Mental Training: Get in the Zone!

I recently completed a continuing training for my Spinning certification on mental training. I found the content to be really interesting – and fitting not only for indoor cyclists, but for athletes (or wannabe athletes) of any sport or activity. Essentially a means of finding your “zone” or “zen,” focusing on mental training can help you to work harder with less effort, accomplish feats which you may not have believed you were capable, and experience the elusive “runners high” (which is, despite its name, not exclusive to runners).

So, what can you do to take your training to another level? Here are a few tips and tricks to maximize the mental element of your workout:

  • Focus on form and flow. Relaxation and even, controlled motions are key to proper form – and by focusing on these elements, you will also reduce your risk of injury. Visualize your muscles working and the motion of your body staying consistent. Once you have mastered your form, it is easier to get lost in the flow of the motion – bringing you closer to that “zone” in which you can allow your mind to take over, and your body to follow.
  • Pay attention to your breath. Fun fact: we typically only use 20% of our lung capacity when we “chest breathe” – taking short, shallow breaths from the chest, rather than deep diaphragmatic breaths. As both a Pilates instructor and a former singer, I am a huge proponent of diaphragmatic breathing. Not only does it allow you greater breath control, but it also makes your exercise feel easier. Think about expanding your lungs, and feel your ribs push out as you take a deep inhale. To exhale, think about slowly releasing the breath, feeling the ribs pull back and the abdominals engage as you completely empty the lungs.
  • Be in the now. We live in a busy, go-go-go world. It can be difficult to focus on what we are doing at the present moment, versus what we need to do later, or the challenges we face in our lives. Let go. Be present. Allow your mind to wander, and it will eventually lead you to a clear mind, which helps you to enjoy the now, rather than worrying about the past or future.
  • Set a goal. Pay attention to the intricacies of your workouts, and how they contribute to your overall, larger goals. Celebrate the small successes along the way, and in time, you will find yourself achieving more than you ever thought possible.

The biggest key to mental training is really just finding the right mindset, allowing your body to relax, and letting your breath fuel your motions. By focusing on the mental aspect of your workout, you will find that your accomplishments will add up – and your workouts will become more fulfilling. I’ve said it more times than I can count: the mind is stronger than the body. And the stronger the mind becomes, the stronger the will to achieve becomes, leading to increased physical strength, endurance, and power, all of which play a huge part in our overall conditioning process.

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Spinning Playlist – June 13, 2013

Happy (wet) Thursday, everyone! Thanks to those of you who braved the storm to ride with me tonight – I appreciate your hardcoreness (or perhaps complete disregard for the weather cautions – either one works). Your reward for getting through the rain? One brand new song (yay)!

Here’s tonight’s Spinning playlist, fresh off the bike:

Warm-up (Flat Road; Resistance 3-4 on a Scale of 10)
Animal – Ke$ha

Building Block #1 (Start Resistance 5, Build to 9)
Can’t Hold Us – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis ft. Ray Dalton
Forever – Chris Brown
Safe and Sound – Capital Cities
Burn It Down – Linkin Park

Building Block #2 (Start Resistance 4-5, Build to 8+)
Endorphins – Sub Focus ft. Alex Clare
Part of Me – Katy Perry
Domino – Jessie J
Titanium – David Guetta ft. Sia
Come to Me – Diddy ft. Nicole Scherzinger

Building Block #3 (Start Resistance 5, Build to 8+)
Scream – Usher
Everybody Talks – Neon Trees
Forever Now – Ne-Yo
Uprising – Muse

Cooldown
My Oh My – Tristan Prettyman
Wanted – Hunter Hayes

Try to stay safe and dry out there – from what they’re saying, those of us in the mid-to upper-Atlantic states may need a boat by the end of the night. What’s with all the rain these last few weeks (at least it’s supposed to be sunny this weekend)? We’ll see you next week!

Good Breathing: It’s More Than Just Inhales and Exhales!

As I often tell my cycling classes, you’re going to hear a lot about breathing and posture when you find yourself riding with a former singer and current Pilates instructor. The two are absolutely related – and they can make a big difference in the quality of your workout, regardless of if you’re a yogi, bodybuilder or marathoner.

Proper breathing can help you to accomplish a number of things: push through a tough exercise, stay energized, and yes, even make it feel a little easier. Though it seems counterintuitive (isn’t breathing something that just happens involuntarily?), many people – beginners and veteran exercisers, too – make the mistake of holding their breath during exercise.

Throughout most of our day, we only use 10-15% of our maximum lung capacity, which, over time, conditions us to rely on shallow breaths rather than deep, full breaths. By making a conscious effort to expand our lungs fully during exercise, we become more in-tune with our bodies – and the extra oxygen allows us to work harder, while still remaining comfortable and avoiding any complications, such as dizziness or light-headedness. As a general rule, for any type of exercise, you want to think about inhaling on the easier part of the motion, then allowing the exhale to help push you through the more difficult part of the motion.

