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Weekly Guide to Creative Long Distance Runs: Mental Preparation

Running is a tremendously physical activity that tests your every muscle, and it challenges, to no end, your cardiovascular endurance. If pushed hard and done right, you'll feel exhaustion like never before, but, afterward you'll experience a perfect euphoria that enlightens your life, relieves stress, and enhances your health.

However, as physical as it may be, there is a considerable mental side to the sport that often gets overlooked. And much like the actual run training, the psychological portion needs attention, and it requires you to give some of your focus to the mental approach involved in your workout.

So, to keep your running fresh and creative, try mixing in a day dedicated solely to your mental preparation. First, set out in a rather relaxing setting. Do not run in traffic or in a competitive pack, as the exterior distractions will disallow you from going inward and uncovering the self-awareness you need to make the workout successful.

Next, designate a given time or distance. This should not be a terribly short run; instead, make it one where you can find a true pace that is consistent and maintainable. You need time for your body to fall into sync with your mind, thus allowing your physical side to function effortlessly while you spend your energy on mental tactics.

Now, as you run, begin to concentrate. Attention spans vary from person to person, so permitting yourself to live in the moment, not focusing on future goals or numbers but rather keeping the present as your guide, will get you to a level of thinking not previously possible. If you cannot keep the concentration level high, try doing it in manageable chunks. Make adjustments mentally that will give you the best chance for success.

Once you have captured the concentration, focus in on your breathing. Keeping your breath consistent and in harmony with your foot falls can create a cadence that will generate a personal running rhythm. Smooth, effortless breathing will ease tension and make the experience of running long distances that much more satisfying.

In the end, dedicate time to your mind.

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At-Home Workout of the Week: Getting the Right Equipment

Choosing not to use the gym and working out at home instead can be a very convenient decision for many people. Eliminating the travel back and forth, saving the monthly fees, and keeping privacy all come into play when people consider how to begin their exercise routines. Yet, once you have chosen an at-home plan and are comfortable that you'll keep that discipline and commitment, you cannot forget that the proper equipment for success still must be had. While a gym will have everything on hand, your home most certainly does not.

So, what exactly do you need to create a home gym that works for you? Assuming that you don't have thousands to spend on expensive full-body machines, try these pieces. Each has a flexible approach and can be used on a variety of levels.

*Dumbbells: Get what you know you can handle, but buy a small variety. Having the flexibility to go slightly up and down a weight or two can make adjustments during the workout easier. If you have one weight and it is too light, then you won't gain the results you want. Conversely, if you have one that is simply too heavy, you risk injury and the development of poor form. Dumbbells can work virtually every part of the body.

*Exercise ball: A key to excellent core strength, the ball forces you to engage your middle muscles, and it makes you focus on balance. Doing abdominal training with the ball heightens the intensity, and integrating dumbbells with the ball makes for more of a total body workout.

*Resistance bands: A comfortable substitute for the dumbbells, resistance bands create consistent and stable resistance throughout the movement. Used on different angles and with varying tensions, these bands can have a major impact on your body's total development.

*Jump Rope: An inexpensive way to get a critical cardio work completed. Used for warm-ups or main sets, the rope can elevate the heart rate, help train core and leg muscles, and improve balance and coordination.

Yoga/Meditation Technique of the Week: Knee-opening Pose

Definitely do not dive into the knee-opening pose on your first try-- most people have incredibly tense knees that do not easily lend themselves to this kind of pose. Remember learning yoga is a process, so be prepared to use a block or blanket in the beginning.

First begin in a standing position with your feet about shoulder width apart. Slowly lower yourself to the ground, with your knees bent (not resting on the ground) and your butt resting on your heels. At this point you should be in a semi-crouching position. Place your hands on either side of your hips in order to retain your balance. Stay for several breaths in this position as you get used to the pressure on your knees. If this is enough for you, stay in this position for about 20 more seconds before unraveling back into a standing position.

