functional Training Right for You?

Functional training is a very popular term in the fitness community and with the general public these days. Although fitness professionals and enthusiasts are teaching and using the concepts, many in the mainstream population are not that familiar with the potential benefits and actual improvements these training methods could bring to their daily lives.

What is Functional Training?

Functional training has its origins in rehabilitation. Physical therapists developed exercises that mimicked what patients did at home or work in order to return them to their lives or jobs after an injury or surgery. I have come across many definitions of functional training, both in strict literal terms and loose interpretations. As you do your research, I suspect you’ll encounter the same.

Functional training has actually evolved from, and now seems to encompass, some of the terms and benefits of core training. I like the following definition of functional training: A range of total body activities that build strength, balance and coordination for general fitness, and also improves your ability to easily perform day-to-day movements or activities. 

What Are the Benefits of Functional Training?

As with most fitness programs, functional training may be performed using various levels of difficulty and intensity. Although the average person can use it as a tool to help with every day activities, elite athletes and their trainers are using it to gain a competitive edge on the field of play.

To begin to understand functional training and its benefits, we must take a look at how it differs from traditional training methods we have used in the past.

  1. Functional training engages large groups of muscles and multiple joints; not just a single muscle or small group of closely related muscles.
  2. Functional training involves unrestricted, user-defined motion against resistance, which activates the neuromuscular system in ways that increase your balance and coordination.
  3. Finally, many of the exercises involve the core muscles of the body, which when trained properly, provide the strong foundation you need to live a healthy active life, perform activities you enjoy, or compete in your favorite sport.

In functional training, it is as critical to train the specific movement as it is to train the muscles involved in the movement. The brain, which controls the muscular movement, thinks in terms of whole motions, not individual muscles. Exercises that isolate joints and muscles are training muscles, not movements, which results in less functional improvement.

For example, a “non-functional,” single-joint exercise can play a critical role in helping to strengthen a weak link (weaker muscle) that a person may have, in order to restore proper muscle balance. Doing such an exercise can allow an individual to more effectively participate in functional training activities, while also reducing the risk of injury. For strength exercises to effectively translate to other daily movements (example, getting up from a chair), several components of the training movement need to be similar to the actual performance movement. This includes coordination, types of muscle contractions, speed of movement and range of motion.

There is also the “multiple planes of motion” theory many experts adhere to. Although this subject can get complicated in a hurry, it is quite simple in its premise. As we stated above, functional training is a user-defined movement which is not restricted by a predetermined path set by a machine. Therefore, the person working out determines the angles and planes on which to perform that movement. Moving forward and backward is one plane while side to side is another. Experts feel that a person gets maximum advantage through exercises that involve multiple planes of motion.

Is Functional Training for You?

We have all seen the warnings “to consult your physician before undertaking an exercise routine,” or something similar, posted in owner’s manuals of exercise equipment purchased. That’s always sound advice, but I would also advise you to consult a fitness professional if and when you decide to try functional training. User-defined and multiple plane training can open the door to injury if performed without some basic knowledge and direction.

In final analysis, it must be remembered that functional training, when properly applied, can provide exercise variety and additional training benefits that more directly transfer to improvements in real life activities. However, in my opinion, functional training should serve as a supplement to traditional strength training, not as a replacement.

Have you had success with functional training? Share your experience with us in the comments below.


  • Functional Training For Sports, Michael Boyle, Copyright 2004
  • Wikipedia

Eating fresh in the winter cold

Unless you live someplace like California or Florida, eating fresh can be tricky during the winter months, and even in those warm locales, changing seasons still means changing availability of favorite crops. It’s not impossible to keep up your fruit and vegetable rotation in the cold seasons, but it does require some extra knowledge and technique.

Embracing Variety

Most families have a limited range of fruit and vegetable intake, stocking up every week with bell peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, apples and the like. You can find these year-round in most mega-marts because they ship them in from the southern hemisphere — by means that reduce their nutritional benefit. By opening yourself to new experiences, you vastly improve your options for eating fresh.

