Fitness – Stretching

I thought I would blog a little about the value of stretching. I used to stretch a lot in my younger years and always enjoyed it. Back in my teens and early 20’s, before I did my weights workout I would always do a whole body stretch ‘workout’ for 15-20 minutes. I carried on with this stretching routine for years and became quite flexible as a result, but when I suffered a serious lower-back injury in my mid-20’s I stopped stretching as I found it was aggravating my back. Lately, however, in my mid-40’s I’ve been getting back into stretching and am enjoying it and seeing the benefits once again.

There are some great benefits to stretching and staying flexible, especially as you get older. As we age, our muscles become less limber and the range of motion in our joints can decrease. We start to find that ordinary everyday activities and movements – like bending down to put on our shoes, or reaching up to change a light bulb or get a can of beans off the top shelf – seem a lot harder than they were when we were younger. Also, in modern Western society our lifestyles have become much more sedentary over the past 50 years. We now spend a great deal more time sitting down hunched over computer screens or watching TV, and as a result we lose more and more flexibility with each passing year.

The great news about stretching is that anyone can stretch regardless of their age or current flexibility level. Many stretches are very simple to perform – and some stretches you can do even while sitting watching TV, working on the computer, or even in bed! Also stretching does not have to involve a huge time commitment, but it will provide you with great results! Some of the benefits you can expect from a regular stretching program are:

  • Increased circulation in the blood to various parts of your body
  • Increased energy levels (resulting from increased circulation)
  • Increased range of movement in your joints
  • Reduced muscle tension
  • Faster recovery after injury
  • You will feel better!!

Here are a few pointers to be aware of as you begin a dedicated stretching program:

1. Be consistent with your stretching routine

Like most things in life, you won’t experience the benefits of stretching unless you consistently stretch! One great thing about stretching compared to aerobic (cardio) or anaerobic (weight-training) exercise is that stretching workouts are usually much shorter – in some cases only a few minutes. Put some stretching times into your weekly calendar and watch yourself improve!

2. Be careful when stretching cold muscles

Stretching cold muscles can cause injury, so if you are not warmed up and you want to stretch then you do need to be careful. Some studies have shown that stretching cold muscles actually decreases muscle strength and power for up to an hour after stretching, so usually it is best to do your cardio or weights workout first and then stretch afterwards. There are some fitness practitioners who say you should never stretch before working out – only stretch afterwards – but I think this is a little extreme. As I mentioned in my introduction I stretched before doing my workouts for years and it worked for me. (The reason I stretched before my workouts was that I found that I was too tired after my workouts to stretch, and I never did it unless I did it first!) Ultimately you have to create a fitness routine that works for you, but if you are stretching cold muscles you do need to be careful!

3. Never force a stretch beyond the point of mild tension painful

Stretching should be pleasurable, relaxing and beneficial. Many people believe that to get the most from their stretching they need to stretch to the point of pain, but this is a great mistake. You don’t always have to stretch to the full range of motion of the joint – and beyond! Just take the stretch out to where it feels comfortable and then gently try to stretch just a little beyond that. If you sense pain then back off the stretch to where the stretch is still ‘stretched’ but pain-free.

4. Your flexibility changes

A person’s flexibility levels change from day to day. Your energy levels, your overall health, the weather, and even what you had for dinner last night can affect your body on a daily basis, so you may find you can’t perform your stretching routine in the same manner with the same results at each session. Don’t worry about it; just keep going and look for improved flexibility over the months and years, not necessarily over days and weeks.

5. Never throw your body into a stretch or bounce when stretching

Stretching should be fluid and gentile. Stretching slowly and gently helps to relax your muscles, which in turn makes stretching more pleasurable and beneficial. This also helps avoid muscle tears and strains which may be caused by rapid, jerky movements.

6. Try to increase your time in each stretch

Time yourself and try to increase your time in each stretch by a few seconds each week. Start with 10-15 seconds and try to extend this by 2-3 seconds each week until you can hold a stretch for 30 to 45 seconds.

7. Never stretch an injury

When a bodypart is injured you need to be careful. Stretching an injured bodypart can cause further soft tissue damage, so it is best to rest the injured area until it is fully healed. After you feel your injury has healed sufficiently, then begin stretching the area again but proceed very slowly and carefully. Stop if there is any pain and continue with recovery treatment (rest, heat, ice etc) until the area is fully healed.

8. Stretch your whole body

While stretching is ‘flexible’ (excuse the pun) in that you can spot-stretch different bodypart’s which you may have specific trouble with, it’s best to stretch your whole body and keep it limber. Your body works as a unit and keeping your whole body flexible is something that will benefit you for life. Some muscles and body-parts like your neck and wrists can be stretched for just a few minutes a day, but it is preferable to have 2 or 3 periods each week where you stretch your whole body for a longer period of time, say 20 -30 minutes. I currently do a whole body ‘stretch-workout’ twice a week for 30 minutes after I have finished my cardio workout and it really helps me feel (and be) more limber. The weblink at ACC NZ provides you with a whole body basic stretching routine.

