When I was growing up, a lot of the time I was kind of chubby. I was born into this world tipping the scales at 13 pounds!. THIRTEEN POUNDS! Talk about challenged from birth! I’d love to take responsibility for weighing this much when I was born, but it’s not like I sucked all of the fat out of my mother or forced her to eat whatever she did. Maybe I’m just a mutant? SuperFatBoy!
When I was in 5th grade, I can remember during one of my subjects, we were reading alloud, and one of the sentences was “Ben has fat fingers”. The whole class laughed (I was the only Ben in my class). It’s funny the things kids remember and how it affects them.
When I was 9, I can remember my Step-mom cooking fast meals for us, yes, she would include carrots as a side dish, but the main course would be something like Macaroni and Cheese. It was delicious the way she made it! But, it was also extremely unhealthy. I can’t remember my parents focusing on nutrition and fitness as I was growing up, either that or I was just a typical kid who knew better than his parents. Probably both are true.
Around 13 years old, I found something I loved to do that required energy. I started to go to the local park a few blocks away. They had two tennis courts there. On the court closest to the border of the park, on one side of that court, they had a green wood section up against the border fence, probalby 3 times as high as a standard net, but it had a white line where the net should be. And so, I started to teach myself how to play tennis by playing tennis at twice the speed against that wall. I’d bring a few set of new balls, and I’d practice aiming at different spots just above the net line. I”m not sure I tied together that it was helping me loose weight at the time, but I knew that I would come home drenched in sweat. Around that time, I also started eating slimfast shakes for dinner. I had just become tired of being the chubby kid
I’ve gone back and forth with weight my entire life, up and down…But not anymore. It’s healthy back for life. That’s what I have written on reminders around the house, along with a very short list of the things that I need to keep doing, it says:
My Health Back for Life
Weight: 205 (lean)
-Healthy Diet: low fat, low carbs, low sugar
-Regular exercise (gym, walking)
Core Muscle Strength (build it / keep it)
I know it may seem simple, but it’s amazing how when you have a positive reason and reminder around the house, how useful it is.
My wife Anna and I go to the gym on a fairly regular basis, but there are nights where if I”m the one cooking dinner, making time, while possible, is not something I want to do. So, here are some of the things I now have at home and do at home to keep things moving along for my health:
1. Swiss Exercise Ball: You can get these at $10 at target. Don’t buy the more expensive ones, they won’t give you anything useful. I use this ball for a bunch of exercises I do, and truly there are even more I don’t currently do mainly because of my back.
2. 10lb Medicine ball: I use this to increase the difficulty of some of the core exercises that I do. This 10lb ball goes for around $30 at Target.
So,that’s it! $40 plus tax.
The exercises I’m going to list are in no particular order, although I like to stretch first (and sometimes after as well, depending on how my back is feeling:
1. Hamstring Stretch (lying down): This is one of the exercises my rehab specialist recommended I do at least once a day. I do 15 seconds per iteration, 3 times per each leg with a 5 second break between the stretches. Its important to try to get your foot parallel to the ground as much as you can as that serves to stretch out the hamstring even more. Additionally, I use a small rolled up hand towl under my lower back at the top of the sacrum to make sure I hold proper form (the back tends to want to do the wrong thing with this stretch, it protects your back).
2. Piriformis Stretch: Yet another rehab recommendation. I included a picture of where the piriformis is located (think lower glutes). I use the rolled up towel again just above my sacrum for good form. The goal here is to keep your back on the ground, put one foot on the opposite legs outide knee area, and lightly push the knee that is crossed over toward the opposite leg until you feel tension in your glutes (that’s the piriformis stretching). According to my rehab dude, the piriformis is an often overlooked muscle to stretch, and this exercise does it safely.
3. Piriformis stretch #2: warning: This can be a difficult stretch for some. Again using the towel just above my sacrum, you’re on you’re back. Start by having both knee’s bent (Feet by your glutes), and bring one foot so it’s just in front of the other knee. You can move it so that your calf is touching the other knee, but so that that leg is below the height of the other leg (the one still with foot touching your glutes or so). You then hold the leg in front of the other leg comfortable, and while doing this, push the stretched leg (you’ll feel it) with the other leg toward your chest. Make sure to keep your back neutral while doing this, and take it slow. The first you do this, you may not being able to stretch it very far, but keep working at it over time.
