Month: December 2012

Pilates Mat Class Q&A

Have you ever taken a mat class, and wondered why we teach them the way we do? I’ve been teaching mat classes since 1999, and I hear these same questions over and over. Let’s address them!

Why doesn’t the Pilates Instructor workout with us?
— A Pilates Instructor teaches her class based on what she sees, and she responds to your abilities. Observe the mat class closely and you will notice that a good Pilates mat class is interactive. Are you having trouble with an exercise? She may come over to help you. Is the class moving too slowly? She will give you energy with her voice. If she did her whole workout in front of you, why would you come to class? You could just stay at home and pop in a DVD if you would rather just go through the motions and not be pushed. You are not the “audience”; you are the active participants and are helping to design the class!

Why does the instructor walk around? What is she looking at?
–She is looking at you! She is watching your form and judging your abilities so that she can form the exercises around the needs of the class. When I’m teaching, I notice right away as people walk in whether they are dragging their heels with a lack of energy, or come bouncing in with a lot of energy. If they have a lot of energy, I’ll make the 100 more challenging by adding the criss-cross legs. During the roll-up, I notice if the class is generally flexible or stiff. If no one can touch their toes, I’ll spend more time stretching during single-leg circles.

I like having the dim lights. Why are the brighter lights on?
–The instructor needs to see you! Dim lights are great for a meditative, stretching, breathy class. But Pilates is meant to invigorate, not put you to sleep.

Why is there no music?
–Pilates is very rhythmic. Can you picture the instructor counting the 100 right now? What about open leg rocker? Have you ever done the criss-cross quickly, then slowly? Each exercise has its own rhythm that is unique to that particular exercise. We manipulate the rhythm to make the exercise harder or, occasionally, easier for you. Music would interfere with this technique.

Initial Injury Treatment

Musculoskeletal injuries are extremely common in sports. What you do with in the first 24-48 hrs can help or harm you. Immediate first aid efforts should be directed toward controlling hemorrhage and associated swelling. The primary goal directly after sustaining an injury is to reduce the amount of swelling resulting from the injury. If swelling can be controlled initially, the amount of time required for injury rehabilitation will be significantly reduced. The initial management of musculoskeletal injuries should include these 4 techniques: rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE).

  1. Rest
    Rest after any type of injury is an important part of any treatment program. Once the body is injured, it immediately begins the healing process. If the injured part does not get to rest and continues to be stressed then the healing process never gets a chance to do what it’s supposed to do. The time for rehabilitation is extended the longer it takes the body to get the healing process started. Give the injured area at least 72 hours of rest before a rehabilitation program is started.
  2. Ice
    The initial treatment of acute injuries should be the use of cold. Get ice on the injured area soon as possible. If heat is used in the initial injury phase then the amount of swelling will increase. The ice/cold will help to decrease pain and promote local constriction of the vessels, thus controlling hemorrhage and edema. The cold will slow down metabolism and the amount of cellular death in the injured tissue as well as help protect the healthy tissue. Ice/cold is also used to decrease muscle guarding which accompanies pain. Its pain-reducing effects are probably one of its greatest benefits. A good rule of thumb is to apply a cold pack to a recent injury for a 20 minute period and repeat every 1-1.5 hours throughout the waking day. Depending on the severity of the injury this process could last from 72 hours up to 7 days if needed. Be careful to not leave the frozen type gel packs directly on the skin for prolong periods of time. The gel has a lower temperature hand stays cooler longer than ice and can cause a burn if left on too long.
  3. Compression
    It is extremely important to get some compression on the injured area soon as possible. Immediate compression on an injured area will assist in decreasing hemorrhage and hematoma formation by reducing the space available for swelling to accumulate. An elastic wrap applied to the injured area can be just as important in the fight to decrease swelling as the use of ice. It may be helpful to wet the elastic wrap to facilitate the passage of cold from ice packs.
  4. Elevation
    Along with cold compression, elevation reduces internal bleeding. The injured part should be elevated to eliminate the effects of gravity on blood pooling in the extremities. Elevation assists the veins, which drain blood and other fluids from the injured area, returning them to the central circulatory system. The greater the amount of elevation of the injured body part the greater reduction in swelling. The injured part should be elevated for most of the initial 72 hour period after injury. It is particularly important to keep the injury elevated while sleeping.

