I recently had the pleasure of joining MyFitnessPal as a featured expert for the fourth time. I’m so honored! The pandemic has proven that nothing beats the medicinal power of getting outside of our homes for fresh air and a brisk walk. Oftentimes, the weight loss potential that can happen with daily walking is underestimated. Check out Your Fail-Safe Walking Formula for Weight Loss to learn how to use this healthy habit to shed pounds and feel great!
More people than ever are turning to outdoor running as a safe option for exercise during the pandemic. Whether you’re new to running or a regular runner, it’s likely that you’ve experienced pain associated with running at some point. This is extremely common. We tend to believe that running is something everyone can and should be able to enjoy since it’s one of the most natural forms of exercise. Unfortunately, the reality is that running without pain is not always the norm. Regular running takes a toll on the body and requires proactive measures for it to remain pain free.
Below are eight commons reasons that running might cause pain, along with exercises, stretches and actions you can take to keep yourself healthy and ready to hit the pavement.
Please note: I will be posting videos on my IGTV over the next few weeks to help people better understand the exercises and stretches under “actions to take” for each issue. Join me on Instagram for the latest updates.
1. IT Band Syndrome
Pain Location: Lateral aspect of knee, top of hip or both
What it is: Overuse of the connective band of tissue that runs from the hip to the knee on the outside of the thigh. Although most commonly associated with overuse from running, the IT band can also get excessively tight from weak muscles in the glutes, hips, legs and low back. If you feel pain or tightness on the outside of your knee when your heel hits the ground during running then your IT band is in need of stretching and/or cross-training for injury prevention.
Actions to Take: A balance of flexibility and strength training is usually key for preventing IT band syndrome. Foam rolling is a great first action to take even though it may feel uncomfortable on the outer thigh if your IT band is especially tight. It will get easier the more you do it. (I recommend a high-density roller by SPRI.) Stretching the IT band can also be done by crossing the tight leg behind the other and leaning the torso away from the affected side. Lastly, strengthen weak muscles and replace a couple days of running with strength training for a while. Two great exercises to start with are clam shells and hip bridges while squeezing a medicine ball, pilates ring or yoga block between the thighs.
2. Weak Transverse Abdominus
Pain Location: Low back, hip flexor tightness, sometimes achilles pain too
What it is: The transverse abdominus (TA) is a muscle that wraps around the core and stabilizes it. Subsequently, it also helps stabilize the pelvis and the spine. When the TA is strong, it helps prevent low back pain and keeps the pelvis in the correct position. When it’s weak, the pelvis drifts into an anterior tilt and places strain on the lumbar spine. The TA can become weak from lack of use, incorrect use or improper pelvic and spinal posture.
Actions to Take: Physical therapy and Pilates training are both great options for learning how to properly engage the TA. If these options are inaccessible then simply start with supine pelvic tilts, dead bugs, and planks drawing the belly button to spine so that the stomach flattens.
3. Large Q-angle
Pain Location: Medial aspect of knee; can result in patellofemoral pain syndrome, chrondromalacia or ACL injuries
What it is: The q-angle is a measurement from the patella (knee cap) to a point on the pelvis. This measurement tends to be larger for women due to greater pelvic width (“them birthing hips!”). The larger the q-angle, the greater the stress on the knee due to the patella tracking more laterally instead of smoothly up and down.
Actions to Take: Although structural width of the pelvis is obviously out of our individual control, women can take proactive measures to strengthen the medial aspect of the knee and to keep the lateral aspect from being too tight. This might include wall squats and glute strengthening for enhanced stability as well as isolated quadricep extension with rotation to target the vastus medialis obliqus (VMO) – i.e. the most medial muscle fiber in the quadriceps group. Stretching tight muscles such as hamstrings, calves and the lateral aspect of the quadricep can also prove helpful.
4. Unstable Ankles
Pain Location: Ankle pain or weakness and/or plantar fascia pain. Can also impact higher joints resulting in knee, hip and/or low back pain.
What it is: Unstable ankles result from weak muscles in the feet and/or lower legs. Core stabilization also impacts how stable the ankles are. If you notice discomfort in the ankles or feet when running then you might need to improve stability, especially if you are prone to ankle sprains.
Actions to Take: Balancing exercises can be useful for improving ankle stability. It’s easy to get creative with how these are done too (single leg reach, balancing side leg lifts, dancer’s pose, warrior III, and more). Towel grabs and other foot strengthening exercises can also prove useful. Rolling out the plantar fascia with a pin roller or on a lacrosse ball can help release tight areas that compensate for weakness.
