Month: October 2011

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Teaser 1


Purpose: Humorously referred to as “the mother of all sit-ups”, the Teaser tests your powerhouse control to the fullest. At the peak of the exercise, momentarily hold the position, “teasing” the balance.

  1. Lie on your back with legs extended at a 45 degree angle. Heels are together and toes turned out slightly. Stretch your arms overhead by your ears. Don’t allow your back to arch or your ribs to pop out.
  2. Maintain the scoop; inhale; raise your arms, head and shoulders in sequence, peeling the upper body up off the mat vertebra by vertebra. The chin is toward the chest. The fingers reach for the toes.
  3. Hold the “V” position, balancing on your tailbone. Exhale; begin rolling your spine back down to the mat.
  4. When your head has touched the mat, stretch arms overhead to the starting position and repeat 3-5 times; inhaling as you float up; exhaling as you peel down.

Visualization: As you roll down, imagine each vertebra touching the mat the way your fingers travel on the keys of a piano.

Checklist: Breathe during the exercise or you will not be using your muscles efficiently. Don’t lower legs past the point of control. If you feel back discomfort, raise legs up to the ceiling. Take your time, relax your mind and find your rhythm as you go.

Note: If you suffer from a stiff spine, perform the exercise with your feet against a wall.

Modified Leg Position: If you have difficulty sitting up all the way, slightly bend the knees, keeping the toes higher than the knees, as you lift and lower the body.

How Much is Too Much Exercise?

Well lets first talk about what is needed to maintain your weight…it is recommended by ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) that the average individual gets 30 min of accumulated moderate intensity cardio most days of the week, strength train for 30 min for 2-3 times a week and stretch 2-3 times a week. When we want to start to lose weight those durations need to start to head towards 60 min of exercise at a moderate to hard effort. As we see the weight come off and the changes in our body our first reaction is usually, wow look at what I have accomplished. Some people however think that is 60 min is creating progress, and then even more time and effort will transform their body even quicker; but that is the wrong mentality.

Our body is an amazing organism that is great at adapting to stimulus…but it also needs time to recover from that stimulus. In general it takes your body 48 hrs to recover from isolating a muscle group. This means that as you do any activity you are breaking apart microscopic muscle fibers. The body’s defense is to build them back up stronger, bigger, and with more nerves attached to create a more forceful and coordinated movement. The largest majority of this rebuilding happens in the first 48 hours after that intense exercise. So if you see great results from doing squats, and continue to do leg exercises every day you are continually breaking down those muscle fibers, never allowing them to rebuild and make you stronger…this will eventually lead to injury. Give those legs muscles a two day rest before isolating them or using them heavily again. This is where doing a split body or push/pull type of workout come in handy. On one day you do legs and the next day you do upper body (lower/upper split) or one day you do push exercises like bench and the next you do pull exercises like rows (push/pull split) that way you are working opposite muscle groups and by day three you are fresh and ready to workout again.

Along with needing 48 hrs of rest between isolating a muscle group, studies have shown that over 90 min of moderate to hard exercise your body is breaking down too many muscle fibers and you are at risk of injury. As you continuously break workout or do cardio as you increase your duration you are also increasing muscle fiber damage. When you fatigue the larger muscle groups the smaller stabilizer muscle groups come to their aid; but as those start to fatigue and the muscle fibers break down our joints start to become susceptible to injury. It will also take longer to recover from very long duration intense exercises (more than 48 hrs), unless you are a very conditioned athlete. So the next time you are in the gym take a look at how long you are working out hard. If you do 45 min of weights and then go to do an hour of cardio right after you are playing the odds and perhaps you should cut down your cardio to just 30 or 45 min depending on how you feel.

So now that you know a little of the science what are some symptoms of overtraining?

  • Short-term inability to train hard or slight dip in competition-level performance
  • Failure to adapt and endure to training so that normal exercise performance deteriorates and increased difficulty recovering from a workout
  • Increased incidence of infections, persistent muscle soreness and loss of interest in high-level training
  • Increase in injuries
  • Altered sleep patterns and appetite
  • Mood disturbances (anxiety, anger, depression)

If you are experiencing those or take a look at your exercise schedule and say “wow I have not take a break in X amount of days” you need some R & R. It is usually suggested to rest a week at the end of your mesocycle of training (usually 3-4 months). This is an active rest/recovery of low intensity recreational activities which allow your body to recover, giving you a refreshed outlook on your training program so that you may jump back in full steam ahead. Just remember, more is rarely better, and that our bodies need both a stimulus and recovery time to perform optimally.

