Tag: Core Strength

Tips to Increase Your Strength Safely

Back in January I wrote a goal card to deadlift twice my bodyweight by June 1. I’m very excited to report that I reached my goal by lifting 348 lbs for 1 rep. Over the last several months, I have put in a lot of time working on deadlifts so I thought I would pass along some tips on how to increase your maximum strength in deadlift or any other exercise.

Get in the Groove
Make sure your deadlift pattern is PERFECT under no load and under sub maximal load. Poor deadlift patterns put your vertebral health in jeopardy and hamper performance through inefficiency. The specifics of the deadlift pattern are beyond the scope of this post but check out this video (by one of my former professors) for some general tips. Take the time to develop the movement competency required to deadlift well and then invest in learning the pattern. Make sure to maintain the pattern by including sub-maximal lifts in your training.

Plan for Success

Set a reasonable goal based on your current level and experience. Then expect to spend at least 10-12 weeks working on it. Invest the first couple of weeks in learning the movement and sub maximal workouts. Spend around four weeks in a hypertrophy phase in which you try to grow muscle with sets of around 6-8 reps. Take a week to re-focus on technique and movement ability before starting the next four week sequence, this one focused on maximum strength by employing very heavy sets of around 3 reps and using long (120+ sec) rest intervals.

Try Complexes

A complex is a heavy lift immediately followed by an explosive, exhausting exercise. The explosive exercise is followed by 90-120 seconds of. I reaped great benefit from complexing medium-heavy deadlifts with kettlebell swings. The combination of heavy weight, lactic acid inducing explosive exercises and rest effectively stimulates testosterone and human growth hormone to help increase muscle mass.

Go Heavy-Medium-Light
Try to lift heavy one day per week. This is the day to try a strength workout like 6 sets of 3 or a hypertrophy workout with 4 sets of 6 at 95-100% of your effort. Lift at a medium intensity one day per week. This should still be a challenging workout but the top priority is to maintain perfect technique throughout. Lift light one day per week. Use just enough load that you are aware of it but it doesn’t come close to distorting your technique. Use this day to rest and prepare for your next heavy day and also experiment with any changes to your technique on these days.

Heavy lifting can be very rewarding and a lot of fun. Enjoy these tips and I hope they help you reach new heights! Please contact me if you need help with your deadlift technique: I can’t overstress the value of investing in your movement ability and technique before even thinking about lifting at a maximum intensity. Reach me at Hspencer@sacdt.com.

Top 10 Pilates Questions

I’m new to Pilates. How do I start?
The best way to start if you have never tried Pilates is to begin with an orientation. In an orientation, a certified Pilates instructor will teach you a beginner lesson on the Pilates equipment, and then direct you to the class you would like to take.

How do I make an appointment for my orientation?
Contact Danielle Zack, Pilates Director at dzack@sacdt.com or (206) 443.1111 x246.

What is the difference between mat classes and private instruction sessions?
Pilates is intended to be done one-on-one under an instructor’s supervision and guidance, and mat classes are meant to supplement the work you do with your instructor. Both are valuable, though, and will strengthen your body. Private sessions are tailored to your individual needs so if you have injuries or specific physical concerns this is your best choice. Mat classes are designed for the general population and there is less individual attention.

What are the prices?
The average cost for a single Pilates session in the city of Seattle is $71.70 per hour. The SAC offers the highest quality instruction for nearly 40% less!

  • Private Session – $50
  • Duet Session – $31/client
  • Group Session – $25/client

How long are the lessons?
All sessions are 55-minutes in length.

What should I wear?
Please wear comfortable, fitted workout clothes and clean socks (no shoes needed).

Where do I go for my first Pilates session?
Come downstairs to the Pilates Studio, which is located across the Café next to the cycling room. Please feel free to enter and sit down next to the desk. If this is your first appointment, some paperwork will be on a clipboard with your name on it for you to start filling out. The instructor will be finishing up teaching a client, so feel free to watch. You’ll be next!

What if I make an appointment and I have to cancel?
All cancellations require 24 hours notice. All cancellations must be directly given to your instructor via email or phone messages. All appointments cancelled with less than 24 hours notice will be charged the full session amount.

Where do I go for mat class?
All Pilates mat classes are located in the Mind/Body Studio, which is across the basketball court.

Which Pilates mat class is right for me?
If you are a brand-new beginner, please come to the Introduction to Pilates Mat class on Saturday at 8 a.m. If you have very little experience with Pilates, please come to any Fundamentals Pilates Mat class. If you have some/moderate experience with Pilates, please come to any Fundamentals or Intermediate Pilates Mat class. If you have extensive experience, please feel free to come to any class, including the classes marked Cardio-based mat, magic circle mat, and Saturday’s advanced mat class.

If you have severe injuries or just concerns, please feel free to contact Danielle Zack for a recommendation.

What do I need to bring to my Pilates lesson?

