5 ‘Good Morning!’ Fitness Habits to Kick-Start Mind & Body

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s true – you need to refuel after the short fast (sleeping) to prepare for the day ahead. Equally important is to hit your internal “Reset” button and queue up your body so it performs the way you want it. One of the best times to do this is first thing in the morning, while the mind is fresh, the body is rested and before distractions set in. (image: lilsmugpug)

One of the simplest but most difficult keys to success – no matter what the goal – is to set good habits. Let’s take our personal fitness success: simple in that there are a ton of how-to references that spell out the good habits; difficult in that it means recognizing and changing our current habits to a new pattern (and we are all creatures of habit).

So how do we hit “Reset”, prep our bodies for success – AND set a baseline for increasing strength, flexibility, balance and coordination? Think of the following as a daily stepping stone to improve mind-body awareness and support other fitness activities.

Here are my top Fave Fives for a fabulous morning kick-start:

Good Morning #1 – BREATH!

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(image: lungs_nypost.com)

Swing your legs out from the bed and hit “Pause”.  Take 5: 5 deep inhales for 5 counts and 5 active exhales for 5 counts. Control your breathing, focus on how your ribcage expands as your lungs fill up for those 5 counts. Queue up your core, tighten up your belly as you exhale all the stale air, squeezing it out of your lungs for the other 5 counts.

Already your brain, heart, and muscles are waking up with the fresh intake of oxygen and getting you centered for getting up and out.

Good Morning #2 – Ditch the Slippers and Down the H20!
Do you really need to restrict your feet in slippers? They already spend most of the day locked up in shoes. Slip on some socks instead or go bare (close the blinds if you’re modest). Take the next 5-10 minutes of your morning routine to walk around (bathroom, letting the dog out, starting coffee…). Let your feet connect with the floor, firing up your CNS (central nervous system), waking up your spine-to-brain connection to YES, you’re up and out. The simple act of going barefoot improves overall balance with the mobilization of multiple joints and muscles in the foot and ankle. So let those piggies wiggle!

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(image: babybarefoot_energyfitbox.com)

As you’re walking out your feet, filling up your coffee maker, pour yourself a glass of water and make this your first intake of the day. Your body is dehydrated after an 8+ hour fast from the night before. Your brain, your joints, your vertebral discs are all crying “oil can, oil can” after the evening’s dry spell. You know how the plants perk up after a bout of rain? This is your body! Help it out with big glass of water first thing in the morning and you’ll be amazed at the immediate reward of increased energy (before the caffeine).

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(image: best-wallpaper.net_red-gerber-flowers-after-rain)

Good Morning #3 – Climb the Ladder
So, your coffee is perking. Swing your arms out to the side with a big inhale, lace your fingers overhead, arch your back upwards then release. You’re waking up.

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Time to lengthen your spine by releasing the muscles in and around the shoulder blades and which support the back. Reach your arms overhead one at a time, stretching up to grab an imaginary ladder rung. Alternate right and left, feeling your ‘blades’ release up, your sides stretch, your ribcage lifting up and out of your hips. Think of “adding space” between each vertebrae, getting taller with each reach.

Add a gentle side stretch, remembering to breath.
Finish with an “A-tten-TION” Marine Corps salute, and congrats –you’ve reset your posture for the day!

Good Morning #4 – Power Up for Flexible Strength
While you still have that great posture, immediately swing the arms around in front and toss out a set of easy-going air squats (with good form, of course). 5 narrow stance squats, 5 hip-width squats, and 5 sumo-style squats. You’re effectively firing up all of the muscle groups in the legs while warming up the hip, knee and ankle joints. Plus, your body is primed for more blood flow, so pump it up with another set or two of squats.

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(image: canadianliving.com_propersquat)

And did I mention strength with flexibility? Squats improve flexibility by increasing your range of motion in your hips. And as the glutes (aka bum) are the biggest muscle group in the body, it’s critical to remind them to do their job, provide the strength they’re made for and support your frame. Squats are a fantastic method to wake up these slumbering giants.

