Spring Break for Your Body

Spring is just the right season to get your body tuned up and toned up

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 09, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

The birds are singing, the sun is shining, the trees are decked out in green lace. But, as you emerge from those layers of coats and sweaters, you just know someone will say those dreaded words: bathing suit.

No matter how many times people go skiing, most bodies are not summer-ready. Here are some tips for a spring overhaul.

Tip No. 1: A Hand Up

"The muscle groups you want to define," Joan Price, MA, tells WebMD, "are the parts outside the clothes." Price is the author of The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book.

In summer, this takes in a lot of parts.

For many women, the upper arms are a target. In our family, we call those swags of pasty flesh that mysteriously appear on the backs of one's arms "Mermans." This is from song belter Ethel Merman, when she swung her well-festooned arms up and wailed, "There's nooo business like showww business!"

To tighten those areas, Price recommends lateral raises. Stand with your arms relaxed at your sides. Hold light weights in your hands, with your elbows slightly bent. Lift your arms out to the side. Bring your wrists, elbows, and shoulder in line. Then slowly relax, bringing your arms down and back to your original position. Do two sets of 8-10 repetitions each. "The weights should be heavy enough that the last two reps are difficult," she says.

Price recommends you do this exercise every other day. "You never do the same muscles every day," she says.

"Push-ups are great for arms," Lori Incledon, vice president of Human Performance Specialists in Chandler, Arizona and author of Strength Training for Women, tells WebMD. "Push-ups help you get rid of flab without any equipment."

Incledon reminds us that moving your body is a form of resistance exercise, even without additional weights. In effect, you are working with a weight the same as your body weight. "The key is to work against gravity," she says.

Chin-ups are also great arm exercises, Incledon says. "Even if you can't get up all the way, it's a great exercise. Chin-ups strengthen your grip, your arms, and your upper back."

In women, a toned muscle is a smaller, firmer one.

Muscle also burns more fat and appears to be more active than fat tissue.

Another annoying aspect of spring -- second only to drippy allergies -- are those sinewy, gleaming thigh muscles on swimsuit models.

Price recommends ditching the step classes and dragging the bike out of the garage and into the sun. "Bike up and down hills!" she chirps. "Biking on a flat area will not give you the same definition in the thighs."

Again, Incledon advises working against gravity. "Squats are king for thighs," she says. "These are also great for functioning." You have to squat every day to pick up kids or items on the floor. For comfort and to prevent injury, play around with the spread of your knees when you are squatting. "Some people need to be wider apart, some narrower."

Incledon also advises her clients to hop, jump, and skip. For ab-flattening crunches, though, she whips out a piece of equipment -- an agility ball.

You may also want to try out a pedometer. The experts recommend 10,000 steps a day. One thousand steps is about half a mile.

Dixie L. Thompson, PhD, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, has done several studies on women and pedometers. One, on postmenopausal women, showed that most were naturally walking about 6,000 steps a day, but got to 10,000 pretty quickly. People at a high risk for developing diabetes also improved their blood sugar metabolism after walking 10,000 steps a day for eight weeks.


Thompson tells WebMD that her latest study shows that women wearing the pedometer with a goal of 10,000 steps walked more than those whose goal was a brisk 30-minute walk every day. The 10K subjects got a pedometer to look at, while the 30-minute people kept a log of how long they walked.

"The 10K people did not hit 10K every day," Thompson says, "but they still took more than 10,000 steps overall during the test period." The implications are that the 10K group did more whether it was walking or not. "If the 30-minute people didn't take their walk," Thompson says, "they basically did nothing."

Thompson recommends taking your baseline of steps for a week. Keep a journal of any activities that take longer than 10 minutes. Then add 10% to your total steps per week. Usually this can be done more quickly when you focus on it, Thompson says.

Some suggestions: Park as far from the store or office door as you can. Walk to a cubemate's office rather than emailing. Walk to the kids' bus stop. Shop inefficiently, crisscrossing the store.

"I also recommend building a support system. Get someone to be your encourager," Thompson says.

One way to both disguise and improve a not-so-supermodel body is to get in the pool!

Cecil M. Colwin is a swim coach and author of Breakthrough Swimming. "Swimming is an exercise you can do every day of your life," he says. "There is the Japanese crawl, the Australian crawl, the American crawl. I try different techniques. In fact, I believe that swimming has to be modernized for the 21st century."

At 78, Colwin has a resting pulse of 42 but can boost his heart rate to 180. He swims a mile a day and water-walks in shoulder-high water for 400 meters.

"If I stop for two or three days," Colwin says, "I feel old age creeping up."

Could swimming keep old age from coming anywhere close? Sure! "Swimming," Colwin says, "is a workout and massage all in one. It's not jarring. Your body is virtually weightless."

Adults can take swimming lessons in almost every community in America. "We teach the breathing first," Colwin says. "If I cannot breathe in water as easily as I do on land, I am handicapped. You let the air trickle out. It's diaphragmatic breathing."

At first, Colwin advises, swim every other day. You may need some recovery time at first. Although it's difficult to strain yourself swimming, check with a doctor first. Swimming is a cardiovascular workout. Even Colwin is a little breathless at the end of his stints.

"Don't be too gung-ho at first," he says. "Do a distance you can do comfortably. This is training -- not straining."

Show Sources

SOURCES: Joan Price, MA, author, The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book. Lori Incledon, vice president, Human Performance Specialists, Chandler, Ariz.; author, Strength Training for Women. Dixie L. Thompson, PhD, director, Center for Physical Activity and Health, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Cecil M. Colwin, author, Breakthrough Swimming.

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