5. Improper Footwear
Pain Location: Pain usually begins in the foot but higher joints can eventually become painful if footwear is not corrected
What it is: Improper footwear can be the result of shoes that are worn out, tied too tight or loose, or are not correctly fitted to your foot shape, length and/or width. Running shoes that fit properly should have approximately 1/2-inch room after the toe before the end of the shoe. They should not cut off circulation when laced up and also should not slip down the heel. A proper fit for your arch is extremely important too. Whether you have a neutral, high or low arch matters a lot for running comfort and shoes should be fitted according to your individual needs. You know you’re ready for a new pair of shoes when you’ve run between 300-500 miles and the tread of the shoe is worn down. If you’re not sure how many miles you’ve run then a good rule is to replace shoes every six months.
Actions to Take: I like to tell people to visit smaller, local running stores to get fitted. Most have die-hard, passionate runners working in them and they are often trained in basic gait analysis so they can get you the right shoe.
6. Weak Abductors
Pain Location: Weak abductor muscles (think the lateral part of your glutes that stabilize your hips, low back and outer thighs) can result in IT band syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome and/or abductor tears. Most of these injuries are from overuse of the muscles while running and/or jumping during sports. Overuse doesn’t always mean that a muscle is strong. As is usually the case with abductors, these injuries stem from weak muscles.
What it is: Weak abductor muscles can be identified in one of several ways: 1) Perform a squat and note if your knees drift inward. This is a telltale sign that the abductors are weaker than the opposing muscle group (the adductors). 2) Make note of your foot’s arch. Many people who are flat-footed and excessively pronate tend to have weak abductors. 3) Perform a clamshell or side lying leg lift with the leg that is lying on top. If this feels difficult right away or quickly after starting, your muscles may need strengthening.
Actions to Take: Clamshells and side-lying leg lifts are two of the first exercisees I recommend to clients, as well as supervised side lunges with correct form. Once a baseline of strength is established therabands are a great way to ramp up resistance and build on progress.
7. Poor Running Gait
Pain Location: Poor running gait can impact any joint or muscle in your body from head to toe depending on what the issue is.
What it is: Normal running is smooth and not “jumpy” looking. When there is excessive up/down movement that places extra stress on the joints. There should be a brief “flight phase” when both feet are off the ground but it shouldn’t look like a person is jumping rope or doing jumping jacks. Posture should be upright, not slumped, and arms should be bent at roughly 90 degrees at the elbows, staying relatively close to the body and swinging gently forward and back with slight rotational movement. If you notice that you’re bending forward in your torso while running or that your arms swing really low, high or wide then you may experience some upper body discomfort as well as lose energy efficiency in the exercise. Feet should be landing and rolling from mid-foot to forefoot smoothly, not striking hard with the heel first. Lastly, stride length should be appropriate for your size and athleticism. For most people, a large stride length reduces hip extension and causes issues. If you feel that you’re a “heel striker” then correcting your stride length might be the place to start.
Actions to Take: It’s extremely hard to analyze your own gait. As you may be able to tell, gait analysis is complicated and takes an expert’s experienced eyes and feedback. You can start by filming yourself running outdoors or on a treadmill and seeing if anything stands out as appearing unusual – sometimes you might surprise yourself! But your best bet is to get with a running coach or personal trainer who specializes in running. You could even test your luck at a local running store when you get fitted for your next pair of shoes. Sometimes these stores have treadmills set up so that experts can help offer feedback on your shoe and running gait needs.
8. Poor Running Posture & Thoracic Weakness
Pain Location: To be fair, I already mentioned poor running posture in the last section about running gait, but it warrants more attention. Nearly every week I see a handful of runners in my neighborhood alone who are in dire need of postural help. You may consider improving your posture while running if you feel pain in your upper back, neck and/or shoulders afterwards. Poor posture can translate down your body and result in weak glutes, tight hip flexors and improper foot strike.
What it is: When thoracic and spinal extension muscles such as traps, rhomboids, lats, rear delts, erector spinae, multifidus and more are weak then it becomes difficult for the torso to maintain an upright position during running. As the body slumps forward the lungs close off, making breathing more labored, and the hip flexors take over work that hip extensors should be driving.