Even with proper conditioning, equipment and other precautions you may still get injured. The initial treatment (RICE) will give your body the most optimal environment for it to do what it does extremely well and heal its self. If you choose to ignore your injury and just hope for the pain and swelling to go away on its own, you may end up with a chronic problem that could end up sticking around for a long long time.

High Blood Pressure: Hypertension 101

Most of us have heard the words “high blood pressure” or “hypertension,” but few of us know what it actually means to have it.

Blood Pressure is the force of blood exerted against the artery walls as the heart contracts and relaxes. One in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, which is dangerous if not taken care of properly. High Blood Pressure can lead to Heart Disease, Heart Failure, Stroke, Kidney Failure and more. Below is a chart of normal to high blood pressure readings:

If you are one who has high blood pressure, a few ways to keep it lowered are regular exercise, decreased sodium intake, and keeping a healthy weight. Exercise is the greatest way to strengthen the human heart. When the heart starts to strengthen, it pumps more blood with less effort. The less effort it takes to pump blood to and from the heart, the greater decrease of force put on your arteries. All in all, the less overall force put upon your arteries, the lower your blood pressure is going to be.
Anyone can develop high blood pressure, but you are more at risk if you:

  • Are over 45 years old
  • Are overweight
  • Are African American
  • Have a family member with high blood pressure
  • Eat a diet high in salt
  • Drink too much alcohol
  • Smoke

High blood pressure doesn’t normally show any symptoms to the body to let you know you have it; therefore it is very important to get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. The longer you have an elevated blood pressure, the more and worse damage it can do to your organs without you knowing. The best way to keep your blood pressure at a normal range is to exercise constantly and make it a routine; whether it is twice a week or six times a week.

My Story:
I went to the doctor one day for a check up and my resting blood pressure was 145/90, which is Stage one hypertension. My doctor thought it was just a weird fluke and therefore did not worry about it. I went into the same doctor two weeks later for a follow up and he checked my blood pressure again, which was 150/95. This is when he knew something was weird and not normal. He asked for me to keep track of my blood pressure for the next week (every day) and come back to him in a week to check in. My resting blood pressure readings were as high as 180/110, which is Stage two hypertension and very dangerous for a human heart and arteries if not taken care of. I went back in to see my doctor sooner than he had asked. I had developed high blood pressure at the age of 21 and several doctors had no clue why because of my health status and young age. I had plenty of tests done and finally was put onto a Beta-Blocker, which is used for individuals with hypertension. This medication is used to slow down the heart beat and relax the blood vessel walls. Two months later my resting blood pressure was back to its normal 118/78. I have always been active and continued to stay active during this. I believe that if I hadn’t been exercising on a regular basis, this could have turned out way worse than it did.

Thank you for being a friend!

We are friends. We’ve been together for almost 10 years or maybe just a month. I know your wife/husband’s name, I know your pet’s names, I know where your grandchildren live, I’ve been to holiday parties at your house, we get coffee together, we talk about your annoying co-worker, we talk about your horrible mother-in-law, we talk about your basketball tournament last weekend. We laugh, we complain, we work hard, we joke, but above all, I teach and you learn.

You are my friend but I am also your coach and your teacher. My job in our relationship is to teach you skills that make you a more fit person. I teach you things from the most basic (proper air squats, proper push-ups, etc) to the more advanced (proper kettlebell snatches, sandbag cleans, etc). When you walk away from an hour with me you better have learned a new skill or learned how to better an old one, if you haven’t learned one of those two things I’ve failed in this relationship. If you walk away from an hour with me and you are thinking about all the things you still need/want to work on, you feel like you need to spend another hour in the gym because you didn’t get the workout you felt you needed, you feel like you didn’t workout hard enough/were not challenged enough and thus need to do more on your own, I’ve failed.

It’s not about the crazy equipment, it’s not about learning the newest fad, it’s not about laying in a pool of your own sweat trying not to vomit, its not about using chalk and grunting, it’s not about keeping up with your brother-in-law that lives in California. It’s about you being a better, healthier, happier, more fit you. To do that you need to be great at the basics, you need to understand how to move your body properly, you need to understand what it is you are doing and WHY YOU ARE DOING IT. It’s about knowing where you are now and where you want to be. It’s about pushing yourself within your limits and understanding that it takes hard work, effort, and patience to improve. It’s about learning!