Correct Breathing For Stronger Lifting

Do you ever wonder while you are lifting weights, when to exhale? Is it when pulling or pushing? Well, it can be both. It depends on which muscle group you are targeting and which aspect of the muscle’s contraction you are in. There are three types of muscle contractions: concentric, eccentric, and isometric. An isometric contraction is when there is no muscle fiber movement. For example, many yoga positions are isometric contractions. Holding a plank position is an isometric contraction for numerous muscles. The concentric contraction is when the muscle fibers are shortening, while the eccentric is the reciprocal and the fibers are elongating. In this dynamic movement, you will want to exhale on the concentric contraction of the muscle group you are targeting and conversely, inhale on the eccentric. In using a chest press for our example, which utilizes the pectoralis major (pecs), one would inhale lowering the bar to the chest because the pecs’ muscle fibers are elongating (eccentric) and exhale as you push the bar away from the body which contracts or shortens (concentric) the muscle fibers in this muscle group. If we are using the seated row as an example of the opposing muscle group exercise utilizing the latissimus dorsi (lats), then one would exhale while pulling the weight towards the body shortening the lats’ fibers and inhale when eccentrically releasing the weight away from the body.

So to sum it up, exhale when you’re doing the work part of the movement and inhale for the non-work part of the movement. If you are ever questioning which muscle group your exercise is targeting or if it is a pushing or pulling exercise, please do not hesitate to ask any one of our training staff. We love to educate.

Rock-solid on the ski slopes

Every ski season brings the opportunity to be better than the last. If you continually tell your self you will get into ski condition but wait till the season actually starts you will end up in the same rut as last year, and not finishing out the whole ski season. If you give your self enough time, and with a proper foundation in fitness, you can make this ski season one of your best and longest.

The first step to ramping up your fitness starts with a solid strength training program. The first six weeks of a strength training program should be spent building a foundation. Start light and focus on proper form. Lift twice per week, with 48 hours of rest in between each session. To see significant results, put in and hour per session, in which you do two sets of 12-15 repetitions each, resting only 30-45 seconds between each set.

Because skiing is a whole-body sport, you’ll want to do whole-body strength workouts. Thinking of your body as a series of components simplifies planning a workout. Target the following muscle groups: Legs (ankles, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes), torso ( chest, back, and abdominals), and arms ( biceps, triceps, and shoulders).

Also keep in mind that muscles don’t work independently. Each muscle group has an opposing group and can only lengthen when the other one contracts, so it’s important to develop both equally. For example, the quadriceps extends the leg (straighten the knee), while the hamstrings flex it (bend the knee). If only one group is strengthened, the imbalance can lead to injury.

After six weeks, crank the workouts up a notch. Try to do three sets instead of two, start lifting to failure (the point where you can’t lift any more) and incorporate eccentric lifting. Each weight lifting move has two parts: the concentric (lifting and shortening) part of the motion and the eccentric (releasing and lengthening) component. In an eccentric move, you add 10 pounds to the maximum weight you can do 15 reps. A training partner helps you lift the weight, and then you slowly lower – or resist – it on your own. This method helps simulate the forces your body has to deal with while skiing. As you ski your body is resisting forces during turns and bumps more than it is trying to produce force. So when you put on a huge amount of weight that you can’t push, that you just have to resist, it trains the muscles and allows you to be so much more efficient that you don’t get tired.

After 10 weeks of lifting , add ski specific exercises that demand not only strength, but balance and quick reflexes, too. Plyometric jumping exercises and training on unstable surfaces are often added in to workout routines twice a week with two days of rest between sessions to ramp up your intensity. Plyometrics will make you quicker, more balanced and lighter on your feet. Plyos include any exercise, from jumping rope to tossing a medicine ball, in which a muscle is contracted eccentrically and then immediately contracted concentrically. To picture it, think of the muscle as a rubber band that is stretched and then released. The faster you can switch from a stretch to a release, the greater your explosive power and the better your reaction time on the hill. This would also be the time to add in unstable surfaces such as bosu balls or gymballs to increase activation of stabilizing muscles. Most strength workouts are done on a firm surface, giving the stabilizing muscles a break but if you move your workout to exercise balls or unstable balancing surfaces this will force the smaller muscle to work during your workouts similar to the demands of skiing. Plyos will make sure you are not fazed by powder, crud or anything else mother nature throws at you.

