As far as I know, before last week the term "costume jewelry workout" did not exist. I credit my client Amanda with the phrase's genesis. (It was particularly impressive since she came up with the phrase at 6:15 a.m. I am barely awake at that hour.)
Amanda first used the phrase when I was walking her through how to recruit her bum muscles. (Important side note -- most people have a hard time engaging their glutes -- their bums. A lot of us have developed "glute amnesia" from all the sitting we do. Our glutes just don't want to work.) Anyway, superficially Amanda looked like she was doing the exercise, but I could tell she was substituting other muscles for her bum. The exercise just looked too easy. I gave Amanda a few cues to help her engage her bum, including placing her hand on the bum cheek she was supposed to be using. Placing your hand on the muscle you want to work is a great tactile cue for the brain. It helps the brain pinpoint the muscle you want to use.
When Amanda started to do the exercise correctly she said, "when you do this right, it is really hard. Before I was doing the 'costume jewelry' version, now I am doing the '18 carat gold' version of the exercise."
Many people just go through the motions when they work out because they don't realize how important it is to be conscious of the muscles they are recruiting, but as Amanda discovered, when you concentrate and become mindful of your movements, the quality of the exercise you are doing improves. Lack of awareness means you simply strengthen muscles and reinforce neural pathways that are already strong.
Don't get me wrong, not every workout, and not every repetition can, or should be "18 Carat Gold" calibre.
If you are new to exercise, anything that will motivate you to exercise, including zoning out in front of the TV, is OK. Even exercise enthusiasts sometimes need a "costume jewelry workout." Just doing something is better than skipping it altogether. When I need extra incentive to bike indoors on my trainer, I have been known to watch DVD on my laptop. I don't get frustrated at myself for not 'giving the workout my undivided attention' because I know I would have skipped the workout if I didn't allow myself the pleasure of watching Grey's Anatomy or ER.
In fact, I have always been secretly annoyed by runners who say that 'real runners' don't listen to music because they want to focus 100 per cent on their training. I love my iPod. Some days it is the only thing that will get me through my run. Doing something will always make me feel better than doing nothing. If I am in a crummy mood I will often do a relaxed 'costume jewelry' run, where I am just going through the motions. The run gets my blood flowing, makes me feel productive and ensures I sleep well.
The trick is you need to have enough awareness to know when you are doing the 'costume jewelry' version versus the real thing, as well as when it is imperative for your workout to be the '18 carat gold' variety.
When I do a relaxed run, I know I am going through the motions. On that day, that is exactly what I need, but I don't kid myself. Those workouts will not help get me personal best, improve my fitness or help me recruit underused muscles. When I do squats I am very conscious of being mindful of my motions. I aim for an '18 carat workout' because my left bum muscle doesn't work well. I need to consciously think through my motion to retrain my muscles.
So, if you are recovering from an injury, or attempting to retrain movement patterns (for example changing your running gait or your squat pattern), it is important to make sure you always strive for '18 carat gold' calibre workouts. If you don't concentrate on what you are doing you will simply reproduce your current muscle recruitment patterns.
One final note, learning how to activate 'sleepy' muscles takes time. The process can be incredibly frustrating. It might take you a few months to be able to do the "18 carat gold" version of an exercise. Don't be discouraged, in the long run becoming more aware of your movements will be worth it. Take the time to become mindful of how your body is moving.
Rather than nursing a drink sitting down, belly up to the bar, or grab dinner at a high table with bar stools. <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20534367_4,00.html" target="_hplink">Leaning against a high stool</a> is a step up from sitting, but can be more comfy than standing all night, <em>Health</em> magazine reported.
This old-timey favorite is fun for kids and adults alike, and can burn 100 calories in just 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/machineisorganic/6740536715/" target="_hplink">Machine is Organic</a></em>
You don't have to be Michael Phelps to get a water workout. Even some leisurely splashing around can shave off 200 calories, and it's a great way to stay cool in the heat, too! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/311692139/" target="_hplink">Joe Shlabotnik</a></em>
Instead of just lounging on the sand working on your tan, get up and move around if you're at the beach this weekend. Bonus: Digging in the sand can be a surprisingly <a href="http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/great-summer-workouts?page=3" target="_hplink">good workout for abs and obliques</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donhomer/7200149722/" target="_hplink">Michael Bentley</a></em>
Let the music move you when you're out on Saturday night. A little boogying can burn 150 calories in just 30 minutes.
