Exercise You Can Do Anywhere: Plank

The Plank is one of the most versatile full-body exercises you can do. As I tell my Pilates classes, the beauty of the Plank is that it never gets easy, just easier … and when it does, there are plenty of ways to make it harder.

Basic Plank: Get into a push-up position, with arms directly in line with the shoulders. Tuck your abs in tight, and maintain a straight line from your head down to your toes. The key here is to focus on maintaining a flat plane – as I like to say, no butts and no bellies (this takes the tension away from the abs, instead putting pressure on the low back or the shoulders).

Depending on your fitness level, there are a number of variations:

  • To make it easier, you can change your position to hands and knees, forearms and toes, or forearms and knees.
  • To make it harder, you can lift one foot, one arm, or one arm and the opposite foot at the same time.
  • If you have a Swiss ball, you have a few more options. To position the ball at the upper body, you can keep both feet (or knees) down on the ground, with forearms or straight arms on the ball. To position the ball on the lower body, you can roll out so that the ball rests anywhere below the knees (out to the toes), with straight arms (top of a push-up position).
  • If you have a medicine ball of any weight, you can do several variations to the Swiss ball Plank. One option includes placing both hands on the medicine ball, with the weight either in your toes or knees. For another, you can place the toes on the ball, upper body balanced by the hands or the forearms.
    • Feeling adventurous? Place the medicine ball under one foot, and extend the other foot back and off the ground. It may take a few tries to get the footing down, but you can get adjusted easier if you start with the ball against a wall. To switch feet, bring both feet onto the ball, and roll to the other side so your body is still in proper alignment. It’s TOUGH!

Adventures in Team Teaching

Tonight, I had the pleasure of team teaching Pilates with Erin at Sport and Health – Crystal Park. It was kind of a last-minute thing (just worked it out last night), and we weren’t really sure how to work it … but we ended up having a really great time!

We ended up going half and half with the class – Erin taught the first half, and I finished up the second. It was fun to actually take a class (even if it was only about 20 minutes before I took over), and it’s always great to have the opportunity to see how other instructors structure your classes, interact with participants, and call the moves. I think we both definitely picked up something new to use in each of our classes going forward.

It’s actually the second time in the last week I’ve had a chance to do some team teaching. Last Wednesday, my girl Kim (a.k.a. XSport’s newest Piloxing instructor) helped me out with a block during class. It’s interesting to see how someone else teaching the moves that you are so used to – especially since she’d taken so many classes and picked up some tips from me. She did GREAT – and I’m looking forward to letting her take the reigns when I have to travel for work in May (to the drone conference. I’m not kidding. This is my “real” work…). And I’ll attest … it’s a whole lot easier to teach an entire class when you’ve spent a little bit of time in front of a live class (versus practicing in front of a mirror, with maybe one or two recruits). It gets the jitters out, helps you relax, and maybe even start to find your own personal teaching style.

Bottom line – it’s always great to get perspective on how other instructors teach their classes, especially when they are moves that remain consistent most weeks. There are always opportunities to learn some things yourself.

XSport Spring Quarter Schedules Start Today!

It’s that time again already…new spring schedules start today! As I’ve already mentioned, I am cutting back a little. Here is my teaching schedule starting this week:

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

Cycle, 6 p.m.

Sundays (alternate weeks)
Pilates, 10:45 a.m.

I’ll keep you updated on my Sunday Pilates schedule as it’s set at the beginning of the month. For April, I’ll be teaching April 13 and 27.

I teach all of my classes at the Alexandria location. You can view the complete schedule for all locations here:

Cutting Back is Hard to Do.

As you may know by, 1. my lack of posts throughout the last two months, and 2. the fact that I apologize for it every time I manage to get a post out, life has been pretty hectic here in 2014. I’m still getting my workouts in, classes are great, work is fine, the boy is wonderful … but I feel like I’m constantly running (and not in the way I like to be).

The last six months of my life have been pretty whirlwind. I started a new (more demanding … and significantly better paying) job. I met my Marine (which made me realize that there really are great guys out there … even if I sometimes call him a jerkface, I can’t over look the fact that he took me to a ball and Hawaii). I’ve made new friends, seen new places, and, as my mother would say, finally allowed myself to have somewhat of a life outside of the gym and work. Granted, it hasn’t all been great – I (barely) survived the government shutdown a mere three weeks into my new job, and seriously, if the longest winter of all time is not behind us, I may completely lose it. But overall, I’m probably in the best place I’ve been in a long time.

However, with the good, I’ve realized that while I’d like to be, I’m not superwoman. I can’t do it all, no matter how hard I try. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted. Life has been a treadmill, and it’s been set at a 9-mile an hour pace (whereas my average running pace usually hovers more around 7). I’ve had to really look at what I can do to find a fraction of time in my life and start to catch my breath before I pass out. And it’s led me to do something that has me still struggling with some mixed feelings.