By following the above stretching tips, you’ll be performing your stretches properly and maximizing the benefits which stretching can provide.

Bryce Staveley – Fit 4 Life Staff

Fitness – “Back away from the vehicle” – Tips on Backs from Fit 4 Life

A few new members have joined Fit 4 Life recently who have back pain and we’ve tailored their workout programmes to minimise stress to their back and spinal region. So this week I thought I would write about taking care of your back and spine as it is an area that – if it gets injured – it can really have a negative impact on the quality of your life for a long time.

Back and spine pain is something I know a lot about from personal experience. I seriously injured my lower back nearly 20 years ago and sometimes it still affects me today. In fact if I could go back and change one day in my past it would probably be August 15th, 1990 because that was the day my life changed forever.

People often hurt their back/spine by either lifting a heavy object or by twisting their spine in some unusual direction; and that’s how I injured my back while I was lifting – and twisting – while picking the back of my car up off the ground. (It’s true!)

I ruptured three lumbar discs and dislocated both of my sacroiliac joints. It took me 10 years just to get pain free and that’s only after dozens of physiotherapy and chiropractic treatments and a lot of rest.  The back and hip region are also a major source of muscular strength and power, and my strength was greatly diminished from that day on. As a result of this experience I now live as a ‘wiser weaker man’ like Johnny Cash sang about in his popular song, ‘San Quentin’.

So here are my five tips for managing back pain

Seek professional medical help

When I hurt my back it took about 6 months before I even went to see a medical professional. The reason I didn’t go sooner was because I had the typical youth macho gym attitude of ‘training through the pain’. Every other injury I had had up to that time had gotten better from training through the pain – but this one didn’t… I was still hobbling around six months after the injury until my wife finally convinced me I needed to get professional medical help. I was stupid and could have recovered a lot faster if I had immediately sought proper treatment for my back injury.

If it hurts don’t do it

Another mistake I made was to continue doing exercises like deadlifts and power cleans which kept aggravating and re-injuring my back over the next 10 years. I understand that for serious gym athletes it can be hard to give up exercises that you really like and enjoy – or used to enjoy – before you got injured. But believe me, you will never heal if you keep injuring yourself, and exercises that place extreme stress directly on your injured body part should be eliminated or severely restricted if you ever hope to let your body heal and recover.

Get a good mattress

I was 25 when I injured my back and my wife and I had been married for a couple of years at that time. It can certainly be challenging for young couples to make financial ends meet, so we had bought a cheap $400 bed when we got married thinking it was a good way to save money (which we could put towards other things). That bed worked fine – until I hurt my back. Sleeping on that lousy cheap mattress which had poor lumbar and spinal support was agony. I had major sciatic and disc pain from my injury, and trying to sleep on that cheap mattress was agony! In fact it took a couple of years of disrupted sleep before I decided that the bed had to go. We ended up shelling out $2500 for a decent bed with good springs and support, and it was only then that I was finally able to get better sleep and rest which greatly helped with healing and recovery from my back pain.

Walk regularly

Walking is a great exercise for back health and recovery. The natural gait of walking aligns your spine and hips and allows release of endorphins into your body. I recommend walking as a gentle way to begin rehabilitating your back if you have a serious back or spine injury. (Of course, if you find its aggravating your back in any way then fall back on my second point – if it hurts don’t do it! If it is hurting see your medical professional for alternative exercises).

Know your limits and use good exercise form

This is more of a preventative suggestion, but you should always use good form on your exercises. Jerking, bending, cheating, and excessive straining are techniques which you may be able to get away with for a while, but eventually you will injure yourself if you don’t use proper form. Weight training is built around the system of progressive resistance so you have to strive to use heavier and heavier weight(s) if you want to see progress. However – with the exception of powerlifters – it’s dangerous to do one repetition maximums in the compound exercises like deadlifts, squats and bench presses. Keep your repetitions in the 8-12 rep range and know your limits to decrease the possibility of serious injury – especially to an essential part of your body like your back.

Bryce – Fit 4 Life Staff

Fitness – Gasp, gasp….I can do it!!- Getting Fit in my 40’s

Exercise and me are like oil and water!! We don’t really get along, but I’ve hit my 40’s and after a decade of having kids, raising kids and basically neglecting the whole exercise thing, I’m back in the gym. It certainly has helped that the hubby and I have opened Fit 4 Life  and I can go for free!!! The Lord knew I needed that.

