Weekend Workout Re-wind

So, here I am, another Monday … another day of sitting around waiting for this government shutdown to end (the week off has been nice, but I have to be honest … I’m ready to get back to work. Uncertainty and I are not friends). One thing I will say about this mess is that it has allowed me a little more flexibility in my workouts throughout the last week – not to mention getting a couple extra hours of sleep and hitting the gym at a less crowded hour.

It’s always nice when my workouts are a little less stressful (I know, the point is to REDUCE stress, but when you’re fighting for space – and the clock – sometimes that is not the case). It gives me a little time to get more in-tune with my body, and think about what I’m doing right, what I need to improve upon, and oftentimes, take in the surroundings as a result. That said, here are a few of my observations from the weekend:

  • People really don’t like the new stepmills. I wrote a post a few weeks back about the new Matrix stepmills XSport recently introduced. I decided to couple stairs with my leg workout on Saturday, and I have to say … it was kind of funny to see four old stepmills in use, and maybe two of the old ones. Personally, I like the old ones better – they have a lot more flexibility from a speed standpoint, giving you more variance in your workout.
  • PRAISE THE LORD, THEY BROUGHT BACK ESPN. Now, I know this is not something only I am college-football obsessed to care about. But maybe mid-August, XSport replaced ESPN with MASN (the Nationals baseball channel. YAWN.) Yes, they did still offer ESPN2, but let’s talk about my reaction Week 1 of college football season – the week College Game Day was at Clemson, my alma mater – when I discovered I would not be watching College Game Day during my workout. I freaked out a little. Or a lot. Oh, ESPN, how I’d missed you.
  • I seriously need to learn how to use a foam roller. My right hamstring has been unbelievably tight – to the point of almost being painful – for probably a couple months now. There was more equipment than should ever be in the studio for my Pilates class yesterday (though the Bosus, medicine balls and swiss balls did make for some interesting planks for my challengers), so I figured I’d try my hand (leg?) and trying to roll what I can only assume is a monster knot out of my leg. No such luck. I felt nothing, so clearly I’m not doing something right (on the flipside – literally – I think it did work out a little tension in my quads). Suggestions? Anyone?
  • And finally … I went golfing on Sunday. Why not, when it’s 85 degrees in October? I only played nine holes, and while it wasn’t terrible (okay, one hole I’m quite sure had it in for me, because I think I was over par before I made it off the tee) – I’d even call a few of my shots good – I could definitely still stand a little more practice. Maybe I should put that on my government shutdown how to keep myself entertained now that we’re a week in to-do list…

Hope you had a weekend of great workouts as well!

XSport Fitness Fall Schedules Start TODAY!

It’s that time again … new XSport Fitness class schedules start today! There are a few changes, so definitely check it out – if you’ve been waiting to try Insanity, you will have a few opportunities each week, starting today (no, I’m not teaching it … I thought about it, but with the new job, the last thing I need to be doing right now is adding another certification for another class I definitely don’t have time to teach).

Only one tiny change in my schedule this go-round. Here’s when you can catch me:

Piloxing, 6 p.m.
Pilates, 7:15 p.m.

Cycle, 6 p.m. (note we’re starting 15 minutes later … so some of you may not have to duck out of work early to join me for class anymore)

Piloxing, 9:30 a.m.
Pilates, 10:45 a.m.

You can check out the new schedule here.

My Saturday at DCAC … Well, That Was Exhausting!

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend my first group exercise conference. DCAC actually spanned this entire weekend, but with work to go to on Friday, and classes to teach on Sunday, I was only able to fit in one day. It was kind of a last minute thing – but I’m glad I had a chance to do it!

It was an incredibly long day, and me (being how I am) took advantage of all the classes I could take. Classes started at 7 a.m., and went all the way until I dragged myself out the door around 6 p.m. Everything was good, but I definitely liked some classes better than others … and potentially found my next certification?

Here’s a quick rundown of my day:

7 a.m.: Labarre
I kind of went into this one blind, not really even knowing what it was going to be like. I’d taken a barre class before, and it was TOUGH, so I figured it wasn’t going to be easy. This class was probably my second-favorite of the day, though! The instructor was actually the creator, Jenn Hall, a former dancer and current exercise physiologist out of Georgia. She had a great personality, the workout was tough (HOLY SQUATS), and I definitely got a good sweat!