You're not chained to that park bench! If you're already enjoying the outdoors, why not throw around a Frisbee or a football, pass a volleyball or kick a soccer ball? It doesn't have to be strenuous -- you don't even have to be any good! -- but it will get you up and moving. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/458811240/" target="_hplink">Elvert Barnes</a></em>
If you've got a date night planned this weekend, skip dinner and a movie in favor of something that gets you off your rears. It doesn't have to be a trip to the gym or a jog -- it can be anything active you like doing together. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/78428166@N00/7283892652/" target="_hplink">Tobyotter</a></em>
Many local parks, rivers and lakes have row boats, canoes or kayaks available for rent. No matter your vessel of choice, it's a fun, seasonal way to burn some serious calories. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/inner-eye-photo/6849944748/" target="_hplink">Josh Hawley</a></em>
During the busy week, you sometimes might just let your pet out in the backyard to dig up his own trouble. This weekend, spend a little extra time moving with him. Play fetch, give him that much-needed belly rub or take him on an extra-long walk. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/footloosiety/4255290603/" target="_hplink">footloosiety</a></em>
If you've made plans to meet a friend for coffee, take your catch up session to-go instead and gab on a walk. Even strolling at a snail's pace will burn 85 calories in 30 minutes!
Put down the drink for some foosball or pool if you're at a bar this weekend that offers it. Thirty minutes of pool can shave off 85 calories, not to mention you may save yourself a few if your hands aren't wrapped tightly around that pint glass. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/15216811@N06/5842783313/" target="_hplink">Nicola since 1972</a></em>
Head for the hills! Depending on where you live, a hike can be a weekend expedition or a quick afternoon adventure. It's a change of scenery and a great way to spend some time outdoors. If you're feeling sporty enough to tackle some hills, you can burn almost 250 calories in just 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/4104101152/" target="_hplink">mikebaird</a></em>
If you typically find yourself hailing a taxi on the weekends, try hoofing it instead. If your destination is too far to make it on foot, try public transportation -- and leave the seat for someone else. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tmab2003/3180940701/" target="_hplink">TMAB2003</a></em>
If you have plans to barbecue this weekend, break out the lawn games to get you out of your seat. Try <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/27/lawn-games-calorie-counts-memorial-day-_n_1546462.html" target="_hplink">croquet</a> or badminton, which can burn more than 150 calories in 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessabc/5835828281/" target="_hplink">Jessa B.C.</a></em>
Those people who do their exercise walking around the mall are onto something. Whether or not you plan to buy anything, browsing around your favorite shopping center gets you moving -- especially if you decide to wiggle in and out of a few things in the dressing room. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimmyharris/2774384836/" target="_hplink">jimmyharris</a></em>
Spend some time strolling through the halls and galleries of your favorite museum. You'll give your brain a workout while you're at it!
Pick your favorite nearby joint and walk to pick up your meal.
Sure, it might take a little longer than sitting through the drive-thru, but you get the pleasure of working those muscles a little bit.
Instead of sitting at a restaurant waiting to be served, why not whip something up at home? You'll be on your feet slicing, chopping, mixing and more, not to mention cleaning up after yourself. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/janicecullivan/4262146921/" target="_hplink">mamaloco</a></em>
A number of <a href="http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/lawn_garden/home_gardening/vegetables/Variety+Of+Vegetables+Can+Be+Planted+In+Late+Summer.htm" target="_hplink">fall veggies</a> are ready for planting now. Spending an hour digging, crouching, weeding and planting in your garden <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/memorial-day-chores-calories_n_1543691.html#slide=1018494" target="_hplink">can burn more than 300 calories</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/7682623@N02/7343305940/" target="_hplink">auntjojo</a></em>
You don't have be imitate the Tour de France! Even the most casual rides can burn 200 calories an hour. Don't own a bike? Many cities now have <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/2011-05-08-bike-sharing-programs_n.htm" target="_hplink">bike share programs</a> that allow you to take a short spin for a small fee, and some parks have bikes available for rent, too. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chinny_chin_chin00/6137088467/" target="_hplink">machernucha</a></em>
Go old-school, and grab a group of friends to head to the nearest <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/make-fitness-fun_n_1465840.html#slide=921050" target="_hplink">laser tag</a> arena. You'll run, jump, squat, crawl -- all in the name of fun and (healthy) competition. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/shawnzlea/324447996/" target="_hplink">shawnzrossi</a></em>
With the increase in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/sports/the-sport-of-bouldering-climbs-in-popularity.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">popularity of bouldering</a>, you no longer need a load of gear (and experience!) to reap the fitness benefits of rock climbing. Try it out at a local gym -- you'll burn calories and seriously work those arm muscles. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/toolmantim/6728078909/" target="_hplink">toolmantim</a></em>
It's not just for dads in bowling shirts! Grab a pair of nerdy-chic shoes and aim straight. You may even wiggle a little arm workout out of it! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/junklab/68904368/" target="_hplink">junklab</a></em>
Dreaming of a couch-potato weekend? Turn that screen time into something more productive by challenging a roommate, spouse or kid to a Wii Fit boxing or tennis match. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sashawolff/3190273060/" target="_hplink">SashaW</a></em>
Follow Kathleen Trotter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KTrotterFitness