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.

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My Students are Becoming Instructors. I Feel Like a Proud Mama.

I know, I know. I’ve been a slacker lately (from a blog perspective). But there has been a LOT going on … and I have some exciting news to share – albeit about a week later than I really wanted to talk about it.

I’ve been teaching group fitness classes for about five years now, and it is, hands down, the most rewarding job in the world. Though it’s more of my free-time fun activity vs. my actual job (at least for now … someday …), I’ve found not only the success stories you hear, but also the relationships you build to be pretty amazing.

Which brings me to what I want to talk about today. I’ve had a few girls take the leap and attend certification classes for a number of formats throughout the years (and another one is picking up another certification soon). Let’s be honest: it’s easy to sign up for a class, but to actually take the time to practice, get an audition, rock it, and get hired by a gym? It’s a lot more difficult (and time consuming) than most people realize.

Which is why I was THRILLED to find out that last week, the first of my “babies” (yes, I’m claiming them now) did all of these things. My girl Kim has been a regular in my Piloxing classes for a while now, and took the leap of faith to get certified herself back in July. And last week, she got herself hired to sub at XSport.

Yes, there is still some work to do, and she’ll do a little team teaching and likely still practicing (and obviously, still attending classes). And the first couple classes may not be perfect (I’ll admit mine did not go as well as I would have wanted them to). But the biggest hurdles are already behind her. It takes a lot of guts to get in front of a room full of people and convince them that you’re not torturing them, you’re having fun with them. And getting a good sweat on along the way. Like anything else, once you’ve done it a few times, it becomes second nature. And as the classes pass, you’ll find what works for you, what works for the class, and how important continuing education truly is.

But I’m claiming “proud mama” (no, I do not have children, and yes, I am younger than Kim). To know that your passion has helped another person build that same kind of passion within herself? It’s incredible. And that’s what makes a great instructor: passion. Seeing Kim’s smiling face in class all these months, I know she has that passion. And I can’t wait to see her start rocking her own classes.

So, are you motivated to make it happen for yourself now? Here are a couple former posts that can get you going:

Finding a Group Fitness Mentor

How Do I Break into the Fitness Industry?

 

 

 

Check Out My Recent Interview!

I had an opportunity recently to do an interview with Lola over at Christsoldiergirl Fitness, and wanted to share the link for you to find out a little more about what makes me tick: http://christsoldiergirlfitness.com/csg-fitness-interview-with-strong-fit-beautiful/ We had a chance to discuss my background, how I got my start, what keeps me going … all kinds of good stuff.

Many thanks to Lola for taking the time to feature me on her blog – and, oddly enough, she just happened to post the interview last Tuesday (clearly life has been a little crazy lately if I’m just getting around to sharing the link now) … which was also my 33rd birthday! Hope you have a chance to check it out and see what she’s been up to as well!

 

 

How Not to Annoy the Regulars

Welp, it’s January. For us regular gym goers, it’s the worst time of the year. For maybe 3% of those gung ho about their resolutions to get fit, it’s the beginning of a lifestyle.

Last week, I wrote a post about how newbies can successfully get started on their new workout routines. Now that the gym is starting to fill up, and all the regulars are feeling their style a little more than cramped, I wanted to share a few suggestions to the new folks – trust me, follow these bits of advice, and you won’t stick out like sore thumb.

Just park already. One thing I’ve never been able to figure out are the people who drive around in circles, hunting for a parking spot close to the entrance. HELLO! You are at a gym! WALK!

Clean your machines when you are done. I watched a woman sweat all over a treadmill yesterday, then just walk away. Gyms stock wipes and/or cleaner every five feet for a reason – because nobody wants to touch your sweat (heck, I don’t want to touch my own sweat). It’s cold and flu season, people. Don’t be nasty.

Be mindful of other peoples’ space. I’ve never understood the people who will just waltz in and park themselves an inch away from you. Or those who take over entire sections of the gym (and more often than not, are doing nothing). I actually overheard a regular talking to one of the managers yesterday … describing the situation in which a guy tried to fight him after he encroached on the space he clearly was already using (yes, I was eavesdropping, because I couldn’t believe this actually happened).

Always re-rack your weights. Nothing makes me crazier than tripping over dumbells (usually close to my bodyweight) or not being able to find what I’m looking for. Use it, put it away. Your mother doesn’t work in your gym (and if she’s like mine, she’d make you clean up after yourself, anyway).

Stop creeping. Yes, machines are at a premium this time of year. That is no excuse to sit there and stare at someone, willing them to finish what they are doing so you can pounce on their machine (yes, this happened to me tonight. Girl was STARING at me a foot away from my treadmill. It was a little unsettling).

…and stop waiting while you’re at it. Just because you have your heart on a run today doesn’t mean you don’t have plenty of other options. While I may not like it, on many occasions I’ve changed up my plan simply because I’d rather spend my gym time working, rather than waiting. Try something new instead of just standing around!

Most of all, never be afraid to ask questions. Those of us who are just as likely to be in the gym on July 1 as we are on January 1 will respect you a lot more if you make an effort to learn the how and why of what you are doing, rather than wandering aimlessly around the gym (or worse yet, ending up injured as a result of bad form). Good luck – the effort is worth it!

For When Your Workout Motivation is Lacking…

Most people can come up with a good excuse to skip a workout. When faced with one of these times, it can be smart to follow this easy flow-chart to help you get a little more motivated to get yourself to the gym:

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See the original here. Thanks to my mom for sending it my way!

Don’t Be a “Resolutioner” – Be a Lifer!

So, you’ve made the decision to get fit this year. You’ve told everyone about your resolution, bought some new workout gear, and you’re ready to go.