Some winter-season options to try include brussels sprouts, persimmons, leeks, kiwifruit, beets, guava, kale and most citrus fruits like grapefruits and oranges. You can even buy winter-season cookbooks to help you cook these new options into the most delicious meals possible.

Knowing Your Canned and Frozen Goods

Although not exactly “eating fresh,” it still serves the purpose and can get you through the winter. Many fruits and vegetables retain their nutrition and even taste better when frozen than if picked unripe and shipped long distances — so opt for frozen berries in your smoothie, and frozen broccoli in your stir fry.

On a similar note, a few vegetables are better canned than shipped, including favorites like peas and green beans. Tomatoes are a special case, as the canning process not only preserves the nutrients, but actually releases nutritional value that’s unavailable in the raw form.

Visiting Farmer’s Markets

You probably already hit the local farmer’s market in the summer to get your favorite produce fresh. Winter markets are typically smaller and less crowded, and offer exactly the kind of new produce you need to eat fresh all winter long. Ask the folks in the stalls what those brave, new foods are called, what they’re good for and how to cook them.

Many communities have one or more farming cooperatives in which you can buy shares of a crop. This amounts to a food subscription, where you go every week to pick up your share of whatever the local farmers grew. These are often known as CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and can be found around the country. CSA boxes are often the easiest way to eat fresh and local all year ’round.

Getting Tricky

A final option is to grow your own favorite produce under conditions that convince the plant that it’s still summertime. An indoor garden, be it in your garage, a greenhouse, or your windowsill, is one way to do this. By keeping the heat at an elevated temperature, and intensifying light through windows, you create the conditions that get your crops to produce all year long. If you’re up for a real experiment, you can use hydroponics to accomplish the same thing.

Indoor gardening requires extra space and not a little time, but if you do it right you’ll have your favorite fresh produce all year long. Most communities will have a resource, club or similar group to teach you how.

What are some of your favorite ways to cook winter foods? Share your recipes in the comments to help fellow readers make it through to next summer. 


“Eat, Drink and Be Healthy”, Dr. Walter Willett, et. al., 2002

Finding the sweet spot: The best sweetener for you

Although sugar has a long history of human domestication and consumption, with records of its use going as far back as 510 BC., the sweet stuff has come under attack in the last 30 years.

Common sugar, more correctly called sucrose, is generally taken from sugar cane or sugar beets and is available in many forms. But, regardless of whether it’s white or brown, sucrose has been blamed for the increase of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in America. In 2009, obesity expert Robert Lustig went so far as to call sugar “toxic” and, according to the New York Times, new research has even suggested a link between sucrose and cancer.

With all of this negative press, many people wonder about alternatives to processed sugar. There are many out there, both artificial and natural. But which one is the right one for you?

Artificial Sweeteners

These synthetic, man-made sweeteners offer a zero-calorie alternative to sugar and come under a number of different names. The most popular artificial sweeteners include aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), saccharin (Sweet’ N Low) and sucralose (Splenda), each of which is many times more sweet than sugar.

Many of these sweeteners are featured in so-called “diet” products because they have virtually no caloric value, unlike sugar, which contains 15 calories per teaspoon. This makes artificial sweeteners attractive to dieters. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, there’s evidence that links these sweeteners with weight gain, although the link is not yet fully understood.

Because these substances are not actually carbohydrates, they don’t usually have any effect on blood sugar level and can be useful to diabetics, but always check with your doctor before using any sweetener, especially if you’re a diabetic or at risk for diabetes.

In the 1970s, a notorious study was published linking saccharin to bladder cancer in rats. This is likely responsible for a negative view of all artificial sweeteners that has spread throughout the years. According to the National Cancer Institute, however, there is no solid evidence backing these claims, and several newer studies have failed to conclusively link these sweeteners with cancer or any other illness.


Stevia is an umbrella term that refers to several products that contain some form of extract from the stevia plant of South America. The products vary in terms of which part of the plant they use and how much they are processed before reaching the market.

Like artificial sweeteners, stevia is non-nutritive and has a negligible effect on blood sugar levels. However, there is no evidence that stevia has any advantages over artificial sweeteners.

