Pilates: It’s Not Just for Women!

One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that Pilates is just for women (another one is that it’s easy, but that’s a whole other myth for another day). Although women outnumber men in most Pilates classes – my classes tend to average one or two men to every dozen or so women – the benefits to men are just as prevalent. In fact, Pilates was created by a man (boxer Joseph Pilates).

Pilates is based on functional fitness, which can help to increase strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, endurance and range of motion throughout the body. Focused on building core strength – through the abdominals, back and hips – Pilates engages the smaller muscles in the body that are often missed in weight-based strength workouts. The exercises are designed to hit the deeper, often under-developed muscles that lead to weaknesses, and potential injuries, in the body. And if you’re doing your cardio, you may even (finally!) find the solution to uncovering that sexy six-pack.

Many athletes have turned to Pilates to help them improve their game. A strong core allows athletes to lift heavier weight without compromising form, and improved posture can also lead to more efficient breathing. In fact, sports-specific Pilates classes have started to pop up across the country, focused specifically in improving your golf or tennis game.

Still need a little convincing? Professional athletes who have turned to Pilates include:

  • Basketball players Jason Kidd (see what he has to say about Pilates here), Lebron James and Kobe Bryant
  • Football players Calvin Johnson and Ruben Brown
  • Baseball players Curt Schilling and James Loney
  • Golfer Tiger Woods
  • Rugby player Ugo Monye
  • Hockey Player Carlo Colaiacovo

Many professional sports teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, also include Pilates in their strength and conditioning regimen.

So, men, don’t be afraid of that room full of ladies. You’ll gain strength, flexibility, coordination, and improved overall sports performance – and maybe even finally see that six-pack you’ve been working toward. You never know, play your cards right, you might even get a date out of it (just don’t be creepy about it!) 😉

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Better than the Exercise-Induced Endorphins!

There are a lot of things that I love about being a group fitness instructor … but there is no greater feeling in the world than knowing that you have made a difference in someone’s life. Just one person coming up to me at the end of class, sharing a story, or even just saying that today’s class was a great one, truly is a big part of why I do what I do.

Truth is, we group fitness instructors are an interesting breed. We regularly get in front of a group of people, and essentially make fools out of ourselves for the sake of others. We crack jokes. We push our classes to the limit. We sometimes get in their faces – and, depending on the class, we often are just plain evil. And we love every second of it. At my Piloxing training, our instructor shared something I hadn’t really thought of before, but it’s totally true – as the instructor, we have to give 150% to get the class to give us 80%. That probably explains the big personalities we tend to have 🙂 (Though, strangely, I consider myself to have two persoalities – gym me is outgoing, enthusiastic, and will talk to anyone, while outside of the gym me is much quieter, rather shy, and very self-conscious.)

Did I become a group fitness instructor because I wanted to change lives? Not initally – to be honest, I thought it sounded cool, and I figured if I was at the gym all the time anyway, and I was pretty good at most of the classes I took, so why not? But after I had a few classes under my belt, I knew it was so much more than that. I had the power to help people become healthier, to cheer up at the end of a bad day, or, as a few of my regulars have told me – look great for their weddings. It’s the reason I tack another two hours on to my work day on Wednesdays. It’s the reason I’m on a bike at 9 a.m. on Sunday, rather than still lazing in bed. It’s the reason I’m always searching for new ideas, or different cues, or an answer to a question that came up during class.

Essentially … when I became a group fitness instructor, I found my calling. I found my passion. I found myself. I found my life.

 

Chocoholics Rejoice! Study Claims Chocolate Keeps Us Thin!

I came across an article earlier that I couldn’t help but stop to read. “Chocolate keeps us thin,” it heralded. I’m sorry, what? Yes, I am an extremely healthy eater. But I’m also a raging chocoholic. So this may be the best news ever heard.

A study of more than 1,000 U.S. participants found that, on average, those who indulged in chocolate on a regular basis had lower body mass index (BMI) than those who consumed chocolate only occasionally. It was also noted that chocolate’s catechins – antioxidants shown to eliminate free radicals in the body –  especially those in dark chocolate, may be able to increase lean muscle mass, while at the same time decreasing body fat.

Coupled with other benefits found in previous studies – including heart health as well as decreased insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and cholesterol levels – chocolate has started to gain recognition as a healthy part of a normal diet (in moderation, of course).