Much like the clothes you wear to the gym can depend on what you’re planning on doing on any given day (please tell me I’m not the only one who is super-picky about which pants I wear to run vs. lift vs. cycle …), your breathing may differ, too. Perfect example? Pilates breath vs. yoga breath. In Pilates, we breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth, creating additional power through the exhale, in turn helping us to push through a teaser or a double straight leg stretch. In yoga, we breathe both in and out through the nose, allowing the steady, constant breath to guide us through the poses, one cycle of breath at a time.

It can be a very different story as far as cardiovascular exercise is concerned – by getting your heart rate up, naturally, your breathing rate increases, as well.  Because you are challenging your lungs, heart, and muscles simultaneously, your body needs as much oxygen (and thus blood) as it can get. By focusing more intently on taking deep, diaphragmatic breaths, you can actually help to control your heart rate to an extent … and in many cases, can even help runners avoid side cramps.

The cue that I often give my classes is to think of your lungs as bellows: the lungs inflate fully during your inhale, and deflate completely during your exhale.  Here are a few tips to help you get diaphragmatic (or “singers’ breathing,” if you will) breathing down:

  1. Inhale fully, imagining that your ribs are pulling away from one another and the space in your center is opening up.
  2. Stop for just a second to feel the expansion in your lungs – it should feel a little different to breathe fully, rather than shallowly from your chest!
  3. Exhale completely, thinking about squeezing every ounce of oxygen out of your lungs. Get your abdominal muscles in on the action – you should feel your core tighten up as you release those last few ounces of breath.

Which leads me to one last thought on the topic of breath, which we briefly touched on earlier: posture. The more space you create for your breath, the easier it will be to inhale and exhale. That said, think of keeping your chin up and your spine properly aligned. How do you know if you’re there? Imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head. It runs through each of your vertebra, down into your tailbone. Now imagine that someone is holding onto the string, pulling you straight up into alignment. This positioning should allow you to keep your shoulders down and back – pushing your chest forward – and giving your body the ideal posture for strong, full breaths. Good luck … and just BREATHE!

Shoelace Trick for Secure Ankles

Do you  have trule finding running shoes that fit snugly on your ankles? Check out this video for a quick little shoelace trick that can help keep your shoes a little more secure and comfortable. I’ve been tying my shoes this way for years – and a a person with thinner ankles and even more narrow heels, it’s been extremely helpful in avoiding blisters (which I’ve always been extremely prone to). Try it out – it could help you to more comfortable runs – and maybe even fewer injuries.

Find it here: http://www.runnersworld.com/video/0,8052,s6-1-0-5,00.html?bcpid=780919303001&bckey=AQ~~,AAAAABjSC4E~,YBF36HfcFnZG3Km2fMmu_93aEc_Lzuro&bclid=1497991495&bctid=1332234594

Turn Must See TV into a Workout

The fall television season is finally underway … what will you be watching? Whatever your show of choice, remember that there are still plenty of ways to keep active while watching your favorite shows (word is Jessica Simpson has been dropping the baby weight by watching 24 on the treadmill – it sucks you in and keeps you going).

I came across these “workout while you watch” graphics and thought I’d share them, as motivation to get moving while you get back into the new fall season. Pick your show (or do them all) – and feel free to do the New Girl workout during both episodes – airing at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. EST tonight!

Your Tuesday workout … and you get to do it twice tonight!

Your Wednesday workout …

Your Thursday workout …

Strong Core = Strong Body

A woman approached me following my Piloxing class on Sunday morning with a good question: “What should I be doing to work my core?” The fact is, just about any kind of physical activity will work your core – how much depends on your form, any resistance added, and making a conscious effort to keep your core muscles engaged throughout said activity.

Now, exactly what do I mean when I say “core muscles”? For starters, they are a lot more than just your abs – they include most of the trunk of the body, including the hips and mid- and lower back. As these muscles make up the center of the body (hence “core”), greater strength allows you to become more stable and balanced throughout your entire body, which plays a huge part in maintaining proper form in your activity of choice.

From harvard.health.edu

One way to become more in tune with your core muscles is to focus on your breathing. Controlled breathing is the cornerstone of both Pilates and yoga practices – and it is directly related to strong, stable core muscles. Focus on the way your core feels as you inhale and exhale – you’ll feel your muscles engaging as you fill and empty your lungs (think of trying to take every ounce of oxygen out of your lungs on your exhale – this forces the body to engage the abs in order to release those last few sips of air).

But breathing and core awareness are important in a number of different activities, as well. For example, when we are riding through heavy climbs in my cycling classes, I encourage the class to tuck their belly buttons into their spine, and feel the difference in their low abdominal muscles as the knees drive up to the body and back toward the floor. The feeling should be similar to that of a bicycle crunch … because essentially, it is (which saves you a little time lying on the floor – and you’re probably getting more work out of it due to the weighted wheel). Another added bonus? Heavier resistance forces harder work from the hips and glutes, too.

