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Weight Training and Workout Common Sense

Designed to dispel fitness myths and clarify training methods

Last Build Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2018 22:22:35 +0000


Commencing Countdown.....Engines, On

Mon, 02 Mar 2015 23:06:00 +0000

"The point of departure is not to return."There comes a point to a plane's takeoff roll where the pilot reaches something called the point of no return. The plane must takeoff no matter what. This is how I want you to look at your fitness plan. You have entered into an irrevocable commitment. You are going to do this no matter what. This is going to be as quotidian as bathing and brushing your teeth. (I pray you)Let's have a look at what you need to do before you start this project.- What is my body like now? Obviously I'm not totally happy with it, but what physical condition am I in? What do I like, what don't I like? What do I want to change?- What factors might influence/hinder my ability to perform various exercises: heart issues, respiratory issues, medications, etc? There might be some contraindications to exercise you might not know about. If you are planning on using a personal trainer, they will need to know this information as well. These factors, combined with your present physical fitness level will help me determine what  you can do in the gym.- Get a physical exam, blood work included, to establish a baseline. Have your doctor explain those numbers to you. Most of you can improve your cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose levels and blood pressure, through exercise and proper eating. This is where genetics can influence the type and intensity of exercise you can do. Granted, there are genetic issues which may put restrictions on your methods. The ok from your doc will allow you to make tracks, not excuses. No more, "I can't do this because..."- Rule: The more overweight you are, the more important proper nutrition is.The exercise is important, but you have to rewire your thinking and break the poor eating habits. We form habits, then habits form us. You need to turn those bad habits on their head and re FORM yourself. Not easy, I understand, and a lot of folks are on medications which actually cause weight gain. If this is you, you need to factor that into your plan. For those of you on medications, make it one of your goals, with the help of your doctor, to be able to wean yourself off them.- Write in a diary everything you eat and drink. You are going to hold yourself accountable for what you consume. Ahhhh, responsibility, what a concept! This method alone is effective for many people. Every couple of days, in red ink, yes, red ink, cross out all you should not have eaten and write in what you should have eaten. Your goal is to have as little red ink in your food diary as possible. How do you know what you should eat? Purchase these two books; Eating Well For Optimium Health and The New Glucose Revolution. These books will educate you on nutrition, what to eat, and how to read and interpret food labels. Following the suggestions in these books, and adhering to them, is at least half of your battle, and half of your solution.- Set reachable goals. Set your goals incrementally; short, medium and long term. "I will to lose this much by......I will workout 5 days a week....." If you don't reach a goal, evaluate where you are lacking; still not eating properly, exercise intensity not enough etc. You don't want to over reach, that sets you up for disappointment. That is one of the last things an overweight person needs. Being in this business a while I have noticed that if people don't see results quickly, they bail. We live in an "instant gratitude" society. Unfortunately for those folks their endocrine system still has patience. You must prepare to be patient. This not a short-term commitment, but a life long one. Remember, you are rewiring, forming new habits. A three day a week workout schedule with Sunday being Mooshu Pork and Cinnamon Buns day will not cut it. SEVEN days a week. Anything less than that, if you have not done some form of exercise each day and have eaten healthfully, your goals wont be met. If you do it right, read, learn, execute and be consistent, you will get results. When you reach those goals, you will set new goals.Ok, looks easy on paper (on blog), now let's [...]