With the ski season right around the corner it is time to get started with your conditioning program. The Seattle Athletic Club offers a ski conditioning class right now on Mondays at 6 pm with Joel Mitchell (jmitchell@sacdt.com) or for more information on sports training please feel free to contact any of the training staff at the Seattle Athletic Club to help get the best out of your next season of skiing.

Tempo Trainers…What are they and why do I need to know how to use one?

If you are a swimmer you have realized there are many…MANY aspects to our sport. Understanding the ability to combine stroke rate (tempo) and distance per stroke in order to increase speed and power output in swimming is very important. Being able to utilize this knowledge with understanding the biomechanics, physiology and training zones is also instrumental in being a successful swimmer.

Those are a lot of big words and we haven’t even gotten in the pool to start stroke mechanics yet! That’s why you hopefully have a coach or an instructor to help you in your swimming. From the beginner, to novice, to elite swimmer… we ALL need instruction in this great sport!

A few years back a scientist from New Zealand developed a little device that has made swimming more fun, more exact and more about the science of the sport and physiology. The Tempo Trainer (TT).

The TT is a little blue device that hooks onto your goggle strap or in your swim cap and basically is a mini metronome. It “beeps” at whatever setting you choose and basically….it sets your “cadence” or “tempo” in swimming. By understanding your combination of TEMPO and STROKE COUNT in swimming, you will be able to increase power and speed in your swimming.

For example: I want as much “distance per stroke” as I can for each lap I swim. So, it is better to take 15 strokes than it is 18. I ALSO want my tempo to be as efficient and fast as I can. By combining the two: tempo and stroke count… I am able to pull more water faster… which makes me a more powerful swimmer.

There is a lot of science in swimming and an even greater amount when discussing biomechanics AND training zones. But, the best thing you can do is learn to use the TT and how to make it applicable in your swimming goals.

USAT Level II Triathlon Coach Teresa Nelson and Outdoor Recreation Coach Brandyn Roark will be doing a Tempo Trainer clinic in November so this will be a perfect place for you to start! Email Teresa at tnelson@sacdt.com or Brandyn at broark@sacdt.com for more details or to ask more about the tempo trainer.

Staying Motivated as Seasons Change

With the transition in seasons, some of us start to revert back to hibernation mode. We are no longer able to enjoy the sunny outside weather that motivates us to get out and move, zapping our energy and in some instances dragging us down with feelings of depression. With the winter months and holidays quickly approaching don’t get caught in the downward spiral of getting too comfortable, missing workouts, or sacrificing your nutrition “just because of the holidays”. As the days get shorter and weather starts to change, it’s a great time to set resolutions early to beat the cold weather blues and keep your motivation running. Don’t lose sight of your fitness goals; try these tips to help keep you motivated!

