Exercise - the big four which take 12 minutes to do

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PLEASE NOTE - If you suffer with CFS - please see here first - Exercise - the right sort in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

General principles

  • You must be feeling well
  • There must be no pain or discomfort when you start each exercise – if there is, then the exercise needs modifying or missing out. Pain means damage and use will make that worse.
  • Do each exercise very slowly – it is not the number of repeats that is important but the power used. You should experience progressively increasing muscle pain (lactic acid burn) until you are forced to give up after between 45-90 seconds. Learn to recognise the lactic burn - any different pain and stop!
  • Do not allow yourself a little rest between repeats – aim for a gradual increase in (lactic acid) pain throughout the exercise
  • It may take a few tries to get the power level just right so you weaken within this window of time.
  • At this point the muscle will be so weak that you cannot continue (this prevents tendon and muscle damage).
  • You will also puff and pant and your heart will go faster – that is OK too, indeed desirable!
  • You have to work out, through experience, how much is right for you, but this will increase with time as you become more powerful.
  • After one 12 minute session, do not repeat for one week. The aim is to slightly damage the muscle because this stimulates new muscles which actually means more mitochondria!
  • After the exercises you should feel slightly achy and indeed perhaps a little achy the next day.
  • Between workouts gentle daily exercise for fun is fine so long as there is no pain or exhaustion!
  • With age we expect to lose muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness – these exercises therefore slow the ageing process.

The actual exercises McGuff recommends you can see on BODY BY SCIENCE 7 (THE "BIG 5" WORKOUT) or a search on “Body by Science”. However these do need special equipment. The following exercises can be done at home with no special equipment.

The Actual Exercises

Arms and upper body – do press ups

Depending on how strong you are, choose an appropriate starting position and then go from there, down the list, as you get stronger.

  1. Start with standing upright facing a wall, feet apart, one stride away from the wall. Put your arms out against the wall, keeping your body straight, bend arms so your nose nearly touches the wall and push yourself back upright
  2. Do the same against a solid table ie with your body at 45 degrees
  3. Do "lazy" press ups keeping your knees on the floor but body straight
  4. Do full press ups from the toes
  5. Do full press ups with a weight (eg small rucksack) on your back.

The 45-90 second window of time should be filled by 15-25 press ups. Rest until the lactic burn has gone.

Legs and lower back - use squats

Depending on how strong you are, choose an appropriate starting position and then go from there, down the list as you get stronger.

Use your legs to squat from haunches on ankles to standing upright. Keep your back straight at all times. Always hold onto something solid to keep your balance. Again choose an appropriate starting position:

  1. Hold onto a firm object with your arms, for example a chair each side to help a little and to balance. Do not go down fully onto your haunches but just bend knees to 90 degrees.
  2. As above but go lower using arms to help a little.
  3. As above but no help from arms. Just hold a chair or table for balance.
  4. Drop down to haunches with each squat.
  5. Carry a weight on the back in a rucksack (this is the only piece of equipment you need).

The 45-90 second window of time should be filled by 15-25 squats. Rest until the lactic burn has gone.

Tummy muscles - sit ups

Depending on how strong you are, choose an appropriate starting position and then go from there, down the list as you get stronger.

The key point to remember here is that the back must be flexed throughout this exercise – do not go flat to the floor or this will straighten the back and stress the inter-vertebral discs so you risk popping one out! Sit on the floor, knees bent to 90 degrees, shoulders and back rounded forwards almost in foetal position and toes tucked under a solid piece of furniture – sofa or large armchair is ideal. Put a large cushion behind you so you cannot lie flat on the floor!

  1. Keep the back rounded, tip backwards rotating on the hips until your tummy muscles pull then sit up.
  2. The same until the shoulder blades touch the cushion then sit up again. Do not go completely flat!
  3. Do the same but with arms clasped behind the head
  4. Do the same with a weight clasped onto the chest
  5. Increase the weight

If at any time you get back pain then stop – it may be because you are not rounding your back sufficiently and putting strain on the inter-vertebral discs and psoas muscles. (See Wikipedia entry on psoas muscle) The 45-90 second window of time should be filled by 15-25 sit ups. Rest until the lactic burn has gone.

Back and extensor neck muscles – forward bends from the hips

Depending on how strong you are, choose an appropriate starting position and then go from there, down the list as you get stronger.

For this exercise, the back must be in the opposite shape compared to sit ups. It must be arched or extended – again this is to prevent pressure on the inter-vetebral discs and stop them popping out with the pressure. Keep the back arched at all times – again all the movement should come from the hips. Keep legs straight – you may feel slight pulling down the hamstrings as you bend. Don’t pause between bends to relieve the lactic acid burn – keep the pain slowly increasing.

  1. Just bend to 90 degrees
  2. Bend further
  3. Do the same with hands clasped above head
  4. Do the same with weighted rucksack on your back
  5. Move the rucksack higher so it lies between shoulders and neck.

The 45-90 second window of time should be filled by 15-25 forward bends. Rest until the lactic burn has gone.

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