Actions to Take: Strength training several times a week is critical to correct posture so that you can run pain free and so that you can *live* pain free. Posture impacts quite a lot. One of the most important places to start is with thoracic extensions. In other words, teaching your body to isolate and lift tall from the upper back. Trunks lifts from a mat or prone on a bosu ball are great options. Also, it will be important to do full spine extensions from a mat. Quadruped exercises and supermans are great beginner exercises. Dumbbells and weight machines might also come in handy to target the rotator cuff, traps, rhomboids, rear delts, lats, etc. To sum, kick-start a strength training program focused on the back and/or find one to follow along with.
Run and be happy (& pain free)!
Yours in health and wellness,
I’ve been averse to product pushing for years. I can’t tell you how many pyramid scheme companies and product rep opportunities I’ve turned down – it’s a lot. It’s just not me. I’m a writer and services girl – here for you always if you have fitness and wellness questions or needs! All that said, I recognize the value in trusted recommendations, especially as we collectively seek to improve our wellness and quarantine-life experiences. So, here are my favorite wellness products at the moment…
This Molekule Air Filter might be the ideal solution for your seasonal allergy, dust & dander, mold, virus and bacteria concerns. The Molekule is designed to filter *and* destroy these particles, meaning that they won’t get recirculated in your living space. Molekule is designed to help you breathe easier thanks to its Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) nanotechnology. It even removes things like VOC fumes and odors from the air. The design in the photo below is for 250 sq ft but other models cover larger rooms (for a price). I think this is a really wonderful option for some people, and well worth the price – especially for city dwellers in apartment or condo buildings.
Five years ago I wrote a deeply personal blog article titled My Diary. Air France. A Happy Ending. It was about losing my self-made version of a gratitude journal in an airport in France and how it miraculously made its way back to me months later. I will confess that I’ve fallen out of the habit of keeping a gratitude journal and have substituted other forms of gratitude practice and self care in its place, but I will be the first to resume the daily habit should I ever find the need….and honestly, that timing might be soon. This Good Days Start with Gratitude journal might be the perfect thing for your mental health too. But feel free to start or end your day with it. As someone who used to struggle with sleep, I found that reflecting on positives at the end of the day helped me the most.
If you’re interested in sticking to your Barre routine but don’t want to venture away from the comfort of your bedroom then check out the Booty Kicker! My best friend (you know who you are!) is a hardcore Barre girl and swears by the Booty Kicker. It has a rack for dumbbells built in (weights sold separately) and is easy to mount a screen onto so you can follow along virtually with your favorite instructor. It also folds down for easy storage. I’ve found that many group exercise classes are relatively easy to simulate with props at home, with the exception of Barre, but that’s now a thing of the past!
I guess I’m finally getting on board with the whole Collagen supplement thing. Although collagen can help with skin and hair health, that has never motivated me to use it. I generally find that my skin and hair are healthiest when my nutrition is well balanced and natural. But recently, I learned more about how collagen supplements might help joint pain thanks to helping the body rebuild cartilage. As someone who sometimes struggles from back pain due to an old accident, I’ve often wondered what my old age has in store for me with joint health. Collagen supplements just might be worth the cost! Plus, this Collagen Peptide brand is unflavored so it can be added to virtually any beverage – even hot coffee or tea!
I have and will always be a raging fan of foam rolling. I do it almost every day and the benefits are tremendous for my physical comfort. Foam rolling helps relax the myofascial tissue surrounding our muscles, reducing areas of restriction, tightness, discomfort, and aches. My favorite style of foam roller is high density like this one by SPRI and it comes in 3 sizes; 12 inch, 18 inch or 36 inches long. If you’re thinking of traveling with it then opt for the 12 inch, but if you want one for the house then I suggest the 36 inch. A long foam roller will allow you greater freedom of movement when rolling out and is a great tool to lie on vertically for chest-opening stretches.
Pilates circles like the URBNFIT Pilates Toning Ring are often overlooked by people stocking up on equipment for their home gyms. I’m here to get this magical prop on your radar! Not only are Pilates rings extremely versatile props but they are also one of a few pieces of home exercise equipment that’s excellent for targeting the inner thigh muscles. The URBNFIT ring comes in 3 colors and includes an accompanying smartphone app that guides both seasoned athletes and beginners through appropriate and effective Pilates exercises. This is a great combo for anyone looking to switch up their home workout routine.