When you are strength training, losing control of your core can present huge risks for injury – one of the first things to go when the weight gets a little too heavy is the lower back (which is bad for you, and good for the chiropractor). But by strengthening the lower back muscles, it is easier to keep the balance between the front and back of the body, meaning that you are more likely to maintain proper form throughout each movement.  Breath plays a huge part in instance, too: if you exhale on the hardest part of the motion, you naturally engage the abdominal muscles, making it easier to avoid arching the back (which is not just dangerous from a potential for injury standpoint either … it’s cheating, too!)

That said … another thing to keep in mind is that most people do not do the correct proportion of back exercises to abdominal exercises. We are usually more focused on the abs, because, after all, they are the “vanity” muscles. But from a strength standpoint, the back muscles tend to need to endure more than the abs – meaning that they need at least at much work as the abs, if not more.

Remember, too, that just like any other exercise, you want to balance the time spent working on all of your core muscles – not just your abs. The more balanced your core becomes, the stronger you will be, the easier your exercise or sport of your choice will become … and you will reduce your risk of injury, too.

Deep Breath, Strong Body

How can you make any workout feel a little easier? Just breathe.

It’s true – proper breathing not only helps you get through a lift (or run, or class, or whatever your workout of choice is), but it can actually make it feel less challenging.

Here are a couple of tips to help you improve your breathing and make the most out of your workout:

  • Breathe deeply. You want the breath to come from your diaphragm – think the air filling deep within your belly. Feel your ribs expand and pull away from your center as you inhale, and tuck back in tight as you exhale.
  • Breathe evenly. Yogis, Pilates enthusiasts, swimmers, runners, cyclists … they all have different ways taking in and exhaling breath (be it through the nose or mouth). Keeping your breath even is what matters the most – it can help to stabilize your heart rate and keep your muscles fully oxygenated, allowing you to push harder.
  • Let your core help. I always tell my Pilates and cycling classes to tighten up their abs as they exhale – it allows you to exhale fully, while at the same time giving you a little bonus ab work. And who doesn’t love a little extra benefit without the work?
  • Watch your head! The more space you can fit between your chin and your chest, the more open your airway will be. This allows the breath to flow more freely in and out of your body.

Finally, if you don’t mind people potentially looking at you funny … don’t be afraid to sing (I try to talk my cycling classes into joining me all the time, but they rarely do). Singers are specially trained to breathe well, and at specific points in a song – and they have incredible lung capacity and breath control as a result. Who cares if you don’t sound like Usher or Adele? You’ll be burning more calories, working more efficiently and even having a little fun at the same time.

Looking to Get Fit …

… but low on time? There’s an app for that!

Sworkit provides short circuit training workouts for busy people on the go. The randomized workouts keep things interesting, and you have options for the type of workout you’re interested in, including full body, upper body, core, lower boday, stretching, yoga or “anything goes.”

We live in a busy world, and every opportunity you have to fit in a quick workout can get you on the path to success. Even if it is only 10 minutes!

How Can We Combat Obesity? Healthy Habits Start in Childhood.

When I was a kid, we went outside to play. Today’s children are so often parked in front of the television or computer, rather than out, moving around – having fun and getting fit. I don’t remember eating a lot of fast food as a child. It was more of an occasional “treat,” not something we had all the time. And it’s not that we were less busy – I remember many a night eating dinner (homecooked, not fast food) in the car on the way from one after school activity to another.

On the flipside, there are plenty of organized sports available to children – more than I ever remember there being when I was a kid. But much like there are kids who would rather sit at home and do nothing, there are the kids who are madly in love with a sport. Though an active child is usually a healthy child, there are a few downsides, as well. It can be time consuming, extremely expensive, and even dangerous if a child becomes too involved too soon (here’s a hint: there’s a reason most gyms don’t allow kids under 13 in the weight room).

It can be a kind of fine line. Let your child find their passion – but make sure to put down some ground rules. Do they eat, sleep and breathe soccer? Encourage their athleticism, but make sure that the love comes from their heart – not your desire to be the parent of a future Olympian. The rules are the same for children as they are for adults – everyone needs a break from time to time to avoid burnout and overuse injury. Would they rather sit at home and read? Make a family fitness time – take a walk with the dog, ride bikes, play catch in the backyard. Staying active helps you as much as it does your kids!

From a nutrition standpoint, I am reminded of the comment my mother always made in response to those daytime talk show stories about 130 lb. 5 year olds: “You are the parent!” Just because they like macaroni and cheese doesn’t mean they should have it every day. Encourage a balanced diet full of nutritious foods, as well as the occasional treat. And practice what you preach! If you are open to new food experiences, and maintain a (mostly) healthy diet, your children will most likely be open minded, too, and follow suit.

Active kids grow up to be healthy adults – and healthy kids are happy kids (with happy moms and dads). So get out there and get active together as a family! The sooner children are exposed to healthy eating and fitness habits, the more likely they are to grow up to be healthy, active adults … and hopefully, as more people become focused on healthy living, we can start turning those scary obesity statistics around.

Foreshadowing of my future passion. That’s right, mom and I used to rock some Jane Fonda back in 1984. Check out those guns…