Before Atlas Shrugged, He Strengthened His Core

Sat, 14 Feb 2015 14:25:00 +0000

In a previous entry I mentioned how strong abdominals can help in curing or preventing back problems. The operative word here is "help." Strengthening the core is an essential piece of the puzzle, but sometimes there are additional changes you may need to make. Many things can cause back problems; being overweight, disc disease, scoliosis (curvature of the spine), poor posture, poor seating, Xbox, laziness, and downward the spiral goes. It's amazing how many folks come to me and say their back goes out all the time, what can they do. The first rule is that YOU need to go out more than your back does. So on and on I go making a living being the Saint Lydwina of prolonged back pain, when all I really did was get them off their couch or Craig's List.The first hurtle in conquering back pain is to determine its cause(s). Locating the cause of your back pain and developing a core training routine can help in eliminating some of its symptoms.To find out what might be causing the problem take a look at these:Do you have scoliosis or some form of disc disease? In many cases scoliosis can be corrected through proper therapy using, you guessed it, flexibility and core exercises.How is your posture? Nearly all of us are born with good posture and proper execution of movements. Over time, we mess them up. As adults we don't squat to pick things up, we bend over. Big difference. Compare your posture and form to that of a child's. Their biomechanics of movement is nearly perfect!So what do you need to do:What kind of shoes do you wear? Your workout shoes need replaced more often that you think.Were you ever in an accident that injured your back or neck?Mattress need turned, replaced?Are you under a lot of stress?Do you sit for prolonged periods of time?What type of chair do you use?How is your body positioned at your desk?Now, who can help you answer these questions?A podiatrist. A podiatrist will help you answer all of those questions. He will perform a gait analysis, check how you walk, inspect your posture, and make recommendations for everything from therapy to shoes to an exercise program. A lot of back problems originate from the ground up.The burning question: How does strengthening my abs help my back?Any movements where you are pushing something, a door, shopping cart, a spouse, or pulling something, a door, a stubborn dog, or pulling yourself up involve contraction of core muscles. During a pushing type of movement your rectus abdominus (6 pack) and internal obliques must contract in order to stabilize your torso mainly from hyperextending or, leaning back. The same is true when you are doing any pulling type of movement. Your low back extensors and your obliques must contract to stabilize you from bending forward; another way the back is overstressed. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />When your core is strong, stabilizing your back during push/pull movements is usually not an issue. When it is not strong the result is hyperextension in the back, and that causes excessive pressure on your spine. This pressure is further compounded when you have excess abdominal weight. A person with excess abdominal weight, tends toward hyperextending the back anyway simply to maintain "normal" posture. The more abdominal weight one has the harder their back muscles must work to keep them straight. This is why we see so many overweight people, mainly men, walking around looking like chemistry teachers, big belly out, arms back, wasting so much energy trying to offset the weight imbalance.Solution: Change eating habits, get some good walking shoes, start walking, use my check list to see what's causing your back pain, and start a core strengthening program. You have a very good chance of e[...]

S T R E T C H I N G - The Truth

Sat, 14 Feb 2015 14:15:00 +0000

There are a couple schools of thought relative to stretching. One school says "why," and my school says because flexibility training helps alleviate joint pain, back pain, reduce muscle soreness, reduce stress, aid in workout recovery, loosen tight muscles, improve posture, increase functionality, increase range of motion in joints, and possibly help your social life. Got me?This young lady spends an hour a day stretching. You don't need an hour a day, but you should stretch everyday. That does not mean a full blown hot yoga routine. It means a few short, effective stretches for; muscles you know are tight, muscles associated with those you know are tight, your calves, hamstrings and core. I include the latter three because; if your calves are tight, that contracture can cascade up through your hamstrings and into your low back. (A virtual show of hands here, who among you has some back pain?) Your core muscles are always in use, and are inclined to some tightness somewhere. It is a good idea to keep the core muscles flexible if for no other reason than eliminating some possible causes of back pain.To better understand how a muscle functions, look at the basic physiology of stretching. (Use the links for further clarification.) Keep in mind that a muscle can be stretched to 1.5 times its resting length. For example, an 3 inch muscle can be effectively stretched to 4.5 inches. The stretching of a muscle fiber originates at the sarcomere, the smallest unit of contractile property in a muscle. As a muscle contracts, down in those sarcomeres, the area of between the thick and thin myofilaments(tiny protein threads) increases. This is why a muscle looks bigger when you "flex" it. Now, as a muscle stretches, the area between these tiny protein threads actually decreases allowing the muscle fiber to lengthen. It's kind of like a balloon; stretch it, it gets longer and thinner. When you can get all these fibers lengthening together, you have an effectively stretched muscle, (proper credit to the brutally thorough Brad Appleton). The key to getting as many fibers as possible to stretch is relaxation of the muscle. There is a realignment of those muscle fibers when you stretch them. They are reset in a way, similar to how a chiropractor resets, or realigns your spine.Before I discuss the "how to," I need to mention my two cardinal rules:1. Relax into and through your stretches. You must think of allowing a muscle to stretch, not forcing the stretch.2. Never bounce during stretching. When you bounce during stretching you are triggering the stretch reflex. Your muscle recognizes the "abnormal" lengthening and attempts to protect itself by contracting, and thus countering your attempt at a stretch.The first step to stretching a muscle is to locate the muscle to be stretched. Easier said than done. I have listed a few sources below for reference so that you can get a visual of skeletal muscles and what their responsibilities are in terms of joint movement. A short cut to learning the anatomy is to examine which way a muscle moves when you are working it, say, doing a push up. You want to stretch your chest, and during a push up your arms move toward you. Stretching a muscle occurs when you move that relaxed muscle past its resting length in the opposite direction it moves when it's working (bearing weight.) With that in mind you now know that to stretch the chest you move the arms away from it.Next, find the area of zero tension, maximum relaxation of the muscle. The muscle must be unloaded, meaning, it is NOT bearing any weight. The worst example of this is when I see a runner stretching hamstrings with a leg up on a wall. Very inefficient in that the muscle he thinks he's stretching is actually bearing some of his own body weight. He might feel a stretch there, and might be stretching the muscle somewhat, but there are other ways much more effective and less likely to cause an injury. One of the reason some folks don't stret[...]

