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Fitness & Health Info

New to Fitness?

New To Fitness

So you are ready to start moving.  These are scary words for some.  They envision a regimented exercise routine that will take many hours out of their day.  Not at all!  Throw that image away and replace it with this new image, which reflects the latest research in the field of exercise:

“Each day, start moving for 10 minutes, three times per day."

                                  

Simply adding this little bit of movement will quickly usher in positive changes in heart function, body weight, back pain and vitality.   It is that easy! And it is the biggest step you can take towards optimizing your health.  

For some of you, this big step of adding gentle movement will be all you desire to do.  Kudos to you!  For others, it is just the first of many steps.  You will find you relish the changes in your body, and wish to continue.  Continue below to learn more.

  • Adding more movement to my routine.  This is known as Aerobic Exercise  
  • Adding strength to my routine.  This is known as Muscular Strengthening..  
  • Adding flexibility to my routine.  This is known as Muscular Flexibility.  

  

Fitness- Who Are You?

Fitness - Who Are You?

  • New to fitness.  Is your idea of exercise a quick walk to the refrigerator to replenish your TV snacks?  Have you had a medical scare – such as high cholesterol or ballooning weight?  Do you find yourself kneading the muscles of your lower back when standing in the checkout line?  If any of this describes you, then it is time to make a change.  Click here to learn how to gently add movement to your daily routine.
      
  • Having fun with fitness.  Have you already discovered the joys of exercise?  Do you relish biking in the warm days of summer – but perhaps back off when winter arrives?  Are you a runner or a swimmer – but perhaps sporadic with your routine?  Are you a walker – but wonder if your exercise is sufficiently intense to bring about positive changes?  If any of this describes you, then click here to learn how to make sure that your exercise is bringing you optimal results. 
     
  • Competing in fitness.  Do you love playing “half-a-wheel” with your biking buddies?  Is it a thrill to charge up a hill – passing your fellow runners?  Do you describe your post-exercise burn as being a “good pain”?  Then you are already going beyond the goal of good health and entering the sphere of competitive performance.  Click here to tweak your  interval training and pick up helpful training tips.  

 

 

As with all exercise programs, consult your physician before beginning. 

Having Fun With Fitness!

You are way ahead of the game, when it comes to fitness.  You have already found activities that you enjoy and participate in them.  Exercise is part of your lifestyle.  But have you stopped to consider if your exercise is consistent enough to bring about real improvements?

Science has given us guidelines for structuring our exercise.  If we follow those guidelines, we will see dramatic and positive changes in heart function, body weight, back pain, blood sugar levels, mood and vitality.  As long as you are already exercising, why not tweak your routine in order to maximize your results?

To learn more, follow the links below.

I would like to learn more about:

  • The guidelines for structuring my exercise routine.  This is discussed as Aerobic Exercise
  • Adding strength to my routine.  This is discussed as Muscular Strengthening
  • Adding flexibility to my routine.  This is discussed as Muscular Flexibility

Fun with Aerobic Exercise

Having Fun with Fitness - Aerobic Exercise

What is Aerobic Exercise?

You probably already know examples of aerobic exercise.  They include walking, running, bicycling, swimming, rowing and aerobic dance.  All of these activities increase your heart rate through the movement of large muscles.  This brings about positive changes in your heart, weight, back, blood sugar levels, mood and vitality. 

 

What are these guidelines that science has come up with?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have recently established these new guidelines for deriving maximal aerobic benefit. 

"Do moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week."

OR

"Do vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week." 

  

 

  Am I meeting these guidelines?

How does your current exercise plan stand up to these guidelines?  Let's consider the three components of aerobic exercise, which are Frequency, Intensity and Time.  These components are commonly addressed with the acronym F.I.T.

 

 

The first component to consider is Intensity.  How hard am I working?  Am I going too hard, or too easy?  What should it feel like?  There is actually a range of intensities which you can be exercising in. 

For "moderately intense cardio", the range is as follows:

 

For "vigorously intense cardio", the range is as follows:

 

Walkers and casual bicyclists may especially want to pay attention to their intensity level, being sure they are moving fast enough to attain at least the "moderately intense cardio" level.  For everyone, you can use this dual intensity to your advantage.  On days that you feel good, push yourself into the vigorous level.  When you are feeling fatigued or stressed, then back off into the moderate level. Learn to listen to your body - it will tell you what it needs.  And if it needs rest, then take a day off.  REST is a vital part of any good exercise program -  for both the elite athlete and the recreational enthusiast. 