Granted, yes, the type of chocolate of going to have an impact – the nutritional value of dark chocolate considerably outweighs that of white chocolate, and even of milk chocolate. As a general rule, the higher cacao percentage (ideally at least 70%), the better the health benefits – and, of course, a small piece of high-end dark chocolate is going to be less calorically costly than, say, a King Size Snickers (which, side note … I think I read that they are doing away with the King Size Snickers … which is a good thing, considering it can cost you more than 500 calories).

As much as I hate to admit it, this is still not an excuse to go out and find one of those giant chocolate Easter bunnies that are all over the place this time of year. Despite its nutritional value, chocolate is still high in fat, sugar and overall calories – so you do still want to limit it to a reasonable (i.e. 1 oz.) serving size.

Read more about the study here.

Better Results, Less Time (Really!)

One of the biggest misconceptions is that you need to work out for hour upon hour to get the results you’re looking for. Truth be told, I’m usually in the gym about 12 hours a week … but I only spend about 90 minutes, maybe two hours (max) a week lifting (the rest is made up of classes and cardio).

So, how is it possible to get the sculpted muscles you’re longing for in such a small amount of time? It’s all about being efficient. The best way? Combine several exercises into a circuit, ending with a cardio burst. I like to do two or three exercises, hitting different body parts with each set. This gives you time to recover the other muscles you are working, while not wasting time completely resting.

For example, I might do something like this:

  • Circuit 1:
    • Overhead dumbbell press (Shoulders)
    • Bicep Curl (Biceps)
    • Lunge (Legs/Cardio)
  • Circuit 2:
    • Bentover Row (Back)
    • Tricep Kickback (Triceps)
    • Burpees w/Pushups (Chest/Cardio)

Essentially, you want to choose two or more exercises with a burst of cardio at the end. Some options for your cardio bursts, in addition to those listed above, might be:

  • Mountain climbers
  • Reverse Lunges
  • Squats
  • Jumprope
  • Step-ups
  • Bench Hops
  • Anything else you can think of that will get your heart rate up!

The key to saving time is the burst of cardio at the end – this will add an element of interval work, which helps you burn even more calories, not only while you are still in the gym, but throughout the rest of the day, as well (even when you’re sleeping!)

So don’t waste your time … get in, get moving, and get strong in no time!

Spinning Playlist – March 25, 2012

Fresh off of this morning’s class … as I told my class this morning, lots of “ooo”s in some of these songs today (and you know they had to listen to me sing through some of them)!

Warm-up (Resistance 3-4; Flat Road)

You Make Me Feel – Cobra Starship ft. Sabi

 

Building Block #1 (Start Resistance 5, Building to 7-8)

Untouched – The Veronicas

Domino – Jessie J

I Don’t Want to be in Love – Good Charlotte

Poker Face – Lady Gaga

 

Building Block #2 (Start Resistance 4, Building to 8-9)

Till the World Ends – Britney Spears

According to You – Orianthi

Wild Ones – Flo Rida ft. Sia

Part of Me – Katy Perry

Blackout – Breathe Carolina

Let it Rock – Kevin Rudolph ft. Lil Wayne

 

Building Block #3 (Start Resistance 4-5, Building to 8)

Ocean Avenue – Yellowcard

We Found Love – Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris

Maneater – Nelly Furtado

You and I – Lady Gaga

 

Cooldown

Somebody that I Used to Know – Gotye

Almost Honest – Josh Kelley

It’s Like Running on Clouds…

After close to two months of not being able to run (thanks, foot!) I finally got myself back onto the treadmill without pain this week. It felt great! Though I’m still not able to run as far as I’d really like to be – I’m doing it the right way and building myself up to avoid another injury – it’s so great to get back into that “zone” that I really only feel I can get into while I’m running.

So … in celebration of my triumphant return to the treadmill (wow, that sounds sad!), I decided to bust out the new pair of shoes I’ve had sitting in the closet since January (I didn’t really need them when I bought them, but they were a really great deal – close to half off!!) Nothing better than running in a new pair of shoes – it’s like running on clouds 🙂

Here’s the new kicks … I’ve been wearing the same shoes – Mizuno Wave Inspire – for a little over two years. These are, I think, my sixth pair. Great fit – and for my super-narrow heels, that’s hard to find. That said, my one bit of advice for today … if you’ve never been fitted at a running store for shoes, DO IT! I never really thought there could be that much of a difference in shoes, until I finally let someone who knew what they were doing pick out my shoes (instead of buying ones that were “pretty.”) Trust me, HUGE DIFFERENCE! I love these shoes.

new shoes

new shoes!