Are you as big of a fan of massage as I am? The fact that two products on this short list of favs include massage-like functions should tell you a little bit about me (and how often I pester my husband for foot and neck rubs). But *this* Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager is a dream for anyone who has tight neck and shoulder muscles from uncomfortable work-at-home conditions and/or pandemic-related stress. Not only does the Zyllion massage sore muscles but it also helps them relax through heat. No more need to miss the spa! You can attach it to a high back desk chair or simply lean against it on the couch. Once you return to the traditional schedule of commuting to work you can even put it across your driver’s seat so you can decompress to and from the office!
Leave it to a pandemic and social media to take resistance bands (which have been around forever) and make them look sexy. Almost everywhere you turn there are so-called fitness influencers using them in exercise video clip tutorials – because they work! These resistance loop exercise bands by Fit Simplify are a popular choice in the sea of options and come in 5 different levels of resistance. The bands are portable and easy to store. They can also be used for a wide range of exercises from physical therapy and stretching to strength training.
What are your favorite wellness brands? Have you found anything to be especially useful or enjoyable during the pandemic? Please drop your favs in the comments so we can all help each other out!
Yours in health and wellness,
*Full disclaimer: I will receive a small sales commission for purchases from affiliated links in this post. Any and all proceeds will be used for the blog’s maintenance and future content.
Gyms are carefully reopening in some places, taking action under government guidelines to increase cleaning and sanitation procedures. Gyms are also implementing new social distancing measures to ensure members’ safety. Although it’s intimidating to get back into the gym, your health is paramount during this pandemic and exercise bolsters wellness in many ways. Getting back into the gym is a personal choice that must be carefully considered based on health risk factors, mental comfort, and the extent to which your gym has taken appropriate actions to protect its members.
Here are some things to look for when/if you return to the gym or consider doing so. I’ve included a few recommendations on how to improve your safety from the minute you step into the gym to the moment you walk back into your home. Lastly, check out the tips for how to make the experience time-efficient and effective.
Considerations When Returning to Your Gym
Before stepping foot in the gym, check its website for COVID-19 updates. There’s a decent chance that your gym will have adjusted hours of operation and updated check-in procedures that you will want to familiarize yourself with. Reinstating your membership may also be a step that you need to take with a membership director prior to walking in for your first workout. This is likely done over email or phone right now while membership directors are working remotely and social distancing.
If your gym doesn’t have clear COVID-19-specific policies and adjustments then I strongly urge you to freeze your membership until it is safe to return or they adopt new policies. Many gyms have responded professionally and appropriately to the new operational challenges because 1) they need to stay in business, and 2) they care about their members. To help with this, many are using advance online registration for group classes and capacity trackers like Club Automation. These capacity trackers use real time data to reflect how busy (or not) the gym or fitness facility is, so you can decide from the comfort of your home whether or not you want to pay the gym a visit.
Gym Safety Check List
Below is a list of COVID-19 safety measures you should check for at your gym. Please note, this list is not exhaustive.
- Temperature and wellness checks at sign-in.
- Masks required in busy corridors such as the entrance/exit, stairwells, cafe, locker rooms and restrooms.
- At least 6 ft of social distancing required between all members. 10 ft is even better indoors.
- “Out of Service” signage on alternating pieces of gym equipment to ensure social distancing and/or rearrangement of equipment to create more distance and open space.
- Encouragement of wearing face masks in areas with cardiovascular exercise equipment (when you’re breathing heavily and fast you expel more viral and bacterial particles into the air).
- Ample supplies of hand sanitizer at check-in and on the gym floor as well as stocked soap dispensers in restrooms.
- Limited capacity in any and all elevators on site.
- No gym towels allowed on the gym floor (reduces spread of germs).
- Signage asking members to wipe down equipment before and after use as well as ample supply of equipment wipes.
- Reduced capacity for gym classes and enforced social distancing during participation.
- More outdoor exercise class options with social distancing when/where feasible.
- Possible signage and floor markings indicating traffic flow/walking directions through hallways and corridors.
- Possible reduced overall gym capacity depending on government regulations and directives.
- Possible upgrades to air filtration systems (can’t hurt to ask if your gym has the ability to invest in one that eliminates viruses and bacteria in large spaces).
Use this check-list to gauge which safety measures your facility of choice is leaning on and let it inform your decision about returning for exercise.
Gym Childcare – Is it Safe?
This is a really tricky one to answer. Scientists have seen hints that children pass COVID-19 among themselves at a lower rate than adult-to-adult transmission; however, research is fledgling at best. Unfortunately, it may take seeing how transmission rates change once school is back in session in some places come fall (hopefully they don’t get worse). Part of what will weigh your decision about the gym childcare will be:
- Age of your child; children who are under 2 years old and mobile are likely putting everything in their mouths…which is probably, unfortunately, not so ideal.