Still, people who distrust artificial products may be more comfortable opting for a stevia extract. If you’re looking for the most natural product possible, do your research and select a stevia extract that is minimally processed. A note: stevia has an after-taste that some people dislike.

Agave, Honey and Others

There are also many natural sweeteners available including agave, fruit nectars, honey, maple syrup and molasses. Although these options each have unique nutritional benefits — for example molasses is high in several micro-nutrients —  they don’t seem to have any other benefits over sugar. They all could contribute to weight gain because of their calorie content and cause spikes in blood sugar, which makes them off limits to diabetics.

Have you found a sugar alternative that works best for you? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.


Equipment-free strength training at home

It’s no surprise that bodyweight strength training is one of the hottest trends in fitness today. A natural complement to workouts on your home fitness equipment, this approach to strength training uses your bodyweight as resistance, making for accessible workouts you can take anywhere. The level of difficulty can easily be adapted to your level of fitness with options for both the beginners and the fitness buff. In addition to building muscle, you’ll improve your core strength and range of movement, resulting in better function for your daily activities and improved form on your treadmill, recumbent bike, or elliptical. Ready to give strength training a try? Here are few tips to get you started.

Choosing your Exercises

When designing your home workout, choose a variety of exercises that target large muscle groups of your upper and lower body. Your routine should have some variation of a squat or wall-sit for the lower body, and both a pushing (for the chest) and a pulling (for the back) movement for the upper body. A simple routine for beginners might include a wall-sit, modified push-up and a cobra pose. You can use multiple exercises fatiguing the same body part to add an additional challenge and to lengthen your workout. You can also add simple props, such as an exercise ball or foam roller to further engage your core and challenge your stability. Although most bodyweight exercises will engage the core when performed correctly, you may also want to add in a set or two that specifically targets these areas, such as abdominal crunches or mountain climbers. For ideas on different types of exercises, you can find 50 Bodyweight Exercises through this link. For a beginner bodyweight circuit, this link has an excellent video to get beginners started.

Putting it into Practice

You can get benefits from strength training in as little as two workouts per week. However, in practice, I see much more dramatic changes in body composition and performance by adding in a third strength training workout each week. Give yourself at least one day between workouts to recover and expect a bit of post workout soreness on the day or two after your workout in the first few weeks. You can use traditional programs of counting reps, but I find that timing rather than counting your repetitions helps to keep the energy and intensity of your workout at an enjoyable and effective level. Start by spending 30-60 seconds on each exercise, rotating between upper and lower body movements. Keep your transitions short so you get the benefit of a cardiovascular challenge at the same time. As you gain fitness, work up to 90 seconds to two minutes at each station. You can start with one complete circuit of each exercise and build up to three circuits over time.

Fitting In with your Fitness Equipment

Unless you’re specifically training for an endurance event, there’s no point to slogging through hours of slow cardio on your treadmill or elliptical. You can gain serious fitness and push your body into burning fat, by keeping the intensity high and the duration short to moderate. Try using your fitness equipment to warm up for five to seven, followed by your strength training circuits, then finish with 10-15 minutes of intervals on your fitness equipment. Complete your workout with lower intensity cardio to cool down, followed by targeted stretching and/or foam rolling. This approach can be completed in 30-50 minutes and will give you a full body workout that includes strength, cardio and flexibility training. If you’d like to work out daily, you can alternate your strength training with additional workouts on your treadmill, recumbent bike, or elliptical. Use your home fitness equipment for a convenient warm-up on your strength training days and consider using your cardio workouts as recovery workouts between strength training by keeping the intensity and duration low to moderate. This is a great way to relieve the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness that frequently comes with strength training, as well as a way to enjoy the increased calorie burn, energy and health benefits of a daily workout.

Weigh In: How do you fit strength training in to your home fitness routine?

