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How Your Phone Is Killing Your Posture

Do you ever take your work to a coffeehouse? Maybe you’re at one right now, or maybe you’re at work and several people are within view. Scan the posture of those around you — how many of them do you see with their heads in front of their shoulders? If you had a snapshot of yourself at this very moment, would that be you?

For most of human history, screens and handheld devices were not a contributing factor in daily posture. Nowadays, with our seated jobs, car commutes and constant attention to devices, our heads often travel in front of our shoulders, predictably wreaking havoc on many sensitive organs and systems.

While our bodies are highly adaptable, craning our necks forward to see something up close all the time can lead to long-term changes in several ways:

CIRCULATION

Blood supply to your brain depends on vessels in your neck. Some of the veins and arteries close to your spine weave through its stacked vertebrae, and when your head is inches in front of its natural position, that can lead to poor circulation, migraines and damage to the vessels themselves. Think cardiovascular health. Think brain activity. Then think: head straight.

BREATHING

Play with this one yourself. Place your head in front of your shoulders, and take a deep breath through your nose. Now tuck your head gently back to where it’s balanced effortlessly on top of your shoulders, and try again. Did you feel that fuller breath? Breathing mechanics are optimal when the airway is straight and open. Better breath means you get more oxygen, more concentration and more peace of mind. This also means no leaning forward in spin class if you want to give it your all.

NERVES AND BALANCE

Your balance, hearing and vision depend on the optimal positioning of your eyes and ears relative to your body and to the ground. Cranial nerves enable your sense of smell, proper gland function, speech, balance when walking and even how your fingers translate your thoughts to your keyboard. The next time you’re wondering why your productivity at work is suffering, you may want to check your head.

MUSCLES AND JOINTS

Who doesn’t have a stiff neck and upper back at the end of a work day? Your head weighs 10–11 pounds. When it’s postured over the shoulders, the weight gets shared among the spine, pelvis, legs (if you are standing up) and all their supporting musculature. Move your head forward, and the muscles of the upper back need to clock in extra hours and effort. This accommodation results in aches and pains, stiffness and possibly wear and tear on joints.

If you’re not sure whether you have the tendency to go into “turkey head” mode, the best way to check is to have someone take a picture of you while you’re writing or using your computer. (It’s best when you aren’t expecting it.)

OK, now that you’ve seen the picture and know you have “turkey head,” it’s time for the easy part. Time to do something about it. It’s a simple exercise called head ramping.

HEAD RAMPING

  1. Take a seat with your spine tall.
  2. Tuck your chin so that your ears are straight above your shoulders.
  3. Inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale slowly out.
  4. Treat your neck as if it were made of something precious.
  5. Bring your head back so your ears are above your shoulders, with the least amount of effort necessary. Never force it.

Easy, right? But now you have to remember to do it, so set a reminder on your phone or computer to check your neck position every few hours. Try this for a week, and notice how much easier it is to hold the healthier position.

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The 5-Minute At-Your-Desk Destresser

The holidays aren’t the only time we need to actively manage our stress. If we ventured to guess, it’s probably a daily issue. But combine the added pressure of the holidays with work, and things can get out of control. Taking a moment to breathe and stretch can help you manage stress during this busy season. Set aside just five minutes, even at your desk, to do these quick and easy stretches.

Start by sitting up tall at the edge of your chair with your legs hip-width apart and your feet comfortably placed on the floor. Make sure your chair is stable and won’t roll if it has wheels.  

1. SHOULDER ROLLS

Pull shoulders up to your ears and down away from your ears. This opens up your chest and reduce tension from “texting neck.” Do as many as you like.

2. HEAD AND NECK STRETCH

Drop your chin toward your sternum, then lift and look up to the ceiling. Then go side to side, rotating right to left and dropping your ear toward your shoulder. Don’t pull on your head. Be gentle.

3. FOREARM STRETCH

Hold your arm straight in front of you, and flex and extend your wrists.

4. BACK-OF-SHOULDER STRETCH

Pull your arm across the body to stretch the back of the shoulder. For an extra stretch, look in the opposite direction.

5. CHEST STRETCH

Interlace your fingers behind your back and open through the chest.

6. TORSO ROTATIONS

Slightly facilitate a gentle rotation to the right, center, then to the left, maintaining a neutral spine.

7. FIGURE FOUR STRETCH

Cross your ankle over your opposite thigh to stretch the back of the hip and glutes. If you’re tight, you’ll need to facilitate a gentle pull. To go deeper, lean forward slowly.

8. STANDING QUAD STRETCH

Stand up, and place the top of your foot on a chair behind you. Hold onto your desk with your hand for balance. Keep your knees together to stretch the quadriceps.

