Month: August 2012

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.


  • 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.

Last Chance Workout

Maybe you’ve thought about hiring a personal trainer but after watching an hour of the Biggest Loser and seeing trainers perch on a treadmill and yell at people you’ve decided that’s not your cup of tea. Well in today’s blog we’ll discuss how personal training is much different than how you or the media may think of it.

  1. Our job is not to yell. Granted I love to yell at my clients (the ones that like to be yelled at, it’s all for fun people) in either a good natured way or a raised voice to get the fire lit under someone. However yelling like a drill sergeant is not what good training is about. We are teachers first and for most; yelling is not what gets things done and it’s not how people learn.
  2. Our job is not to make you workout so hard you want to scream mercy or die. Any monkey can make you sweat; any monkey can make you sore. A good training session has little to do with either of these things. Yes, you probably will sweat, and yes, you probably will be sore but that is not the goal. The goal is to teach you skills to better your health, to increase your fitness, and to keep you progressing. But it is never to work you out hard for the sake of being “a tough trainer.”
  3. Not everyone trains the same. Maybe you see a trainer with a client and holy cow does their workout look hard. That’s probably because that client is at a high level of fitness, they obviously like to be pushed, and they have goals that demand a higher level of training. But the next hour that same trainer that looked like they were training their client to join American Gladiators is now training someone how to do basic body weight movements and stretch. Just because a trainer works some clients one way does not in any way mean that all of their clients work at that same level or training style. Good training is about working with what a client has and building on fitness. You will always work within your means; you’ll start with the basics and build upon that.
  4. Not everyone wants to work that hard. As trainers we get that, just because we like to jump on boxes, punch bags, or throw weight over our heads doesn’t mean that you do. If you so choose to train, your trainer should always design workouts with your fitness levels, your comfort levels, and your goals in mind. If you want to increase flexibility your trainer will not be yelling at you to do 20 more push-ups, instead you may be doing some stretching and full range of motion exercises. You should only work within your means or to the point where your form is starting to fail. The workouts can be challenging physically and mentally at first but you should never walk away feeling like you never want to come back because it was so difficult!
  5. You may know how to do certain things in the gym but a trainer does a lot more than just stand there and count. Even the most advanced weight lifters have coaches; Olympic weight lifting athletes bring their coaches to their competitions…do you? Your money is paying for a professional to give you a smart and effective program design, quality teaching of movements, cutting edge fitness programs, knowledgeable and current information about exercise as well as answers to any questions you may have, and general support during your session and after. You should walk away from a session feeling like you’ve learned something that you can take with you and perform at home, at any other gym, outside, etc.

As you can see training is a lot more than sweating, yelling, and looking like you might die. Your trainer is training you to reach YOUR goals. Your trainer is there to support and push you to perform safe, proper movements and effective exercises.

If you have goals you can’t quite seem to achieve or if you are looking to learn something new about fitness contact Fitness Director Jacob Galloway to get set up with one of the SAC’s top notch trainers today! Don’t waste time spinning your wheels or being scared, if you have the will we have the way!

Simplify your workout with complex movements

The Summer gave us the opportunity to see world-class athletes in the best shape of their lives performing at the peak of their abilities. While these athletes possess skills at a level that the average person cannot attain, we can use their training principles to get the figure and strength we want.

We can all agree that these swimmers, gymnasts, rowers, boxers, volleyball, track and field athletes etc. all have very different physiques, yet each one of them looks GOOD. These athletes utilize diverse training programs but have a key similarity; they use big, compound, multi-joint lifts in their resistance training program. When using resistance training for aesthetic purposes people tend to think of body builders who utilize isolation exercises to individually develop each muscle. They should however look to athletes who use complex movements to functionally develop major muscles and supporting muscles alike. Utilizing big, multi-joint movements gives the body the long, lean and symmetrical look athletes have and so many of us strive for.