9:30 a.m. Yoga I.S. Pilates
I saw Pilates, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a little refresher since I haven’t taken a class from anyone (besides myself) in a really long time. It was more of a Pilates/Yoga fusion (perhaps I’d even call it a crossover), and I did learn a few things. The instructor had a great background in yoga and Pilates and the science behind both (she holds multiple Masters degrees), so we got a great education on the anatomy of different yoga exercises and how they translate to comparable Pilates exercises.

11:30 a.m. R.I.P.P.E.D.
I’d heard of this class before, but I’d never seen it, and didn’t know too much about it – but I figured the name alone had to be a good sign. Hands-down, my FAVORITE class of the day. The instructors were awesome, the format was tough, and it was one of those ones that you’re surprised how quickly an hour flies by. The class was a great combination of cardio and strength – there was band work, boxing work, push-ups, planks … and lots of sweat and great music. This may end up being my next certification, because it was AWESOME.

1 p.m. Piloxing
As a Piloxing instructor, I figured it was practically a requirement to take a class with the pros! But I have to be honest … I really wasn’t impressed. I felt like for a class based on “blocks” with “singlets” as transitions, there wasn’t really too much meat in the blocks, and a LOT more singlets than I’m accustomed to teaching. I actually had a hard time figuring out exactly where we were in the class – and the format is pretty rigid, so that shouldn’t have ever been a question. If nothing else, this class definitely showed me the importance of verbal cuing – the instructor was busier trying to pump us up, rather than tell us what’s coming next, and I almost had a hard time following some parts (which is sad, because I’ve been teaching this class twice a week for more than a year and a half).

2 p.m. Spinning: Form and the Five
I’m a stickler for form, so this was a great one for me. It was half lecture, half practical (meaning a ride), and the instructor was actually the same girl who taught my instructor training when I first got Spinning certified more than three years ago. The lecture section was really interesting – it talked about how different body types and postural issues can play a role in your riding form in each of the five Spinning positions, as well as how to correct it. It was good confirmation that my form is actually as good as I think it is (she went around the room correcting people – and I never needed corrected), and I picked up a couple new ways to cue posture, as well. I’m sure my class will appreciate that I’ve discovered yet more ways I can yell at them about their posture. Only downside? “Traditional” Spinning spends a lot of time in seated flats and seated climbs. I like to be out of the saddle as much as I can … it makes the time fly a lot faster!

4:30 p.m. BOSU Crush It!
Full disclosure: I was exhausted and hungry by the time I got to this class, so I wasn’t totally into it. I liked the concept, and I love learning new ways to use the BOSU, but it ended up having a partner-based component, and that’s just really not my thing (I think it goes back to always being the last kid picked in gym class). Oh, and I can officially re-confirm: my balance sucks. I did pick up a couple new tricks, though, so there may be a little more BOSU in my life in the coming weeks.

Like I said, it was a long day, but it was a good one! Heart rate monitor says I burned somewhere in the ballpark of 2,000 calories throughout the workshops, and I slept like a rock last night. Most of all, it was great to be in the environment of people who also love the same things you do, and understand the importance of fitness – and how challenging (in both a good and bad way) it can be to keep a class excited and motivated. Just more confirmation of why I love what I do those few days a week!

Get Strong Pilates Abs This Summer!

Summer is in full-swing … how are you feeling about your abs? If you’re sitting next to the pool or on the beach wrapped up in a towel, you still have some time to build some abs you’re proud to show off.

One of the best ways to start: break free of your standard crunches. Try these great Pilates exercises to work your core hard, hitting all the muscles from underneath your ribs, all the way down into your hips – and they’ll hit the deeper muscles crunches don’t hit, too.

Here’s a few suggestions to get you started:

Start lying flat on the floor, belly button tucked tight into your spine, with arms extended long behind the head. As you inhale, reach the hands toward the sky, and as you exhale, slowly lift the upper body and reach toward the toes, keeping the abs scooped (as if you are reaching over a ball and past the toes). Inhale, lifting the hands back to the sky, and exhale, lowering the body back to the starting position as slowly as possible. Make sure to keep the shoulder blades pressed down and back, and the legs firmly on the floor (they will shift back and forth slightly; you just want to make sure they don’t come off of the floor – if they do, you are using your legs to lift you, versus your abs). If you find yourself struggling to keep the legs down, you don’t have to roll all the way up – as long as the abs are engaged, you are still getting the benefits, even if the upper body is only coming two inches off of the floor.