- Age of children who are able to wear masks versus those who are too young, and whether or not these different age groups will be playing in close proximity.
- Health status of your household and family members.
- Enhanced hygiene measures of the gym’s childcare; additional temp and wellness checks, modeling covering coughs/sneezes, hand washing upon entering and exiting, routinely cleaning toys and floors, etc.
- Type of flooring in childcare – for gyms that have wood, tile or otherwise non-carpeted flooring, the facility should be deep cleaning it daily. Unfortunately, gyms with carpeted childcare areas are likely unable to deep clean the carpet every day because of how long it takes to dry. This may affect your choice, especially for parents with babies who are crawling.
Again, as long as safety measures are in place, this must be a personal choice you make. Please note: Bringing a symptomatic child into the gym childcare for the sake of your workout is irresponsible both during a pandemic and otherwise. Let’s all agree on this…please!
Extra Measures You Can Take to Boost Your Safety
Here are a few extra steps that I personally take when coming and going from the gym. I’ve done most of it since years ago when my oldest son was 15 months old and came down with a nasty case of bronchiolitis that landed him in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. To see a loved one struggle for air is a horrible experience. I don’t wish it on anyone.
- Leave wedding bands and rings at home to keep them both clean and safe – bleach-based gym wipes and cleaners can erode certain metals.
- Bring and wear workout gloves or disposable gloves if you have sensitive skin and/or allergic reactions to the gym wipes, sanitizer, etc. Also not a terrible idea to help reduce overuse of hand sanitizer.
- While exercising at the gym, consider wearing a face mask for your entire workout, even if it’s not required. Double-layer masks that include some type of air filter sandwiched in the middle and masks that fit snugly (but are breathable) are great options because they offer you a little bit of protection while also boosting safety for others.
- Store hand sanitizer in the side pocket of your car door or in your hand bag/gym bag in case you forget to wash your hands when you leave.
- Remove gym shoes before entering your home.
- Immediately put your reusable gym water bottle into the dish washer or sink for cleaning.
- If you used your phone during your workout then clean the phone with a phone-safe wipe, cleaning solution, portable UV sanitation device, or PhoneSoap container at home. I like to clean my keys with my PhoneSoap too.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds, even if you already used hand sanitizer.
- Promptly remove your gym clothes and face mask and place them in the washer or laundry basket – then go take a shower!
- Now take a deep mask-less breath in the safety of your home and be glad you kept yourself both healthy and safe at the gym!
Tips for Making Your Gym Experience Time-Efficient & Effective
Wiping down equipment before and after use combined with certain machine restrictions will force you to think outside of your normal gym routine. I hope these tips are helpful so that you can have an effective workout on day one. If you have any other tips to offer please drop them in the comments!
- If possible, limit workouts without masks to less than 45-60 minutes since the viral load of COVID-19 is shown to increase in this amount of time in enclosed spaces.
- Use machines that you don’t have at home; save body weight and mat workouts for home.
- Instead of rotating weight machines between sets (because machines will be limited and in need of wiping), complete all sets on one machine with short breaks between sets or do stationary exercises like squats/lunges/push-ups/planks in front of the machine during rest periods.
- Buy a few sets of affordable dumbbells for home and use props like the roman chair, bench press, squat rack, plated machines, etc. while at the gym.
- Skip the treadmill and save running for your neighborhood – choose the Stairmaster or ARC trainer on an incline for a great low-impact glute workout to switch things up.
- Set a goal to finish your workout in less than 45 minutes and plan it out in advance. Your determination and effort might surprise you when you’re working towards a time goal.
- Focus on three main things: Building cardiovascular health, muscle, and a sense of calm. We could all use a bit more of these things right now.
I hope you have a GREAT workout whether it’s at the gym or at home. Remember, staying healthy and well is the only critical component here, and that can happen essentially anywhere.
Yours in health and wellness,
I had the honor of sharing my advice for a MyFitnessPal article back in the winter but publication was massively delayed when Covid19 changed the face of the earth as we know it. With gyms shuttered, the article became less timely. Now that gyms are gradually reopening (or perhaps now that you have more at-home equipment to work with), it’s well worth the effort to get acquainted with the basics of strength training.