When I think of a muscular athlete I think of a gymnast. A male gymnast will have some of the most muscular arms around but if you saw them in the gym they would never be performing isolated bicep curls or triceps extensions. They develop those muscles through complex pushing and pulling movements that you don’t have to be a gymnast to use in the gym such as pull-ups, push-ups, dips, overhead shoulder press and seated rows.

Benefits of multi-joint movements can be shown with the bench press as an example. You will get much more out of performing free-weight bench press than you will using a seated chest fly machine. This is because the chest fly machine isolates your chest muscles while the bench press works your chest muscles, synergistic muscles like the triceps and anterior deltoids, as well as stabilizing muscles including the rotator cuff complex, lats and traps.

Other than resistance training to look good, many of us use lifting to increase strength. Big, compound, multi-joint lifts will yield the greatest strength and mass gains while also doing the best job at building the inter-muscular and intra-muscular coordination. Elite power lifter and strong-man competitor Chad Wesley Smith states that top weight lifters follow many different programs but they have a few key things in common. They bench, squat, deadlift and continue to get stronger. Smith also has a great point that no one cares how much you can leg extension and if they do, you shouldn’t care what that person thinks anyway.

Using complex assistance lifts such as dips, chin-ups, pull-ups, shoulder press and lunges will also enable you to get the results you want more efficiently than you would performing many isolation exercises on machines.

Unless you want to spend three hours a day in the gym with the goal of looking like an immobile muscle-bound body builder, multi-joint complex movements should be the staple of your resistance training routine.

Do You Walk Upright? Perhaps the A.S.L.R. Test is for You!

As soon as you walk into a gym you are instantly bombarded with high outputs. The focus is often the number of reps you can do, the amount of weight you can move or the number of calories you just burned on the elliptical. Often lost in this fray is a whole class of exercises that focus on high inputs; exercises that provide a stimulus rich environment to foster accelerated motor learning. These exercises, termed corrective exercises, often involve seemingly simple mobility and stability challenges that become quite difficult if any limitations are present. The purpose of these exercises is not to become fitter or stronger but rather to give your body the opportunity to improve its movement ability. This increased movement ability then serves as the base from which performance goals are attained and surpassed. Corrective exercise trains the brain-nerve-body connection known as the neuromuscular system and can result in rapid improvement. As with any type of learning, motor learning takes place very quickly but must be practiced often to be maintained. Let’s take a look at an example of a fundamental movement and some corrective exercises that can improve it.

The Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR) has you lie on your back, press one leg down into the floor and then raise the other foot as high as you can. The end position should look like an “L” with your legs while your back and tailbone remain flat on the floor. Other than AcroYoga practitioners, most people do not need to lie on their back with their feet elevated as high as they can so it is easy to dismiss this test as foolish. But, as is often the case, this is a functional movement not because it looks like a certain activity but because it contributes to healthy movement. Proper execution of the movement requires hamstring flexibility, pelvic stability, hip mobility to disassociate each leg, neuromuscular inhibition (well-timed relaxation) of the hamstrings and calf muscles, healthy abdominal function and proper quadriceps and hip flexor function. These requirements are also necessary for any movement requiring independent movement of the legs such as walking, stepping and running, indicating that the Active Straight Leg Raise is indeed functional for all bipedal locomotors and improving a dysfunctional pattern is worthwhile.

Corrective exercises need to focus on resolving the most limiting factor so if during the ASLR test you feel tightness in your hips and groin as your legs separate, the following progression can be used.

  • In the first exercise, one leg is supported with the foot as high as possible and the other leg is lowered and raised. Beginning with one foot elevated and supported lessens the stability demands in the pelvis and trunk, providing a good environment to learn how to move the leg through a progressively greater range.
  • In the second exercise, the elevated leg is not supported, increasing the requirement for stability but still providing a good opportunity to experience a full range of motion.