If your knees are enjoying the slight pressure and it feels welcoming, you can move on to the next step of the pose. Slowly lower your knees onto the ground, curl your feet under so the bridges of your feet are facing up to the ceiling. Let your butt rest on the underside of your feet if it feels comfortable. If this is too much of a strain on your knees, you can place a blanket or block underneath your butt to relieve the pressure on your knees. If you feel ready, you can also choose to widen your stance a bit and let your butt rest between your ankles so that you are touching the ground. This position is the most challenging, so do not attempt it until you feel comfortable.

Rest in this position for a few breaths, or longer if you are enjoying it, and then slowly unravel back into a standing position. Remember that it may take time for your knees to be open enough for this position to feel comfortable.

Certain yoga poses require thicker mats, similar to those used in the practice of pilates. If this pose was hard on your knees because your mat was not thick enough, consider purchasing a thicker mat.

Yoga/Meditation Technique of the Week: Hand to Foot Pose

Now that you've started to master your sense of balance, it's time to challenge this new found skill to the next level. As a reminder, finding your center of gravity and sense of balance can be done by concentrating your gaze on an object several feet in front of you. Allowing your eyes to rest on a stationary object at a comfortable distance will serve to assist you in achieving a solid balance. Before you begin this pose, practice finding your balance several times. This skill will be very important when attempting the Hand to Foot Pose.

First, begin in a standing position. Slowly lift your right knee up towards your heart. Next, take your right hand and reach towards your right foot (now raised). Once your right foot has been grasped by your right hand, extend your leg outwards, straightening your knee. If your hamstrings are tight and you are unable to extend your leg and straighten your knee, you may need to use a strap. If this is so, wrap the strap around the arch of your foot and hold the ends in your hand, extending your leg outwards. Your goal will be to eventually complete the pose without the assistance of the strap, but depending on your hamstring's tightness, you may need to put some work into it.

As you stand with your leg out to the side, breathe deeply and continuously. Keep your leg extended for 30-40 seconds if you are able, and then slowly release your leg to the ground. Take a break in standing position as you ready yourself to enter the pose once more. When you are ready, try the pose again, this time with your left hand and left leg.

You may notice that this pose is easier to accomplish on one side of your body than the other-- this is completely normal and is usually the case in yoga. Bodies are not completely symmetrical and muscles vary in tightness and strength. Be aware of these differences but strive to equalize them over time.

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Exercise Routine Do's & Don'ts: The Right Approach for your Workouts

Workouts, like any activity in life, are best when planned and executed well. Just walking into the gym and doing whatever you feel like might satisfy you in the moment, but the long term benefits are miniscule at best. Instead, approach each training opportunity with a plan that has a defined beginning, middle and end, and understand that the decisions you make in the midst of your exercises will dictate how well your body responds to the demands you impose upon it.

The Do: Some people skip stretching, and others who elect to do it often do it wrong. So, let's clear up the stretching myth once and for all. Yes, you should stretch before and after all workouts. However, stretching cold muscles at the beginning is actually worse than not stretching at all. Rather than jumping into a wide lunge or a deep squat, take five minutes to get your body moving and warm. Jog briefly on a treadmill, run in place, ride the stationary bike, or jump on the elliptical. Doing so lets your muscles loosen up, which readies them to stretch properly. If you do this, you'll find that your stretching is far more productive and your flexibility will increase drastically over time. Once you have finished your training, dedicate some time for a cool down stretch. This engages the muscles, shakes up any acid build-up and allows the body to transition as well.

The Don't: During the middle portion of your workout, the part that requires the most intensity and exertion, you must consistently remind yourself to not become a slave to numbers. Great training reflects pushing the body to its limits, which often means near failure. Doing so will maximizes your muscles' potential. If you maintain a certain number you want to reach, you potentially limit yourself. Stopping on ten, because that was you goal, when you could do fifteen sells the workout short. Instead, push to your maximum and know that the last three need to be hard. If they're not, you need to either do more reps or lift heavier weights.

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At-Home Workout of the Week: Ten Minutes to a Tighter Core

People love washboard abs. A six pack, the kind upon which you could grate cheese, is envied by virtually every human being, even if they do not admit it out loud. So, whether in the privacy of their own home or out in public at the park, people drop to the floor and crunch away. They watch with amazement the infomercials that sell the latest contraption that guarantees results in 30 days, then they run to their wallet, remove the credit card, and call before time runs out for free shipping. In general, people do just about anything to get that look.