Single Bent Leg Stretch
Lift your head and shoulders off of the mat, tucking your bellybutton tucked tight to the spine. Position your hands on the inside and outside of one knee, as you extend your opposite leg straight. Release and switch sides, reaching the toes of your extended leg straight in front of you, with controlled motion.

Double Bent Leg Stretch
Lift your head and shoulders off the mat, bellybutton tucked tight to the spine, both legs tucked in, with your fingers extended in blades atop the shins. Inhale, extending arms and legs in opposite directions. Exhale, using angel arms circling the body, and pulling arms and legs back in tight. Halfway through, reverse the arms, with angel arms back, then pulling up and over, legs stay the same.

Single Straight Leg Stretch
Lift your head and shoulders off the mat, bellybutton tucked tight to the spine, legs at 90+ degree angle – one parallel to the floor, the other leg extended to the sky, hands behind the leg. Reverse the legs, drawing straight lines to the front with each leg.

Double Straight Leg Stretch
Start with your legs extended up to the ceiling, with your low back grounded and bellybutton tucked into the spine. Keeping your legs together, inhale as you draw a straight line down, as close to the ground as you can get without allowing the low back to pull up. Exhale as you draw the toes back to the ceiling. You can choose one of three upper body/arm positions: for low back issues, keep hands underneath hips, head and shoulders on the ground; or keep head and shoulders on the ground, hands next to hips; or head and shoulders off the mat, hands placed lightly behind the head.

Start lying flat on the mat, head and shoulders up, hands lightly behind the head, with the knees bent at 90 degrees. Angle the front of one shoulder toward the opposite knee, reaching long (not crunching), then reach toward the opposite side.

Start on lying on the back, with knees bent and feet flat on the ground and arms extended straight behind the body. Inhale, lifting the hands up to the sky, and exhale, lifting the upper body to a seated position. Inhale, lifting the hands to the sky, and exhale, slowly lowering the body to start, hands parallel to the ground. Once you’ve mastered the level one, there are several progressions you can work into, as well.

Add these exercises to your regular routine two or three times a week, and you’ll be on your way to feeling stronger and leaner by the end of summer. Remember, diet and cardio play a role in getting those six-pack abs, so watch what and how you eat, and get your sweat on at least a couple hours each week.

Post #400 … and Giveaway Announcement!


It’s hard to believe that I’ve already made it to post #400! Seems like just yesterday I was writing #200 … heck, even sitting down to write post #1. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I began Strong-Fit-Beautiful 18 months ago, but I have to admit, it’s been a rewarding experience. I had no idea that people would actually read what I had to say (and certainly not that this little blog would lead to one of my classes being part of a news segment on hybrid workouts), that the people in my group fitness classes would engage with me outside of class through my blog, or that I would end up making what I would consider “blog friends.” I can thank my girl Helen (who spends about 9 hours a day sitting about two feet away from me) for pushing me to share my passion for fitness in a format very different from my group fitness classes – and I’m forever indebted!

In honor of my 400th post, I have decided to do something a little different as a thank you for letting me be a part of your fitness world. I’m going to be giving away a little something health and fitness-related once both my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/strongfitbeautiful) and my Twitter (@StrongFitSarah) EACH reach 200 followers. To clarify – that’s two giveaways … meaning two chances for you to win! So head there now and have your friends do the same 🙂

Finally, I do want to thank you from the bottom of my  heart for sticking with me through workouts, playlists, inspirational quotes, infographics, videos, occasional rants and sometimes even too much of a peek into my own personal goings-on. It’s because you read and share your comments, stories and guest posts that I am still writing regularly. For those of you who don’t know, writing was more of my background even before fitness was … and to be able to blend two things I love? It’s truly rewarding. So here’s to another 400 posts … you all are the best!

A Pilates Primer


I came across this great quick reference chart of Pilates exercises, and wanted to share it, because, as always – I’m a firm believer that a strong core is the first step to a strong body, and Pilates is a GREAT way to get there.

Check out the exercises below, and don’t be afraid to try a few based on your level (you’ll see that the chart is color-coded to denote beginning, intermediate, and advanced). Always start with the lowest level or modification, and work into the harder exercises and levels as you get stronger. And be careful with your form: shoulders tucked down and back, open chest when you’re upright, and pelvis tilted, low back down and grounded when you’re on the floor. And always let your muscles drive you through each exercise, never your momentum!