 

The second component to consider is Time.  How long should I be exercising for?  As illustrated above, moderate intensity exercise should be continued for 30 minutes.  On days that you want to push harder, you can take it to the vigorous level, and only need to continue for 20 minutes.  You may certainly go longer, but this represents the minimal time needed for maximal benefits. 

One other feature which is new to these guidelines is that the 30 minute duration can now be broken up into three bouts of 10 minutes each.  This is especially good to incorporate on days that you are short on time.  Just squeeze in three 10-minute bouts throughout your hectic day.  This would be a great stress reliever as well!

 

Frequency is the third component to consider.  This one is pretty straightforward.  On moderate intensity weeks, you should exercise 5 days.  On vigorous intensity weeks, you can drop it to just 3 days.  If you mix up moderate and vigorous days in a week, then perhaps 4 days total. 

 

 

How am I doing?

Take a moment to consider how well your current exercise plan meets the above guidelines.  Have you been making the minimum requirements?  If so, congratulations on a job well done!  Keep up the good work!  If you are falling shy of these guidelines, seriously consider altering your program in order to meet them.  Why not get the most bang for your buck?

 

Beware Weekend Warriors!  Do you hammer hard during the weekends, pushing the miles both Saturday and Sunday?  But struggle to squeeze in a third workout during the week?  Now that you understand the importance of Frequency, I hope you realize that you are seriously short-changing yourself the benefits of your hard work.  You are also setting yourself up for injury - which is inevitable under this scenario. 

 

Beware Fair Weather Participants!  There is one other component of aerobic exercise which hasn't been mentioned.  That is year-round consistency.  Are you a fair-weather exerciser, who turns into a couch potato in the winter?  If so, you should really consider bringing your sport indoors and/or cross training during your off-season. This will bring you year-round benefits without the "just starting over" challenges each spring. 

 

What about a warm up and cool down - is this really necessary?

On your moderate intensity days, perhaps not.  Just use the first few minutes to slowly build into your desired exercise speed.  Then on the tail end, use the last few minutes to start slowing down.  This is probably sufficient. 

However, on your vigorous intensity days, warm ups and cool downs become extremely important.  Warming up prepares the body for the work to come - by increasing core temperature, heart rate and respiration.  These changes prepare and protect the heart muscle.  The importance of this is apparent when you consider the following research finding.  When healthy young adults move straight into high intensity exercise, with no warm up, then cardiac irregularities can appear.  These do not appear when vigorous exercise is preceded by a warm up.  So athletes of all ages should always begin with a warm up.  Warming up also prepares the exercising muscles for the vigorous work ahead.  It protects against muscle, tendon and ligament strains. 

On the flip side, cool downs are equally important with hard workouts.  They remove the waste by-products of exercise, facilitating faster recovery.  They guard against the cramping, tightness and soreness which can follow a particularly tough workout. 

 

How should I warm up and cool down?

Warming up can be quite simple.  If you are biking hard today, then begin with 5-10 minutes of easy spinning.  In the last two minutes, start ramping up the intensity to match the level you wish to maintain for your workout.  After your hard 20 minutes, then simply reverse your warm up.  The final two minutes on the bike should be easy spinning with very little resistance.  The same principles apply whether you are running or swimming or dancing. 

 

Is any one aerobic activity better than another?

NO!  The best aerobic activity is the one that you most enjoy, and will therefore stick with.  So don't do what you think you should do, but rather what you want to do!  And don't confine yourself to just one activity.  Try new things.  Mix it up!  This relieves mental boredom and stimulates different muscle groups.  It also decreases the risk of overuse injuries.  Are you open to different types of activities?  Follow the links below to explore your interests:

I like to walk and/or run.
TREADMILLS. Treadmills are desirable in that they most closely mimic your desired activity (walking or running). They offer a variety of workout options, through the manipulation of both speed and incline. Many come with pre-programmed workouts which automatically vary speed and incline for you. Learn more about Treadmills from BEACON FITNESS.