I’ve been teaching two classes on Sunday mornings for more than three and a half years now. And while I love my classes, I’m exhausted. I’m not making enough time for myself and the people and activities that are important to me outside of the gym. Which is why, though it was a hard decision to make, I’m stepping back a little.

Tomorrow is my last Sunday double. I’ll still be teaching Pilates every other week, but I just feel like at this point in my life, it’s too much for me to be committed to every week. Though it should already be, I still want to make it clear that I thought long and hard, and struggled with what I really wanted to do. I’ve thought about it for months, and even asked back in November if there was any way to find an alternate schedule. Unfortunately, I was only able to make it work for one class.

It’s tough to give up my Piloxing class, though. Honestly, it’s something I’m really proud of. I’ve built the format from scratch, introducing something totally new to a club that drinks the Les Mills koolaid by the keg. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished with that group. I’ve seen many of my regulars become stronger, fitter…heck, I’ve watched a couple of them fall so in love with the format they became certified instructors. And I’m so glad I’ll still get to play with them every Wednesday.

This will be a change for me. I won’t have an alarm wake me up every Sunday. I won’t have to turn down plans because I have to teach in the morning (or I’m teaching during said plans). I’ll be able to go out of town without having to beg someone to cover a class for me. It’s definitely a change, and change is good. I’ll miss seeing those faces every week…but I’ve also missed having a life.

So there it is, the big news. The rest of my schedule is staying the same, so I’ll update on the new schedule early next week.

Yes, You Do Have Abs. Everyone Does.

Having taught Pilates for close to seven years now, there is one comment I’ve heard a lot: “I don’t have abs.”

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: yes, you do. You might not be able to see them (but seriously … do you know what your body fat percentage has to be to see a six-pack?), but I promise you, they are there. So, what can you do to strengthen – and possibly even whittle – your middle? Here are a couple great Pilates exercises proven to do the trick:

Rollup Start lying on the floor, with your legs straight and your arms outstretched behind you. Inhale, lifting your hands to the ceiling, and exhale as you pull your body forward, reaching toward your toes. Inhale the hands back to the ceiling, and slowly lower yourself back to the floor. Make sure your legs stay grounded the entire time – if your feet pop up, you’re using your legs, rather than your abs, to lift you up (that’s the hard part).

Double straight-leg stretch (a.k.a. leg lift)Start lying on the floor, with your feet extended to the ceiling. If you have any back issues, you can place your hands underneath your hips for additional support; otherwise, they are fine flat on the ground. As you inhale, drop the legs straight forward until your low back tells you it’s time to stop. Once you hit that point, exhale to return the legs to your starting point. To make it harder, you can lift your head and shoulders off the mat, and lightly rest your hands on your ears (never pull your neck).

Criss-cross Let’s start by saying this is NOT a bicycle crunch – it’s a reach with a twist. Start with hands behind the head, legs bent at 90 degrees. Twist so that one shoulder (not elbow) reaches toward the opposite knee, and sw

Winter 2014 Group X Schedules Start Thursday!

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you all had a great holiday season and you’re ready to get back to the gym and back to work (even I took a few more days off these last two weeks than I’d normally like to – recharge perhaps?)

With the new year comes the new group fitness schedule at XSport, and once again, I’m happy to report that my schedule has not changed! You can still catch me:

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

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

6 p.m. Cycle

Would love to see you for any of these – and if you’re not in the area, remember you can always still check out my playlist every Thursday evening (usually within 30 minutes of class end). If you would like to see the entire XSport Alexandria schedule, click here.

Tonight’s Master Class – A Little Tuesday Night Pilates Education

Tonight, I had the pleasure of taking a master class/review session with the new Mind/Body Director at Sport&Health Crystal City. It is always interesting to take a class (especially a format you’ve been teaching for years) from another pro, and tonight was no exception.

Amber described her style as contemporary Pilates – mostly the same exercises as “traditional” Pilates, but a lot less structured. I liked it! It was fun not knowing what was coming next (because, let’s be honest … I’ve had some of my regulars look at me like I’m doing something wrong if I throw something out of the ordinary in every once in a while) – and still knowing how the exercise was meant to be performed. I also liked having the opportunity to pick up a few new cues. It’s always interesting to hear the way other instructors describe a particular exercise or motion, because there really are so many different ways to describe a movement – and so often one cue will click with someone better than another. I think there may be a few new options coming to my classes this week!

