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Warming Up 

At 24-hour fitness center Gym Matrix (5300 Tchoupitoulas St., 899-4624; www.gymmatrix.net), founder Stephen Smith teaches personal training-style sessions in a group setting. The former bodybuilder believes the team element boosts motivation and gives participants a sense of camaraderie.

  "The key (to fitness) is showing up," Smith says. "It's those small wins that are important. With each workout, you are one step closer to gaining your confidence and achieving that positive mental state."

  To motivate yourself to maintain a consistent exercise routine, an action as small as finding a buddy with whom to take daily neighborhood walks or jogs can go a long way. For those training at home, Smith stresses the importance of the warmup, an oft-neglected workout component. According to trainer and Gym Matrix general manager Kyle Gadin, a good warmup psychologically prepares you for the workout ahead and delivers nutrient-rich blood to the muscles, preparing you physically. Warmups also improve flexibility, which is essential to any workout routine.

  "Many trainers don't pay enough attention to the warmup. Even if you are training at home, you've got to get the proper warm-up," Smith says. "Flexibility contributes greatly to quality of life and conditions your body to resist injury."

  Smith emphasizes that the common habit of stretching first is not the proper way to gain flexibility. Stretching should be done after you have accelerated blood flow. Before any workout, Smith recommends warming up with three sets of cardiovascular exercises, like jumping jacks or running in place, followed by a series of stretches. "Intensity is the name of the game," Smith says, "so work as much as you can for as long as you can because you get a break in between repetitions."

RUN IN PLACE

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Do three sets of running in place for 60 seconds each. Rest for 30 seconds between sets. To keep your heart rate up, don't rest longer than that.

BUTTERFLY STRETCH

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Sit with the soles of your feet touching each other and knees out. Slide your feet in as close to your body as you can. Holding your ankles, press your knees down to the floor until you feel a stretch in the inner thigh. Complete three to five repetitions, holding the stretch for 20 seconds each. Rest for 30 seconds in between. Do not bounce while executing the stretch.

STANDING TOE TOUCH

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Bend at the waist, drawing in your abdominal muscles, and try to touch your toes without rounding your shoulders. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds or longer. Repeat three times.

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