ELLIPTICAL TRAINERS.  If you already walk and/or run outdoors, the elliptical trainer offers a fun variation for you when you bring your workout indoors. A tremendous benefit to the elliptical trainer is that it is lower impact than the treadmill, thus decreasing the stresses on your hip, knees and feet. Another perk is that it allows you to exercise your arms as well as your legs. Learn more about Elliptical Trainers from BEACON FITNESS.


I like to bicycle.
For the pure thrill of bicycling, you can't beat biking outdoors. And today there is a vast range of cycles to choose from. Browse our pages of models from road bikes to mountain bikes to hybrids (think of a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike). We also offer a full line of racing bikes, for both the road racer as well as the triathlete. If speed is not your thing, and you just want to go slow and smell the roses, we also carry the fully upright comfy bikes. See our full line of Bicycles in the Bike Catalog at BEACON CYCLING.


I like to bicycle, but don't know what to do when the weather turns bad or when I'm short on time.
Trainers and Rollers. This is definitely the best option for the serious cyclist. You use your own bicycle, and either clamp it to a frame (trainer) or balance it on a roller pad (rollers). This trainers/rollers option most closely simulates your road experience. Since you are on your own bike frame, you are set up for maximal power output, thus allowing you to maximize your training during the off-season. This also ensures a quick and easy transition from indoor to outdoor cycling in the spring. Clean up is a breeze - your bike goes outdoors and your trainer stand/rollers go into storage for the summer. Learn more about Trainers and Rollers from BEACON FITNESS.

Exercise Bikes. This option is probably best for the more casual cyclist. But it can be quite fun, since many exercise bikes come loaded with pre-programmed workouts. Exercise bikes also offer a more reclined seating option, known as the recumbent bike. Many casual cyclists find this to be a more comfortable seating position than the traditional posture. Learn more about Exercise Bike Options from BEACON FITNESS.

 

"Do moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week."

OR

"Do vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week." 

Fun with Fitness Flexibility

Having Fun with Fitness - Flexibility

Are you wondering if stretching for improved flexibility is important to you?  Does your present flexibility routine consist of a few half-hearted stretches - left calf, right calf, rotate the arms and off you go?  Or maybe nothing at all?  If so, you are not alone.  But should you devote more attention to this component of fitness?  Consider the benefits below before making your decision. 

Benefit #1:  Bend and Move More Freely
As we age, the connective tissue of our joints becomes less elastic.  Range of motion decreases.  Inactivity further accelerates this decline.  We lose the ability to bend and move freely and with comfort.  If you watch an elderly person you will observe how stiff and stilted their movements are.  Yet a simple stretching routine maintains or even enhances flexibility and freedom of movement. 

Benefit #2:  Eliminate Low Back Pain
Have you found yourself kneading the muscles of your lower back when standing in line?  Do you describe it as an "achy" back?  If so, it is imperative that you take steps now to prevent it from developing into a full-blown back injury.  Targeted stretching of the hamstrings and low back muscles will accomplish this  (coupled with strengthening of the abdominal muscles).

Benefit #3:  Reduce Risk of Injury Elsewhere
When you walk or bicycle or swim, your skeletal muscles are rhythmically moving and receiving positive aerobic benefits.  However, they are also responding to the workload by tightening and shortening up.  Stretching at the conclusion of your aerobic exercise allows these skeletal muscles to return to their normal elongated and pliable state.  Not stretching leads to the muscles assuming a new normal state:  shorter and tighter.  Continue this over a period of time, and these tighter muscles become highly susceptible to injury.  The same end-result is true of muscle strengthening - unless these muscles are stretched out following your lifting, they will over time assume a shorter and tighter state of normal.  Risk of injury is elevated.  The bottom line is that stretching is critical to injury prevention if you are engaged in an aerobic and/or strength program. 

 

Guidelines for Enhanced Flexibility

Years ago, we began our exercise sessions with stretching - bobbing and bouncing along.  We've come a long ways in modifying this formula.  The first change was to no longer begin with stretching, but rather to end with stretching.  We have learned that range of motion increases when the muscles are warm.  So wait to stretch until after completing your aerobic activity and/or muscle strength work.  If you are only stretching at this time, preface it with 10 minutes of easy movement:  walking or easy spinning.  You will find a much better response from your muscles. 