  • Clean socks. Pilates exercises utilize the feet, so we don’t work out wearing shoes. If you are concerned about slipping, you can bring your socks with little sticky grips on the bottom. Or, we can provide a sticky pad to help adhere the feet to the Pilates equipment.
  • Fitted workout clothes. Pilates works on alignment; therefore, we need to see your body! We look for specific landmarks in the hips, shoulders, knees, ankles, and metatarsals.
  • Health history. It helps us to know what your health has been like your whole life, not just recent injuries. Chronic means long-lasting and acute means short and severe. We want to know both!
  • Energy. By now, everyone realizes that Pilates works your core, so some people like to workout on an empty stomach. I can’t emphasize this enough: don’t skip breakfast! A Pilates lesson is an hour long and requires energy (calories) to get through it! Eat something before you come, even if it’s just a handful of almonds. Your body and brain need the fuel.
  • No equipment. We supply mats, towels, equipment, etc. If you want to bring gloves, like weight training gloves, feel free. You probably won’t need them for your first lesson, but eventually we work up to pull-ups, and you may like them for cushion, comfort and grip.

Top three reasons you should hop into the pool. . .

  1. Endurance- swimming longer and longer each time you get into the pool will build your endurance greatly. Swimming is usually able to be done for longer periods of time then running is which as a result a swimmer can train for longer time periods and burn more calories.
  2. Core- swimming use’s all of the body’s muscles together, but is stabilized and predominately balanced by your core strength. You are holding that long floating position in the water while being able to hold your body up and rotate your hips. The rotation process is in the hips, but takes a strong core to be able to do it well; therefore swimming will increase core strength.
  3. Flexibility- swimming relaxes your muscles (if the pool is heated or once you are warmed up), which increases the flexibility of your muscles. Lengthening your stroke and glide stretches the muscles and can increase your flexibility, the longer you swim.

If you would like to learn more about swimming please contact Personal Fitness Trainer/Swim Instructor Amber Gruger.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Shoulder Bridge

Purpose: To work the powerhouse and strengthen the hamstrings.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, hip width apart, both feet firmly planted on the mat; arms by your sides, palms down.
  2. Squeeze your bottom and raise your hips off the mat. The hips, knees and feet are in perfect alignment.
  3. Inhale, pull your navel to spine, and lift one leg out long in front of you. Then, extend it up to the ceiling, pointing toes. Exhale, flex your foot and lower your leg to your knee. (You may lower the leg further as long as the hips stay level and leg does not drop to the mat).
  4. Repeat 3-5 kicks on each side, Inhaling as you lift leg to ceiling and point toe, exhaling as you flex foot and lower leg. To finish, place foot on the mat and repeat kicking sequence with other leg.
  5. When finished slowly roll your back down to the mat.

Visualization: Imagine you are suspended from the ceiling by a sling around your hips, keeping you lifted.

Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Stay lifted in the hips throughout the exercise by pressing into the standing leg to maintain balance and control.
  • Kick swiftly, but not forcefully. The motion should not alter your hip height.
  • Stretch the leg away from the body as it lowers.
  • Navel should be pressed in and buttocks squeezed tight.

Use discretion if you have difficulty bearing weight on your shoulders.


  • Lift and lower only the hips off mat.
  • Lift and lower one leg at a time, as if you were marching in place, hips remain still and lifted throughout.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Side Kick Kneeling

Purpose: This advanced exercise concentrates on the waistline and hips. Emphasis is also on balance and coordination.

Begin in a kneeling position. You should be centered on the mat, facing the long edge of mat.

  1. Place one palm down on mat directly under your shoulder and in align with your hips. Fingers pointing away from you.
  2. Place the back of the other hand in front of your forehead with your elbow up to the ceiling.
  3. Straighten your top leg out (parallel to floor) along the mat in line with your body, making sure your center is firm.
  4. Lift your outstretched (top leg) leg up off the mat, hip height & balance.
  5. Inhale; for 2 counts; flex your foot and kick your leg forward reaching leg further on second count. Make sure you are not breaking at the waist. Imagine kicking a ball suspended in front of you.
  6. Exhale; swing your leg behind you stretching as far behind you as you can without rocking back and forth; gently pointing the toe.
  7. Complete 4-6 sets of kicks on one side; repeat the sequence on other side.

• Imagine you are suspended from the ceiling by a sling around your waist.

• Remain perfectly still in your upper body as you perform the kicks.
• Keep your elbow to the ceiling so that shoulder & chest remain open during exercise.
• Navel is firmly pulled into the spine.
• Keep head lifted and aligned with your spine.
• Don’t sink into your neck or shoulders.

• Start with small kicks front & back. Concentrate on your balance & control before engaging in larger movements. If you have a bad knee, or wrist injury, skip this exercise.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Single Leg Circles

Purpose: To improve flexibility and range of motion at your hip joint and challenge abdominals.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor.
  2. Press your shoulders and arms (palms down) into the mat and keep your neck long.
  3. Straighten one leg to the ceiling and turn it out slightly from the hip.
  4. Draw a circle with your leg. That is, move your leg across the center of your body, then lower it, bring it around the other side and up; pause at the top.
  5. Do not let your leg swing too far right or left (outside your hip joint). The motion of the leg should not cause you to roll off to one side or arch your back.
  6. Repeat 5-8 times on each leg, inhaling as you circle your leg, exhaling as you pause. Then, reverse direction.