Welcome Back My Friends To The Belly That Never Ends

Fri, 13 Feb 2015 23:46:00 +0000

Sit Ups vs. The Fajita TumorThe myth: If I really focus on working my abs, my tummy will go away. Or, I'm going to hit my abs to get rid of this pouch. Short answer, false. No really, doesn't work that way. So all those Ab Rollers and Body By Jake gadgets that look more like the Jaws of Life and artist easels are really good for is one more place to hang your laundry. I've seen apartment building gyms that look like repositories for these things. What's funnier is that all the flat, lean tummies in those infomercials were not even made by using these gizmos. They were made by people who, as least as far as their fitness goes, think with their minds, not their brains. What am I talking about? In terms of fitness, I mean, my brain says I want cheese cake, my mind says it's not good for me.Enough with the psychology, let's understand the physiology of the fat and muscle and how to achieve a kinder, leaner core. In one of my previous entries, the "muscle will turn into fat" myth, I explained a bit of the physiology of fat and skeletal muscle cells. To expand on that, we have a finite number of fat and muscle cells. They either get larger or smaller depending on what the body needs them to do, or in the case of an overweight person, not to do. When a person is fit, lean looking, their fat cells have reduced in size and their muscle cells have increased in size. We can see the muscle, we can not see the fat. The opposite is true in an overweight person. Crunches and sit ups are excellent ways to train the abs, but they will not reduce what I affectionately call, the Fajita Tumor.* They will make that part of your core muscles stronger, indeed. They will also have a hypertrophic effect (increase in size) upon those muscles. This is good for the fit guy and bad for the fat guy who wants a quick fix. Fit guy will get stronger and leaner because he is using ab training as only part of his workout plan, fat guy will actually increase his waist size because he is increasing his abdominal muscle size, and not eating properly and aerobically training - Fajita Tumor not going away. *(I must give credit for that term to my guru Dr. Thomas Sattler, Ed.D.)Why is this not happening? Every has heard the one about spot reduction; can't be done, in the gym, that is. It CAN be done in a surgical suite. Enter..... your dermatologist - they can perform liposuction, change all that, and you are all set, right? Here's what he wont tell you; we have a finite number of fat cells, yes? When you take away some of those cells, i.e. liposuction, your brain recognizes the loss of those cells, which your body really does need, and compensates by increasing the SIZE of fat cells elsewhere in your body to make up for that loss. This sets the stage for a Michelin Man look if you are not really on top of your diet, strength, and aerobic training. Your body is a network of systems which need each other in order to operate effectively and efficiently. If you take away fat cells, because it needs a certain amount, it will get them back somehow, and you wont be to thrilled about where the deposit is made. This is similar in physioLOGIC to the calorie cutter diet; your brain recognizes the caloric loss and actually slows metabolically in order to compensate for that loss. So now that we have taken Ab Rollers and elective cosmetic surgery off the table, let's look at an effective solution."Nope, not quite....what I had in mind was sort of a double-helix."First, the immovable object: genetics. I am not a genetic engineer, but I do know that the human genome has not changed in 20 years. What has changed is our behavior. In that last 20 years Americans' waists have expanded like Chia Pets on steroids. Technology - email, XBox, On Demand, eternal shelf-life food engineering, and shoddy parenting have allowed us to become lazier and bigger. Genes do play a major role in the type of body we have, but they are not destiny. Genetics gives us the gun, but we can decide to pull the trigger. Som[...]