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Your Weekly Fitness Plan If You Want to Lose Weight

If you’re trying to lose weight, a weight loss workout plan can be very helpful. Getting regular exercise can help you meet your goals in a healthy, sustainable way—but sometimes, just knowing where to start can be a high hurdle to cross. From how often you sweat to the types of workouts you do, there are endless possibilities when you’re getting into a fitness routine, and it can be a lot to think about.

Well, we’re here to take the thinking out of the equation. Trainer Adam Rosante, C9 Champion brand ambassador and author of The 30-Second Body, developed a weight loss workout plan routine just for SELF readers to get you going. It incorporates the strength training, cardio, and rest days you’ll need to meet your weight-loss goals.

IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO GET OUT THERE AND GET SWEATY: WEIGHT LOSS REQUIRES STRATEGY.

We can’t talk about working out for weight loss without mentioning one other crucial element of meeting your goals: It’s important to keep your diet clean so you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning, says Rosante.

“Nutrition is primary uno—you can’t out-train a bad diet,” he adds. “Eighty percent nutrition plus 20 percent training equals 100 percent beast!” But there’s no need to completely overhaul your life at once if it feels too overwhelming at first, he says. “If you’re in the habit of working out, that may naturally lead you to start exploring healthier eating options. If you’re not there yet, that’s cool—just start working out and make some tweaks. Start small.”

And when it comes to working out, Rosante says, “Variety is the spice of life.” But that doesn’t mean changing it up willy-nilly. “I am not a fan of randomly programmed workouts where you’re just doing different things every day,” he says. “You want a program that you can progress with, and you have key indicators that you’re making progress.”

That’s exactly what the plan below does. You can use it as a starting point, and tailor it to your needs once you’re comfortable. And if you miss a workout once in a while? No big deal—get back on board with your next one and keep going. It’s a marathon, not a sprint (unless it’s HIIT day—but we’ll get to that).

HERE’S THE BASIC BREAKDOWN OF WHAT YOU’LL BE DOING:

  • Strength training three days a week, one hour per session
  • High-intensity interval training one day a week, 20 minutes per session
  • Steady-state cardio one day a week, 35 to 45 minutes per session
  • Two days of active recovery

Every workout should begin with at least five to 10 minutes of warming up. Rosante likes to start with foam rolling, which helps with mobility. Then move into a dynamic warm-up to get the blood flow going. Here’s a five-minute warm-up to try.

After your workout, make sure you take time to cool down to relax your nervous system, says Rosante. “My favorite thing to do with a client is to lay them down, put their feet up a wall so that their legs are elevated, and just have them breathe into the belly, five seconds to inhale and five seconds to exhale, just to mellow everything out.” After a couple minutes, stretch out your major muscle groups (flexibility is increased when muscles are warm), and hold each stretch for at least three breaths. Here are four cool-down stretches to try.

Now, get ready to lift heavier, move faster, and lose more.

STRENGTH TRAINING — 1 HOUR — 3 DAYS PER WEEK

You may think you have to do cardio, cardio, cardio if you’re trying to lose weight, but strength training is incredibly important because having more muscle mass increases your metabolic rate, which means you’ll burn more calories at rest while your body works to maintain muscle tissue.

You’ll want to do full-body training sessions, says Rosante. Working specific body parts for a full session (like chest and triceps) can be great, but when life happens and you have to miss a workout, your routine (and muscles) will be imbalanced, he says. Hitting it all in one training session is a better bet for most people.

WHAT TO DO:

1. Compound lower-body exercise (e.g. deadlift, squat)

Any compound lower-body move or variation will work for this one, like a goblet squat or a dumbbell deadlift, says Rosante. (A compound movement is one that works multiple muscle groups.) The key here is to lift heavy—”You’re talking about using some of the biggest muscle groups in your body, and in order to get those muscles to respond, you need to challenge them,” he says.

There’s no set amount of reps or sets for this part of the workout—he recommends working up to your five-rep max during every session. This means starting at a weight that’s not challenging and working your way up. Do five reps with a relatively light weight, rest, do five reps with weight that’s five pounds heavier, rest, and keep repeating this pattern, using five more pounds every time. When you hit a weight where you can only do five with good form, you’re done—keep that number in mind and try to beat it over time.

2. Upper-body superset: Upper-body pushing exercise (e.g. dumbbell bench press, push-up) & u____pper-body pulling exercise (e.g. single-arm bent-over row, dumbbell curl)

You’ll be supersetting these moves, which means doing one set of the first exercise followed immediately by a set of the other. Rosante recommends doing three sets of 12 reps of each move. Don’t rest in between the two movements (raising your heart rate incorporates some cardio work), but you can take up to a 60-second break before starting a new set. Alternating between pushing and pulling movements allows you to work opposing muscle groups, says Rosante.