Often, a few minutes of these exercises can result in rapid improvement that cannot be accounted for by a physical change in the muscle tissues. Instead, the corrective exercises teach neuromuscular skills like the abilities to relax the hamstrings, activate the abdominals and use proper breathing to diminish muscle tension. The corrective exercises are described in more detail in the video blog here. These are just two of many corrective exercises that can be used to improve the ASLR and function of the lower limbs and trunk generally. As these exercises demonstrate, corrective exercises are a powerful tool to quickly improve your movement ability. Investing a few minutes into this type of high input exercise will help you develop a solid base from which to pursue higher outputs than ever before.

If you are interested in corrective exercises like the Active Straight Leg Raise or any other fundamental pattern, please contact Personal Fitness Trainer Hunter Spencer.

Just Say NO to Gym Injuries

Tired of coming into the gym to get fit only to injure yourself and set yourself back on your road to fitness? Well with a few easy steps you can avoid those big and little injuries and find a happy place in the gym.

  1. Know the Equipment – Don’t jump on a new machine you’ve never used and load on the weight. Make sure you know how to use the equipment properly before adding weight or doing high reps. Read the instructions (when possible); know what the equipment is used for before using it.
  2. Warm Up – This is important as warming up gets the body ready for movement. The warm-up will loosen up joints, increase temperature of the muscle, and increase blood flow. This is super important to not only stay away from injuries but warming up will also make your exercises better and more beneficial.
  3. Pace Yourself – If it’s been a while since your last workout it’s best to ease back into it. Don’t over extend yourself, your muscles, joints, and lungs will need time to work back up to optimum performance.
  4. Follow the Rules – The gym has rules for a reason. Make sure to follow the rules at all times to help keep yourself and others safe.
  5. Keep Hydrated – Not only does lack of hydration cause you to feel more fatigued during your workout but it will also hamper muscle contraction and flexibility. If you want your muscles to fire at full power and move through full range of motion they need plenty of H2O. Plus it will keep you from passing out : )
  6. Maintain Good Posture – Using good posture in any movement you do will not only increase your core strength but it will also help you exercise more efficiently. Posture is important from cardio to lifting, to yoga, so keep it in mind the next time you are slouched on the bike reading the paper. If you want to get all that you can from your exercise make sure to use your core at all times.
  7. Use Full Range of Motion – Full range of motion not only keeps flexibility of your joints but also insures that you are using the full muscle not just the belly. Using the full muscle also increases strength and helps to maintain joint stability.
  8. Mix up Machines as Well as Exercises – Using different machines/equipment will help work your muscles in different planes of motion. Trying different exercises all together will also maintain good joint range of motion and help to work all of your connecting tissues.
  9. Ask a Professional – Making sure you are using machines properly and performing exercises correctly is extremely important. Making sure you know 100% that what you are doing is correct will save you from unnecessary injuries due to improper form.
  10. Use Common Sense – If it doesn’t feel good don’t do it! If you aren’t working the intended muscles, don’t do it. If it’s too heavy don’t do it. If you are tired and losing form then STOP. Pushing yourself is good but pushing yourself past the point of proper form is only going to do more harm than good. Use your brain as well as your muscles!!!

Core Training Redefined

There’s no doubt that training the core is a quintessential component to any training regimen. It protects and mobilizes the lower torso in every day life as well as athletic endeavors. Unfortunately the common methods and techniques to train your core are rudimentary at best.

Most of the techniques are slow or stagnant, rigid movements and positions. These patterns usually isolate one muscle group or plane of motion and train them in a linear robotic manner. These techniques may grant some initial benefit but they hardly cover the vast ranges of motion and varied speeds that the core may and often has to endure.

Training with any sort of speed is usually shunned in the gym and deemed dangerous. Though I can appreciate caution, if you don’t truly prepare your body for the demands your activities require, you are bound to run into injury or at least some aches and pains once you step outside the gym. Ironically the speeds and motions that are most feared are ever present once you swing a golf club, hit a squash ball or even when you pick up mundane objects around the house.

To truly piece together a comprehensive core training regime, one must look at the structure in question, its capabilities and range of motion.