I was pretty scared though. There is something about being the most unfit person in the room and wondering if you can truly do the exercises, wondering if you will be crippled with pain the next day (I hate sore muscles!!) and wondering if there will be any lasting impact from today’s puny effort. It took me a few weeks to really feel confident enough to get back into the gym, but a new weights program helped. My kind hubby made one for me and a friend. It’s been a lot of fun!! I have seen some weights go up and I haven’t been crippled by muscle soreness which is good (maybe those weights need to go up?)!

The next challenge was a group fitness class. About 6 months ago I purchased the Zumba Fitness DVDs and finally got round to working out. I actually enjoyed it!!! I was dying from un-fitness, but enjoyed it. The last time I did any kind of group class was in 1994!!!! I never LOVED them so when Zumba Fitness started at Fit 4 Life last week, I was once again filled with trepidation!!! Will I make 50  minutes? Will I look like an idiot? Will I die? 🙂

I pushed all my doubts aside and plunged in!! It was like I had just been swimming by the end because my hair was soaking, my face was like a beetroot, BUT I had a great time and even more important, I conquered a fear!! My hubby told me so many times how proud he was that I had done it ( I think he had  his doubts that I would turn up!!).  Zumba Fitness was so much fun because it really did feel like dancing and I love to dance and I had a great time doing it with friends and people I have met at Fit 4 Life.

Exercise is still not my favourite thing, I long for the day when I look forward to it, but for now I am trying to get fit in my 40’s!!!! If you’re like me and it’s been awhile since you and exercise have been “friends” come and join me down at Fit 4 Life. We want to promote a healthy fitness philosophy here at Fit 4 Life and that  means just getting up and doing something everyday….not being a ‘superhero’ exerciser!!! The perfect place for someone like me!!!!!

Christy  – Fit 4 Life Staff and fellow “exerciser”

Friendship – Craft Night at Fit 4 Life – Building Community

Last night Fit 4 Life held its first craft night in the Upper Room at Fit 4 Life, our new gym in Glenfield on the North Shore. It was an evening designed to bring women together to chat and get to know one another whilst completing those pesky projects that have been weighing on our minds for months.

Over yummy supper (love those Afghan biscuits) and listening to music, we chatted and got working. Some of us were doing scrapbooking,some of us were doing beading and cross-stitching. It was a lot of fun and we look forward to repeating it next month.

So, if you looking for a break from the daily grind and want to get some of your creative juices flowing and you’re a woman….come to Fit 4 Life on Thursday nights once a month and join in. Gold coin donation for non-members to cover supper. Coffee and tea available and other drinks as well can be purchased.

Next date: June 10th, 2010

A New Adventure – opening our North Shore gym

I don’t know about you, but taking risks is not one of my favourite things to do in life. As a child I was always cautious and careful and therefore mostly avoided childhood injuries. I have always been careful in decisions I have made and don’t like to rush into things unless I know they will work and will be ok.

This time a year ago, my hubby & I decided we would take a HUGE risk and MASSIVE step of faith in opening firstly a Christian charity/ministry (HTL Ministries), but also in opening our own non-profit fitness centre, Fit 4 Life under that Christian charity. The idea is sound, people encouraged us to take this step and God provided the initial resources through investments we had.

But now comes the real test….we’re open, we’re seeing people join, but being non-profit we’re reliant on the donations of others. Right now we need to raise a bit of money to reimburse money loaned to get us started as well as making some improvements along the way. It is a daunting task especially for my hubby as he’s the one doing all the “raising”. It’s a great opportunity to trust in God to provide even when we just don’t see how.

It’s a big risk, but as I said to my hubby….”much better doing this risk then sitting at home washing dishes and that’s all there is to my life”. Are we doing things outside our comfort zones?  YUP!!! But I love a verse in the Bible that says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Phil 4:13. That verse says it all for me. So, risks aren’t my favourite thing, but here I am in the middle of a HUGE risk and I believe that we can make it work through Christ.

Here’s to taking a risk today….even if it is a teeny tiny one!! 🙂

Christy – Fit 4 Life Staff

Keeping a Grip

One of the things I have been looking into lately is grip strength.  I had someone come into the gym who wanted to work on his grip strength and so I did some research and found some interesting stuff out there.

It doesn’t really matter how ballooning your biceps or chest are, if you don’t the strength in your hands and forearms you won’t be able to lift heavy weights.  There are a lot of interesting videos and write ups on the internet but here are a few I found with some useful information:


Jason – Fit 4 Life Fitness Instructor

Four things I wished I had learned earlier about money

1.       Profits are better than wages

Few people will ever get wealthy by working as an employee of a company. Unless you happen to be one of the favoured few who make it to a CEO position in a NZX-50 or Fortune 500 company,  or were blessed with the right genetics and/or good looks to make it to the top in a highly paid professional career such as football or acting, you are destined to be stuck earning wages in the mire of the rank and file – just another one of the millions of people laboring for the average wage,  which in New Zealand is around $25 per hour or about $45,000 per year  before tax(!)  After paying PAYE, ACC, living costs, repairing your car and spending what little you have left on the movies and McDonalds happy meals, what remains is often so meager as to be embarrassing. It’s fairly obvious that you won’t get wealthy that way. You must begin to think of yourself as the CEO of your own business – You Ltd. You are the CEO, CFO and everything in between of your own private company. Take what little you have and start to change your circumstances by investing it so that compounding interest (my second point below) can begin to work its magic.

