[fitness friday] 5 Tips for Protecting YOUR Back while you move

written by john c ashworth, ma

produced by Leigh Mills and NBC 15 Madison

I thought this would make a good topic for this week’s Fitness Friday segment with Leigh Mills, because I am moving this week, and I’m no young man anymore. ¬†Not old, of course, just not the guy you see in this photo I uncovered during my packing efforts…the guy sprinting up and down the soccer field and “running like the bloody wind” as one English coach used to put it.

John Ashworth in the corn.

That’s right. That’s me as a twenty year old man on the farm where my wife Laura grew up. Arriving early in the fall for training camp that year. Back then, I could do almost anything without any repercussions on my body. Twenty six years later, my body is in a little different place ūüôā

Packing, lifting, going up and down stairs, reaching in to the van, the truck, and many other tight and awkward spaces places a great deal of strain on your spine and your body in general. Tonight on NBC 15 with Leigh Mills I would like to demonstrate for you five tips for protecting your back during your move this summer. And even if you’re not moving, these five tips will help you protect your back during all of your summer projects ūüôā

First, get your sleep. Rest and sleep are the bedrock of your recovery and when you are performing all of this extra work, your body gets broken down in many ways. ¬†The problem is that when your muscles are tired, they can’t hold you up as well as normal. ¬†This exposes your back as it begins to absorb force that your muscles would otherwise balance more effectively.

Second, drink plenty of water. ¬†Your muscles are full of water and when you’re dehydrated they do not function properly which can add to the problems identified in the point I just made about rest and recovery. ¬†In addition, when you’re moving, you’re working hard and you will become more dehydrated more quickly. ¬†You must think of yourself as an athlete during competition. ¬†Yes, even when you’re just moving!

OK, now to the physical stuff that will help you…

Lift with your legs and lower body. ¬†You have heard this over and over, but here is your reality. ¬†You are busy. ¬†You are tired, and as a result you tend to place your body in disadvantageous positions just to get the job done. ¬†You MUST pay attention to good technique at ALL times, because EVERY little instance where you don’t, your back is absorbing force that can add up to the point where you end up with pain, muscle spasms, and the inability to finish the job you started. ¬†And when it comes to moving, we all know how devastating that can be. ¬†Tonight on NBC with Leigh Mills, I will demonstrate a few different lifting techniques that have helped me a great deal. ¬†I will also show you one squat move in the gym that will help to make you stronger for your moving event, if you have time to prepare and train.

Test the Load.  This one is so important.  Because one of the worst situations occurs when you go to lift something with the assumption of how heavy it might be, and then it turns out to be much heavier.  This leaves you and your body, along with your back and legs unprepared for the load, which sets you up for injury.

Get some Help. ¬†When the load is too heavy, and even when it’s not, get yourself some help. ¬†The more you can share the work, the less strain there will be on you and your back. ¬†If you’re like me, when you move, you get in to the mode of just wanting to get things done. ¬†This leads you to doing more of the work yourself without asking for help, and more work means more stress on your back. ¬†Share the load. ¬†figuratively and literally.

Have fun! ¬†And remember…moving is tough emotionally too. ¬†I know it has been for me. ¬†Leaving my comfortable little neighborhood and a house that has taken such good care of me and my family for so long is not easy. ¬†Those emotions can wear you down too. ¬†Honor them. ¬†Believe in your decision to move forward, and nurture yourself and your family with love and support along the way.




[fitness friday] Your Grip Strength Predicts Mortality Heart Attacks. In this Study, better than Your Blood Pressure…

written by john c Ashworth, ma

Watch this video to learn how grip strength predicts mortality

Read this post to discover how grip strength predicts mortality.

A few years ago I published my first book. In that book I spent a great deal of time discussing the importance of strength training as a powerful strategy for losing weight. I have long been a big promoter of exercise that builds real strength, and of strength training in general because it almost always seems to be missing in a meaningful way in your exercise program. New research reveals that¬†Grip strength predicts heart attacks, which¬†adds to the strength of my recommendation. …Yes, I couldn’t resist the pun ūüôā

In this study, researchers measures the grip strength of people aged 35 to 70 from high to low income countries. There were almost 140,000 subjects and over the four year time period of the investigation, 3,379 people died. The astounding finding was that after controlling for other variables, researchers found that for every 11 pound decrease in grip strength, there was a 17% increased risk for cardiovascular death, a 7% increased risk for heart attack, and a 9% increased risk of stroke.

