by Antonio Sini

I work out 4-5 Xs a week. I lift weights, do yard work around my house, even ride my bike on the weekends. I walk all over the city too. By all accounts, I’m a pretty strong and healthy guy. So how is it that I managed to throw my back out the other day by simply reaching down to pick up a small box? Considering all the things I do to stay in shape–to be sidelined by a  2 lb. cardboard box. How frustrating!

However, when I stopped to look at all the factors that went into injuring my back, I can’t say that I was completely surprised. My son had kept my wife and I up all night, so I only managed 3 hours of sleep. That morning, I spent 2 hours sitting in traffic on the way to the mall. Exhausted, and with my back already weak from sitting for so long, I spent the afternoon bent over tending to kids. Needless to say, after all that, I should have known better than to try and pick up that box while holding my son in my arms.

The big lesson? Often it’s not a lack of strength that affects our health, but an imbalance in our lives. I see it every day with clients who complain that they work out regularly but still feel weak. They come into the studio stressed out from work, exhausted from barely having slept the night before, and on their 3rd cup of coffee. Of course you’re going to feel weak! Being healthy encompasses many things–eating well, moving your body often, staying flexible, getting enough sleep at night and managing stress. Learning how to balance these aspects of life is what creates well-being.

Below are some common imbalances, which I see often, and some simple solutions to help keep your health on the right track:

Do you eat well, exercise regularly but spend little or no time improving your flexibility?
I’m guilty of this one. Being flexible allows your muscle tissue to work more efficiently, which in turn helps you move better throughout your day. Stretching, which lengthens muscle tissue and helps to re-set our body balance and alignment, also reduces the chance for injury and allows you to recover from your workouts quicker. Spend 10 -15 minutes after every workout stretching. Or dedicate an entire workout to flexibility! Yoga can be an especially good alternative to weight training days.

Do you exercise regularly, but don’t get enough sleep?
If you are having trouble falling asleep at night, it could be because you are exercising too late in the evening. The body needs time to wind down. Try switching your workout to mornings or during lunch breaks. Also, you’ll need to watch your caffeine intake. Never take anything with caffeine up to 6 hours before you go to bed. The ideal rest scenario is 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If this is not possible (and as a father, I know how hard this can be!), I suggest a minimum of 6 hours. 15-20 minute power naps can work wonders for people who don’t sleep well during the night. Avoid exercising strenuously on the days you haven’t gotten enough rest. Better yet, give your body a day off.

Does your exercise program involve only doing cardio or only strength training, but not both?
Cardiovascular exercise is any type of exercise that increases the work of the heart and lungs. This type of exercise helps control your weight and prevents disease. Cardiovascular exercise also provides you with more energy throughout your day and keeps you from feeling fatigued. If you only lift weights, you’re neglecting your body of these tremendous benefits.

Conversely, if you only focus on cardiovascular exercise, you’ll miss out on the benefits of strength training. These include increased metabolism, increased lean muscle and improved muscle function and balance. Another big benefit to including strength training with cardiovascular exercise is injury prevention.

Do you exercise regularly, but have unhealthy habits outside of the gym?
What you put into your body is as important as what you put out. Don’t sabotage all the hard work you put into exercising. Smoking, drinking alcohol in excess and drug use will all negate the benefits of a great work out. So will poor nutrition. Eating the right foods plays a major role in the way you look and feel. Here are some ideas for what best to put into your body for long-term health:

*Closer to nature is always better with food and drink, organic if possible.

*Avoid or eliminate processed sugar, salt and flour

*Make dinner one of your lightest meals

*Hydrate throughout the day, not just when you’re thirsty.

Give yourself a quick review then commit to making the necessary changes to bring balance to your life. Most importantly, enjoy the process.

-Antonio Sini