Choosing the Perfect Workout Playlist

By Bryce Faddis via eReplacementParts

All of us have our own unique workout routine. For many, this means spending your lunches at the gym, working specific muscle groups or listening to your favorite songs. Music has become a necessary workout companion for most fitness nuts. And believe it or not, there are good reasons behind this phenomenon. Scientists have discovered a direct correlation between fast-paced music and a successful workout. The science can be broken down to explain that a song’s BPM (beats per minute) is directly correlated with your heart rate and overall workout performance. Take some time to create the perfect workout playlist and improve your workouts.

Choose Your Workout

The key to putting together a perfect workout playlist lies in the type of exercise with which you intend to use it. You will want to do your best to match up your heart rate with the beat of the song. So, if you must use your favorite Janet Jackson song, make sure the BPM is appropriate for your specific workout.

I’ve listed the BPM range you’ll want to use for the most common workouts below:


  • 5k: 130-140 BPM
  • 10k: 120-130 BPM
  • Marathon: 100-130 BPM

Weight Training: 80-130 BPM

Yoga/Pilates: 60-90 BPM

Calculating BPM

There are several different ways to calculate the BPM of a song. The simplest being to just count manually. However, for less rhythm-savvy people such as myself, there are several programs available for download on your media player’s app store and on the Internet that will automate the process for you. No matter the route you choose to find BPM of songs for your playlist, the end result should be the same.

If you do find that a song seems to be out of place, it probably is. Keep track of these songs, so you can remove them from your playlist when your workout is complete.

Before you attempt to build your own specialized workout playlist, I recommend using a sample playlist that can be found for free on the Internet. Using a pre-made playlist will give you a greater understanding of how the BPM of music can affect your workout. You’ll know what to include and what to leave out based on your personal preferences.

Putting Together Your Playlist

Once you have made the decision to make your own specialized playlist, you will need to consider the order in which you place each song. Once again, this varies depending on the type of workout you would like to achieve. For the sake of simplicity, you can plan on putting the highest-tempo (BPM) songs in areas of your workout where you need a lift. This is especially important for those tough minutes near the end of your routine. These power songs will help raise your heart rate and give you the energy to push past fatigue to complete your workout.

There is no single playlist that will work for everyone. You are bound to use a lot of trial and error to find what songs work best for you in your playlist. Do not get frustrated! The hard work will pay off with a greater drive and heightened energy to complete your workouts and achieve your ultimate goals.

Reaping the Rewards

Exercising is not intended to be easy. If you’re finding that it is, you’re either doing it wrong or not pushing yourself. However, by creating a personalized workout playlist focused on BPM, you are opening the possibility of achieving a better overall workout experience. And who knows, you might actually start enjoying the hardest part of your exercise routine. has been selling parts and accessories for most major brands since 2003. They have established themselves as a fan-favorite for support and repair assistance in their industry. 

Ask an expert: Resolution to run this spring

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I had a wonderful holiday season but really let my fitness go to the wayside. I’m not one for setting resolutions, but do you have any tips for where to start and how to get moving again? I was running four times per week for 4-6 miles and I’d like to run a few 10K’s this spring and lose the five pounds I put on during the holiday season.  Thanks,  ~Jana

A: Hi, Jana. I’m glad you had a wonderful holiday season. Although taking a break from fitness may seem unhealthy, sometimes it can refresh your motivation to get moving again. As you start back up, the secret is to avoid the number one mistake most people make this time of year with fitness goals: doing too much too soon. Your mind will want to quickly return to what your body used to be able to do. If you take that road, it can lead to burnout, frustration and injury.

Here are tips for getting back into your running regimen efficiently and without the risk of injury along the way.

1. Start from where you are. A 25-30 minute workout may not seem like much, but if you’ve been off activity for a while it will be plenty of stress for your body. Start back with a realistic schedule of shorter 25-30 minute workouts at an easy effort where you can have a conversation. Save the high-intensity workouts until you’re back in the swing of things. Here is how your first three weeks should look:

Weeks 1-3: Three running workouts of 25-30 minutes + 3-minute walking warm-up and cool-down.

If you were off running more than a month, I’d recommend alternating run-walk intervals during this phase (ex. 4-min. run, 2-min. walk, repeat for the duration of the 25-30 minutes).