Say What? What Your Group Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer is Trying to Tell You

Group Fitness Instructors and Personal Trainers say some weird things. The words “bellybutton to your spine,” “shoulder blades tucked into your back pockets,” and “push with your thighs” come out of my mouth on a weekly basis. Huh?

So, what do these – and a few more you may have heard in the gym or studio – actually mean? Let’s decode, shall we?

Pull Your Bellybutton into Your Spine
What it means: Basically, suck in your belly. You want to feel your abdominal muscles engaged – like you’re bracing for someone to punch you.
Also synonymous with: “Feel like you are corseted” OR “Try to press your bellybutton into the floor”

Tuck Your Shoulder Blades into Your Back Pockets
What it means: RELAX! We keep a lot of tension in our upper bodies. Drop those shoulder blades. It’s a lot more comfortable and helps with your alignment.
Also synonymous with: “Make sure your shoulders aren’t in your ears” OR “Feel like you are pushing your chest forward and drawing your shoulder blades down and back”

Pretend There’s a String Attached to …/Pretend There’s a Marker …
What it means: Basically, be aware of your body and control your motion. A string attached to each vertebra (or on your head) pulling your body up straight. A marker on your toes, drawing straight lines (I use this one with the single straight leg stretch in Pilates).

Keep a Fist Between Your Chin and Your Chest
What it means: Keep your airway open. The more space you can create between your chin and your chest, the easier it is to breathe (and, as we know, the easier it is to breathe, the easier the work will feel). It will also help you keep your head properly aligned to your spine – making it easier to keep those shoulder blades tucked back down into your back pockets 😉

Be Able to Wiggle Your Toes
What it means: In a squat, you want your weight to stay back in your heels – if you’re doing this, you shouldn’t have any pressure in your toes (thus you’d be able to wiggle them). It’s easier to keep proper alignment, and it’s gentler on your knees and back.
Also synonymous with: “Push your hips back and drop straight down”

Even Circles
What it Means:  This applies to a few different things, but the message is always the same – control your motion. It could mean control your pedal stroke (in Spinning) or don’t allow other body parts to take over a controlled motion (such as leg circles in Pilates).

Feet Lead the Pedals
What it means: In a Spinning class, you should never be going so fast (or have the resistance so light) that the pedals are dragging your feet along with them. Essentially, maintain control of the motion.

Push With Your Thighs
What it means: When you’re cycling – and especially when the resistance starts to get heavy – use the big muscles in your thighs to help you pedal, rather than putting all the work on your toes and calves.

Lift With Your Wrists (or Elbows)
What it means: Focus more on your form (or the closest joint) rather than simply focusing so much on lifting a weight – it will help you stay in alignment because you’re thinking about the entire motion, versus just the end goal.

Looking for a few more? Click here:What Your Group Fitness Instructor is Trying to Tell You | Fitbie. And comment below to share the weird things your instructor or trainer has told you to get you to do what they are trying to get you to do – and if it’s worked!

Pilates vs. Yoga: What’s the Difference?

“What is Pilates? Is it like yoga?”

This is, hands down, the number one question I get from people when I tell them that I teach Pilates. Both are considered “mind-body” exercises, and both can be mat-based. But that’s about where the similarities end.

To further break it down:

Remember, both Pilates and yoga are great compliments to any exercise routine. Anyone, young or old, already fit or trying to get there, can benefit from both of these fantastic exercises. So grab a mat and get started (remember, in your’re in the Northern Virginia/DC Metro area, you can always join me at XSport Fitness on Wednesday nights at 7:15 and Sunday mornings at 10:30)!

Spinning Playlist – November 1, 2012

Hope you had a great Halloween … can you believe it’s November already?? Also thoughts go out to anyone impacted by Hurricane Sandy these last few days. Here in Northern Virginia, you could say we got pretty lucky – pretty much everything is back up and running (I lost cable and internet for about 36 hours, but otherwise, safe and sound).