Or are you?

This is a good question to ponder as you go about starting your new routine. It’s easy to get excited, but for many, that enthusiasm  wears off as time goes on, and what was once your goal for 2014 is now your “eh, maybe next year.”

What can you do to make sure your commitment to get fit turns into a lifestyle, rather than just a passing phase? Here are a few tips to try on for size:

Make a plan. Know your schedule, know your body, and know what you want to accomplish. I’ll never be an early-morning, before work workout person – but I have the discipline to still get to the gym every night. Find the time and place that works for you. It can be a gym, a studio, or that old treadmill in your basement or DVD in your living room, whatever you know you’ll enjoy doing.

Hire a trainer. Or nutritionist. Or both. Depending on your goals, you may need to bring in the expert. Most people (myself included) don’t realize how much they don’t know until they hire a professional. I went to the gym for six years before I hired a trainer … and in six months I saw more results than I did in those six years going it alone.

Share your goal … and stick to it. Peer pressure doesn’t stop in high school. If you really want to change your life this year, don’t your food-pusher family talk you into a doughnut, or your social circle force you to skip a workout. It’s your life, and you decide what you make of it.

Have FUN! Remember when you were a kid and you used to run around the backyard? It was fun, right? It was also exercise. So whatever you choose to do, make it fun, and you’ll be more likely to stick with it.  Find a class, a running group, or a workout partner to look forward to seeing when it’s exercise time.

Diets don’t work. Sporadic exercise doesn’t work. What does? Keeping with your commitment, and embracing a healthy lifestyle. I’m not saying treats are forever off the table (I’ll admit to my own killer sweet tooth), or that you have to live in the gym – but like so many other areas of our lives, it’s a matter of maintaining balance. You get out what you put in. It will not be easy. Some days you may hurt. Some days that cake may not stop screaming your name. You will fall down. But you have to get back up. Hope to still be seeing you around the gym in March!

GUEST POST: Overcome Exercise Shyness with Eight Tips

Getting into exercise can be intimidating … but it doesn’t have to be! Check out this guest post from Sharon Freeman on how to overcome exercise shyness, and get started on building a better you!

 

Women are shrinking violets when it comes to exercising outdoors.

According to British non-profit Mind, nine out of 10 women refrain from outdoor physical activity due to low self-esteem coupled with high self-consciousness. They tend to exercise late at night, if not pass up entirely.

Mind’s findings back up a report by Deadline News contending that more and more Scottish women are patronizing 24-hour gyms to exercise at ungodly hours when crowds are sparse.

Psychologists have long compared the effects of outdoor exercise to those of antidepressants, which are used in treatment of anxiety and mild or moderate depression. But it can be hard to drive this fact to women, especially those who are stubborn.

Surveying 1,450 women aged over 30, Mind estimates that two out of three women feel conscious about their body shape when exercising in public. Sixty-percent of respondents feel nervous about their bodily reactions to exercise e.g. blushing, sweating and farting, as well as how their movements look like to others.

To cope with such insecurities, more than half of respondents admitted to exercising late at night or in the early morning hours.  Nearly two-thirds prefer locations where they are least likely to meet people they know.

Hugh Mullan, who runs an all-day and all-night gym in Glasgow, was initially surprised by the late-night turnout in his facility. But he eventually figured this phenomenon.

“What we find is that a lot of women in particular are self-conscious and the idea of a 24-hour gym where they can come either early morning or late at night when it is quieter is definitely something that appeals to them,” he said.

The question is – are you one of these women? Do you feel shy exercising around other people? Conquer your fears with these tips:

1.    Try changing your mindset. Resolve to improve your health and practice ignoring your negative thoughts. Motivate yourself to exercise by thinking of family and friends, many of whom would want to see you live a long, happy, and disease-free life.
2.    Get some company. Exercise with a friend. He or she can give you moral support and help you commit to your goals. There is strength in the proverbial numbers.
3.    Enroll in a beginner’s program. To minimize feelings of embarrassment, take a class tailored to your fitness level.
4.    Practice at home. Do your moves in front of a mirror, if only to prove you don’t look stupid. Doing your moves before you hit the gym also serves two other purposes. First, you improve your form. Second, you can plan what workouts to perform at the gym. (The Internet, books and magazines are rife with free workout ideas.)
5.    Skip the gym entirely. The money you cough up for months-long membership fees and travelling to the facility might be better spent on home equipment. You can work out in your own time, at your own pace, and without a trainer to micromanage you.
6.    Don’t forget dumbbells. In addition to resistance equipment, dumbbells are important to activate stabiliser muscles, resulting in muscle mass gain and enhanced metabolism.  Start with light weights and work your way up; lifting heavy weights too soon only leads to torn muscles.
7.    Some exercises can be done at home anyway. Jumping jacks, crunches, and band pulls can all be done in the comfort of your home. They are the perfect cop-outs from exercising outside.
8.    Run inside. If you’re not ready to jog outside yet, try doing it indoors. The trick is to run in place as fast as you can for 10 minutes. But you can always invest in a treadmill for your home.

 

Conclusion

When you’re overweight or obese, you may feel being excluded by society because of your condition. But you aren’t. Mind’s survey underscores the fact that 90 percent of women, fat or thin, can empathise with you.

Even if other women don’t share your timidity, choose to ease yourself into a healthy attitude of not caring about what others think. With your health on the line, strive to move just a bit every day. For now, it is better that you’re exercising in the wee hours than not at all.

Just remember: Don’t look pretty to exercise, exercise to look pretty.

 

 

Sharon Freeman is a fitness specialist writing about companies like North Shore Health and Fitness