Though there are numerous definitions of what the core is, for the sake of this article we’ll define it as all of the soft tissue from the bottom of the chest to the top of the hips. It has a natural curve when it is in neutral position and is one of the major power houses and stabilizers of the body. This structure rotates, bends forwards, backwards and side to side. These positions and movements happen at a multitude of speeds and often simultaneously (ex: bending forward and rotating).

As with any structure it never activates in isolation and rarely in a single plane of motion. That is not to say training in isolation and stagnation is useless, it should only represent a portion of your programming not the majority. Treat planks and bridge type holds as precursors to your mobilization and power movements, not as the bulk of your core program. Over emphasis of stabilizing and holding a neutral spine can result in problems of their own. I have often seen athletes, clients and trainers unable to move out of the neutral position without great effort and sometimes pain.

Though planks and bridges seem to be the initial and foundational movements in most core programs, I view them as secondary at best. Due to lifestyle, activity and training under load I’ve found most individuals need lengthening and decompression BEFORE any type of bridge or plank should be attempted.

To best grasp this concept of decompression and lengthening of the spine (without the use of complex anatomical visuals) all you need is a straw. Straws that have the flexible elbow and the accordion like ridges.

First, compress the elbow so that there is little no space between the ridges. This represents what most lower spine resemble. The lack of space signifies dehydrated and frail discs which come with a healthy serving of rigidity and discomfort. A lower back in this condition is easily fatigued by minimal ranges of motion and tends to work too hard and too soon in most complex movement patterns.

In contrast let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum. Now lengthen out the elbow portion. Stretch the straw out to its full length. Though there is plenty of room and mobility notice how unstable this portion of the straw is. This type of hyper-mobility is often seen in adolescents and individuals who engage in activities that emphasize extreme ranges of motion. When positions and movements require lengthening, these hyper-mobile spines will often hyperextend (bend back beyond the neutral position). Though hyper-mobile individuals may not feel any discomfort hyper-extending slowly or passively, once speed or load is added this often is not the case.

Just as you would with the straw, begin your workout by lengthening out the spine. Pick full body, toe to fingertip movements. Do not however just hold the position. Come in and out of position making sure each end of the movement is held just long enough to make sure you are finishing the movement with grace, power and full range of motion. If these motions are done correctly each end of the motion should feel good. The muscles will become alive, feel nourished (with blood and oxygen) and invigorated.

Holding positions too long can create several problems. If you relax and just rest on your joints, the receptors in the connective tissue shut down; thus leaving the spine unprotected as your body moves past its safer ranges. Transversely if your end positions are held too rigidly the muscles will fatigue and eventually shut down. Although working muscles to the point of fatigue is popular in commercial fitness, this promotes faulty and sub par movements with any exercises proceeding.

The key to strengthening the structure as a whole is by going in tension and completely out of tension. This allows the entire body to play its part and strengthens the muscles as well as the connective tissue. Think of shooting a rubber band or pumping water out an irrigation pump. Tension must be created to initiate movement and relaxation must occur to then let power be present. If no tension is present then no power can be dispersed; if no relaxation is allowed to occur the tension stays in the structure. When tension stays in the structure the muscles shut down and we put the spine back in the state of compression (aka: scrunched straw position).

Using the same tension/relaxation principles, proceed to move the core through forward, backward, side to side bending and rotation. When deciding which to tackle first, pick the motion you are most limited in or unfamiliar with first. This is typically rotation followed by side bending.

Time, overall goal of the workout and competency of the movements will dictate the number of set and reps. If your core exercises are just part of the workout, 2 sets of up to 10 reps of each movement should suffice. If your entire workout is focused on the core add more sets not reps. True strengthening comes from sophisticated movement and not sheer volume. If you are crunched for time (no pun intended) 1 set of each movement is adequate.

Don’t be constrained to what you’ve read in studies, textbooks and most of all media when designing your core program. Think of what your lifestyle and activities demand of it. Work in the ranges required or towards the ranges required in a pain free fashion. Once you are confident add speed little by little. Don’t be impatient and try to climb mountains in one workout. Think of each rep, each set and each workout as one step upwards towards a peak of strength, health and long-term performance.