Even more interesting was the fact that grip strength in this investigation was a stronger predictor of all cause mortality and cardiovascular death than using a more traditional risk factor like blood pressure. At the same time, there was no association of grip strength with diabetes, pneumonia, or falls and fractures.

Researchers said it was still not clear from this investigation whether grip strength is just a marker of good health or if increasing it would lower cardiovascular disease risk. However, this is essentially what they have discovered in this study. That the weaker your grip, the higher your risk for heart problems and death. But before you go out with the sole purpose of simply increasing your grip strength, remember that increased grip strength is really a result of increased levels of overall strength. As the physicians in this study concluded, it appears likely that they should be advising patients not just to exercise regularly, but to add some resistance training as part of that training.


The following is a strength routine you can use that includes some of my most recent exercise of the week additions on YouTube:

1. Cross body curl and press


2. Three moves to help drive your heart rate up and build strength


3. Cable wood chip to one side


4. Full lunge with reach toward the floor


Grip strength predicts heart attacks for the link to the New York Times article I referenced for this post.

Two minutes of exercise may be all you need…

written by john c ashworth, ma

That’s right. ¬†Two minutes of exercise may be all you need to live longer.

Of course, that headline is designed to grab your attention and plant the seed for the real story. ¬†But you’re here! ¬†So, stick with me for the next few minutes and allow me to explain. ¬†That headline was inspired by new research from the NHANES study that recently showed that rising out of your office chair for at least two minutes each hour, not just to stand, but to move or walk, may actually help you live longer. ¬†That’s right! ¬†Two whole minutes per hour. ¬†Can you handle that?

If you have read my blog for any length of time, or watched my regular NBC Fitness Friday segment with Leigh Mills over the years, you know how often I promote the concept that a little bit of effort, implemented consistently over time can have a significant impact on your fitness, your health, and your longevity.  This study is another in a long list of examples of this truth.

Researchers from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) used observational data to examine whether standing, and light intensity activities like casual walking, light gardening, or cleaning extends the life span of people who are sedentary for more than half of their day.

In this case, they found that while there was no benefit from simply standing for two minutes per hour, performing some type of low intensity activity like casual walking for two minutes each hour was associated with living longer.

Now, I realize you are likely sitting there reading this and thinking to¬†yourself, “come on, John, really? How could that be?”

Allow me to put it in perspective for you…

You’ve heard me say many times before that a little bit of activity,¬†implemented consistently over time, can add up to a lot. This study is a¬†perfect example of this truth. If we can assume you are awake for 16¬†hours, a two minute stroll performed each hour creates a 400 calorie¬†burn each week. Now, I realize that might not seem like much either, but¬†hear me out…

I love the bloom on this tree outside my front window every spring :)
I love the bloom on this tree outside my front window every spring ūüôā

I took a beautiful walk yesterday for 21 minutes and burned a whopping 130¬†calories. If I repeat that and get three of those walks in a week, I will¬†burn 390 calories. The effort will take me an hour per week. Think¬†about that…I can burn the equivalent number of calories by simply committing to two minutes of activity per hour for every hour I’m¬†awake. ¬†If I do this, I can burn the same number of calories in a week’s¬†worth of walking.

Once again, you might be tempted to think that this is not enough, but I believe the effort is worth a longer, healthier and more energized life. It also re-enforces the fact that every little bit counts when it comes to your fitness program. We are all busy, and often sendentary in our daily lives. Standing up and taking a stroll each hour will make us better human beings. It’s not a lot to ask, especially when you consider the reward.

Also keep in mind that the generally recommended weekly goal for moderate exercise is that which burns about 600 calories per week. That means that if you are able to simply stand up and move for two minutes every hour, you will be two thirds of the way done with the minimum amount of moderate exercise that is recommended for your overall general health. Combine that with a few walks per week and a little strength training and you’re off to a really good start!