The #1 Reason Women Avoid the Gym is …

I read an interesting article the other day, which discussed a study that found that the number one reason women don’t go to the gym has nothing to do with the actual working out part … but rather, the locker room. Specifically, changing in the locker room.

It can be an intimidating place – and one we’ve been had to face ever since they started making us change clothes for gym class way back in middle school (perhaps that’s where my teenage-years aversion to working out came from? Or perhaps it was that gym was always my first or second class of the day…) Regardless of how fit or otherwise a person is seems to have little to do with how they feel about locker room exposure.

Now, I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m still doing, as the article refers to it, “the dance” (replacing one garment with another as quickly as I can, showing as little skin as possible). I’ve been a consistent gym-goer for about a decade. I’m in the best shape of my life. Yet I still feel that people are looking at me, or judging me, and seeing the “flaws” that I see on my own body – even though I’m sure they have better things to do with their time than check me out.

The women on the opposite side of the spectrum are the ones that will always puzzle me, though. I mean, I’m all for loving your body for what it is – I wish that I could be more accepting of my own – but really, is it necessary to walk around the locker room COMPLETELY naked? (And you know the only ones that do are either a., ones you really wish would cover up, or b. too old to care). First off, there is nothing more uncomfortable than turning a corner and seeing … everything. Beyond that, even if you’re fresh from the shower, it’s unsanitary (I don’t even want to know what has been on some of those benches or counters – I refuse to let my bare feet touch the ground outside of Pilates or Piloxing … which are meant to be barefoot).

It’s funny, though, that most women fall into one of the two types – you’re either doing “the dance,” or letting it all hang out. I just think it’s sad that something like a locker room could be keeping women from becoming healthier and more fit. But I guess there are still no excuses … you could always change at home and avoid the locker room!

Doing What I Love Couldn’t be What’s Keeping Me from Finding Love … Could it?

Last night, a question was posed that kind of – okay, really – rubbed me the wrong way: “Do you even have the time to date someone?” My answer: “Of course I do – I would absolutely make time for the right person.”

Now, I know you’re asking … what does this have to do with fitness? Well, fitness is a priority in my life, and between teaching five classes a week and my personal workouts, it does take up a chunk of my free time. But by no means does that mean that it is my entire life. With the exception of those five hours a week, I can be pretty flexible with my schedule. And I’m totally confident that I have the time and commitment necessary to be successful with both my fitness and the right man.

The truth is, for a long time – we’re talking (gulp … yikes) most of the last six and a half years – exercise has been all I’ve had, as far as love is concerned. (That endorphin high has to come from somewhere!) There has been a void in my heart, and instead of letting it get me down, I’ve filled it with sweat and muscle soreness. But I’ve also filled it with the love of the people who join me in class, who come to me for advice, and who have been there to push me, to encourage me, and, whether they realize it or not, help me put on a happy face, even on the days that I feel crying. It’s helped me see that although I’ve been single, I’ve never truly ever been alone.

I have no problem admitting that exercise and fitness is a huge part of who I am. It wasn’t until I discovered how much I got out of it – as a former fitness manager once told me, “you were put on this planet to do this – to change people’s lives” – that I realized how happy it makes me. But could it be that the one thing that makes me happier than anything in the world could actually be keeping me from finding the one person in the world who will make me even happier? There’s nothing that could possible scare me more – because while I love the world of health and fitness, I know that there is nothing more important to me than finding someone with whom I can share my life and have a family. I don’t think it should have to be a one or the other kind of situation.

Bottom line: I do know my priorities. It’s just that I’ve found myself significantly more successful on the fitness front versus the love front, which has been more of a desert or a disaster. But I’m confident that there is an amazing man out there who not only understands and feels the same way I do, but will stand by me and be happy that I have been able to share my passion with other people (and who knows, maybe even spot me from time to time). I’m ready when he is. 🙂

Mind Your Manners – A Note on Gym Etiquette

As a frequent gym-goer throughout the last decade(ish), I’ve seen some crazy things. The older man sporting 70s style shorts (are they ever…), socks (knee-length) and sweatband (do they even still sell those?). The woman in full-face paint (To work out? Really?). The scrawny teenager determined to lift his body weight (give it a couple years, it’ll save you a hernia).