If there is one thing that really helps a good instructor become a better instructor, it is getting exposed to different instructors and classes. I really enjoyed the follow-up conversation during the class, because I was reminded of a few details that I had forgotten throughout the years, and it was nice to take time to connect with some of the other instructors. We have another master class coming up next month, and I’m definitely looking forward to it. Amber was great!


From the Archives: What Your Group X Instructor Wishes You Knew

A lot has changed since I taught my first class, way back in 2007. It’s amazing how much you can pick up throughout the years – and I don’t mean the three or four other certifications I’ve added to my repertoire. It’s the little tips, ideas and observations you gather along the way – and many of them don’t come from continuing education … they are the lessons you learn from the people who frequent your class week after week.

That said, I absolutely love being a group fitness instructor. It is one of the most rewarding jobs I could ever imagine having. But we instructors definitely have our secrets – things you may not see during class, or know about us. Here are a few of the most common things we wish you knew:

There’s a lot of prep work before our time together. I took Pilates classes at least twice a week for four years before I started teaching them. I ran Piloxing choreography for months before I was comfortable enough to show it to anyone other than myself in the mirror. I’m constantly searching for new Spinning music, and I spend time every week crafting, shuffling and reworking my playlists so they have the right flow. I’m constantly researching answers to your questions, looking for more efficient ways to explain or cue an exercise.
I’m not always happy/healthy/perky/awake … or whatever you think I am. I am definitely not perfect. I’ve taught Spinning classes on three hours of sleep. I’ve smiled and joked through a class the day my grandfather passed away. I feel fat sometimes. I recently spent six weeks teaching on a stress reaction in my left foot (a precursor to a stress fracture, for those of you who are wondering … and no, I had never heard of it until I saw the x-rays, and yes, I would have cried had my doctor cut me off instead of telling me to cut back on the barefoot training). As the instructor said at my Piloxing certification, we have to give 150% just to get our classes to give 80%. It’s truer than you know.
That said … all those eyes can be a little intimidating. Being in front of 15, 25, sometimes 35 or more people is an invitation to be scrutinized. I’m going to miss a cue once in a while. I’m going to say something stupid. I have terrible balance, so I’m probably going to teeter at some point. I may joke about it … but trust me, it’s because I’m beating myself up over it.
Leave the phone at home. I vividly remember teaching a Spinning class during which a girl –right in front of me, nonetheless – sat and texted the entire class. First, you’re distracting yourself from what you should be doing (breathing, focusing on form, pushing yourself), and secondly, you’re a distraction to the people around you, as well. Unless you are a doctor on-call, or your wife is about to give birth any second, there is no reason why you can’t turn the technology for one hour. I leave my cell in the car – my gym time is my me (or class) time.
Drink up. I carry a 32 oz. water bottle pretty much everywhere. I go through at least three of them when I’m at work, and usually another one (or more) at the gym. By the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
I don’t want your germs. I’m sure the people around you don’t, either. If you’re sick – and especially if it’s something contagious, like the flu – stay home and recover. Pushing too hard when you’re under the weather will just delay getting you back to 100%.
Follow my lead. Why go to a class if you’re just going to do your own thing? Not only is it a distraction to the people who want to be doing what I’m doing, you could actually end up hurting yourself. There’s a reason I give modifications and options – so that every fitness level can get the level of difficulty they’re looking for. You shouldn’t be doing crunches while the rest of us are throwing punches and trying not to trip over you.
BREATHE! The more oxygen you have circulating through your body, the easier your exercise will feel. Never, ever hold your breath, because you could pass out – and though I am required to be certified in CPR, but I pray I never have to use it.
If you have a question, ask me! I love when people come up to me with questions – it tells me that not only did they like my class, they were paying attention and genuinely want to get stronger. I may not always know the answer, but if I don’t, I’ll look into it – or at least try to steer you in the right direction.
So keep these tips in mind, and keeping sharing your ideas and suggestions with me! Knowing what my classes like, what works for them, and what they don’t like is what keeps them coming back for more – even after I send them home achy and covered in sweat.

Special Five-Week Session Starts Tomorrow!

Back in July, I was fortunate enough to join the team at Sport&Health. Upon realizing it was just across the street from my building, this only made sense … but with my teaching (not to mention working and personal workout) schedule already pretty packed, I’ve been idling on the sub list. In fact, life has been so crazy, that I didn’t even have the opportunity to even sub a class at Crystal Park until a few weeks ago.  But I’ll be teaching a Pilates class at Crystal Park for the next five weeks, starting tomorrow!

The Crystal Park pool will be undergoing renovations through mid-November, which created a need for additional options until it is completed. Lucky for you … I’ll be teaching a Pilates class on Saturday mornings, from 9:30-10:15, starting tomorrow and running through November 16.

Check out the entire schedule here. Hope to have you start your Saturday with me during the next several weeks!

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.