Good Form: The Key to Quicker Progress

People vastly underestimate the power of good form. But it’s amazing how this one little thing can make such a big difference.

One of the most important things to focus on not only when you are new to exercise, but at any time, is the positioning of your body – what is commonly referred to as your “form.” It’s an easy way to make your workout more effective, lessen your chances of injury, and, quite honestly, keep you from looking like you don’t know what you’re doing.

I’ll admit to being a bit of a stickler for form. If you’ve ever taken a class with me, undoubtedly you’ve had to endure the repeated chorus of “use your muscle, not your momentum,” “tuck your bellybutton into your spine,” “drop your shoulders down into your back pockets,” “keep your heads up,” “make sure your arms line up with [fill in the blank],” or one of the many other form cues I have a tendency to throw out there. I can blame – and thank – a particularly fantastic trainer I worked with several years ago, who to this day I still credit for teaching me all the little form, routine and nutrition tricks that really do have a huge impact on my workouts today.

That said, here are a couple quick little fixes that can help you get the most out of your workouts, with less chance of ending up with an injury:

  • Stand up straight. It doesn’t matter if you’re lifting, running, walking, or doing something else upright. It makes me INSANE when I see someone crunched over a cardio machine (You know why it feels easier? Because it is. Don’t be lazy.) The more you focus on your posture, the better your body will feel both during and after. Remember: pick standing over seated when you can – it engages the core muscles for a little extra work.
  • Think about your joints. Keep your elbows tight to your sides for bicep curls. Focus on keeping your shoulders down and lifting with your wrists for lateral raises. And whatever you do, don’t let your shoulders creep up into your ears (it’s terrible for your neck)!
  • Be aware of your core. There’s a reason it’s called a core – it is the center of your body, the powerhouse for everything you do. A tight core means stabilized muscles … which are easier to control … which are easier to keep in good form. This is exactly why I recommend Pilates for everyone – it strengthens the core (abs, back, hips), which is only going to make it easier for you to strengthen everything else.
  • Don’t be afraid to start light. I know, women are constantly being told not to be afraid to lift heavy, and men aren’t going to be seen lifting 10 lb. weights. But it’s always best to lift a little lighter than you think you really need to if you are new to something (or trying to correct form). It’ll help you build muscle memory … meaning good form can come naturally from there on out.

Take a little time to focus on your form during your next workout. It may feel a little different at first – but that’s a good thing! And please, PLEASE … stop hanging all over those cardio machines and throwing your weights. You people make me nervous.

All You Need to Know About Sports Nutrition

100300

You can see the original and find out more about Now Foods and Now Fitness here.

The Gym in January: People Watching Gold.

I love people watching. I always have. One of my favorite classes in college was an interpersonal communication class, in which the teacher sent us out one day with instructions to watch people – and then report back the next class (I’m pretty sure we were looking for something specific, but it’s been like 12 years, so give me a break). The gym can be a great place to people watch – for numerous reasons. And it tends to be even better in January.

Tonight’s post was inspired by the girl I witnessed doing something that looked like a cross between the Chicken Dance and jumping jacks. Now, I’ve taken a lot of classes (and taught a lot of classes) that required me to do some odd thing from time to time. But in the middle of the gym? Not usually. Which got me thinking about some of the top “what are they thinking?” moments I’ve encountered throughout the years.

Cirque du Soleil. Now that football and pool season is behind us, I’m not getting to the gym quite as early on Saturday mornings … but for a while there, I’d get a (people-watching) treat on my way out. There were three people who, for some unknown reason, would practice what I can only describe as Cirque du Soleil … in the middle of the cardio floor. Not in a studio, not even in a somewhat less-traveled space, but right in front of the escalators to the cardio floor. Weird.

Old Lady REALLY Likes Her Weights. This one dates all the way back to my Clemson old bookstore while the real gym is under renovation days. This woman enjoyed lifting weights. REALLY enjoyed lifting her weights (think Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”). It was uncomfortable to be around. I may still have nightmares.

