Apr 172012

I encounter many clients and swimmers with shoulder problems. In many cases, the pain can be resolved simply by icing and reducing activity for a period of time and then following up with exercises that facilitate proper alignment and movement in the shoulder girdle. Consult with a physical therapist if you are unsure how to rehabilitate a shoulder injry. If your shoulders are in good shape or have been recently rehabilitated, you can keep them that way by practicing a few safety tips:

1) Never carry a purse or backpack over one shoulder. This puts undue stress on the tissues around the shoulder girdle. Carry the purse or bag over both shoulders or in the hand. Even better, remove some items you don’t absolutely need to carry around with you.

2) When walking your dog, hold the leash in the hand opposite of the side where your dog is walking. When your dog stops suddenly, your shoulder will internally rotate and be more “anchored” than it will be if you are holding the leash with the opposite hand where the tug may pull your elbow and shoulder away from your trunk and hurt your shoulder.

3) Never yank an item from the back seat of the car. This jerky and unsupported movement places a tremendous amount of stress on the shoulders.

4) Stretch the pectoral muscles after you spend time in front of the computer to restore balance in your posture. When you are hunched over, muscles and connective tissue is unable to move properly without “collisions.”

5) When picking up objects, try to get “underneath” them by using a step stool or ladder and use both arms. More stress is placed on the shoulder when you lift a heavy object that is above shoulder height. In general, avoid “heaving” objects such as suitcases. Ask for help or have someone assist you when getting a bag off of a carousel. Sudden jerky movements are most likely to tear tissues.

6) Be aware of anything causing aggravation and try to avoid or modify it. For example, if you are a swimmer who also plays tennis and racquetball, you may want to cut back on one or two of those sports and pursue an activity such as running or biking that is more lower body dominant to avoid putting so much stress on your shoulders.

Jan 172012

Just like your car, when you driving your body hard, it needs some maintenance and tune-ups. Many athletes and fitness buffs are very diligent about making sure they swim, bike or run a certain number of miles ever week, but devote little attention to pre- and post-workout stretching, massage, and recovery.

In reality, the body maintenance is as important as the workout itself. Proper care for your body can reduce the incidence of injuries, reduce pain and inflammation and improve performance. Below are some tips to help you establish a preventative maintenance schedule for your body:

1 – Schedule massages regularly. Massage is necessary to keep muscles and the connective tissue that sheaths muscles healthy (long and pliable rather than lumpy and thickened). Massage also often alleviates muscle discomfort. If you can afford it, schedule one twice a month. Otherwise, learn how to do self-massage work with balls and foam rollers.

2 – Stretch major muscles worked after every workout. Stretching releases toxins that build up during exercise, improves circulation, restores length to tissues and incites a relaxation response. Always take nice deep breaths while stretching and hold stretches for 30-60 seconds per muscle stretched. Do not bounce the stretches.

3 – Identify overtight parts of your body and give them extra attention. Stretch these muscles more frequently or even do 2 to four sets of 30-60 seconds for these areas. For example, many people have tight psoas muscles (upper part of front of thighs) from sitting so much. This can tip the pelvis forward and place undue stress on the low back. You can stretch the psoas after work by getting down on your knees and taking a giant step forward with the right foot, resting your hands on the front thigh and then pressing forward with hips in the back, getting that lengthening stretch in the psoas. Then you can change sides. Sitting also tightens the chest muscles, which can be loosened by lying on top of a foam roller with the arms out to sides, palms up at shoulder level and letting gravity passively lengthen the muscles.

4 – Rest. Sleep sufficient hours nightly and take at least one day off from training every week. Never work the same muscle groups in strength training two days in a row.

Your body works very hard for you and you should give something back by nurturing it with some care and recovery.