The Muscle Will "Turn to into Fat" Myth

Tue, 10 Feb 2015 22:30:00 +0000

A client told me that his girlfriend does not want to build too much muscle because when she stops exercising her muscle will turn into fat.
Mental knee-jerk reaction: why would one ever stop exercising?

And now the myth, one of the greatest, MUSCLE WILL TURN INTO FAT. Not physiologically possible, although scientists are very near doing just the opposite. They are two intrinsically different cell types. (Thank you Pasteur. Indeed, an old box of clothes in your attic will not "turn into" a mouse.)

There are lots of different types of cells in the human body, but here we are concerned with two types; skeletal muscle cells and fat cells.
Skeletal muscle cells are the ones we are so concerned about making bigger, stronger and more visible. As we get stronger, those muscle cells actually increase in size, hence, you like what you see in the mirror. Fat cells are the ones we want to make smaller so that our muscles can be seen. When we are aerobically fit, our fat cells decrease in SIZE, not amount, and the result is a leaner look. Fat cells are smaller, therefore there is less "room" between our skin and our muscles resulting in a leaner look.

Muscle cells use what we eat in the form of carbohydrates for fuel. The cell consumes a usable form of what we eat called glycogen. Glycogen is a form of sugar, it is muscle fuel. It is energy for the cell, and, therefore, energy for the muscle.

A fat cell is quite different. Fat cells are designed to store fats, which they acquire from your blood stream, hint hint, watch your saturated fat consumption.They basically store energy, energy that your body does not yet need. That is a good thing, but there can be too much of a good thing. Fat cells do more than just store energy. They also insulate the body, and manufacture many hormones, incredibly important stuff. The fitter you are, the more of what you eat will be stored in the muscle cells, and less in the fat cells. The reverse is true the less fit you are.

If you stop working out, specifically, stop lifting weights, the muscle (cells) that you have built, increased in size, will, in time, lose that size. You still have the same number of muscle cells, but each cell has gotten smaller. Quite simply, the supply is meeting the demand. The muscle is not doing the work it used to, and therefore the cell does not need to be bigger and stronger. Consequently, if you continue eating the same amount of food (calories) you were when you were working out, the fat cells, which were always there, just smaller, will now expand. You see, the muscle cells then get smaller, and the fat cells get larger. The muscle cells no longer need as much energy, strength and size, so their nutrition (fuel) is stored in the fat cell. The fat cell is just doing its job by storing that energy and getting larger. But in no way has the muscle "turned into" fat. We still have two different cell types doing two different jobs. Bottom line: Build muscle, not bulk, just muscle, to keep your body functioning as efficiently as possible. Keep fit to feed muscle.

Core Training - Strengthen Your Foundation

Sun, 13 Feb 2011 14:02:00 +0000

If you spend anytime in the gym, you’ve heard of core training. Core training is the key to a stronger midsection and possibly fewer back problems especially as you get older. To better understand what you are actually using when you are working your core, let’s look at the core muscles and their responsibilities.
The group of muscles from just below your chest to right above your waistline and all the way around your body is your core area; abdominals in front and on the sides, and extensors in the back. They maintain the structural integrity of your spine and assist in breathing. You use them every time you bend forward, to the side, twist, or lean back. They are active in virtually every movement you make, so you can see how important it is to strengthen them.


One of the best ways to work the core is with functional exercises. That is, working those core muscles through as many movements and angles as you can while involving other muscle groups at the same time. Do exercises that imitate movements you make in sports or your daily life. So instead of 200 crunches, do a crunch with a one-armed chest press, a lunge with a torso twist, or a shoulder press with a side bend. Isolated exercises are fine, but add in a few functional exercises to challenge your core even more. They burn more calories and help to create a stronger, more durable spine.

