Tune in, tone up, sweat out!

Swinging to African drum beats, walking like Scandinavians or just imitating a monkey; when it comes to workouts, quirky is the buzzword. Fight the blues of bad health and get in the pink with some interesting exercises.

R Pallavi | Print Edition: April 17, 2011

The meaning of health varies across civilisations; what was physical strength for the fighting Spartans, became a religious philosophy for the Indian yogis. Underlining each cultural approach to wellbeing is the basic human quest for survival. The Darwinian school of thought held adaptability to change as more important for survival than strength and intelligence. Keeping this is mind, it's high time that more people took up exercise regimes that suit their modern lifestyles-those buzzing with cell phones and emails at one moment and drained with helpless boredom on the next. Here's a dekko into some fun ways to keep fit:

Nordic walking on greens
Nordic walking on greens
Nordic walking
Nature sets the path and culture follows suit. If long and extreme Scandinavian winters brought Nordic life to a standstill, they developed skis to make their way through the snow. The tradition of walking with nordic poles owes its origin to cross-country Finnish skiers in the 1930s who accidently discovered their benefits while using them for practice in off seasons.

Equipment: A pair of nordic walking poles with removable rubber tips for use on hard surfaces and hardened metal ones for trailing over beach sand and snow; a pair of snow shoes.

Technique: To augment the arm's swings, make sure the poles are held close to the body and point diagonally backwards all the time.When the leading foot strikes the ground, the opposite arm should swing forward to waist length, so that the opposite pole strikes the ground level along with the heel of the opposite foot. To gain maximum control of each stride, push the pole back to the furthest possible point and straighten the arm to form a continuous line with a fully extended arm. On tough terrain begin with a 30-minute-long walk and on a flat surface or gentle slope increase the duration to an hour or more.

Benefit: Known as 'moving meditation', it familiarises you with the body's internal balance (breath and pulse rate) and boosts cardiovascular strength.

Aqua jogging
The Zumba combines a dance derived from Latin music, with aerobics. It is a fun and easy workout and helps you burn up to 1000 calories in a single class of about one hour
Divinity is rooted in functionality. The absolute indispensability of the elements makes them sacred. Water, with its detoxifying and restorative properties has spiritual connotations. Drawing on these beneficial properties of water is aquatic jogging.

Equipment: A floatation padding for enhancing stability till you master the technique, a tether to keep you close to the wall and water shoes and dumb bells for resistance.

Technique: After a gentle warm up swim in the pool for 2 - 3 minutes, head to the deep end and simulate your normal running style. Avoid leaning forward or hunching over and keep your body straight with shoulders thrown back, torso high and head facing forward. Make a loose fist and with a 90 degree arm movement forward and backward from the shoulder, start running. This posture will support your upper body while your lower body is moving. Your legs need to be bent and pulled actively; a stride of 76 to 80 cycles per minute should do the trick. Do a 20 minute moderate paced jog or one minute of intense jogging followed by 30 seconds of easy movements.

Benefit: It strengthens the cardiovascular system and is safe for those with injured joints and ligaments.

Cycling and yoga
 Diet do's and dont's

Renowned nutritionist Naini Setalvad offers advice on dietary complements for your workouts.

1. Drink ample water before, during and after exercise because dehydration can cause fatigue, muscular aches and injuries.

2. Eat at least two to three fruits a day and five servings of vegetables as this will detoxify your body and provide vitamins and minerals essential for your muscles.

3. Pre-workout snacks like fruits and dry fruits will give you the instant energy you require.

4. Post-workout snacks like low-fat yogurt with a cut banana/fruit or a slice of whole grain toast with one teaspoon of peanut butter, will replenish your energy stores and provide your muscles with nutrients to repair. But before eating, drink water to hydrate.

5. Stay away from sugary and junk foods since these make your body work harder to digest food and rob you of essential vitamins.

6. Stay away from energy/sports drinks. These only cater to high intensity athletic workouts of three to four hours a day.

7. Make sure you eat two servings of quality protein (pulses, egg whites, low fat dairy, lean chicken or fish), but an excessive intake can cause kidney damage.
Modernity thrives on hybridisation. Little wonder then, that ancient exercises like tai chi and yoga are rubbing shoulders with boxing and circuit training in modern gyms across the world. Bearing testimony to this is the cycling and yoga workout which fuses a yogic calm with strenous athleticism.