The other major change is to eliminate bouncing.  Instead, employ a gentle, static stretch.  Take your stretch to the point of mild discomfort, and hold it for 30 seconds.  DO NOT TAKE IT TO THE POINT OF PAIN.  Thirty seconds will seem like a long time - so you may want to consult your watch a few times until you appreciate just how long it is.

Focus on stretching the major muscle groups of the body.  Especially target those muscles that were worked in your routine that day.  If you find yourself rushing through your stretching and/or not holding your stretches long enough, you might look into taking a stretching or beginner yoga class.  Do what it takes to be sure you don't skimp on this important element of fitness. 

 

Advanced Stretching Technique:  Moving Deeper

Do you have a particularly tight muscle group which isn't responding well to your stretching routine?  Try the following technique in order to achieve greater flexibility.

  • Assume your normal stretch position - holding this for 10 seconds while breathing normally.
  • Inhale deeply.  Then, while you slowly exhale, consciously move deeper into your stretch.  Hold this deeper position for 10 seconds, while breathing normally.
  • Inhale deeply again.  Once more, while slowly exhaling, move even deeper into the stretch.  Hold for 10 - 15 seconds while resuming normal breathing. 

The key to this technique is to focus and concentrate on the process of incrementally moving deeper into the stretch.  The results will be well worth it.

 

SOUND FAMILIAR?
You may have already used this technique before, and not even realized it. Let's try it right here. First, try to relax your neck and shoulders. Kind of hard to do, isn't it? Now, clench your neck while shrugging your shoulders up high. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Now relax. See how much easier it is to do? Use this technique for both relaxing and stretching out.

 

Aids to Stretching

  • A floor or exercise mat allows you to stretch in greater comfort.  It also protects your home's floor or carpeting from your salty sweat! 

Fun with Fitness Strength

Having Fun with Fitness - Strength

Aerobic exercise is fun and a part of your lifestyle.  But what about strength training?  Have you wondered about its benefits and if it should be added to your routine?  Based on recent research findings, I would suggest the answer is a resounding YES for EVERYONE.

Twenty years ago, we thought strength training was primarily for athletes and young folks - to increase performance and to look good.  It was not necessarily a part of a well-rounded fitness program.  It is just in recent years that we have come to realize how important strength training is to warding off the perils of inactivity.  See the table below to understand the benefits of strength training. 

My Health Goal

How Strength Training Can Help

Optimal Body Fat

Strength training increases your muscle mass, which then increases your metabolic rate.  This means you are burning calories at a faster rate all the time!

No Back Pain

Weak abdominal muscles cannot hold the pelvis in correct alignment.  This leads to low back pain.  To correct this, the abdominals must be strengthened, along with the back extensors

No Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is the weakening of bone.  It is especially prevalent in women after they have gone through menopause (around age 50).  It is well documented that regular weight-bearing aerobic exercise, such as walking and running, are excellent tools to reverse or halt osteoporosis.  But did you know that strength training can also help in the battle against osteoporosis?  

Maintaining my strength and vitality as I enter my mature years

If you do not include strength training in your fitness routine, you will find your strength slowly declining after age 20.  This decline will accelerate sometime around your late 50's.  Many folks respond by doing less activity, which further decreases their strength, which further reduces their activity.  You can see this is a life altering downward spiral.  And yet it is fully in your power to stop it!  Introducing strength training, at any age, can minimize or even halt this strength decline.  In fact, studies have shown folks in their 90's have still been able to increase their strength!   So start now to maintain your strength and vitality throughout your entire lifetime.    

Okay, so I want to do strength work.  
How should I begin?
 

 

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have joined forces to provide us with this recommendation:

"Do 8-10 strength-training exercises,
8-12 reps of each exercise,
twice a week."

 

Which 8-10 strength-training exercises should I do?

Think in terms of working the three major body areas:  arms, legs and core (torso).  Be sure you always work the muscles on both sides of the joint.  For example, in the arm, this includes the bicep and tricep muscle (see below).  This provides balance and prevents one muscle from overpowering another, which could lead to injury.

In addition to these six muscles, target two-four others to meet your personal needs and goals.  

 

How much weight should I lift?