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Executive Function at the Junction

Sat, 16 Oct 2010 22:18:00 +0000

"It takes a little more persistence to get up and go the distance."Ok, so we are living longer. Are we living better? Are we still being productive? Is it living we're doing, or just merely existing?I'm in gyms six days a week, for hours at a time. I see and train all makes and models. I give each person a C+ just for showing up. But who are the folks who impress me the most? The Jessica Simpson clones? Actually it's the grandparents of the Jessica Simpson clones. The greatest generation; folks in their 70's and 80's. My wife should be relieved to know the only women I strike up conversations with in the gym are my grandmother's age. Well, maybe a bit younger. My grandmother is 96, lives alone, and is very active. She still shovels her own snow. Hey, maybe I'm on to something: older people in the gym, active in their yards, working, moving, improving.....staying functional and independent. These people are impressive, and not because they can pick up dumbbells, move snow, or do push ups. Their minds are sharp, every one of them. Why? They regularly exercise, be it in the weight room, on the treadmill, clearing their sidewalks, or just walking, walking and walking. Healthy, active brains clear the way for healthy, active minds.There's a saying, "kill the head, the body will die." Regular exercise turns that saying on its proverbial head, especially as we age. Here's an idea, put down those crossword puzzles and brain teasers and join yourself a gym. The best way to train your brain is not through word searches, but through regular aerobic exercise. Exercise improves your brain's "executive function," the various abilities that allow you to choose behavior that is appropriate to a situation, inhibit inappropriate behavior and work through distractions. Executive function means the basic brain functions such as the speed at which you process thoughts, execute movements, and your working memory. Working memory basically means you can remember why you went upstairs. The area in the brain where executive function occurs is the frontal cortex. Exercise has shown to slow the depletion of the nerve fibers and brain cells which "wire up" to perform those functions in that area. Regular aerobic exercise has shown to increase the number of frontal cortex neurons, increase their wiring, their efficiency, and increase oxygenated blood flow into the capillaries which fuel them. Exercise also increases the production of growth hormones and proteins which are instrumental in increasing the effectiveness of your neurological pathways and junctions. Another noticeable byproduct of this exercise; improved memory. My anecdotal theory holds that as a turbocharger increases the flow of air into an engine, in turn boosting its horsepower, the increased flow of O2 into your brain during exercise increases the healthful fuel for its cells.There is a dramatic difference in executive function between elderly folks who exercise several times a week and sedentary people of the same age. Those of you who know me know one of my mantras is, better to pre-hab than re-hab. For many of us dementia and Alzheimer's is right around the corner. Regular exercise has also proven to reduce the risk of the onset of these terrible diseases. The key is to keep your brain as active as you possibly can. Knock out three birds with one stone; use your mind to train your body to train your brain. You might not learn as much trivia, but you might not need to.[...]

When Negative and Strength Unite

Sat, 16 Oct 2010 22:04:00 +0000

Weight bearing eccentric muscle contractions, also known as negatives, are an excellent method of increasing strength. An eccentric (ek-sentrick) contraction is one where a muscle is lengthening as it is loaded, or bearing weight. Examples include; the downward phase of the biceps curl, the downward phase of the squat, or the downward phase of the push-up. This is actually the contractile phase where your muscles are their strongest, up to 25% stronger than the opposite type of contraction - concentric, or, contraction while the muscle is shortening. This is also the area where the vast majority of injuries occur; when a person is stepping down a stair, bending forward to put on socks, reaching into the back seat, or merely sitting.

We tend to overlook the importance of eccentric contractions to instead lift more weight and trick ourselves into believing we are getting stronger. I see it all the time in the gym; guys on the bench, bouncing enormous amounts of weight off their chests in order to lift enormous amounts of weight. An effective method, until the sternum, or collar bones cave in, but brutally inefficient. This method is also very unfriendly to the spine. Lowering the bar, slowly, and instead raising it quickly is a much safer lift, and creates more strength and even some power.

Doing several sets of eccentric contractions to a muscle group will increase the strength of the muscle for both types of contractions. Try to work a set or two of negatives into your weight lifting routine. Do the negative sets in the middle of each group of exercises per body part. You will actually need to overload the weight, say, use your maximum, and do as few as one or two repetitions. Try to hold each negative repetition for 4-6 seconds. Remember, you are doing only the downward phase, not the upward one. Your core muscles are really being tested here due to the duration of the contraction, so pay strict attention to your posture and form. You are going to need to have a rack, or a strong spotter in order to set the bar down at the bottom of the contraction. Be careful, inhale during the entire eccentric contraction, and pay very close attention to your form. Do not compromise form in order to lift more weight. Be patient, the gains will come. Like the weed growing through a crack in the road; slow, persistent, strength.