A 10 minute yoga flow of stretching exercises to energise the muscles and warm up the joints. This should include the Intense Forward Bend or Uttansana. For one minute, exhale and stand upright and bend forward from the waist keeping the legs taut and body weight equal on both feet. The Downward Dog or Adhomukha Svanasana - for 30-60 seconds, lie face down with palms by the chest. Exhale and raise the trunk upwards and straighten the arms to move the head towards the floor keeping the heels flat on the ground. The Upward Dog or Urdhvamukha Svanasana - for 30 seconds, lie face down with feet flat and palms by the waist. Inhale and raise the head and trunk, pushing back on the flexed legs without lowering the knees to the floor. Follow this with a 40-minute session at a moderate speed of about 12 - 14 miles per hour on a stationed cycle. After this, repeat the initial 10-minute yoga flow.. Benefit: Besides developing muscles and burning calories, it calms the hamstrings, spine, back and legs.

Indoor cycling at moderate speed
Indoor cycling at moderate speed
Zumba dancing
In tribal cultures across Africa, community dancing was a source of harmony. In the 16th century, African slaves in South America made drums from the material that was available and in their free time, grooved to the music symbolic of their native culture.

Equipment: The Zumba Fitness DVD developed by Colombian choreographer Beto Perez

Technique: This is approximately a 60-minute program that incorporates footwork and body movements from Latin dances like Mambo, Cha-Cha, Calypso, Meringue, Flamenco and Salsa. Your legs need to be pumped up and arms lunged side to side like a windmill. Then shake your hips intensely and clap hands, while dipping, sliding and spinning. This is a sprint interval workout which means it is intended to improve resistance with short intense training sessions.

Benefit: Besides burning about 600 to 1000 calories in a single class, the dance tones up the muscles of your legs, arms and abdomen.

Console workout
Technology never sits back and takes blame; it competes with itself and proves you wrong, each and every time. Just when the world was buzzing with debates about gadgets compelling people to laze around indoors, Ninetendo brought out the Wii and created the motion gaming workout. The latest craze is the controller-free Kinect which justifiably brings home the thrill of the outdoors with its unique body tracking system.
Equipment: Kinect 360 console
Technique: Outfitted with a 3D camera that works on real time motion capture, the console's sensors will scan your body into the game.

After assessing your stats through a series of questions, you will be given workouts tailored to suit to your needs. The personal training option helps you to choose exercises ranging from simple stretching to full length cardio, with daily monitoring of calories burnt along with specific personal goals. Interestingly, it also offers gender-specific workouts like the 'Skinny Jeans' for women and the 'Sleeve Busting Arms' for men. Benefit: Since your workout time is monitored, there are less chances of over or under exertion.

Monkey jump
In oriental cultures, the monkey is a sacred totem hailed for its skills as warrior and defender. If the Indian defensive arts emphasise this through the deity Hanuman, the Chinese build on the animal's agility through Monkey Kung Fu and Tai Chi Monkey martial arts. Inspired by the limber physical disposition of the species, the Monkey Jump is suited for those with agile and flexible bodies and is avoidable for those with spine and bone related impediments.

Technique: On a soft surface like grass or a gym mat, you need to squat and drop your centre of gravity to between your heels, in a position that resembles the low, crouching posture of a monkey. With hands touching the floor, toes pointing outwards and body and head erect, lean your body slightly forward. When you go for the jump, slowly thrust your body upwards pushing your shoulders and head up till your legs straighten completely. Just after the jump when your feet clear the ground, pull knees to the chest and let them go back down to meet the floor. This will in turn cushion the landing.

Benefit: It strengthens leg muscles and enhances limb mobility. So, now you know what you need to do to achieve peak fitness.

Doctor's note

Senior Orthopedic Surgeon Dr P S Gill informs us on the things to keep in mind before taking up a new workout:

1. Stretching is crucial. A warm up of stretching before the workout raises internal body temperature and enhances flexibility of muscles, a similar cool off later brings heart rate and breathing back to normal.

2. Moderation in key. While moderate training heightens immune functions, a period of exhaustive exercise severely blunts the body's first line defense against infection. Also, workout durations should gradually increase as your body needs time to adapt.

3. Don't over-exert. An increase in training should correspond with an increase in relaxation. Signs of fatigue need to be monitored daily and minor injuries should be treated before they build up.

4. Assess your health. Medical problems can be either cured or aggravated with exercise. While moderate aerobics lowers heart risk and yoga breathing benefits asthmatics, rigorous exercising may augment any kind of back, spine and joint pain.

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