Competition Prep. I get that fitness competitions require participants to strut around in a couple sequins and sky-high heels that would make a stripper blush.  But do you really need to “practice” (strut around) the gym floor? At least go into a studio. And please… keep the lights dim. Because I can’t decide if I want my body to look like yours or I want to give you my sweatshirt.

Overzealous exercisers. Yesterday morning, I saw a guy I actually feared would fly off of the elliptical he was working – at about 100 miles an hour. Here’s the thing … the resistance is adjustable on those things. You’re going to get more out of it if you slow it down and add some resistance.

Sweaty twins. For a while there, I thought there was only one of them … but they are in fact two. These girls spend at least an hour on the stepmill, going pretty quickly, and sweating EVERYWHERE. Never a towel in sight. Wearing long sleeves. Mind you, these girls are extremely thin. There is no reason they need to be working that hard or losing any extra water weight.

So … what have you seen around the gym? Is January your favorite people watching time, with all the Resolutioners running (or panting, or wandering confusedly) around the gym?

FROM THE ARCHIVES: What to Look for in Workout Gear

It’s Cyber Monday, so you’re probably doing some of your online holiday shopping, right? If you have a fitness buff on your shopping list this year, here are some great tips (from the archives) on what to look for in buying high-quality, comfortable gym clothes that will last. You may not look cute when you leave the gym, but you want to make sure your clothing will hold up! Read on to find out a little more, from this post from early 2012:

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Buying gym clothes can be almost as daunting as wearing them. There is so much out there already – and it seems that the technology and styles are continually evolving. So, what should you look for when investing in your gym clothes?

  • Comfort. Look for soft, non-restrictive fabrics. Spandex is a great choice, because it is designed to stretch and move with your body.
  • Wicking. Gym clothes have come a long way in keeping you comfortable once you start sweating. Look for polyester/Lycra blends and synthetic materials, which are designed to draw sweat away from the body. Many lines, including Under Armour, Nike, Adidas, and most other major sports even design tops and bottoms specifically to keep you warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather.
  • Layerable. This is especially important if you will be exercising outdoors – you want be sure clothing can be easily layered to keep warm, and removed to keep cool.
  • Technologically Advanced. Fabrics have become specialized for not only warm and cool weather, but also to be antimicrobial, provide UV protection, or to glow in the dark (or be luminescent).
  • Activity Appropriate. You wouldn’t take a Spinning class in big, baggy pants, and you won’t do Bikram in a sweatshirt. Think about what types of activities you will be participating in, and plan your purchases accordingly.
  • Long Lasting. Invest in a few dark bottoms (pants, shorts, capris … whatever your preference) and solid color tops. They’ll never go out of style.
  • Perfect Fit. You want to feel your best when you’re doing something good for you! If you don’t feel comfortable, you won’t be able to focus on your workout. Look good, feel good! The Today Show recently did a great story on fitting your gym clothes for your body – check it out here.

Most importantly, remember you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money for functional, comfortable, and attractive gym clothes. Personally, I’m a fan of Lucy – but I’ve never bought anything there that wasn’t on the clearance rack (they do have great sales!) I’ve also found a number of great pieces at TJ Maxx and Marshalls – they can be hit or miss, but I’ve found many of my favorite Nike, Adidas and Under Armor pieces at these stores … for a fraction of the sticker price. That said – make sure whatever you do invest in is quality. You’ll be better off spending $50 on a great pair of pants that look and feel great, versus a $15 pair that will fall apart in six months.  And handle with care! I machine wash my clothes, but I always air dry them (socks excluded) to maintain the integrity of the spandex and lengthen the life of gym clothes.

Don’t Be Lazy (Though these People Did, and it’s Funny)

I came across this great slideshow on MSN this morning, featuring pictures that pretty much define gym laziness at its best. Napping on yoga mats, food remains, standing around doing nothing, a chair(!) on treadmill … there truly are some lethargic gems among these folks.