Fill in with low-impact cross training (cycling, swimming, elliptical) or strengthening workouts (yoga, strength, Pilates) one or two times per week. It will be tempting to increase the time or intensity, but hold yourself back, as this phase is just like building the foundation of a house – it takes time. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel at the end of this phase. (I promise.)

2. Build slowly. Once you’ve successfully worked yourself back into the regular habit of running and exercise, your body is ready to build slowly back to your regular routine. Here is one strategy to do this:

Weeks 4-6: Run three times per week for 35-40 minutes at an easy effort level and include one or two cross-training workouts in between (strength or low-impact cardio as mentioned above).

Weeks 7-8: Run four times per week for 40 minutes at an easy effort level and include one or two cross-training workouts in between.

Weeks 9-11: Run four times per week, twice for 40-45 minutes and twice for 45-60 minutes. Slowly increase the longer distance workouts by five minutes each week (50, 55, 60).

Weeks 12-16: Run four times per week for 45-70 minutes with two workouts shorter and easier effort (45 minutes), one faster for speed work and one long endurance workout.

This may seem like a long progression time, however, I guarantee you’ll have a solid base from which you can build, race and perform at your best come springtime.

3. Inventory your fuel. Weight loss should follow the same principles as your training. That is, if you lose too much too soon by hypo-caloric diets, you’ll set yourself up for low energy levels, decreased performance and storing fat. An easy way to lose weight is to be mindful of your diet and take inventory of what you’re eating day to day. Write down or log your foods for two weeks on a site like’s MyPlate. This will give you a good idea of what you’re burning each day and what you’re taking in.

Create a small deficit between your caloric intake and expenditure by reducing your calories by no more than 15 percent. If you are eating 3,000 calories per day, that would mean eating 450 fewer calories per day. The combination of exercise and caloric reduction will help you safely lose weight and keep it off. As you begin to decrease calories, eliminate the wasted fuel as well (processed easy food, white food, fried food) and replace with clean options (fruits, veggies, lean meat). Again, three weeks of modified eating and you’ll feel a great deal better and create the momentum to making better dietary choices.

4. Be accountable. Finally,create an accountability system for yourself. That could be running with a buddy or a group, or posting your goals on social media. Research shows that people that exercise socially stick with it longer and perform stronger as well. Getting back to your running program is easier than you think if you take your time and enjoy the ride along the way. Happy New Year!

What are your running goals for this year? Share with us in the comments.

Ask an expert: Perceived effort a better way to train than “race pace”

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do you find your ‘marathon pace’ or ‘race pace’ (5k, 10K pace)? I know my usual pace for training runs, and have done a couple of half-marathons, but I’m not sure what is meant by those terms for training purposes?  ~Pam

A: There’s nothing more confusing than to be a first time marathoner being guided to run long runs at your ‘marathon pace’ or better yet, one to two minutes slower than your planned marathon pace. First, you haven’t acquired a marathon pace yet, and second, this is about as accurate as my chances of picking the winning lottery numbers.

Okay, I’m stepping off my soapbox. Sorry, this gets me a bit riled up as I spent the better part of 20 years coaching runners to avoid this training myth. Training by a race pace will teach you only to run at that pace, and depending on the day, that could be way too fast or slow based on your fitness. It’s a great way to get injured, as we all want to run fast and we naturally plug in faster than we should be running paces.

The most effective way to train isn’t all that technical. It doesn’t have to include lots of hard-to-pronounce words or calculations. In fact, it’s quite easy. Train based on your body – by effort or how your body is feeling – and for a specific purpose on that day.

When you’re running for fitness, you can afford to play with the intensity of running workouts or even run harder more often because the program you’re on is horizontal in nature (you’re not building mileage weekly). When you’re training for a race, specifically a long distance race, you’re building mileage and – for seasoned runners – intensity until you peak and then taper to the race start.