Included below, is a simple routine I performed at the gym yesterday for about 5 minutes. It’s much more than just a stroll through cubicle land, but is a great example of how easy it really is to get your heart rate up, get stronger, and live a longer, more productive and energized life as a result!


A very simple routine you can do almost anywhere – maybe in the conference room. ¬†Don’t forget your 12 pound smash ball ūüôā

As always…Have Fun!


How to get HOT and lose weight

written by John c Ashworth

Last time on Fitness Friday, Leigh Mills and I discussed the concept of EPOC or “exercise post oxygen consumption” or what really means, how and why high intensity exercise is the key to your weight loss success. Because when you workout hard enough your body has to work that much harder later in order to recover. This extra work or “oxygen debt” has to be paid back and when it finally is, you burn more calories post-exercise. ¬†For a more complete explanation, you can read my last fitness friday post on the subject.

In this segment, I want to lay out the specifics of how you increase your exercise intensity, build-up oxygen debt, create your afterburn (the heat), and burn more calories while you sit and sleep.

Your target heart rate

The first thing you have to get right, and that you have to measure, is your heart rate. You want to spend as much time as possible in your high intensity training zone. This zone represents between 85-90% of your maximal heart rate. Your maximal HR represents the absolute fastest rate at which your heart can beat or your Maximal exercise intensity.

Short of performing a maximal exercise test, you can estimate your max heart rate by subtracting 220 from your age. This will get you close, but also remember that this prediction equation does have a standard error of approximately 10-15 beats. You will be able to hone in more closely on your exact number as you practice these techniques.

One really good way to know when you are close to between 85 and 90% of your max heart rate is by measuring your rating of perceived exertion. This is the level you would subjectively rate your exertion level on the rating of perceived exertion scale (pictured here). A high intensity rating lies between 15 and 17. In addition, you will feel significantly out of breath and unable to keep up with the workload for an extended period of time.

So calculate your target heart rate, strap on your heart rate monitor and let’s try the following workout so that you can get an idea of what this feels like.

Warmup on the treadmill for 5-10 min and then…

STEP 1. Increase the speed and grade for 3 minutes and get yourself to 75% of your max HR.

Step 2. After 3 minutes, push yourself to the 85% mark for 3-8 minutes depending on how you feel.

Step 3. Recover at a slow walking pace for 3 minutes.

Repeat of you feel up to it.

Step 4. Jump over to the Dumbbells and perform the following movements using these set and rep combinations.



Star Jumps


Modified Burpees


Each number represents a set and the number of reps u should perform for that set. Perform each move once and move on to the next. You will perform 3 circuits of these movements.

Step 6. Power

Find a rowing machine and follow the interval and intensity guidelines from the treadmill segment of this routine.

The first time you try this, one circuit will likely be enough but as you become more fit, 2-3 rounds of something like this should be possible.

Remember, don’t over do it and have fun!


[fitness friday] Tension headache remedies…5 Exercises YOU can Perform at YOUR Desk to relieve upper back and neck tightness

written by john c ashworth, ma

special thanks to Carl, my cubicle mate, for taking these photos ūüôā

tension headache remedies
John & Leigh demonstrating their tension headache remedies.

It’s 2 pm. Your energy is low. You haven’t moved enough during the day. You’ve spent far too long sitting in your office chair and staring at that computer screen. Instead of heading for the vending machine, or the coffee maker, I want you to try these 5 quick and easy exercises that you can perform right at your desk. As a bonus, during tonight’s broadcast, I will reveal¬†one simple relaxation move that will provide a far greater BOOST to your energy level than that shot of espresso I know you crave!

Tonight on NBC15 in Madison with Leigh Mills, I will perform the following 5 movements live! So, check back on Friday evening to see the archived video and if you can, tune in live tonight at about 5:15 PM on NBC 15 here in Madison.

5 Tension Headache Remedies:

Back Extensions with Arms Up and Behind Your Head
The Two Banana Shoulder Roll
The Cubicle Star Fish!
Side Bends with Hands Behind Your Head

The Trunk Twist with Your Hands Behind Your Head