Smile and the World Smiles With You!

“To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver,” is what Elizabeth Gilbert’s guru, Ketut, said to her in the award winning book, Eat, Pray, Love.

In fact, many ancient, traditional healers believe smiling washes away bad energy, calms the mind and brings health to the soul. Chinese medicine in particular believes there is a direct correlation between your emotions and specific organs. Some examples of this are: the lunges related to sadness or depression, the liver related to anger, and the stomach related to anxiety.

A hectic life coupled with physical and mental stress can leave little energy to will voluntary face muscles into a pleasant smile. However, our effort to work against gravity’s effect not only brightens the day of the recipient, but the person smiling as well.

Research has shown that chemical response to smiling and laughing will increase our happiness factor by raising serotonin levels, decreasing cortisol and adrenaline levels, reducing blood pressure and anxiety, and creating a more positive outlook on life. Dialectical behavioral therapy techniques use smile therapy in treatment of mental illnesses like borderline personality disorder.

Plus, think about the additional benefit of face exercises. Face yoga is an interesting trend that may not only fight wrinkles, frown lines and sagging skin, but may also force our perspective to rationalizing more than one simple benefit. This new trend includes exercises like the lion, the joker, happy cheeks, monkey cheeks, the prom queen, the Bugs Bunny and the truly odd smiling fish face. This simultaneously strengthens face muscles, gives you a face lift and I’m pretty sure you’ll be smiling on the inside while doing them.

Now being more aware of how the simple act of smiling can have a large impact on us, it should become an exercise in itself. So, as your day gets harder and more taxing, remember, you can affect not only others around you, but your internal environment, as well.

35lbs. in 15 weeks… New member achieves excellent results in Evolve weight loss program

Leela, a new member to Seattle Athletic Club, joined looking for help losing weight. After meeting with the Wellness Director Kelly Callison, she decided to challenge herself with the 12-week weight loss program, Evolve. Evolve is where Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness come together to assist weight loss. Most diets are unsuccessful because the very word diet suggests that the change is temporary.

During the Evolve program Leela worked with Personal Fitness Trainer Thomas Eagen twice a week and met with Nutritionist Kathryn Reed once every couple of weeks. Thomas and Kathryn worked with each other to develop a course of action best suited to fit Leela’s needs. Starting with the RMR or Resting Metabolic Rate, Leela was able to find out exactly how many calories she required to sit in a room and breathe. With this information she could work with Kathryn on developing the caloric intake plan. This allowed her to lose roughly 2-3lbs a week by eating throughout her entire day, tracking calories and protein throughout. The simple change of eating breakfast made a huge impact on Leela’s energy levels not just for workouts but day to day activities in general. She also experienced a great reduction in your sweet cravings by getting more protein at each meal.

“I have always struggled with my weight, but lately it had been getting so out of hand that I decided to make my health a priority. SAC seemed like the perfect choice because it was close to my office, has a wide variety of activities and especially because it has a specialized weight loss program. I really needed the structure and support that Evolve gives me. Thomas and Kathryn have outlined a very reasonable workout schedule and diet for me that doesn’t interfere too much with the rest of my life. I’ve actually been really surprised by how little I’ve had to change. For exercise I workout with Thomas twice a week, do Zumba twice a week and then I have one day to do whatever exercise I feel like. I’ve really enjoyed getting to try out the different classes and programs available at SAC. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how little I’ve had to change my diet. I still get to eat things that I like, I’m just much more conscious of portion size and having smaller meals throughout the day. I count calories and really focus on reaching my daily goal for protein. I’ve already started noticing some big changes. My clothes are getting looser, I’m getting stronger and I have much more energy. I’m really excited for more changes in the future. My eventual goal is to get back down to a healthy weight for my height. It’s still a ways off, but I am fully committed to working on my weight and setting up a healthy lifestyle for myself. I want to stick with the eating and exercise habits I’ve developed in Evolve for the long term. And I think with the fairly simple changes I’ve made it won’t be that difficult to do.”