Dec 162011

Sadly, people often talk about being fit as if it’s only for kids. I hear things like “I used to do lots of cycling when I was younger, but…” or “now that I’ve got a career and family, I don’t have time to workout and dally with 10K races anymore.” At a party recently, a man told my husband it was about time for him to give up on wearing a 32 inch waistband pant size. And even though this man has let his waistband expand much wider than is healthy, I remembered my manners and didn’t burst out laughing or say what I was thinking, which was “speak for yourself.”

My husband has lost almost 20 pounds since he turned 50, simply by increasing his aerobic exercise to 200 minutes a week and eating a healthier diet based around fruits, vegetables and grains. Weekends for both of us are filled with activity, rather than overeating and couch potatoing. While I’ve been competing in swim meets, in recent months, my husband ran the Tucson Half Marathon, finished his first sprint triathlon, and biked in El Tour de Tucson.

My point is, both of us have families and busy careers, yet we continue to live active lifestyles. It isn’t something we outgrew when we turned 20, 30, 40 or even 50 (well I’m not 50 yet, but getting pretty close). And we’ve found ways to make our training fun. The good news is, if we can do it, so can you! All it takes for you to succeed is commitment. And its well worth it, too. Just waking up every morning and feeling healthy is all the incentive I need to press onward and upward with my healthy lifestyle plan.

If you ever look at a lean athletic person, turn green with envy over his or her sculpted body and want to convince yourself that this person has no life so you can persist with your sedentary lifestyle in peace, think again. This person could be your new role model. Think how great that person looks and probably feels each and every day and how if he or she can stay in shape, you can get there too. Then get off your duff, start working out, head for the store and buy a whole bunch of vegetables you’ve never eaten before and find a way to turn them into meals and before long, people will ask you how you fit in those jeans or managed to run the whole 13 mile race. And you can simply smile and say “it all started when I read this very interesting fitness blog…”

Nov 092011

Susan after a swim in the La Jolla cove

Susan after a swim in the La Jolla cove

Some of my best workouts happen on days I almost talked myself out of exercise. Today was one of them. It might frighten you to hear the kind of mental chatter that rattles around inside my head, but perhaps you can relate to it as well. This morning, the workout protagonist (to be referred to as athlete or A) and antagonist (the sleepy sloth or SS) got into instant battle the moment the alarm sounded off. Sleepy sloth whined, “it’s too cold to swim.” And she’s right, actually. Hardly anyone in their right mind would swim outdoors at 6 a.m. when its less than 40 degrees. Athlete argued the water would be warm and once I got in and started moving, I wouldn’t be cold at all. So I got out of bed and donned the swim suit, slippers, and swim parka. Then SS said, “but with these cramps, no way.” Hormones were to blame for this agony. A argued the whole day would go better after the swim – I’d be calm, cheerful, happy, and understanding. So I ended up on the pool deck 10 minutes later and swam the whole Masters workout from beginning to end. I started out feeling sleepy, sluggish and bloated. And by the end of the workout, the cramps had dissipated and I even swam a 39.0 50 breast in the last 10 minutes of workout. Not bad! So I toweled off and ran to my warm car feeling bouncy and happy and like I accomplished something. Even better, I felt fantastic for the entire day simply because I started the day off with energizing exercise.

Oct 252011

Whenever my fitness classes start to feel stale rather than fresh, I know its time to learn more. Conferences and research get me pumped back up. At fitness conferences, such as Fitness Fest and IDEA, I learn new techniques, exercises, and research relevant to my work as a fitness professional. I run out the door bursting with excitement to put what I’ve learned into practice. I literally can’t wait to teach my next class.

It should be like that with your workouts as well. When enthusiasm flags, you seek a way to bring that excitement back to exercising. If your strength training workouts are putting you to sleep, you hire a trainer to show you exercises that are safe, yet different from what you’ve been doing. If you are tired of going it alone during workouts, you join group exercise classes or a group of individuals that do an activity you enjoy. If you have reached a plateau where you aren’t seeing any improvement, you try cross training with less familiar modalities to kick your body back in high gear.