  1. Make an action plan. Set specific, manageable goals. While you should always keep your eye on your long-term goals, you have to break them down into bite-sized, short-term goals. Set goals by the week so that you don’t lose focus or become frustrated because things aren’t happening as quickly as you think they should. Always write your goals down and revisit them often.
  2. Use a support system. Discuss your goals with loved ones.
  3. Try something new. Try a different class instead of your usual. Maybe there’s an activity you’ve always wanted to try, like a triathlon, snow skiing or Tai Chi. Experimenting with different pieces of equipment such as BOSU balls, core boards, medicine balls, kettlebells, etc will keep things interesting!
  4. Use extrinsic motivation. When you reach those goals, reward yourself! Treat yourself to a massage or buy a new pair of shoes. You can even reward yourself on a daily basis by soaking in the hot tub at the gym or taking a long, hot shower after your workout.
  5. Find a workout buddy. You’ll be more inclined to show up if someone else is depending on you, plus you can pump each other up. Work out with a friend, co-worker, parent or spouse. You can also join a group class, sports league or team.
  6. Download new music! Make a new playlist with your favorite upbeat music!
  7. Visit the blog! Our blog is full of helpful tips to stay on track with your fitness program. Reading and staying updated with insightful and useful fitness information can help remind you of your goals.
  8. Make it a competition. Join the Lose It! Program and challenge your friends, family members or co-workers to a weight loss or fitness contest.
  9. Choose a workout you enjoy. Change your mindset and look at working out as a hobby rather than a chore.
  10. Let your emotions inspire you. Mad at your spouse? Maybe you just got a promotion at work and you can’t contain your excitement. Whether you’re sad, angry or jubilant, exercise is an excellent release for all those emotions and can improve your mood and mindset.
  11. Be a role model. By working hard and setting an example, you will not only motivate yourself to keep going but will also help motivate others around you.
  12. Chart your progress. Monitoring your daily, weekly and monthly progress will help you reach your short-term goals and set new ones along the way. Besides your physical appearance, keeping a written record is another visual reminder of your hard work and progress.
  13. Think about the Longer Term. Think about the warmer months to come: the bikinis, the pool parties, etc. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to not have to shed your winter weight to be in great shape for them? Focusing on the longer term, whether the summer season coming in the future or your overall long term health, is a great way to stay motivated to continue with your exercise program.
  14. Adjust with Daylight. As daylight changes, so may your attitude towards what is the best time of day to workout. You may find that your normal evening workout isn’t as easy to do as a morning time workout, or vice verse. It is best to find the time of day that is going to keep you motivated.
  15. Remember the end result – improving your health. Whether you are exercising to lose weight or to stay in shape, remember it will improve your overall health – physically, mentally and emotionally – and help you live a longer, more fulfilling life.

Everyone will have their own methods for what keeps them focused and determined to keep working towards their goals, so find something that works for you! Just because seasons change is no excuse to put your fitness on the back burner, utilizing these concepts will help you stay motivated to reach your goals in a productive and pleasurable manner. And, if you still find yourself lost and lacking motivation don’t hesitate to contact one of our fitness professionals to help ignite your fire within!

Improving Running Strength and Preventing Injuries with Resistance Training for the Seattle Marathon Series

As a runner, there are several exercises you can do to improve at your sport. A good rule of thumb is to train the weak points and correct any imbalances. There are three tiers of training that can be utilized in a resistance program: stability, strength and power.

Stability:
It’s important to focus on balance. Balance work improves activation of smaller stabilizer muscles, improves facial tension relationships and body awareness.

Knee problems can be attributed to poor hip and ankle stabilization. Hence, legs should be worked on individually. Simply doing a single-leg balance while doing an overhead shoulder press, bicep curls and overhead tricep extensions is one thing you can do with your resistance program. Challenging yourself to use a stability disc will add an extra level of difficulty.

Strength:
Strength focused exercises improve activation of large prime movers and synergists (the muscles that assist in a specific movement). An abdominal straight-leg lift or reverse crunch will be exceptionally helpful for an athlete. A weak length-tension relationship between the adductors (inner thighs) and abductors (outer thighs) is common in runners. Since there is so much single-plane movement during running, it is smart to work in the lateral plane. Some examples of this are: lateral lunges, side planks and lateral raises. The upper body should be a major focus for strength training. Doing a seated row and a chest press will help support posture in the upper body during running.

Power:
It’s important to have efficiency when running. A way to improve running mechanics is speed work. Integrating a technique in your running called surges is one way to achieve that. During a moderate paced run pick up your pace for about 15 seconds and then return to your original pace. Plyometrics (impact) drills will improve the catapult-like motion through your posterior change, which runs the length from your neck to the heel of your foot. Squat thrusts, also called burpees, are an excellent drill for runners. There are also classic running drills that you may remember from gym class such as: high knees and butt kicks.

Whatever the combination, resistance training can make you a better runner and prevent injury. Keep muscle balance in mind; compensation patterns occur when there are poorly developed or underused muscles, and when there is tight or overused muscles. Always train your weak points and listen for warning signs that a muscle needs to be stretched or massaged. Doing this will create longevity and health for a lifetime of running.

Low Down on the Kettlebell

By now you’ve seen them in the gym, at the park, even sold at Target, what is the deal with Kettlebells? If you haven’t had the pleasure of using them yourself, boy are you missing out! The kettlebell is an amazing tool for increasing power, speed, strength, endurance, and flexibility. It’s like magic! It’s basic enough that nearly anyone can use them, they are small and ideal for small workout spaces (home, outside, your office!), and you can get a lot done in a short amount of time. Needless to say it’s one of the best pieces of equipment to hit mainstream America since the Exercise Ball! But where did it all start?