  • Anchor your pelvis and do not shrug your shoulders.
  • Avoid lifting your chin and crunching the back of your neck.
  • Remember to draw your navel in and up, hollowing out your midsection.

Goal: Remain very still in your upper body, keep pelvis level and control the circling movement of your leg from your core.

Progression: Straighten your floor leg (not bent anymore). And, make your circles of the straight leg a little bigger each time if you can keep your back and pelvis still.

Note: If any popping of hip occurs, bend your knee and draws the circles with the knee bent.

Visualization: Imagine drawing circles on the ceiling with your leg.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Criss-Cross or Obliques

Purpose: The last of the Stomach Series, this works the external obliques, waistline and powerhouse.

  1. Lie on your back with hands behind your lifted head; elbows wide and your knees bent into your chest.
  2. Extend your right leg out long; hovering above the mat. Twist your upper body until the right elbow touches left knee. Open the back (left) elbow behind you. Inhale as you lift to twist and hold for 3 counts.
  3. Exhale and switch sides, bringing your left elbow to your right knee while extending the opposite (left) leg out in front of you. Hold for 3 counts. Keep your upper back and shoulders off the mat as you twist from side to side.

Complete 8-10 times. To end bring both knees into chest.

Checklist: Lift and twist from your waist, not from your neck and shoulders. The back elbow never touches the mat. Look at your back elbow as you twist.

Anchor your center to the mat so you don’t roll from side to side. Lower your extended leg about 45 degrees or more… back should not arch off mat.

Note: Avoid twisting exercises such as this if you have suffered a recent back injury.

Visualization: Imagine you have an X on your stomach and you are crossing to each end of the X.

Yoga Pose of the Month: Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon Pose

Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon Pose
What is one of the most common Spring sports injury? The ANKLE joint. Now that the sun is beginning to peak it’s head out more often, it’s time to amp up your Spring training and use yoga balance poses to strengthen ankles, calves, inner thighs and core. Spring sports like Soccer and hiking depend on the quick response, strength and flexibility of your ankle joint.

Half Moon pose is an important pose in the yoga sequence, because it teaches both the front/back (anterior/posterior) of the body to stabilize and balance, by in large because the core has to fire both front and back. This pose also requires mind, breath, body coordination and stretching of the side waist and chest.

Break it Down
Do at least 10 minutes of warm up before starting standing balance poses like Half Moon. Set a block down by the front of your mat to use as an extension of your hand if it doesn’t easily touch the floor.

Starting in Warrior II (Virahbdrasana II) with your right foot forward, and your knee bent in a direct line over your foot. Ease your right hand down to the block as help to propel you forward, so you can lift your left leg off the floor with the front body open. The point is to pretend there is an imaginary wall on either side of you, front and back, so move slowly enough you stay open like a star shape and feel your core and inner thighs engage. Try not to fling your body parts into an awkward shape, move slow, with your breath, and “feel” your way into the pose.

Start by holding the pose for 5 breaths and then come down slowly back into Warrior II. Over time, you won’t need the block, and you’ll develop the strength and finesse to lightly touch the floor with your balance hand.
The focus should be keeping your front and back body open, strengthening the standing leg and ankle and stretching the side waist and chest.

Spring Into Running with a Balanced Body

As spring approaches, we get excited about enjoying outdoor activities here in the Pacific Northwest, including running. It’s easy! Just grab a pair of running shoes and head out the door! But have you ever jumped into a running regime, only to find yourself nursing an injury a few weeks or months down the road? Whether you are new to running or training for yet another marathon, look for ways to cross-train for a balanced body so you can enjoy running all season long.

Most runners know that it is critical to have a strong core, back, hips, and pelvic muscles, but what is the best way to achieve that? One option for this cross training is Pilates. Pilates is a series of exercises given to you by an instructor who learns your weaknesses and tight areas, and then develops a program based on those needs of stretching and strengthening.

I’ve noticed that runners are generally good at Pilates; they seem to know how to engage their gluteals (bottom muscles) and are aware of their core/abdominals. However, runners also tend to have tight quadriceps (thighs) and hip flexors, as well as weak hamstrings (back of legs) and inner thighs. These imbalances in the muscles of the legs and hips can potentially cause pain and injury for runners, especially the knee, hip, ankle and foot.

Pilates helps to balance things out in the legs by strengthening the hamstrings, inner thighs, and gluteals to take pressure off the front and side of the leg, leading to better alignment and less chance of injury. Plus the hip, abdominal and back strengthening exercises help to maintain better stability and alignment through the entire body while running.

The best way to learn what your body specifically needs is to meet with a Pilates Instructor one-on-one. But, in the meantime, some at-home exercises you could start today include the following:

1) The Hundred

2) The Abdominal Series of five

  • Single leg stretch
  • Double leg stretch
  • Single straight leg stretch
  • Double straight leg stretch
  • Criss-cross

3) The Swimming

A balanced body will result in better performance, quicker recovery, and less chance of injury so you can enjoy running all season long.