If you jump too aggressively into weight lifting, you can get really sore 48 hours later. In order to minimize this risk, follow this progression. Begin with weights that you can comfortably lift 15-20 times or repetitions (reps). Stay at this weight for 1-2 weeks to let your muscles adapt. On the third week, drop down to just 8-12 reps. You will need to increase your weight accordingly. Again, hold at this intensity for 1-2 weeks while your muscles adjust.

By easing into your weight training, you have hopefully by-passed any muscle soreness or injury. You are ready to continue with the prescribed weight training program. You want to lift in the range of 8-12 reps. When lifting 12 reps becomes easy, then increase your weight and drop back down to 8 reps. Slowly increase those reps until you are back up to 12. Once again, increase your weights and drop down to 8 reps. Continue to cycle through in this manner. See table below.

Did you increase your weights, but can only do 5 or 6 reps?  Try backing down to the lighter weight, but progressing up to 15 reps.  When that gets easy, increase the weight again.  I’ll bet you can now do your 8 repetitions!

 

 

Lifting Tips

•  Exhale when you lift, and inhale when you lower.  DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH!

•  Move in a slow and CONTROLLED rate.

•  Don't do all your arm work at once, followed by all your leg work.  Rather, move between the different body parts.  For example, do your arm bicep work.  Then do your leg hamstring work.  Followed by your core abdominal work.  Now go back and do your arm tricep work.  Do you get the picture? 

•  Do NOT lift on consecutive days!  Your muscles need 24 hours to rebuild before stressing them with a new workout. 

•  If you are lifting two days per week, try to spread them apart as much as possible.  For instance, Monday and Thursday would be a good spread.

 

More Advanced Options - Multiple Sets

The ACSM, AHA guidelines which we are following suggest performing just one  set of each exercise.  This represents the minimum amount of lifting required to bring about positive changes.  Be aware that studies show that folks using 2-3 sets per exercise will gain greater improvements at a faster rate.  However, increasing to 2 or 3 sets effectively doubles or triples the time involved  So it is up to you to balance the time you want to devote to strength training with the benefits received. 

If you do choose to employ multiple sets, you want to allow a 1-2 minute recovery between sets. 

 Set #1 lift 30#    8-12 reps
 Recover 1-2 minutes
 Set #2      lift 30#     8-12 reps

 

A good time-efficiency to employ is to stretch in-between sets (rather than just standing around, looking good).  It is especially helpful to stretch the muscle being worked during this recovery period. 

 

More Advanced Options - Increased Frequency

Again, looking to our ACSM, AHA guidelines, they recommend lifting two times per week.  As with sets, this represents the minimal frequency to achieve results.  Studies have shown increasing to three times per week will allow you to reach higher weights at a faster rate.  So again, you must balance the additional day per week with the potential benefits.  Just remember not to lift on consecutive days.  Good lifting days would be Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. 

Maintenance Plan

Studies show that strength can be maintained with lifting as little as one time per week for six weeks or even longer.  This is good to be aware of when structuring your routines.  For example, consider the fair weather cyclist.  In the warm summer, you want to spend most of your time cycling outdoors in the glorious sun.  You do not want to be confined indoors lifting weights. So in the summer, go into a maintenance mode by lifting just one day per week.  In late fall, as your biking mileage begins to dip, you can bump back up to lifting twice per week.  In the dead of winter, when your cycling mileage is at its lowest, pop up to three times per week.  As spring riding gears up, then drop your lifting back to twice per week. 

Seasonal Weigh Lifting for a Fair Weather Cyclist

 

Do I need to warm up? 

Yes, you definitely need to warm up.  Warming up increases core temperature and prepares the muscles for the work to come.  If you have just finished your aerobic activity, then your body is sufficiently warmed up and ready to lift.  If you aren't doing aerobic activity, then warm up by walking, jogging or spinning easily for at least 10 minutes. 

 

What kind of strength training should I do?

Free Weights  The beauty of free weights is their moderate cost and size.  For a small investment, you can have a complete set at home.  Add in a mirror, to watch yourself for good form, and you are set. Just be sure you are using proper form.  It is easy to “cheat” with these, so proper body mechanics are essential.

Home Gyms  The advantage of a home or "multi-station" gyms is that they tend to place your body in the correct position for proper body mechanics.  It is much harder to “cheat” or get injured with a properly used home gym.  And while some home gym designs have a significant space requirements, many new multi-function gyms will fit into a much more compact space. 

 

 

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