All this is to say, replace the word “pace” with “effort” and you’ll always train at the right place on the given day. For example, you’re training plan calls for a six-mile workout with four of the middle miles at planned marathon pace. You could guess what your pace will be in several months, or you can replace the word “pace” with “effort.” So you’re now running a one-mile warm up at an easy, conversational effort followed by four miles at marathon effort and then finish with an easy-effort mile.  Marathon effort for newbies will be one notch above an easy effort run and for seasoned marathoners it will be at a moderate to hard effort (where you can talk but only in one word answers).

Training by focusing on “effort” vs. “pace” on any particular day will be more beneficial to your training overall. For instance, you’re still tired from this last weekend’s long run and you’ve got an easy run planned for Monday and a tempo run on Tuesday. If you run at a pace you think is easy on Monday, it is likely too hard if you’re still tired. Therefore, you end up running hard on an easy day and delaying the time it takes to recover. This carries over to the tempo run, which you run by pace, and is too hard of an effort, taking more out of your body and further delaying your recovery. This can lead to overtraining, fatigue and injuries.

Training by effort makes all things as easy as using a tablet device. Think of it in three zones: the easy effort (yellow), the moderate effort (orange) and the hard effort (red).

Yellow Zone: This is the effort level where you can’t hear your breathing, you’re able to easily talk and you can run here for a very long time.

Orange Zone: This is the effort level where you start to hear your breathing, but you’re not gasping for air. You can talk, but it is more challenging to get out sentences, so you use one- or two-word answers.

Red Zone: This is the effort level where your breathing is vigorous. You can’t talk, you’re reaching for air and counting the minutes until it ends.

The point at which you go from the orange to the red zone is called “the redline,” or the threshold at which your body begins to burn glycogen more rapidly. This is important to know because you can train to increase the point at which you hit the redline, and therefore run faster at easier efforts. I’ll cover this in another blog post.

Long story short, the goal is to make every workout purposeful and on target. Our performance varies based on the day, sleep, nutrition, training demands, age and more. By training by how you’re feeling on the day and by what you’re body is telling you – you’re dialing in the exact effort that will maximize performance and recovery rates, which translates to improvement.

As you gain experience, you’ll begin to gain a sense of pace based on performances and can predict to a closer degree what you may run on race day. But even then, training for a specific finish time both puts you at risk for injury and limits your performance. Break out of the usual pattern of go-to paces, and tune into your body.  Before you know it, you’ll be running faster, longer and stronger and using pace only as the outcome of the performance.

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

Some of the Best Elliptical Features: Incline and Foldable Frame

There are numerous choices when it comes to Elliptical trainers. But which choice is best for you?

There are a number of things to consider when purchasing an elliptical for your home: How does the elliptical feel, what price point are you most comfortable with, which features you require, where will you put the elliptical and how much space do you have to work with. Two extremely popular choices are folding ellipticals and Suspension Elliptical™ trainers. Both choices offer space saving qualities, help you maintain proper form and provide the user with a great feel.

Folding Elliptical

Vision Fitness was the first company to develop and deliver a folding elliptical and recently, we’ve created the next generation of folding ellipticals for those who are ‘tight’ on space. The Vision Fitness XF40 features a highly durable, welded-steel frame design with patented folding pedal arms that allow compact storage. It is easy to fold and offers a hydraulic assist that effortlessly lowers the pedal arms (similar to how a folding treadmill ‘drops’) when it’s time for your workout. When it’s folded, there are four wheels for easy maneuvering from within a room or moving the elliptical to another room.

XF40 folding elliptical trainer

The space-saving features are great but I know some are asking, “How does it feel?” Quite simply, the feel is great. The XF40 folding elliptical offers everything that a traditional ellipticals offers and more. Superior motion, zero foot pedal spacing, premium oversized footpads and multiple handgrip options all provide a comfortable fit for multiple users. Of course, not everyone requires a folding elliptical. Perhaps you are looking for something that offers a little more variety but are still conscious of space? Keep reading!

Suspension Elliptical™ with incline feature

Most Vision Fitness Suspension Elliptical trainers offer a unique ‘incline’ feature that have become very popular over the years.