At week 10, Leela had lost 27 pounds, 6% body fat, and has reduced her measurements around her entire body. Leela continues to make excellent progress with 35 pounds lost at week 15. Keep up the great work!

Contact Personal Fitness Trainer Thomas Eagen or Wellness Director Kelly Callison to get started achieving your weight loss goals today!

Weights Before Cardio or Vise Versa?

This is a question that we are asked quite a bit. “Should I do my cardio first, or hit the weights?” The answer is somewhat ambiguous, as it depends on your goals. So…we always discuss it.

Firstly, we need to define what is meant by the term “cardio”, because you should be participating in a light cardiovascular warm up prior to executing your resistance training routine. Appropriate warm up consists of three to five minutes of light cardiovascular activity, which will help get your heart pumping, pushing fluid to your extremities and in turn simultaneously preparing your body for optimum performance and injury prevention. However, do not go much longer than a few minutes, as you will begin to waste precious energy!

For most individuals (i.e. those interested in improving overall fitness, preventing injury, maintaining joint strength, improving body composition, and the like) the weights should come first. We have a limited supply of energy to commit to each workout, and thus as you progress through your routine you have less and less energy to spend. Lifting with less energy means less repetitions and sets performed, which translates to less results. The consequences for your cardiovascular routine are not nearly as dire. While running with less energy means you may not be able to go quite as fast, you will still be able push yourself to a level of exertion relative to that which is possible at the beginning of your workout. An equivalent level of exertion means an equivalent heart rate, which means…equivalent results.

From the standpoint of injury risk, the weights win out as well. Technique is critical in the weight room, and our ability to maintain correct form decreases as we become increasingly exhausted. Attempting to lift with reduced energy impacts our ability to maintain appropriate form and tempo which increases the likelihood of an injury occurring.

The only real exception to this rule is if your primary goal is to improve your cardiovascular fitness (e.g. you are in the final training phase for a marathon). If that is the case, working on your cardio after you have already spent some of your energy in the weight room can impact your ability to train at the level that you must in order to make the anatomical adaptations requisite of your culminating training event.

All of that said, ideally you should separate your resistance and cardiovascular training! Separating your cardiovascular and resistance training workouts (e.g. performing them on alternating days, or perhaps one in the morning and one the other in the evening) will give you time to rest, recover, and replenish your body (via rehydration and eating healthfully), and in turn receive the most from your workouts. So if you have the time, split up your training! If not, do what is best for you based upon your individual goals.

Get outside to burn some calories

Running on sand
Take your fitness to new levels by changing the work out from the ground up. Instead running on a hard surface, think of instability and softer running surface to ramp up your metabolism. We have great places to do this in Seattle like myrtle Edwards Park, Seattle Sculpture Park, Golden Gardens, Bastyr University to accommodate this type of work out. As soon as you run on a surface that is uneven like grass, sand, that sunken feeling makes you burn 1.6 times more calories! You have to work every muscle to land, and pull out of the soft surface, and not as much hard impact on the joints. If you are running in sand as an example you are burning 300-500 calories per 30 minutes if you weigh 125lbs. You are heavier you are already burning more roughly 500-700 per 30 minutes of exercise in sand. The instability of the surface and constantly having to adjust does wonders to all the little muscles (stabilizers) in the legs, core, back muscles, and keeps the work out fresh.

Try Paddle boarding
The great thing about living in the North West is we are surrounded by water and we can do so many recreational workouts anytime. Take advantage of the instability and coordination needed to workout using water and go paddle boarding. The hardest part of paddle boarding is getting up, requiring you to know how to stabilize your body. The rest is all stance, core, and pulling across the water. Eventually your body will adjust to this ever changing water environment, and then all you have to do is keep in motion; all while burning is 500 to 700 per hour. So what are you waiting for get out there and get moving. You will feel refreshed, centered and not realize you are exercising from just the view alone. Make sure to always wear your life jacket, safely first, and always hydrate.