The kettlebell originated in Russia in the early 1900’s. The bell was first widely used by the Russian police and military. In 1948 Russian held its first kettlebell competition and then later became Russia’s National sport! The traditional Russian kettlebell weighs 1 Pood which is about 35lbs. The sport world saw Russians getting stronger and more explosive and that is when the kettlebell became more widely used in the world. Today they are used by our own military, firefighters, Olympic athletes, all the way to your average gym go-er!

There are many great kettlebell exercises, as many as there are dumbbell exercises! But a few main movements will increase your fitness levels by leaps and bounds.

The best basic exercises to know are;

  1. The basic swing- shoulder height
  2. The basic swing- overhead
  3. Front squats
  4. Cleans
  5. Shoulder presses
  6. Snatches
  7. Lunge chops

There are many many more valuable exercises with the kettlebell but if you perfect these 7 basic moves you will find you will become stronger, leaner, and more powerful faster than you ever imagined!

If you have any questions or would like to learn how to train with the bell please contact Adriana Brown at abrown@sacdt.com or by phone 206-443-1111 Ext. 273.

Tips to Improve Your Running Form

Getting the running shoes on and out the door is just the first step… Most people don’t realize that running is not just about putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, there are many small nuances and techniques to running that create better run efficiency, power, and the ability to run injury free. Just sit at Greenlake one Saturday afternoon and you will see it all, the good the bad and the otherwise. Proper run form is the key to increasing your speed as well as to help you from getting injured. Here are a few proper run form technique pointers:

  1. Posture: You should run tall and erect, shoulders level, back straight with a neutral pelvis.
  2. Forward Lean: Lean forward from your ankles. Many times you will see people running hunched over from their waist or their shoulders (I blame it on computers and being hunched over at a desk all day) this can tighten the chest and restrict breathing. The other extreme is the puffed chest runner I like to call a peacock runner. They literally lead with their chest. Proper form: You want to be tall when you run while leaning from your ankles creating a light forward angle to your body. Helpful hint: think about looking forward about 20-30 feet on the path you are running, this will naturally give your body a slight forward tilt. Looking directly down will make you hunch and looking way up at the horizon can lead to almost a backwards tilt – you want to lean forward in the direction you are going, let the natural forces help you not fight against you.
  3. Relax! Relax your shoulders relax your hands! Let your body fall into a natural rhythm. Running tense is wasted energy and as you start to run long you will feel the effects whether you realize it or not.
  4. 90degree arms: keep elbows at a 90degree bend. If you are breaking this it means that you are “hammering” with your arm and loosing efficiency. Arm should swing from the shoulder joint not the elbow. Hands should brush by your waist not be tight up by your chest which can cause tiredness and tightness in your shoulders and back.
  5. Midfoot strike: (though this one is often up for debate…) Land with your foot striking directly under your center of mass and roll off the ball of your foot. Heel striking often means that you are over striding which affects run efficiency and means you are “braking” causing you to actually run “slower” and may lead to injury because of the impact on your joints. If you are running all on the balls of your feet, your calves can get tight and fatigue quickly and or you can develop shin pain.
  6. Run cadence: this is the frequency of your foot strike. Ideally run cad is around 90 (or 180 steps per minute) though many elite runners and triathletes will run at a cadence 100 this is very high for most. Running with shorter strides uses less energy and creates less stress on your muscles and impact to your joints. To count your run cadence, during any portion of your run choose one foot and count how many times it strikes down in a minute. If you are much under 90 this could mean that you are either over-striding and or your foot is spending too much time with impact on the ground (anywhere from 88-90 is great). You want to think light and airy when you run not thumping down heavy footed. Run as if you are running on a hot surface: quick, light and with short strides. NO bouncing! Bouncing = wasted energy and too much impact on your muscles and joints.

Next time you put those sneakers on and head out the door for the run think about “how you run” and how you can improve your run efficiency by following the above pointers.

Interested in learning more about running or to just have some buddies to run with? Run Club leaves from the SAC lobby every Wed morning at 6:30am!