The reality is that most of us aren’t getting in as much daily activity and movement these days. Focusing on acquiring or maintaining lean muscle mass is perhaps more critical than ever for our metabolisms and overall health.
The article is detailed and specific – give it a read!
- Strength training benefits
- Fundamental movement patterns (squats, lunges, hip hinge, push and pull, lateral rotation and carry)
- Choosing the right equipment
- Structuring your workout
- Optimizing your workout
I hope you find this helpful! Feel free to reach out in the comments section or through direct message on my contact page or Instagram for questions. I’m always happy to chat and offer tips!
Other MyFitnessPal “fitness basics” articles include:
Yours in health & wellness,
I’m doing a little something different today by offering up some ideas for at-home workouts (see videos & tutorials below). I feel it’s my job to do my little part to help others during this difficult time of uncertainty, fear and cabin fever. Globally, we are vulnerable to coming out of this pandemic more at risk for obesity-related issues. The time has come to figure out once and for all how to exercise at home. My sincere hope is that once we all figure it out, we won’t be so saddled with the age-old excuses like “I don’t have time to exercise.”
I’m no videographer so these shots from my home office are very basic, but they are educational. Hopefully they can help you learn how to combine exercise movements for time-efficient, full-body workouts. Side note – Please forgive the pop-up appearance of my curious little yorkie and the missing “pizzazz” of professional lights/music/editing. It’s the time to give each other some grace and keep it real, right? Feel free to do 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps per exercise. Even just one set can prove beneficial so no need to shy away or be intimidated! All you need is a mat (or the carpet) and a set of dumbbells. Quick heads up – it’s a little easier to view the instructions and videos simultaneously from your desktop instead of mobile.
Let’s battle this coronavirus the best way we can – with good health! Stay well, everyone!
Exercise Combo #1: Down Dog with Leg Tuck + Chaturanga + Upward Dog
Target Muscles: Lower – tightens quadriceps, lengthen hamstrings and calf muscles; Upper – lats, traps, deltoids, pec major and triceps; Core – rectus abdominus and transverse abs
Benefits: What doesn’t this exercise cover?! It’s a great warm-up but can also be quite challenging after enough reps. It stretches tight hamstrings, works the entire upper body and challenges the core.
Exercise Combo #2: Double Leg to Single Leg Crunches + Overhead Pull
Target Muscles: Lower – Lightly engages quadriceps; Upper – triceps and anterior deltoids; Core – rectus abdominus
Benefits: Great way to get more done with core work. Overhead pulls target the triceps while also ramping up the challenge of this exercise.
Exercise Combo #3: Alternating Lunge w/ Twist + Alternating Side Lunge w/ Twist
Target Muscles: Lower – glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and abductors; Upper – pec major, traps and rhomboids; Core – obliques
Benefits: This is an excellent way to hit all three planes of motion in one sequence! The chest and obliques benefit from a nice stretch and the lower body muscles work isometrically during each twist.
Exercise Combo #4: Curtsy Lunge + Bicep Curl
Target Muscles: Lower – all major leg muscles including adductors and abductors; Upper – biceps; Core – transverse abs for stability
Benefits: Strengthens hips and soft tissues surrounding the knees. Challenges lower leg muscles and ankle stability, especially if you hold the low position for a slow bicep curl.
Exercise Combo #5: Plank + Alternating Single Arm Row + Alternating Single Arm Twist
Target Muscles: Lower – all muscles working for isometric support; Upper – deltoids, trap, rhomboids, biceps; Core – rectus abdominus, transverse abs, obliques, QLs and multifidus
Benefits: The entire body gets a great workout with a focus on stability, the core and muscles that support posture.
Exercise Combo #6: Static Hip Bridge + Chest Fly
Target Muscles: Lower – glutes, hamstrings; Upper – pec major, biceps; Core – transverse abs, QLs
Benefits: Hip bridges are a wonderful way to engage the major glute muscles and open tight hip flexors. Chest flies are a nice alternative to push-ups.
Exercise Combo #7: Alternating Weighted Lunges + Single Leg Balance + Bicep Curl to Shoulder Press
Target Muscles: Lower – all major muscles are involved; Upper – biceps, deltoids; Core – tranvserse abs for balance
Benefits: Balancing exercises train the nervous system to be sharp. This specific sequence challenges your center of gravity and gets the heart pumping!