Which leads me to ask: if you’re going to go to the gym and be lazy, why bother going to the gym?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I love both teaching classes and working out on my own at XSport. The club is huge, the members are awesome, you can’t beat 24/7, and I really don’t think I could survive a gym without towel service (as I’ve discovered in the handful of times they’ve been out of clean towels at the start of a workout). There are, however, two things I absolutely cannot stand about the club: the escalators in Alexandria (because people stand, instead of walking down them … which wastes time), and “member appreciation days” during the last week of the month (because they bring in a bunch of food, which usually makes the gym smell terrible … and do you really need to be eating tacos and pizza in a GYM??) If you clicked on the link above, you’ll see both of these – escalators and unhealthy food – on the slideshow. Yikes.

But back to gym laziness. It comes in many forms, and as a person who admits to probably spending too much time in the gym, I like to make the most of every second I spend there. If I’m not sweating, I’m not working hard enough (okay, full disclosure: my body has two temperatures – frozen or sweating – and it takes me, on average, about two minutes of movement to start sweating). So it makes me absolutely crazy to see people standing around talking, hanging for dear life on to machines or resting for far longer than necessary (here’s a tip: you don’t need 5 minutes to recover from one set. Superset, add a cardio burst, work a different body part … you’ll get a lot more done in a lot less time).

That said, my dear gym-goers, I beg of you … if you are going to make the effort to get yourself to the gym, take advantage of the time you spend there. On average, I spend around 12 hours a week in the gym – and have for the better part of the last decade. Throughout those years, I’ve found what works for me, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms, hanging out and doing everything in your power to avoid sweating isn’t gonna cut it. While I do admit to having a handful of people I do talk to regularly – and sometimes at length (Rebecca, Nour, RJ and D, I’m looking at you) – they are people who have the same mindset as me (as in we chat between sets or classes, during cardio or on our way out the door).

Perhaps even more so, be aware of your form. You could work out for hours, but if it is with bad form, you will likely not see the results you are looking to see – and potentially even end up with an injury. Stand up straight, take full breaths and maintain control of your movement at all times. As my Pilates classes are, undoubtedly, sick of hearing – use your muscle, not your momentum!

Three Bodyweight Exercises You Need to Add Now (Guest Post)

This article was written by Sergeant Michael Volkin, best-selling author of military basic training books and inventor of Strength Stack 52, a unique way to transform bodyweight exercises into a fun and competitive workout.

Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or just acquired your gym membership you have most likely scoured the internet for effective exercises to get you in shape.  As a fitness enthusiast for over 20 years, there isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t try and incorporate something new in my workout routine.  Your body has an amazing ability to adapt.  If you aren’t constantly challenging yourself with new techniques and exercises you are not maximizing your workout time. So I challenge you to incorporate all three of these below exercises in your next workout. 

1)    Body Rocks-Lay on your back with your legs in a vertical position and your arms over your head. Use your abs to rock your body up to almost a seated position. Rock back down. Do these for 30 seconds and your abs will feel like they’ve got the workout of a lifetime.

Video link: bit.ly/body-rocks

2)    Shoulder Annihilators-Assume the push-up position with your forearms on the ground. Rotate up and out off one arm ending with your chest perpendicular to the ground.  Your shoulder muscle should be bearing the weight of the body rotation. Do 10 of these for each arm and your shoulders will definitely feel the burn.

Video link: bit.ly/shou-ann

3)    Scorpions– Assume the push-up position. Move your left leg as far as possible past your right leg and rotate your head and body to the left. Repeat with other side. Do 10 of these on each side and your mid-section will wish you didn’t read this article.

Video link: bit.ly/scorp-ss52

All of the above exercises can be found in my new bodyweight fitness cards called Strength Stack 52.  Whether you choose to do the exercises above or find some different ones of your own, keep in mind that varying your workout is of utmost importance. I see too many people in the gym, like zombies, doing the same exercises week after week.  To maximize your exercise time, spend 15 minutes a week searching the internet for new exercises to do the following week.  This is the single easiest thing you can do to increase your workout effectiveness.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings (a.k.a. SERIOUSLY???)