I’m here as a friend, a coach, a teacher to motivate you. I’ll yell, I’ll tell you what great effort you are putting in, I’ll let you know when I think you could be working harder and when I think you should be resting more. I’ll keep you accountable, I’ll keep you on schedule, and I will keep you from harming yourself! We’re friends so I’ll do those things for you.

While we laugh, we sweat, we yell, we have angry face (push-ups are going to happen, sorry), we encourage one another, we will be making you a better more knowledgeable you. I will in return, enjoy all the accomplishments big and small like they are my own, because you are my friend and I am proud of you. If you are my friend and you know me… “I’ll take whatever you have left” and I’ll like it.

Light Up Your Body Like a Christmas Tree with M.A.T.

By now you may have seen the massage table with the MAT poster by it in the lobby. Many have seen me working with clients but don’t really understand what it is that I am doing with them. Is it massage? Physical Therapy? Chiropractic manipulations? No, I’m not doing any of those things. I am doing Muscle Activation Technique and here is an analogy that might help you understand what’s going on.

Muscle Activation Technique is like your Christmas tree lights. Every year you pull out the same strands of lights and plug them into the wall to check if they still work. Inevitably there is at least one strand that has only half the lights working. Are all those lights really burned out? Perhaps, but it’s more likely only a few of those lights are causing that strand to not be spectacular. So you methodically pull out one light at a time until you find the ones that are worn out. You replace it and PRESTO! The whole strand magically lights up again. Just like new!

Using the Muscle Activation Technique, I test your individual muscles to determine if they are firing or not, just like those LEDs. Except I don’t replace the worn out muscles with new ones: That would be illegal (which would not be good). Instead, I have the client do a specific series of light isometrics to reengage the muscle until it can fire without hesitation.

Two Approaches to Increasing Range of Motion

A healthy range of motion (ROM) around each of your joints is critical to your optimal function. Immobile joints feel stiff and tight, predispose you to injury and rob your body of efficiency. People often assume that the best way to increase ROM is by static stretching. Holding a position as in this picture for 10-30 seconds constitutes a static stretch for the hamstring muscles and tendons group.

Static stretching attempts to increase ROM by increasing the physical length of the tissues. It is slow, passive, confined to a single plane and can produce muscle fibers stretched beyond their optimal length. Thus, static stretching prior to activity is not recommended and static stretching is of only limited benefit for people who want to gain stability, strength, speed, agility and coordination in conjunction with increased ROM.

Mobility training promotes increased ROM in a different manner. Mobility training involves the active exploration of a range of motion at variable speeds. One of my favorite examples is the exercise below. This page is excerpted from the workbook for Genuine Movement: Lower Body. Click to download.

Similar to the static stretch stated above, this exercise helps to increase ROM around the hip joint. Unlike the static stretching example, it requires full body movement while promoting mobility in multiple joints in multiple planes of motion. This exercise is moderately difficult and includes aspects of mobility and stability, making it a perfect option for an effective warm-up. The most significant difference between mobility training and static stretching is that mobility training does not attempt to physically lengthen tissues. Instead, it teaches the neuromuscular system to better control activation and relaxation of muscles. By focusing on the neuromuscular system, mobility training produces rapid results and teaches the body how to use its new-found ROM safely and effectively. Mobility training can be used at any joint and applied through several different techniques. If you find yourself stiff, sore and tight and your regular stretching routine has not addressed the issue; consider learning and practicing mobility training. If you are looking for a more efficient way to prepare and recover from strenuous training or competition, mobility training could be the key to new levels of performance. You deserve better results than static stretching can provide, start your mobility training today!

If you are interested learning more about mobility training or the Genuine Movement program contact Personal Fitness Trainer Hunter Spencer.

Pilates + Skiing and Snowboarding

It’s ski season—ah…the pure joy of skiing down a mountainside of sparkling powder, surrounded by tall evergreens and brilliant blue sky…

Then, after that first day of tackling moguls, dodging trees and other skiers; the fatigue and soreness of the legs and hips kick in. This is partly because of muscle overuse and lack of core strength. If the core is not working enough, your legs and hips have to work harder to stabilize you.

Pilates will stretch tight, overused leg muscles, such as the quads and hip flexors and strengthen underused muscles such as the hamstrings and inner thighs.