4. Leg Lifts: Now we get into the beginning of the exercises! No more towel under the lower back. The picture to the left shows the starting position. The idea here, is to keep your back neutral while dipping the extended leg (along with your back) down a few degrees, then back up. You’ll be using your abs and back to do the work. I do 10 per side twice (10 left, 10 right, 10 left, 10 right). There’s a slightly more advanced version of this that I do now. You see how her hands are on the ground to stabilize herself? I now take my hands, and hold the medicine ball with both hands (arms extended) out past my head (above my head, if i was standing, my arms would be making a say 15 degree angle with the ground, this helps to also work your upper abs.
5. Bridge plus heal dig: We’re now no longer using the towel under the lower back / sacrum. You lie on your back with your legs resting on top of the ball. To add difficulty, just put the heels of your feet on the ball. Raise your hips and buttocks off the floor into a bridge .(A) Tighten your abdominal muscles.Keep your hips and glutes off the floor while you pull the ball closer to your buttocks with your feet (B). Dig your heels into the ball for traction and to engage the muscles along the back of your thighs (hamstrings). Hold for three deep breaths. Hold for two seconds and then return to the starting position. I do two sets of fifteen.
6. Bridged Leg Lifts: In between my Bridge plus heal dig sets, I do 10 of the bridged leg lifts pictured to the left (10 per leg, alternating). This helps to really work the muscles even more. Your muscles should be tired by the time you finish your second set of Bridge plus heal digs. If not, try adding a few more leg lifts.
7. Superman Variant: This exercise felt great on my lower back. You start in a crawling position with your knees and hands on the ground. While keeping your back neutral, you lift one arm out in front of you, slightly above horizontal while simultaneously raising your alternate leg straight out behind you (slightly above horizontal). If this is your first time doing this, be patient with yourself. It will seem awkard (since your muscles dont’ usually do this naturally). There’s a more advanced version where you take the swiss exercise ball underneaht your belly (positioned so you’re balanced on it. Your arms will be in that same crawling starting position, but your legts will start out extended, with only your toes touching the ground. The exercise is mostly the same, but although this might sound easier, it’s more challenging to balance on the ball and with your legs extended.
8. Exercise Ball Roll out: You start on your knees with the excise ball in front of you, you bend slightly foward at the butt, but will maintain a neutral back otherwise. You put your hands on the ball, and allow your feet to come off the ground while your hands/forearms roll onto the ball, the ball rolls foward (To a comfortable point), hold it for 2 seconds, then back slowly to starting position. Keep your abs flexed, this one works both your abs and back. I do just one set of 15.
9. Squats with Exercise Ball: This is the last of my rehab exercises. This is just a form of a controlled Squat against a wall using the exercise ball. You back up to a wall and place the exercise ball somewhere between the top of your sacrum and mid back (Depending on your ball size). Spread your feet apart a couple inches more than shoulder width and slightly out in front of you. As you come down (similar to the picture), make sure to allow your but to stick out (toward the wall) but maintain a neutral spine. Come down until your knee to hip is horizontal to the ground, hold for two seconds, and then return to starting position. This works the lazy hamstring (never gets enough attention). I can see the definition that this exercise alone has brought! If this is too easy (make sure it is first), you can do the same exercise, but put weights in your hands, but even if you don’t have weights, just do the regular exercise regularly.
10. Side Plank: If you’ve ever done yoga, you may recognize this exercise. The goal here is to hold the position illustrated to the left. I usually try to hold for 10-15 count per side, then repeat. This is a great stabilizer exercise. If you find it difficult to hold yourself up with an arm, you can do a variant where instead of your arm extended downard completely, you rest on the elbow to hand like this.
11. Oblique Curls: The exercise Ball is great for doing regular curls and Oblique Curls. Here’s an illustration of how to do them to the right. I do about 10 per side, then repeat, and i try to hold the up position for a second or two.
12. Desk Chair Replacement (exercise ball): I tend to unfortunately sit a lot at work and at home in front of a computer desk (what can I say, I’m a geek). So, rather than let my core be lazy, at home at least, I use the exercise ball (on carpet) as a chair replacement. It will tire you out quickly, so start with small stints at first and increase as you build endurance. It’s very important when doig this to make sure that you are sitting with proper posture (neutral spine). At first I wasn’t sure I could trust the ball (not to suddenly deflate, and have me fall), but I’ve built trust with it (heh), keeps the abs and back firing to hold you in position.
Well, that’s it for now. These exercises have served me very well, and they’re something you can do everyday not even having to leave your house. There are a ton more of the swiss ball exercises out there (google!). Hopefully you find them as useful as I do!