Here in Tucson, we have groups that meet to do many different activities including swimming (we have at least 4 Masters teams – azlmsc.org for Arizona; see www.usms.org for a list in other parts of the country), hiking, running (Southern Arizona Roadrunners – www.azroadrunners.org), mountain biking (Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists – www.sdmb.org), and road biking (Greater Arizona Bicycling Association – GABA – www.bikegaba.org). For those of you who live in SaddleBrooke, there are groups for you right in your neighborhood. I recently learned that the SaddleBrooke Hiking club even has a daily fitness walk at 6:30 that meets at the HOA 1 basketball court (a newsletter on the group can be picked up in the HOA 1 fitness center). Even residents who don’t feel comfortable walking on uneven surfaces can get out there and walk and meet new people.

If your current group exercise class isn’t meeting your needs, shop around until you find a class you find one that’s fun and meets your fitness objectives. Many people I work with report getting excited about trying a new kind of group exercise format such as Zumba or taking lessons to improve their golf or tennis game.

Knowledge can get you excited about working out, too. It can be empowering to read how taking charge of your fitness can reduce your risk of getting Type 2 diabetes, improve bone and muscle density, energy level, reduce body fat, improve HDL (good cholesterol), reverse the “age” of your muscle cells, and much more. Many fitness enthusiasts attend fitness conferences and read every article out there about health and fitness. If knowledge fuels your fire, go out there and get educated! Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Fitness, American Fitness, and the IDEA Fitness Journal are just some magazines I read often. It is important to use your intellect and reasoning to evaluate the quality of what you are reading. There is a lot of misinformation out there as well. Sometimes discussing what you’ve read with a fitness or medical professional can be helpful. The American College of Sports Medicine is a reputable source, which offers annual recommendations pertaining to cardiovascular and strength training for individuals wanting to maintain fitness and/or lose weight.

Whatever you need to do to bounce out of bed excited to move that body, figure it out and then go for it. Your body and mind will be glad you did.

May 202011

I feel like our 2010 Camaro on a good day!

Owners of high performance cars often feed them the highest grade of gasoline, wash and wax them regularly and take them in for regular preventative maintenance work. As the owners of bodies that at least have the potential for high performance, shouldn’t we treat them equally well?

Instead of stoking your body with empty calories, why not hydrate it regularly with water and nourish it with plenty of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains? Salmon and spinach will elevate your mood; whole grain cereals and breads helps make your body feel full and satisfied; grapes, yogurt balances the enzymes in your stomach and softens your complexion, mangos and berries energize, and a variety of colorful vegetables helps ward off illness. A balance of vitamins and minerals in your system means your brain and body will function more efficiently, you will feel more optimistic and have an overal feeling of “wellness.”

Keep your muscles and joints moving fluidly with regular aerobic activity, strength training and stretching. Aerobic conditioning, such as swimming, cycling, running, walking, will help keep your heart in optimal condition. Bones and muscles become denser and stronger with strength training and muscles retain elasticity and range-of-motion with regular stretching. Just like you make an appointment to take your car in for work, make an appointment to take your body to the gym so you can get it an keep it in top condition. Regular visits to the chiropractor and/or massage therapist can also keep your spine, muscles and connective tissue healthy so you can move with more ease.

Exercise and healthy eating reduce the incidence of many health problems. But they shouldn’t be used as a replacement for proper health care. Keep your body up to spec by following your doctor’s nd dentist’s recommendations for preventative maintenance. When a health issue comes up, get a second opinion if it seems relevent; then address the ailment rather than allowing your health to decline further.

So start your engines and get moving. Before you know it, you’ll feel more like the new Camaro than an old jalopy.