Since it happened several times tonight in the gym, I wanted to bring up a topic that you probably don’t really think of all that often: being aware of your surroundings. Most gyms are crowded during “prime time” (usually 4-7 p.m.) regardless of the time of year, meaning that if this is your workout time – as this is mine – you may have to do a little hunting for space. So yes, go ahead, get excited when you find a free spot. But make sure you know what’s going on around you.

I’ll admit to being somewhat tunnel-visioned as I’m tearing through the gym, trying to get my workout in. It sometimes takes everything in my power to pay enough time not to plow someone over in my quest to find the weight I’m looking for, or to climb onto a “good” (as in, under a fan) treadmill. But tonight, I felt like no matter where I went on the weight floor, I ended up with someone paying no attention, and blocking my view completely. At one point, not only did I have the guy who decided to park himself about two feet directly in front of me (and the mirror I was using to check my form), but the guy who decided to block HIM from the mirror.

Here’s the thing – I know some people are weird about the fact that gyms are typically covered in ceiling to floor mirrors. Personally, I love it. And it’s not because I’m a girl who can’t walk past a mirror to see how she looks (because, yes, I am terribly guilty of that one) – it’s because as I wrote about last week, I am a stickler for form. I like to see that my arms and legs and anything in between are where they are supposed to be. And yeah, I kinda like the look of my muscles flexing and relaxing as I lift, too. I can’t help it, I work hard!

Bottom line: while you can never completely avoid getting in someone’s way when the evening rush is well underway, do make an effort to take a look around before you park yourself in your workout space. Others will appreciate your courtesy!

Good Form = Great Gains

Form. It’s what I’d call one of those little things that makes a big difference.

One of the most important things to focus on not only when you are new to exercise, but at any time, is the positioning of your body – what is commonly referred to as your “form.” It’s an easy way to make your workout more effective, lessen your chances of injury, and, quite honestly, keep you from looking like you don’t know what you’re doing.

I’ll admit to being a bit of a stickler for form. If you’ve ever taken a class with me, undoubtedly you’ve had to endure the repeated chorus of “use your muscle, not your momentum,” “tuck your bellybutton into your spine,” “drop your shoulders down into your back pockets,” “keep your heads up,” “make sure your arms line up with [fill in the blank],” or one of the many other form cues I have a tendency to throw out there. I can blame – and thank – a particularly fantastic trainer I worked with several years ago, who to this day I still credit for teaching me all the little form, routine and nutrition tricks that really do have a huge impact on my workouts today.

That said, here are a couple quick little fixes that can help you get the most out of your workouts, with less chance of ending up with an injury:

  • Stand up straight. It doesn’t matter if you’re lifting, running, walking, or doing something else upright. It makes me INSANE when I see someone crunched over a cardio machine (You know why it feels easier? Because it is. Don’t be lazy.) The more you focus on your posture, the better your body will feel both during and after. Remember: pick standing over seated when you can – it engages the core muscles for a little extra work.
  • Think about your joints. Keep your elbows tight to your sides for bicep curls. Focus on keeping your shoulders down and lifting with your wrists for lateral raises. And whatever you do, don’t let your shoulders creep up into your ears (it’s terrible for your neck)!
  • Be aware of your core. There’s a reason it’s called a core – it is the center of your body, the powerhouse for everything you do. A tight core means stabilized muscles … which are easier to control … which are easier to keep in good form. This is exactly why I recommend Pilates for everyone – it strengthens the core (abs, back, hips), which is only going to make it easier for you to strengthen everything else.
  • Don’t be afraid to start light. I know, women are constantly being told not to be afraid to lift heavy, and men aren’t going to be seen lifting 10 lb. weights. But it’s always best to lift a little lighter than you think you really need to if you are new to something (or trying to correct form). It’ll help you build muscle memory … meaning good form can come naturally from there on out.

Take a little time to focus on your form during your next workout. It may feel a little different at first – but that’s a good thing! And please, PLEASE … stop hanging all over those cardio machines and throwing your weights. You people kill me.