Quite simply, the incline of the trainer changes the angles of your legs while working out. Benefits of having incline are numerous:

  • Proven to burn more calories
  • Activates & targets more of your leg muscles, which is great for toning
  • Increases intensity, making your workouts more challenging
  • Decrease the effects of ‘muscle memory’
  • Provides the ability to increase length of stride when the incline is increased
  • Ability to change your routine and reduce workout ‘boredom’
  • Provides a customized feel for multiple users (i.e. Families)

Some incline ellipticals require the user to manually adjust the incline. Typically, this can be tedious and frustrating for a user. Ellipticals that have automatic/electronic elevation are generally better since they offer more range and don’t require the user to pause their workout to make the desired adjustment(s).

Another really useful feature of the incline elliptical is the ability to target specific muscle groups quickly and efficiently. When you pedal forward on an elliptical and change the incline, you incorporate different sets of muscles. When you pedal backwards and change the incline, you target the same muscle groups but different parts of the muscle. Going backwards and forwards, while using the incline, is a great way to change up your routine, utilize all of your leg muscles and minimize the dreaded ‘workout boredom’ that most people encounter at some point.

The Vision Fitness S7100, S7200 and S70 all offer the incline feature as well as the other benefits of a suspension trainer. Although the suspension trainers do not fold, they do take up considerably less space and offer the following advantages over most traditional ellipticals:

  • No track/wheels
  • Superior stability
  • Incline
  • Small footprint
  • 2-inch pedal spacing, which keeps the hips aligned properly
  • Vision’s ‘Perfect Stride’

Whether you choose a suspension trainer that offers incline or a space saving folding elliptical, the bottom line is to choose what feels best to the person(s) who will be using it. Remember, the best piece of fitness equipment is the piece that you will use and enjoy.


Diet and exercise for seasonal depression

Short, grey days and cold weather are generally enough to drive even the most optimistic of us into a bit of a funk. But if you’re an avid exerciser who can’t get in your regular workout because of bad weather, the stress and rush of the holiday season can really throw you off your game. These frustrating bouts of sadness and moodiness are known, informally, as “the winter blues.”

But for about six percent of Americans, these mood shifts can be much more serious, and account for a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Unlike the winter blues, SAD can occur during any season, and include much more severe symptoms, including suicidal thoughts. Since SAD can be related to hormone imbalances and may require prescription medication, it’s important to work with your doctor if you’re experiencing severe depression.

The good news: for both SAD and the milder winter blues, there is strong evidence that simple changes in diet and regular exercise can help you endure these seasonal mood swings until the sun shines again.

Work It Out

Especially during the colder months, exercising can be difficult if your energy levels are low to begin with and the weather makes it difficult to get outside. Focusing on the benefits you can expect to reap from exercise, though, will encourage you to get yourself up and moving.

The American Council on Exercise recommends remembering your past successes and setting clear goals to keep you moving. Joining a class or finding a workout buddy will help you stay focused.

Thinking in terms of “activity” rather than exercise may also help. Look for opportunities to inject some added activity into your day: take the stairs, skip the shortcuts and turn some of your household chores into workouts. Don’t underestimate how many calories you can burn working around the house. For example, an hour of pushing a vacuum around can burn 238 calories in a 150-pound person.

Simply taking brisk walks outdoors can go a long way toward improving your mood. The sunlight is directly responsible for production of serotonin and melatonin, two mood-regulating hormones. Any exercise will increase the release of several endorphins which can help improve your mood, help you sleep and regulate your appetite.

Specifically, cardiovascular exercise and mindful exercises like yoga and Pilates can be especially useful. Because these workout modes help you focus on your breathing and heart rate, they help to modify your stress response, and consequently fight depression. Look through the top rated elliptical machines to find one that will complement your home gym and help you keep up your cardio routine, regardless of the weather.

Eat Right

Depression can increase your cravings for simple carbohydrates, which absorb quickly into your body but also cause a crash in blood sugar. And since fatty, starchy treats are easy to come by during the holiday season, it’s important to pay particular attention to how you’re eating in order to avoid SAD symptoms.

Stock up on complex carbs, which can give you the same serotonin boost as their simpler cousins, but keep your blood sugar steady and balanced. This would include foods that contain whole-wheats and oats, like whole grain breads, bran muffins, brown rice and oatmeal.

