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.

From the Archives: Plank Your Way to a Strong Core!

And oldie but goodie for you today – one of my favorites, the 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!

Happy Planking!

How Do I Break into the Fitness Industry?

I’ve had several people come to me for advice on how to break into the fitness industry lately, so I thought now was as good a time as any to discuss it here on the blog.

It’s no secret that I LOVE teaching group fitness – and that I have aspirations to someday make fitness more than just my love, but also my life. If you’ve taken a few moments to check out Who Am I?, you’ll know that this wasn’t always the case. But thanks to a few good instructors and personal trainers, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot – and to be fortunate enough to share my passion with others several times a week.

So … thinking becoming a group fitness instructor or personal trainer might be the next logical step for you? Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you’re getting started.

  • Figure out what you really want to do. The certification process is separate for instructors and trainers  – and it isn’t cheap. Remember that while trainers can take on clients with just one certification (though many have more than just one), group fitness often involves multiple certifications (I general certification, as well as any specialty certifications – I am currently certified through Spinning, Keiser, Piloxing and PiYo in addition to my general group exercise).
  • Remember that it’s not over once you’re certified. Most certifications need to be renewed either annually or every other year – and many require a certain number of continuing education hours prior to paying your renewal fee.
  • Take classes and/or work with a trainer. Make yourself visible at the club you hope to work at. From a group fitness perspective, many clubs like to hire their own members (they’ve already seen what you can do – and they already know and love you) – your own instructor is a great place to start for tips and help talking to the right people.

Getting started on a career in fitness may be intimidating – but if you love fitness enough to want to share it, you’re already off to a great start. As I’m sure all instructors would agree – teaching a class is 100 times better than just taking a class (it’s SO MUCH FUN). And think about how great you’ll feel when you have people in your classes or the clients you train telling you how much you’ve changed their lives. There is truly no better feeling in the world.

How to Buy the Best Running Shoe for You

Purchasing the perfect pair of running shoes can be like finding a good man (or woman, depending on who you are). Difficult. Time consuming. And you’re likely to come across a lot who just don’t quite fit.

That said … I recently came across a really great, must-read article from Women’s Health regarding how to buy the best running shoe for you (How to Buy the Best Running Shoe for You | Women’s Health Magazine). It details a few steps and tips to help you make the best shoe for you and your workouts – and the most of your hard-earned money (because let’s be honest … good shoes aren’t cheap). Some of their suggestions? Shop at smaller stores, take them for a test-drive (or run), don’t assume you know your size (just like your favorite jeans, shoes can run a little bigger or smaller depending on the brand) … and don’t assume that you need all the bells and whistles.

As for me? I lucked out almost four years ago when I broke down and paid a visit to my local Pacers Running Store (in Pentagon City, in case you were curious). Since discovering the Mizuno Wave Inspire, I’ve virtually eliminated the blister and shin splint issues I’d been plagued with for years. I’ve gone through about 10 pairs since then, and I’m still lucky enough to say I’ve found my perfect shoe match (though I’m yet to find my perfect man).

What shoes have changed your life … or at least your workouts?

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.

You Can be a Runner!

I’ve heard it many times – “I’m not a runner.” To be totally honest, if you had asked me prior to 2001 if I would ever consider running, I would have laughed. Hysterically. Now, 12 years later, I have added miles, taken off time, and actually gotten to the point where I don’t run because I have to – I run because I LIKE to.

The fact is, anyone can be a runner. It just takes the desire to get started … and a good pair of running shoes. Here are a few things to think about as you get on the road (or trail, or treadmill):

  • Breathe! Take big breaths, and try to keep your breathing even. Also, focus on when, as well as how you’re breathing – if you balance your inhales and exhales to match your strides, it’s easier on your body.
  • Don’t worry about your speed. Remember that old saying, “slow and steady wins the race?” It definitely applies to running. You can’t expect to go out running an 8 minute mile (heck, I’m still excited if I can average less than 8:45) – as long as your running faster than you can walk, you are on the right track.
  • Walk when you need to. Most people don’t wake up one day decide to run five miles if they have never run before. Start slow – run for one minute, then walk for five. As you find yourself growing stronger, you can add on to your running time, and subtract from your walking time. Before long you will be running the entire distance!

This time of year, as the weather is getting cooler, is a great time to start running outdoors. Take this time to start getting into a normal routine now, and come the new year, you’ll be rubbing farther and faster than you would imagine – and you’ll look like a pro to all the new people hitting the gym in January. Good luck!