Truthfully, the characters don’t bother me. They may make me giggle, but as long as they’re going about their workouts in a safe manner, respectful of those around them, I don’t care what they wear, or how they look.

There are a few rules, however, that I believe should be followed by everyone – novice or bodybuilding champ. It’s a matter of common courtesy, and in some cases, even safety. So here they are, my gym commandments (or rules to lift by):

  • Don’t waste your time – or mine. Many of us do not view our workouts as social hour, but as our opportunity to relax or de-stress, start/end our day, or to do something good for ourselves. If you aren’t actively using a machine, weight, or the space you are occupying, share. You’ll burn a lot more calories actually doing something – and your fellow gym-goers will be able to do what they came to do, too.
  • Watch your volume. This usually applies to the heavy-lifting, cut-up tank top wearing type, but it could be anyone. I still have nightmares thinking about a little old lady who worked out in my college gym (she sounded like she enjoyed working out just a little too much…) Please don’t yell. Please don’t curse. Please don’t drop your 100 lb. dumbbells. The people around you will appreciate it. And please, please, please … LEAVE THE CELL PHONE AT HOME.
  • Clean your machines! My gym has sanitizer and paper towels all over the place, and for the most part, people are really good about them. Gyms can be a hotbed for germs. You don’t want to pick up what someone else left behind, do you? They don’t want your germs, either. This especially applies if you sweat all over something (thank goodness for towel service!) – trust me, I have enough of my own sweat, I don’t need yours, too.
  • Nobody should smell you coming – be it good or bad. Perfume has a place. It is not in the gym. Many people – myself included – are sensitive, and maybe even allergic, to strong scents (it only takes a few minutes for me to develop a migraine). And please, invest in a good deodorant/anti-perspirant. You may be working hard, but everyone around you doesn’t want to smell just how hard (deodorant is not expensive!)
  • Be polite! I’m as guilty as the next person of zoning out, and I’ve been almost run down a time or two. But a simple “excuse me” or “sorry” does go a long way. You wouldn’t bump into someone at work and say nothing, would you? Same rules apply.

So, there they are. Nothing too crazy, just common sense and courtesy. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and polite workout!

Avoid the Dreaded Plateau: Mix it Up!

One of the most crucial factors in a successful workout routine is that of variety. Like anything in life, the more you do something, the better you get at it, the more efficient you become – eventually what was once a challenge is suddenly easy. If you do the exact same exercises every day, week after week, eventually your body will grow bored … meaning you will start burning fewer calories, and stop making progress toward your goals.

I’ll admit to being a person who gets bored easily, so cross training and mixing things up is pretty normal for me. I don’t like to do the repeat any particular exercise or class more than twice a week if I can help it, and I try to adjust my weight routines ever 3-4 weeks (most people can go about 6 weeks before they need a change). As you get more fit, you may find that you’ll need to make modifications even sooner in order to avoid that dreaded plateau.

So, that said … how can you ensure variety in your workouts? The most important part is simply planning ahead, and making a conscious effort to try a number of different activities throughout the week.

For example, this is how my schedule currently looks:

Monday: Weight training, cardio*

Tuesday: Cardio, abs

Wednesday: Instruct two classes – Piloxing, Pilates

Thursday: Weight training, instruct one class – Piloxing

Friday: OFF

Saturday: Weight training, Cardio, abs

Sunday: Instruct two classes – Spinning, Pilates

*Depending on how I’m feeling, I go for 45-60 minutes running, on the elliptical, ArcTrainer or stairmill (a stairmill looks like an escalator with three steps. And it’s HARD.) Also note that sometimes I have to trade days for my off day – meaning I’ll just replace my off day with whatever day I have to miss in the schedule.

Bottom line, do what you like, but mix it up! Variety truly is the spice of life, as they say – and by keeping your body guessing what is coming next, and you’ll continue to see the results you want to see. It’ll have you on the right track to continue getting stronger and more fit!