Apr 272011

USMS Spring Nationals logo

USMS Spring Nationals logo

My count down began two weeks ago when I started tapering for U.S. Masters Swimming Spring Nationals. A decrease in yardage increased my excitement and anticipation of the event. Only “X” more days raced around in my brain! After fine-tuning my starts in practice, doing about 1000 breast stroke pullouts in my home pool and refining some particulars of my stroke, I feel sleek and fast in the water. I indulged in a massage yesterday and have rolled and stretched and hot-tubbed every night this week before bed. I bought a fresh pair of goggles yesterday, tested them in the water this morning. Bags are nearly packed and ready to go. So all I have to do now is drive up to Mesa and start swimming with 1818 other people who have the same plan!

Some people think I’m crazy to compete. “Why would you want to do that at your age?” they ask. As if I should spend my weekends playing bridge and rocking in my chair at 48. Pleeeze! Others, who share my competition and swimming passion, understand what I’m up to completely. There is so much more in it for me than getting a fast time and a medal. That is just part of the story. No matter what time I swim, it is an opportunity for me to express my gratitude to God that I can swim, that I am healthy, that I look fit, that I love to workout. This is a gift I no longer take for granted!

Swimming in an event with so many fit people of all ages – from 19 all the way to 95 – also inspires me to keep on striving to be my best. Nationals, wherever they are held, is a place where people of many generations, professions, and states and countries can come together and share a common love for swimming. I always meet so many interesting people at nationals. Often its the people who aren’t famous who fascinate and inspire me the most because of their perseverance and determination.

A swimmer friend of mine was so ill in January, she had to be fed intravenously. Now she is back in the water competing and expects to win many of her events. I know another woman who underwent chemotherapy last year, now she is swimming 4 events in nationals. People compete alongside fathers, mothers, sons and daughters at this event; enjoying a family weekend of friendly competition. Others enjoy reuniting with friends they’ve met from all over the country over the years.

Is the competition fierce? Sometimes. There is nothing like showing up the first day and seeing nearly 2000 swimmers competing and/or in the warm-up pool to get your adrenaline sky-rocketing. A long warm-up and a few conversations with familiar faces always calms me down in a hurry. But in the end, its a smile, handshake and a pat on the shoulder or a hug after a race, a warm conversation on the sidelines, cheering and encouraging teammates and finishing the competition feeling grateful to be alive and that I have so many special people in my life that makes it all worth it for me.

Apr 222011

Susan Dawson-Cook in Personal Best Stretch - photo by Chris Mooney

Susan Dawson-Cook doing shoulder girdle stretches in Personal Best Stretch

Like most personal trainers, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard this worn out excuse: I don’t have enough time to do my exercise program. What’s really scary is that most of my clients are retired. If you can’t fit in an hour a day to exercise when you’re not even employed, there’s something seriously out-o-kilter with your priorities!

If you’re about to conjure up an excuse or two today, below are a few tips that might help you put your schedule and priorities in perspective:

1 – Look at exercise as part of your health care progam. If you exercise more, you will likely spend less time at the doctor’s office and the hospital.

2 – If you schedule your exercise time, just like you do for a trip to the doctor or for your bridge or quilting hour, then it is less likely to be left by the wayside.

3 – Find someone in the community that you look up to as a “fitness role model.” This person can inspire you to be your best. Your role model might be someone who shows up at the gym every morning at 7 a.m. sharp, a neighbor who competes in triathlons or someone who practices yoga every morning at the clubhouse.

4 – Fit in stretching during small increments throughout the day. When my neck and chest gets tight from sitting in front of the computer, I stand up and do neck rolls and then lay over the foam roller to open up my chest for a few minutes. I also often stretch to relax my body right before going to bed. Paying attention to what your body needs and delivering it is no different from giving your car a tune-up. Your body will feel and function much better if you are mindful. I also highly recommend regular chiropractic and massage to help keep you feeling like a fine-tuned machine (instead of a robot with rusty parts).

5 – If the long bout of exercise feels daunting, make slots for 3, 15 minute bouts of exercise. I personally don’t like this because it takes me 10 minutes to warm up enough to enjoy the rest of the workout, but I do know that this works well for many people. I also followed this method when I was travelling 75 percent of the time several years ago. I would do 10 minutes on the bike in the morning, walk around the parking lot for 10 or 15 minutes at lunch and even pace around in airports!