Skiers rely on side to side hip movement to recruit the inside and outside edge of the ski. Boarders tilt their hips forward and back to access the front and back edge of the board and use a more rotational movement to change directions. A strong core gives you better edge control. Edge control improves balance as you navigate the twists and turns of the slope –at high speeds-, the ever-changing snow conditions and the ability to get up unscathed when you take a tumble.

By practicing Pilates, core strength and alignment improves and you become more in tune with your body. Movements are fluid, there is less wear and tear on joints and your sport becomes more enjoyable. You’ll find yourself adapting better to changing snow conditions, challenging terrain, and falling less.

Here are some mat exercises you could start today:

  1. The Hundred – core, arms, hip stabilizer
  2. The Abdominal Series
    Single leg stretch
    Double leg stretch
    Single straight leg stretch
    Double straight leg stretch
    Criss-cross
  3. The Side Lying Leg Kick Series
    • Front/Back
    • Up/Down
    • Small Circles
    • Inner Thigh lifts
    • Bicycle

Nothing will improve your skiing faster than a strong core. Cross-train by adding a Pilates mat class to your fitness regime or perhaps a private session with your Pilates Instructor.

Stay strong, ski safe!

It’s never too late to learn to swim… better!

Learning to swim as an adult can be challenging for some more than others. We see people swimming around making it look easy and it is easy for them because they have been swimming their entire life or close to it. They have spent more hours in a swimming pool than you can imagine; playing, training for a swim meet, practicing water polo just a few of the many things that can be done in a swimming pool.

You’re an adult and think it’s time to learn how to swim. Make sure to have the proper gear. Find a swim suit that is comfortable and goggles that fit your eye size and shape, both should fit properly. If you have long hair a swim cap works better than a ponytail. It will actually keep your hair out of your eyes. Now, there are a lot of really good swim instructors waiting for you.

The first day you take the plunge you’ll be hooked; okay maybe not hooked. Let’s face it, it may take a few times to get comfortable and gain confidence in the water. With help the next thing you know ‘You will be one of those people making it look easy’.

Rowing Machine: Using the Best Resistance Levels for Most Effective Workouts

Rowing Machine (ERG)Do you ever wonder what about the resistance levels for the Rowing Machines (aka: Ergs)? Do you set them to the highest level to get the hardest workout? Or do you set it to the lowest levels because you don’t want to work that hard? Let’s unpack this.

The most effective use of the erg is to replicate the actions and rhythms used to row on the water (even if you’ve never crewed before and don’t intend to.) To that end you want to set the resistance or Drag Factor to what you would experience in the water which for the average adult (male or female) is around 115. Generally, that is between 4.5 to 6.5 on the resistance setting; however, every machine varies so it’s a good idea to calibrate the drag factor each time you use the erg to work out. To do this, follow these simple steps:

  1. Sit on the erg and prepare to start rowing.
  2. Turn on the Concept 2 computer by pressing the Main Menu button
  3. When the list of options appear, choose More Options
  4. Choose Display Drag Factor
  5. Start rowing as you normally do; when you get a consistent number adjust the resistance up or down to 105 – 125. (I am 6’ 5”, weigh 220 pounds and generally row at 120.)

The drag factor is designed to replicate the kind of boat you would be rowing. The smaller sleeker shells will have less drag in the water and will therefore glide further with less force applied by the oars. Big, old, and beat up shells (like what are used for beginning classes) will not glide through the water as fast or as far thus they will cause considerably more drag in the water. So when you are lifting that resistance lever to the highest level understand that what you are really doing is getting a slower and shorter recovery, or glide time. If you want to work on your power and strength focus instead on a long, even, and hard push with your legs, a smooth engaged lean back with your torso and an even clean pull with your arms. Then reverse that pattern two times slower on the recovery slide.

Rowing at the highest setting does not equate better strength training; it can promote poor technique which can lead to injury, especially in the back and shoulders. Conversely, rowing at the lowest setting can be a really useful tool for developing core control and stability. Many coaches will have their rowers do drills at the lowest setting to develop those areas.

The best way to develop your strength on an erg is to focus improving your stroke rates and times while increasing distances per stroke traveled. I will be getting into these details in future posts.

Why Lift Heavy Weights?!