Fanfare for the Common Abs

Fri, 07 May 2010 13:38:00 +0000


Myth - Common client question: I need to train my abs every day, right?
First, just which abs are we talking about?
There are four compartments of muscle that compose the core/ab musculature. When most people refer to their core or abs they are talking about the rectus abdominus, the abdominals they see in the mirror, that six pack every one craves. This is the muscle that is working when you do crunches or sit ups, the torso flexor. It is responsible for about 25 degrees of torso flexion, or bend. That's it. Any more than 25 degrees of torso bend and that muscle goes into an isometric (static) contraction and then your hip flexors take over to bring you the rest of the way up into that full sit up. Quick tip: Don't crunch all the way up. You can train that muscle much more efficiently by bending no more than 25 degrees. What's 25 degrees? Crunch up until your mid back is off the floor or ball. That is a good gauge. 

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Your abdominal muscles are skeletal muscles. They are intrinsically the same as all of your other skeletal muscles. They need rest as much as they need work. Therefore, when they are tired, they need to be rested. Proper rest is very important in increasing your fitness. In my training, with my clients, or when I workout, I usually work each muscle group to or near to exhaustion. This includes the abs (core). The abs are very crucial to the structural integrity of your spine. This is why we call them core muscles. They are active in virtually every movement you make, whether you're in the gym, coughing, doubling over in laughter or getting out of bed. They function not just to move joints, but also to support them, namely your spine. When you contract your abs, and I mean your entire core, bear down and exhale, your entire abdominal compartment contracts around your spine to support it. This is the main reason why your trainer tells you to exhale on exertion. In fact, if you are not breathing properly or holding your breath while performing an exercise, you are not allowing your core muscles to meet one of their key responsibilities; aligning and protecting your spine. If you isolate and exhaust these muscles one day and don't rest them for at least a couple of days, not only are they not capable of doing more work, i.e. stronger, they are not able to fully function as supporters of your spine. It is here that you are most prone to an injury. Weak, tired core muscles are the enemy of the healthy back. Rest. Take at least two days between isolated core workouts. Your back will thank you.

To be continued.....................

Breathe, Breathe in the Air

Tue, 02 Feb 2010 14:36:00 +0000

"I turn my back to the wind
To catch my breath
Before I start off again"

Breathing during weight training - this is an area I never see addressed, be it in books, videos, or on the gym floor. All day I have to remind my clients to breathe properly during each phase of a movement. Folks tend to either hold their breath, or reverse the inhale/exhale during the shortening phase of a contraction. Why do we hold our breath during weight lifting? It is a natural physiological reaction to physical AND mental stress. Notice the next time you are stumped at your computer at work. You will most likely have to let out a huge breath of air, from stress. The same thing happens in the gym. Powerlifters actually try to take advantage of that stress and do what is known as the Valsalva Manuever in order to lift more weight. This is a fabulous way to spike your blood pressure off the charts, or in some cases end up with this or this.

Salma Hayek takes my breath away, and, for a slightly different reason, so does a tough set of barbell squats. There is great demand for oxygen here in your muscles, and in your brain. There is also a demand of sorts by your spine for you to breathe properly. You must meet those demands by breathing during each repetition. You inhale on the downward phases; dropping into a squat, lowering a barbell, and bear down on your abs and exhale during the upward phases. To clarify bearing down, I mean the same feeling you have in your core at the tail end of a cough or sneeze. Breathing this way has a two-fold action: you are supplying much needed O2 to your muscles, and you are forcing all your core muscles, which aid in expiring spent O2, to tighten around and support your spine.

Your blood pressure is elevated during exercise, which is a good thing. You are also elevating your heart rate during your workout. The end result is lower resting blood pressure and lower resting heart rate. Your cardiovascular system operates at greater output, with less effort. So, during your workouts keep your breathing correct to add to that efficiency. As my wise, pithy yoga teacher Ruzica tells me, "the difference between life and death is breath." Breathe properly, your back, brain, muscles, and insurance provider will thank you.