6 – If you are overcomitted with board responsibilities, social events, and other hobbies, let something go to make time for your exercise. I often combine the social and the exercise by training in groups or hiking with my family.

7 – Make it fun! I lost weight and got in my best shape ever when I started taking group exercise classes. Since I found them fun, I wanted to go every day and exercise became a joy instead of a chore. Everyone likes some kind of exercise. Keep trying different modes until you find what you like and you can’t help but succeed.

If you have a favorite tip to share, I’d love to hear it 🙂

Mar 272011

It takes longer to warm-up an older body than a younger body, pure and simple. Sometimes during my workouts, I don’t really feel “good” until after the 20 minute mark. Then I feel ready to kick it up another notch (or two or three). The key to breaking through that barrier is perseverance. Eventually, inertia will be on your side (instead of on the side of your sofa) and you will want to keep going.

Here are some suggestions to help you win that battle that may rage in your head during the early minutes of your workout:

1 – Tell yourself I’m already here, I might as well stick it out.

2 – When you are feeling bad, focus on recalling how good it feels when you are warmed up and in tune with your body.

3 – Focus on thinking about how good you will feel after the workout: expect to have more energy, be more optimistic, relaxed, and have a tendency to be kinder to others.

4 – Focus on goals you have set for yourself (weight loss, better health, fitness walk or event). If you haven’t set any goals yet, please do so!

5 – Start out at low intensity until the muscles begin to respond. As you feel more comfortable, gradually increase intensity. In the beginning when muscles are cold, a high intensity will be perceived as much more difficult than it will be once muscles are warm.

6 – Finish workouts with at least 5 minutes of cool down and 10-15 minutes of stretching. When toxins are released from tissues and muscles are restored to their lengthened state, this will reduce muscle and joint soreness and discomfort and you will be more inclined to want to workout again soon.

Feb 202011

DVD Cover for Susan Dawson-Cook's Personal Best Stretch

DVD cover for Personal Best Stretch: Move Better Than Ever

Life gets crazy sometimes, which can really take a toll on our moods, health and emotional and spiritual equilibrium. One way to manage stress is to engage in activities that relax mind and body. Stretching is one wonderful way to decompress.

Stretching not only lengthens muscle tissues, but also releases toxins that build up in the muscles and incites an overall relaxation response. Take nice deep breaths when stretching to enhance the relaxation experience. Nothing is more restorative to the body than a deep cleansing breath!

Below are some suggestions on how to optimize your stretching experience:

1) Be comfortable – Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothes, lose the shoes and make sure the room temperature feels right. Avoid stretching right after a meal or when hungry, which can distract from the experience.

2) Breathe, breathe, and breathe – Focus on breathing as you go along, ensuring each breath is deep and restorative. Fill the lungs with fresh air on each inhale and then expel the deoxygenated air on each exhalation. It also helps to think about “letting go” of stressful thoughts and sensations of stress as you exhale (for example if you have a headache or stomach ache for example).

3) Avoid rushing. Hold stretches for 30 to 60 seconds. This will enable the muscles to relax.

4) Take it easy. Some people think if it doesn’t hurt, its not effective. Not true! Only stretch to a point of lengthening, not pain. If you go in to fast or too far, you risk causing injury or inhibiting a relaxation response in the muscle.

5) Emphasize muscles used during exercise or overstressed during the work day. If you have limited time, focus on stretching where it’s needed most.

6) Focus on problem areas. If you notice more tightness on one side of the body than the other, work on that. If there is a major discrepancy in flexibility, it can result in dysfunctional movement patterns, leading to discomfort and pain. If you have tightness that causes discomfort in certain areas such as the lower back, be sure to stretch those muscles more often.

If you make a habit of stretching daily, it is likely to become something you look forward to. I look at stretching as a small gift I give to myself.