2. How Compounding Interest really works

Somebody once wrote that $1000 invested at 8% interest will turn into $23.4 quadrillion dollars in 400 years time, and that it was just the first 100 years that were the hardest! Like most people raised in New Zealand, I first learned about compounding interest in high school (I think I was in fourth form at the time…) But it’s one thing to know about something, and another thing altogether to know and understand how it really works! It wasn’t until I was 35 years old that I really began to understand how compound interest works and to begin using the principle to increase my financial wealth. But when you understand it, it’s really quite a simple principle. Even the smallest sum invested can grow into tremendous size if left for a long enough period of time at a reasonable rate of return. For example, one dollar invested at a 10% return for 50 years will grow to be 117 times larger; at 15% it will grow to be over 1080 times larger; and at 20% it will grow 9100 times larger! That is the power of compounding interest. The problem with compounding is that 50 years seems so far away and we have real financial needs right now, so we often end up robbing our future to live in the present by spending all our money. I’m not suggesting I have found the solution to this problem – at least not for everyone. But I can say that you don’t need to invest all of your present money for your future. Even setting aside just 5% of your money today can still provide you with wealth for your future. Obviously committing 10% – or higher – is better but at least make a start! Commit 95% of your present wealth to dealing with your present day financial problems and challenges, and the remaining 5% to letting compounding interest work for you and your future. The most important thing is to get the power of compounding working for you now – today!

3. Residential Property is highly overrated as an investment

New Zealand has a love affair with residential property. Most likely its due to some remnant of our British roots, when the colonists who came over here from England in the early years of NZ history to escape the industrialrevolution were finally able to enjoy, and take pride in, owning their little slice of heaven – the quarter acre block – upon which they could grow their own vegetables and enjoy a walk on the beach in the evening(instead of having to climb up chimneys for 16 hours a day back in the motherland). However, be very careful before investing in residential property. There are many costs associated with owning this asset class, and often novice investors are suckered into buying a property only to find that they have overcommitted themselves by not having done their sums correctly. Also the returns are pathetic when you take into account alladditional expenses like mortgage payments, rates, insurance, wear and tear, rental vacancies and so on (expenses which are often neglected or ignored in the neophyte investors calculations). Investing in residential real estate is better than doing nothing I guess – although doing nothing has much less emotional and financial hassle! As much as the Real Estate Industry touts it as a wonderful investment and wants you to buy, try and get a copy of Duncan Balmer’s book ‘Stop: Do Not Invest in Residential  Real Estate’ (now out of stock, but you can find it in second hand book stores and occasionally on TradeMe).  Duncan shows clearly why Residential Real Estate is highly overrated as an investment. Also read chapter 5 of Sir Bob Jones book ‘My Property World’ for an insightful look at why Residential property is not the greatest investment for people to play around with. PS In case you were wondering, yes… I used to own 3 residential properties and speak from experience on this one!

4. How The Share Market works

My first foray into the share market was three months before the 1987 stock market crash. This was an experience I never forgot and I made two classic mistakes. The first was that when I invested in 1987 (I would say ‘gambled’ nowadays) I had no idea what I was doing. My stock selections were made purely by random selection and I got what I deserved – a financial drubbing. However, my second mistake was the same as Mark Twain’s cat, who sat on a hot stove once and would never sit on a stove again – even if it was cold. I stayed away from the share market for the next 12 years, and as a result I missed out on enjoying the huge gains that the markets of the 1990’s produced. I returned again as the new millennium was beginning – after my foray in residential real estate – although this time with more knowledge, by deciding to educate myself on how the markets work and this time to go in with my eyes open – or at least half open! My education has required the reading of many hundreds of books and articles and also learning about the share market and its workings by investing real money, but I am far better off today from having done this. The global recession certainly rocked the financial markets around, but this year has been my best ever with my returns up well over +100%. I continue to make new mistakes. (In fact, Jesse Livermore the famous speculator once said, “The mistake family is huge”) But staying invested has certainly been worthwhile; plus the satisfaction of producing your own financial results and not abdicating responsibility to a ‘ticket clipping fund manager’ (in the words of Sir Bob Jones) is extremely satisfying. The information is out there and readily available for all who wish to learn about this fascinating area of modern financial life. I just wish I had learned this in my teenage years and not in my mid-thirties!