Good Morning #5 – All About the Core
Wake up your key stabilizers for the day – your core muscles: the rectus abdominis (your 6-pack), internal and external obliques, transverse abdominals and back muscles are all critical to your performance and spine health.
What’s an effective way to do this, you ask? Planks! Yes, you can simply “roll it down”, walk it out to a plank (traditional pushup position, kneeling, or on your forearms) and hold it.
Dropping into a plank in the middle of your kitchen may be out of your normal routine (your dog may wonder what you’re doing), but this is about creating new habits.

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(image: candiesandcrunches.com_plankingwithbella)

After a hold for as long as possible, sit it back to “child’s pose” to release the back, then go for one more plank hold. Afterwards, pike it up to a downward dog, walk your hands back and roll safely back up to standing.

Take one more deep inhale, reset your “A-tten-TION” posture, and voila! You’re ready for that first cup of coffee, with a mind and body primed for action!

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(image: old-abbey-church.org.uk_goodmorningcoffee)

 

Flexibility Training For All things Fun – Your Top 5 Why’s

I personally wouldn’t call stretching ‘fun’.
It’s not the most exciting thing to do (kind of boring), and I for one too easily bypass stretching to jump into the fun activity, or to get to my to-do list, run errands, you name it – so many other things that can take the place of stretching.
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But really – stretching should be a part of our daily routine. Because it’s also boring to be stuck icing a pulled muscle.
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(image: livingyoursport.com)

Instead of thinking of it as ‘just stretching’, think of it as ‘flexibility training”, a critical component – a “non-negotiable” if you will – to pretty much everything you do, fun or otherwise.  The beauty about this form of training is that you can do this throughout your day – no gym required – and realize even more amazing benefits if you do!
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(image: activeain.trulia.com)

My perspective always changes (and I get more fired up about something I’m lukewarm about doing) when I know the Why and understand the WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

Thankfully, there are a ton of resources out there nowadays that provide a wealth of info on stretching.  One of my favorites, “The Anatomy of Stretching” [Brad Walker], changed my perspective and helped me to make flexibility training a serious addition to my routine.

Because I AM fired up about this and what it can do for you, I hope these Top 5 points below (pilfered from Brad Walker’s book) helps you to widen your lens to your own physical well-being and gives you the Why to make flexibility training your daily habit!

1. It’s simple and effective! Stretching helps to enhance athletic performance, decrease risk of injury.  WIIFM? Less down time due to muscle strain and pain – more fun time doing what we like to do.
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(image: salon.com)
2. Improves our range of motion by increasing the length of our muscles. WIIFM? An extended ROM means increased comfort and a greater ability to move freely.
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3. Increases our power! By increasing our muscle length we are increasing the distance over which our muscle can contract. WIIFM? More power and increased athletic ability, improvements to our “dynamic balance” – the ability to control our muscles.

4. Reduced fatigue (combatting a decrease in physical and mental performance).  Better flexibility takes pressure off of the working muscle (the agonist).  For every muscle in the body there is an opposing muscle (the antagonist). If the opposing muscles are more flexible, the working muscles don’t need to use as much force against the opposing one.  WIIFM? Movement of our working muscles take less effort, making us less tired.

5. Reduced Post Exercise Muscle Soreness – that soreness that typically hits 24-48 hours after strenuous activity, the result of micro tears in the muscle fibers, blood pooling and accumulated waste products (like lactic acid).  Stretching helps alleviate this by lengthening the individual muscle fibers, increasing blood circulation and removing waste products.  WIIFM? We feel better, faster.
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Bottom line:  Flexibility training helps improve posture, develop body awareness, improve coordination, promote circulation, increase energy, improve relaxation and stress relief.  WIIFM? All of the above!

As variety is the spice of life, there is a variety of stretches to keep it from getting boring.  Even as little as 5-minute quick hits throughout your day (e.g. Stretching your neck, back, shoulders at your desk) can give you instant pick-me-ups.

Then add in a simple and effective 20-minute flexibility training session each day, working in the spice of different stretches, holding the stretches for 20-30 seconds, and you’ll soon feel better and notice the positive changes.

I hope you join me and add a new habit to your day.  No biggie – just a bit of stretching. But WOW the benefits!!
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(image: djrobswift.com)