Say what…put on weight? That’s rarely the goal. Well I’m here to tell you perhaps it should be more of a goal than you think. I mean, let’s lift some heavy weights! Add an extra 5lbs to the bar, go up 10lbs in your dumbbells, push yourself and let’s move something heavy!

Why? Why not! Lifting heavy (I don’t mean that if you are shoulder pressing 8lbs right now that you should try and press 45lbs the next go around), or what you would consider “heavy” will really help you gain strength quickly and efficiently. Usually when I tell people to move heavy weight, especially women, the first thing I hear is, “But I don’t want to bulk up.” Oh my Lord, if ever there was a misconception! The “bulking” that most people think of when lifting weight comes from many hours in the gym, a high protein diet, heavy heavy weights, and some good genes! To become The Hulk you would really have to put in serious amounts of time and effort. This will not be happening to your average gym goer. But still I hear some people say, “When I’ve lifted heavy before I did seem to get bulkier.” This would come from a lack of fat loss, a lack of a decent diet, and a misconception about what is “bulking.” My guess is the 2 times a week you lifted “heavy” did not in fact give you raging thighs, instead it was the other things you were or were not doing outside of your exercise.

So why lift heavy? There are a multitude of reasons why pushing yourself with the amount of weights you lift is a good idea:

  1. Increase lean muscle mass which = a higher metabolism. The more lean muscle mass in your body the more calories your body burns every day. Unlike cardio, lifting weights and stressing your muscles will burn calories for you while you are doing the exercises, for an hour after, and the many hours after that. While cardio may burn 400 calories in the hour you are running your body soon loses that spike in metabolism and ends an hour after you finish. So while the number may look good on the machine, if you had lifted you would have burned nearly (if not in some cases more) that many calories in 45 minutes and will continue to burn more throughout the day. Muscles need fuel and worked muscles need extra fuel to repair and grow.
  2. Increased strength quickly and efficiently. Squatting with the 10lb dumbbells in your hands 20 times might make you feel like you have gotten a lot done in a short amount of time but in fact we’ve done just the opposite. If burning calories, increasing your strength, and spiking your heart rate is your goal you need to cut the high reps and increase your weight. The heavier weight will push your muscles more (gaining strength), push your heart rate higher (to pump more blood to your strained muscles), and give you much more benefits in half the time (think 5-10 reps instead of 15-20). Your calorie burning will shoot much higher and your body will work much harder in half the reps!
  3. Increasing your mental toughness. It’s hard to lift heavy, not just for your muscles but also for your mind. Telling yourself to try something new, pushing yourself to move up in weight, pushing yourself to keep going even though the back of your mind is telling you it’s too heavy, is so much about mental strength. It’s the old saying, “If I can do this I can do anything” kind of mentality. Work your mind and your body and finally be proud and impressed with what you can do!
  4. So helpful in the real world. I don’t know about you but I have yet to find the 5lb bag of bark/cement mix/bricks at Home Depot. If you can lift it in the gym, when you go to tackle that new retaining wall in your back yard it will be no problem! Long gone are the days of waiting for your husband to come home to move the couch/washing machine/lawn mower/etc, your a strong lady, do it yourself!
  5. It’s fun, it’s hard, it’s mental, it’s a huge accomplishment. I realize it’s not everyone’s goal to deadlift one and a half times their body weight but it should be your goal to be strong, efficient, fit and healthy. Lifting heavy is one of the best ways to accomplish all of those things!

The only draw back to lifting heavy? It’s hard to do if you aren’t sure about your form. It’s hard to do if you aren’t sure about how much you should move up in weight. It’s hard to do some of your exercises without a spotter. My advice…grab a trainer, ask some questions, get a session, and/or join a weight lifting class. If you aren’t comfortable on your own get some help or free advice, that’s what we are here for! The best way to start is move up 2.5-5lbs in the exercises you normally do (lat pull down, dumbbell bench press, lunges, etc) and cut your reps. If that seems too easy for a set of 10, go up another 10lbs. The goal should be to use heavy enough weight that by the time you get to 10 reps you shouldn’t be able to do another. If you aren’t stressing yourself you aren’t lifting heavy enough. This is hard work. It will make you wish you were downstairs running endlessly on the treadmill! Eww.

Have questions? Looking for a good way to get started on strength training? Then please contact Personal Fitness Trainer Adriana Brown.