Exercise Combo #8: Static Plie Squat + Upright Row
Target Muscles: Lower – Adductors, quadriceps; Upper – medial and rear deltoids; Core – transverse abs for stability
Benefits: Excellent workout for those hard-to-tone inner thighs. (P.S. – do you hear my 1-yr old starting to cry in the background? ha! #reallife)
Exercise Combo #9: Balancing Side Leg Lift + Lateral Raise + Single Leg Balance + Frontal Raise
Target Muscles: Lower – Abductors; Upper – frontal and medial deltoids; Core – transverse abs for stability
Benefits: Stable abductors support your hips and low back making this a go-to for tight, weak back muscles and hips in need of some TLC.
Exercise Combo #10: Single Leg Reach + Reverse Fly + Straight Arm Tricep Kickback
Target Muscles: Lower – glutes, hamstrings; Upper – rear deltoids, triceps; Core – transverse abs used for balance
Benefits: Improves balance & posture thanks to working the posterior kinetic chain (i.e. muscles in the back of the body)
If anyone has questions or needs help modifying form then feel free to contact me or drop it in the comments.
Yours in health & wellness,
I try to offer balanced content on this blog so forgive me while I take a moment to post yet another exercise-themed article. This week it occurred to me that I don’t have much time left to write this post! The reason? Winter is almost over! Before you know it, you might miss out on the chance to enjoy winter running before the most popular running season hits (the spring!). Running in the winter is way underrated but it’s actually my favorite season for it! Here are 10 reasons why it’s so awesome:
1) Temperature Regulation is Easier
I get so hot running in the summer. Even when I’m carrying a Camelback and gels I can’t stand it. My runs are abruptly cut short and I pay the price several times a year from heat exhaustion or heat sensitivity. But not in the winter, baby! I love the fact that winter running involves layering because temperature regulation is so much easier when you can take off a headband and expose your ears to the cold. I like going out in a puffer vest over a long-sleeved, fitted Lululemon jacket. When I get too hot I simply unzip the vest or take my hands out of those cute fold-over mittens that Lululemon designs for some of their jackets (the ones that sometimes say “cold hands, warm heart”). I find that “unlayering” during my winter runs allows me to better regulate my temperature as I get hot and I can run for much longer than usual. Give it a try!
2) Less Dehydration
Of course you can become dehydrated from winter running although it’s far less common than running in the heat and humidity. So, yay for that! Winter running scores another point!
3) Easier to Run for Distance
As I mentioned in #1, the ability to layer up and remove said layers as needed makes winter running easier. For example, in the summer when you strip down to a sports bra and you’re still too hot you don’t have many options left. Agreed? The lower risk of dehydration also makes it easier to run longer with less fatigue. Another sneaky reason it’s easier to run for longer might be because it’s just so refreshing to finally be outside after long hours indoors! Which brings me to the next feather in winter’s cap…
4) Antidote for Cabin Fever
Does anyone else get as crazy as I do after a couple days trapped indoors? I mean, ditching the kids with my husband for an hour of fresh air is well worth the energy expenditure required for a good run. Kid free on Saturday morning? Yes please! It’s basically a dream.
5) Protect Against Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder
On a more serious note, research shows that people who both exercise regularly and get outdoors have the best chances to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The Summit Medical Group states that “many people can manage or avoid SAD with 30 to 60 minutes of exercise and 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight each day.” Outdoor running in the winter checks BOTH of those boxes!
6) Boost Vitamin D
Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” so it’s little surprise that we get less of it during the winter. Getting outside for a run helps you boost this vitamin in your body, aiding in disease prevention and weight loss. It also helps you prevent bone fractures and fight depression. This is the power of the sun! Even a 10-20 minute walk on your lunch break can be beneficial.
7) Take Advantage of Those Rare Warm Winter Days
Ever notice how many people are outside on a Saturday in January or February that is unseasonably and blissfully warm? It’s like seeing one ant creeping towards a crumb and knowing that within minutes there will be hundreds crawling all over it. People thrive off being outdoors. It’s part of our human DNA and what makes us healthy! Staying in shape on the less enticing, more frigid days of winter makes it easier to get out and take full advantage of exercise, hiking and sports on the ones that surprise us and feel like spring.
8) Enjoy Winter Sports
If you’re a fan of skiing, snowboarding or another kind of winter sport then staying in shape is important and might even impact your safety! Although running doesn’t perfectly translate into going down a snowy mountain on skis free of your legs burning, it does help your core and hips stay strong. It also keeps up your cardio stamina!
