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By Nawaz Modi Singhania  

Dear Nawaz,

I'm trying to get & keep in shape, but my job demands that I travel frequently, & so my routine is often thrown off track. Are there some exercises I can do in my hotel room, especially for the upper & lower body ?

Two simple exercises you can do for the upper & lower body require only your body weight as resistance, and are the push-up & the lunge. These two can be modified to meet the needs of people of all fitness levels.

Assuming you know how to do a push-up & a lunge, here are a few tips. If you find the classic style of push-up too tough to begin with, start with bent-legged push-ups (do them on your knees instead of on your toes). If even that is initially too challenging, then stand up & do them against a wall, with your arms pressing your body weight into & away from the wall. Exhale as you push away, & inhale as you lower. Remember never to lock the elbows back when in the 'up' position, & try & go down as low as you can when in the 'down' position. Make sure you keep your hands up at chest height, shoulder distance apart, with your fingers pointing forward.

On lunges, remember not to lunge too far back. Keep your upper body erect at all times, & your leading leg slightly bent & over your foot right through. Fig. 1 demonstrates a modification of a lunge. You can lunge forward & back, for variation. Exhale as you lunge, & inhale as you come back to starting position.

Congratulations on your commitment to keep an eye on your personal fitness even when on a busy work schedule out of town. Keep it up!

This is a request for your column. Could you make us a little more savvy on health club & gym facilities? What does one get at centres these days? How does one use the variety of equipment one generally finds at gyms ?

Health club facilities could range from a fully-equipped gym with equipment, fitness studios which offer all sorts of workouts & classes for varying populations of all ages, fitness levels, & for people with varying goals & health limitations. They may have a sauna, steam room, jacuzzi, massage facilities, aromatherapy, mind-body exercises, personal training, health food & low cal snacks & foods.

Typical gym equipment encompasses the bench press, lat pulley, pec deck, leg extension & leg curl machine (as shown in Fig. 2), squat rack, ab machine, cardio equipment (treadmill, cycle, stair climber), free weights. These are the very basics. There can be a whole lot more. The best way to go about it is to let the trainer work out a programme for you, & help you implement it. Speak to the trainer (make sure they are well qualified!) about your goals, health limitations (if any), current age, & previous experience with exercise. Make sure they draw up a routine tailored to suit your needs. Best of luck!

How long should I sit in the Steam Room to lose fat & inches ?

It's a common misconception that sitting in the steam room gets you to lose fat & inches. Nothing can be further from the truth. The inch & weight loss which is recorded right after stepping out of a steam room is merely water lost through sweat, & is quickly replaced as soon as one consumes water. This has nothing to do with your fat storage. Stop kidding yourself.

Can you guide me as to what I should specifically look for when joining a fitness centre, and what I should beware of ?

Go to a place that is well reputed & well established. First & foremost, look for well-trained & well-qualified staff. This is often not the case. At best, your workouts may be ineffective; at worst, you could end up injuring yourself. Look for a centre which is convenient for you to visit in terms for proximity & timings, is clean, & has all the basic facilities you'll require. Try & join a place which'll offer you a large variety of routines to look forward to, & that will check on your progress regularly & evaluate it. Look for staff that is helpful & provides individual attention. Make sure you're getting value for money. If the centre grossly overcharges, & you're being ripped off, & chances are it's not a place you'll keep going back to on a long-term basis- it's just a short-stint for the novelty value. Initially it's a good idea to sign up for the shortest possible period of time to get a taste of what the place is all about. While you're there, talk to other members about their experiences with the centre. You'll quickly find all the answers you want.

I've been toying with the idea of taking up yoga classes. What exactly are the benefits? Is it too gentle & safe a form of exercise to be effective at all ?

Yoga can be gentle but some styles are rather strenuous & demanding both physically & mentally. Meditation, balance, co-ordination, increased flexibility, increased muscle tone & the improvement of certain health problems are the main benefits of yoga. As with any other form of exercise, make sure you get your hands on a good, qualified & well-experienced teacher, so your workout is both safe & effective.

I've been exercising on an on-&-off basis for the last 3 years now. My lower back has always bothered me. Can you suggest some strengthening exercises I can do to prevent low back pain ?

Firstly, see your doctor to make sure you don't have a serious back problem. Having done this, regular exercise will increase muscle tone & enhance flexibility. Make sure you maintain your weight. Putting on those extra pounds will add to your back problem, as you'll be carrying that excess around on your frame.

Here are a couple of simple exercises you can do anywhere.

Get your shoes off & lie down flat on your stomach. Keep your legs straight & your arms stretched up overhead on the floor. Gently lift one arm & the opposite leg off the floor in a controlled fashion. Hold it up there for a moment & then lower back down to where you started. Do this 10 times, & then switch the arm & leg, & repeat that. Breathe out as you lift, & breathe in as you lower.

Another variation of the same exercise is doing virtually the same thing on all fours. Get up onto your hands & knees. Get your right palm onto your head, & lift the upper body & your left leg (bent or straight) simultaneously while exhaling. Lower while inhaling. Do 10 here, & then switch arms & legs.

Make sure both these exercises are performed in a controlled, fluid & unjerky manner. Fig. 3 demonstrates a more advanced back exercise which can be taken on at a later stage once your back is reasonably strengthened.

Remember to generally maintain good posture. Don't slouch or slump over when sitting or walking.

My trainer tells me that if I want to lose weight, then I ought to stay away from weight training because I will bulk up. Is that true ?

No. Most experts believe that cardiovascular training coupled with weight/ strength/ resistance training is important in achieving & maintaining healthy body weight. The more toned you are, the less fat you will tend to store on you, as muscles utilizes more calories both at rest & at work.

I'm an avid reader of your column & a great fan of yours. From your articles I gather that one has to both workout hard enough & often enough to see desired results. I am a mother of 2, have no household help, & work part-time. I just can't put that sort of time into exercise anymore. Is it better to give up all hopes of trying to squeeze a bit of a workout out in whenever possible, or should I drop the whole notion till my personal life is more on track, & I am able to devote more time & energy to this cause ?

This is exactly the kind of thinking that keeps a lot of people from starting or maintaining an exercise programme. On an anything is better than nothing basis, do what you can. Regular walking for as little as 1 hour a week has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Don't give up on yourself.

Why is it so important to keep checking your heart rate during exercise ?

This is how one can determine how hard one exercises, or how intense your workout is. This way you take the guesswork out of how hard you ought to be working in order to achieve the goals you want. To appropriately determine the heart rate range that's ideal for you, consult with a fitness professional. There are various methods of working it out. Ideally, your personal details such as age, fitness level & goals should be borne in mind when calculating the same.

What's the difference between digital & analogue heart rate monitoring, which one sees on cardio gym equipment ?

Digital is the preferred option as it is more accurate than analogue. It detects electrical impulses given off by the heart with each heartbeat. This system of monitoring focuses on signals given off by the cardiac muscle, & it can filter out other electrical noise created by other muscles which may be contracting at the same time. Digital processing can perform complex mathematical calculations very fast to analyze a signal from a heart rate sensor.

The analogue system is unable to extract non heart-rate muscle firings & therefore could be wrong by as much as 20-30 beats per minute. For people who select their workout based upon heart rate monitoring, this would throw their workout off track.

For a large variety of workouts or gym sessions, contact the columnist's fitness centre, Body Art, on 2380-2602 & 2380- 5929.