So, shall we burn off that Halloween candy? Here’s tonight’s playlist, including a couple brand new songs:

Warm-up (Flat Road; Resistance 3-4 on a scale of 10)
50 Ways to Say Goodbye – Train

Building Block #1 (Start Resistance 5, Build to 9)
Don’t Wake Me Up – Chris Brown
Hot ‘n Cold – Katy Perry
When I Grow Up – Pussycat Dolls
Meet Me Halfway – Black Eyed Peas
Inside of You – Hoobastank
Building Block #2 (Start Resistance 5, Build to 8+)
Touch Me – Smash Cast ft. Katherine McPhee
Numb – Usher
Animal – Ke$ha
Telephone – Lady Gaga ft. Beyonce
One More Night – Maroon 5

Building Block #3 (Start Resistance 5, Build to 7+)
Everybody Talks – Neon Trees
Sweet Nothing – Calvin Harris ft. Florence Welch (side note: I’m OBSESSED with this song … it’s SO GOOD!)
Titanium – David Guetta ft. Sia
Desert Rose – Sting

The A Team – Ed Sheeran
You Make it Real – James Morrison

Have a great weekend – stay warm! As always … Go Tigers! Beat Duke! (game’s on at 7 p.m. EST Saturday in case you’re intersted).

Your Momentum Doesn’t Impress Me. Your Good Form Will.

Every once in a while, my many hours at the gym lead me to see something that eventually leads to the perfect blog post topic. Today was one of those days.

My current teaching schedule makes it somewhat challenging to get in weight workouts as often as I’d like throughout the week, so I decided to stick around for a bit after my classes this morning to fit in a little back and chest. As I was transitioning from one exercise to the next, I happened to catch a man out of the corner of my eye … which leads to my topic for today.

No, it’s not what to wear to attract a mate in the gym (trust me, I am NOT the best source for that … although I do make an effort to appear pretty put together despite the sweat). It’s not how to put your weights back where they belong (although also super-important), or remembering to wipe down your machines (ditto).

No, I want to talk (write?) about form. Namely, proper form, in which your muscle, not your momentum, helps you to power through an exercise.

I happened to catch a man out of the corner of my eye as I was transitioning from one exercise to the next, and it took every ounce of me to not walk over to him and ask if he had any clue what he was doing. He was sitting on a bench, literally SWINGING 30-lb. weights, in what I think was intended to be bicep curls. I’m quite confident every muscle from his waist up was helping him to lift the weights. They were clearly too heavy for him, but he just kept swinging along.

That said, I will admit to being a stickler for form. I’m one of those people who tends to stare intently at myself in the mirror when I’m doing … well … just about any exercise. And it’s not because I like to look at myself (though I am one who can’t walk past a mirror without a quick check) – it’s because I like to keep tabs on the alignment of my body as I go through a workout, because it’s so incredibly easy to not even realize when your body slips out of place.

I get that this is the age of crossfit, in which form is sometimes not considered the most important element. I get that not every lift will look perfect, and that sometimes there will be a little compensation from other muscles to make up for a weakness. What I don’t understand is the rationale behind flying through an exercise, literally throwing a weight, majority of the body in motion. This does not help you achieve anything. Except perhaps a trip to the chiropractor.

So, what makes for good form? First off, it starts with the core. I think absolutely everyone should do Pilates – and it’s not because I’m a Pilates instructor, but rather because Pilates is the most comprehensive program that has consistently shown to improve core strength. A strong core means increased stability throughout the entire body.

Here’s a little exercise to get you started: stand tall, with your legs about shoulder width apart. Imagine you are corseted – pull your bellybutton in tight, as if you are trying to get it to touch your spine. At the same time, think about tucking your shoulder blades into your back pockets – if you’re doing it correctly, you should feel a little taller, with a relaxed upper body, the chest strong and almost pushed forward. Feel pretty stable? You should. Make a conscious effort to keep yourself aligned this way as you lift (or run, or cycle).

Once the core is engaged, take a moment to become aware of the rest of your body. I like to refer to it as using your “muscle vs. momentum.” In theory (though not always practice), you want to be able to stop the motion at almost any point. If you can’t, that means you’re using your momentum instead of your muscles – and getting a lot less out of an exercise than you could be.

Bottom line: don’t waste your time! If you have to use momentum, or recruit extra muscles to get through an exercise, lessen your weight, or try a modified version of an exercise. It will keep you safer from injury, and most likely you’ll start to see results more quickly, too. Not to mention, you look a lot less ridiculous when you take the time to do the work the right way!