3. Lower-body/core superset: Unilateral lower-body move (e.g. reverse lunge, step-up) & core move (e.g. plank, Russian twists)

A unilateral lower-body move is one where you work one leg at a time (another example is a Bulgarian split squat). By working only one side at a time, you can be sure you’re not relying on one leg more than the other. After you’ve done both sides, you can superset it with an abs movement. Again, do three sets of 12 reps without resting in between the exercises (feel free to take 60 seconds between sets). If you choose a plank for the core move, hold for 30 seconds.

4. Metabolic finisher

This is where you’ll get a boost of cardio in. Rosante has his clients do a metabolic finisher at the end of a strength workout to get the heart rate going for more immediate calorie burn. You could choose an exercise and do it for a certain amount of time (say, three minutes of quickly jumping rope), or decide to do a certain number of a move and finish them as quickly as possible (for example, doing 15 burpees as fast as you can). The time you take and what you do are entirely up to you, says Rosante, so mix it up. If you need a starting point, he suggests doing 10 burpees, 10 mountain climbers, and 10 plank ups for seven minutes, trying to do as many rounds as possible (and aiming to beat yourself next time). Then, cool it down, and you’re done for the day!

HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING — 20 MINUTES — 1 DAY PER WEEK

The first of your two days of cardio should be a high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. Steady-state cardio does have a place in your routine (we’ll get there), but don’t forget that intensity is your friend.

“This is going to incite way more fat loss than just steady-state cardio,” says Rosante. “When you’re working in that high-intensity threshold you’re not only burning a lot of calories during the workout, but you raise your metabolic rate significantly afterwards.” Your body will need to work harder and longer to return to a resting state, burning more calories in the process.

WHAT TO DO:

Choose an activity you like as a template—maybe it’s running, cycling, or bodyweight moves (burpees, anyone?). Whatever it is, push as hard as you possibly can for 30 seconds, then back off for a rest period. How long you rest will depend on your fitness level. If you’re just starting, you may want to try a 2-to-1 rest-to-work ratio, says Rosante (so, 30 seconds of work followed by 60 seconds of rest). Then you can reduce your rest time every week. You could also try Tabata intervals once you get comfortable—that’s 20 seconds of extremely hard work to 10 seconds of rest. Whatever you choose, repeat that work/rest circuit until your 20 minutes are up.

STEADY-STATE CARDIO — 35 TO 45 MINUTES — 1 DAY PER WEEK

And here’s your second day of cardio. This time it’s all about that long, slow burn. “Steady-state cardio raises the heart rate, speeds recovery, and improves your body’s ability to use oxygen properly,” says Rosante. “All movement is great movement!”

WHAT TO DO:

Whatever you want! Running, rowing, swimming, hiking, kayaking…the list goes on. Anything that gets your heart rate up but you can still carry a conversation through, says Rosante.

ACTIVE RECOVERY — 2 DAYS PER WEEK

Two days out of your week will be active recovery days—this is when your body has a chance to rest up and rebuild muscle fibers that you’ve been tearing during your workouts (this is where you really get stronger).

“You want to lay off those heavy workouts in favor of just some gentle movement,” says Rosante. Key words: gentle movement. An active recovery day isn’t a free pass to lie on the couch and do nothing. “Movement helps increase blood flow, driving more oxygen rich blood to your muscles to speed recovery,” he explains. “Faster recovery could equal faster results.”

So as long as you’re moving around a bit, you’re good to go. “If there’s something you really love to do, go do that. If you just want to go for a walk, do that. And if you just want to hang out, do that! Enjoy your life.”

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Baked Zucchini Sticks

Baked Zucchini Sticks

We guarantee that even the pickiest of eaters will love these baked zucchini sticks from The Skinnytaste Cookbook! The only complaint you’ll expect to hear is that you didn’t make enough. Zucchinis are very low in calories and provide high levels of antioxidants in addition to being a good source of potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C.

9780385345620Gina Homolka is the founder of Skinnytaste.com, the award-winning blog that’s been featured on Fitness, Better Homes and Gardens, Glamour.com, and FineCooking.com, among other media outlets. She lives on Long Island with her husband and their two children. Look for Gina’s latest cookbook, The Skinnytaste Cookbook: Light on Calories, Big on Flavor.

Photo courtesy of Penny De Los Santos. Original recipe published in The Skinnytaste Cookbook.

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