Since seasonal depression, in most cases, is related to reduced exposure to sunlight, researchers have examined the impact of vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight, on depression. The research is still inconclusive but promising enough to spur more studies. While fortified foods, like milk and cereal, have vitamin D added, very few foods contain it naturally.

Two foods that do provide vitamin D are salmon and tuna. These fatty fish are also rich in omega-3s, which have shown potential in several studies for improving mood and brain function. If you don’t enjoy fish and choose to supplement, though, try to select a supplement that is particularly high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), since this variety of omega-3 is thought to be the most effective.

These small changes in your activity and diet could help you improve your mood and get you through your bout with seasonal depression. However, always consult a doctor if you are battling depression.

Have you experienced the benefits of proper diet and increased activity on depression? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Creating your own home gym

Home gyms can be a major time convenience and more cost efficient in the long run than an expensive gym membership. Before you begin assembling a home gym, it is important to outline your goals. Are you looking to bulk up and build mass? Or lose weight and improve your cardiovascular health? Every exercise regimen should incorporate both, but understanding what you want to focus on will help a lot when it comes time to start, especially if you have limited space.

Where to Start

There is no need to go crazy at first. You can still get a great workout with a limited supply of equipment, and this will allow you to make sure you are committed to your routine before investing thousands more dollars in exercise equipment.

One of the things many people do not consider enough when building a home gym is space. Fitness incorporates more than just sitting on a bench or moving your legs on a machine. You need plenty of space to move around and really work up a sweat. If you have limited options, you can always make things work, but think basement before unused den when it comes to your location.

The Budget Gym

As I mentioned above, you do not need to start your gym with a bunch of expensive equipment. Here are some basics that every home exerciser should have:

  1. Stability ball: Although they take a bit of getting used to (they have a tendency to roll away from novices), nothing is better at supporting the spine and isolating your stomach muscles. Give your core the workout it deserves by doing abdominal (ab) exercises on one of these.
  2. Resistance bands: Resistance bands provide a lot of flexibility for your routine and can help build and tone muscles by using your own body against isolated muscles.
  3. Pull-up bar: Many pull-up bars can easily fit in a doorway and will allow you to do several exercises that target your core, back and arms.
  4. Weight bench: You do not need an array of weights in the early stages of your home gym, but a bench will allow you to work with resistance bands and dumbbells to target muscles in your shoulders, back, chest and arms.
  5. Dumbbells: You may also want to add a small set of dumbbells at this point. You can perform lunges and other exercises that will help work your legs, and you can also use them in a variety of ways to work your upper body, too.

The Full Experience

Of course, the above should only be your introduction to the home gym world. As you continue using your home gym, you can add more equipment, such as Cardio equipment: This should be first on your list. Horizon Fitness makes a range of machines that will get your heart beating in no time. Ellipticals, exercise bikes and treadmills offer enormous bang for the buck when it comes to getting a good cardio workout. If you have shaky joints in your knees, go the lower-impact route with a bike or elliptical.

  1. Cardio equipment: This should be first on your list. Horizon Fitness makes a range of machines that will get your heart beating in no time. Ellipticals, exercise bikes and treadmills offer enormous bang for the buck when it comes to getting a good cardio workout. If you have shaky joints in your knees, go the lower-impact route with a bike or elliptical.
  2. More dumbbells: A more complete set of dumbbells will allow you to take full advantage of your bench. You can add to these with an Olympic bar and some plates (you will need rubber mats to protect your floor) and you will have a full free-lifting setup.
  3. All-in-one machine: You can finalize your gym with one of these bad boys. Often, incorporating this type of machine will allow you to work your back, shoulders, arms, legs and other muscles in ways free weights alone cannot. With one of these, you will never have to pay for a gym membership again.

Remember, the key to a home gym is actually using it. You cannot tone your body or lose weight if all that equipment just collects dust. Make sure the space is well lit and treat it as a sanctuary. It is your space, so own it, and use it to its full potential.