But so many don't realize that ab work alone does not produce that slimmed, tightened look. You can eat healthy and do loads of sit-ups, yet you'll never achieve good symmetry and support if all you train are the abdominals. Instead, if you want the complete package, one that not only gives you the best look, but more importantly, provides you with excellent support and posture, you need to think about your core.

The core, the midsection of the body essentially consisting of the abs, the obliques and the lower back serves as a bridge of strength between the upper and lower body. A firm core gives you balance, symmetry, flexibility and posture. So, rather than spending all your time doing crunches, jump out of bed each morning and do these four movements three times a week to create a strong core that will look good at the beach and make your entire body more productive.

Plank: Hold as long as possible. Three sets

Side Plank: Hold as long as possible. Three sets. Vary by raising top leg up six inches or extending top arm into the air.

Supermans: Thirty repetitions each arm and leg. Three sets.

Bridge: Hold for up to 60 seconds. Lower carefully. Three sets.

Three times a week with a good diet and other exercise will tighten you up. Good luck!

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Weekly Guide to Creative Long Distance Runs: Combine your Passions

Ever want to combine parts of life? I know I have. Take a couple of things you love to do and somehow blend them together for the ultimate experience. And while a mind can run wild imagining all the possible combinations, when you are addicted to running, at least one side of the equation is already set.

Fortunately for me, another passion I have is traveling. Whether it is near or far, I adore getting outside of my normal environment to become immersed in some other place, to see new sights, and to experience what I could not have gotten at home. So, I figure why not put these two parts of life, running and traveling, together?

Therefore, if you are incredible, aggressive, and adventurous, try this one on for size. Select a destination about one hundred or so miles away. Not to worry, as I am not saying you have to become an ultra-marathoner overnight. Instead, get three of your runner friends, pack the car, and start....only two people get to ride in the car though.

The other person will run for a predetermined distance. Once that distance has elapsed, then the next person jumps out of the car and carries on the run for the same distance, and then the rotation continues. Thus, you get a nice workout in, and then you have the chance to rest, refuel, and recover before having to hit the pavement yet again.

Continue doing so until you either reach your destination or have maximized the day, in which case you can bed down for the night at an area hotel before rising the next morning and beginning anew. You can play games within the run, also. For example, challenge each other to beat the previous man's time.

In the end, you'll arrive at a place you can all enjoy and look back on a very cool way to get there. Map it out and give it a go. You'll love it.

Yoga/Meditation Technique of the Week: The Plank

Although not technically a yoga pose, practicing the plank is really a great way of improving your yoga practice. The plank is a pilates move and really focuses on strengthening the body's core. It can be incredibly difficult at first and beginners are encouraged to try it in short sets, taking care not to strain their bodies.

To begin with, you will start on your hands and knees, with your arms outstretched in front of you, in a leaping frog sort of position. In a swift movement, you will straighten your legs behind you, lift your body off of the ground, and let your arms support you from underneath. At this point your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders and your arms should be taut. Your feet should rest entirely on the floor and you should resist the urge to lift onto your toes. Your body should be straight and as parallel to the floor as possible.

The most common mistake when doing the plank is the tendency to let the core drag -- to let the belly go soft or to the let the lower back sway. If right away you notice this and cannot correct it easily, it is perhaps because your core is not strong enough yet -- you should try the modified plank as will be described below. Letting the belly drop and the back sway or curve is very dangerous, so be sure to not let this happen.

The modified plank is much like the full plank but is done with the knees on the floor (similar to a modified push up). With your knees on the floor, you will push yourself up again so that your body is as straight as possible and your core muscles are engaged. While it might not feel challenging at first, after you hold this position for about 30-40 seconds you should feel the burn. Those in the full plank should release out of the position after about 30 seconds.

Wearing a watch while practicing yoga is important so that you can watch the time as you perform your poses. Straining to get a glimpse of the clock is not wise given the difficulty of many of the positions.