9) Beat the Last-Minute Stress of Getting in Shape for Summer
So many people start thinking about getting in shape for the summer come April or May but that’s when lots of families and students start taking spring break trips – and it’s merely a month or two before Memorial Day and summer vacations begin. This doesn’t leave much time to get into a regular routine with exercise. Getting a jump on exercise in the dreary, post-holiday winter months is a great way to get a head start on your “beach bod” before summertime and margaritas take it away again (kidding…sort of).
10) Prep for Spring Races
Spring races usually begin late-March and go through early June. If you want to run a race in April then you’ve got to start training during the winter, regardless of the dissimilar weather conditions. Signing up for a spring race is a great way to set a goal during wintertime and have something to look forward to in the spring besides just patio and rooftop happy hours.
I hope you enjoy the end of winter with some invigorating running – or even walking! You will feel amazing if you can motivate to get out there in the cold temperatures. You won’t regret it! Just be careful of ice…
Yours in health and wellness,
Are you in a rut with workouts? Have you hit a plateau with results or enthusiasm? Or maybe you’re looking for ways to keep exercise fresh and exciting? Look no further! I’ve come up with this list of creative ways to switch up your workout and shock your body (in a good way) because of these common conundrums. If you’re looking for specific advice or a personalized workout plan for one of these exercise formats then please don’t hesitate to drop a note in the comments, contact me, or sign up for either my 30-minute mini consultation or jump-start program.
Now, for the details…
Increase Time Under Tension
When you increase your “time under tension,” you’re increasing the overall workload of the exercise. It’s a no-brainer that this results in a harder workout and paves the way for greater results. While not always easy, eccentric loading is a surefire way to increase time under tension. Eccentric loading involves moving slowly and carefully through the elongating phase of the primary muscle in a given exercise. This is typically during the lowering phase of an exercise (ex: deadlift, bench press, shoulder press, sit up). “Lower slower” is a good way to remember how to do this. Eccentric loading is similar to super slow training, if you’re familiar with that, but allows you to move at a normal pace through the upward movement/shortening phase.
How To: Do a few normal reps of your go-to exercises and see how many seconds it takes you to complete each rep. Next, “lower slower” by adding anywhere between 2-10 seconds to the lengthening phase of each movement. Complete a normal number of reps. You will notice that it takes much longer to finish each set but that’s okay! You’re getting way more out of your workout!
Caution: Recovery is a critical element to eccentric loading. You will be more sore (okay, maybe WAY more sore) than usual so an active recovery involving light movement like walking or jogging, gentle yoga, or low-intensity lifting will be important. I do not encourage people to do two workouts like this back to back unless one day is upper body and the next is lower.
SMIT Instead of HIIT
I’m sure you’ve heard of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) training over the past decade, but do you know about HIIT’s beastly cousin; supra-maximal interval training (SMIT)? Similar to HIIT, SMIT is marked by periods of intense exercise followed by periods of rest. In HIIT, the rest periods tend to be active recovery. In other words, you’re continuing with light movement to help lower your heart rate. By contrast, SMIT incorporates full rest intervals – and for good reason. SMIT workouts take you above your VO2max. This means that you’re basically working as hard as possible for intervals of 30 seconds to 2 minutes and then reaping the benefits of a long recovery interval before repeating maximal exertion again.
SMIT hasn’t been as widely studied as HIIT; however, research demonstrates that SMIT workouts can improve speed performance better than HIIT and with less overall training volume. To sum: You’re getting more done in less time. It just might feel a little brutal. But hey, neither HIIT nor SMIT is for the faint of heart. These workouts are for the gym rats who love to profusely sweat.
How To: Choose the same or similar exercises as you would select for a HIIT workout (ex: mountain climbers, burpees, squat jumps, sled pushes, box jumps, etc) but perform them with as much energy and speed as possible. During your recovery interval simply walk around while slowing your breathing. This keeps your blood flowing but allows for a more complete recovery than doing a low-intensity exercise during this interval. Try work to rest ratios of 1:3 or greater (versus 1:1 or 1:2, which are commonplace with HIIT).
Caution: If you start to feel really dizzy then lie down on the ground and get your feet above your heart. Try propping them up on a stability ball or bench. If this doesn’t help then get someone to grab you an easy-to-digest carb snack like a granola bar, orange juice, sports drink or banana.
If you’ve ever been on Pinterest then you’re no stranger to these workouts. They are abound in social media primarily because they’re so darn easy to design that anyone – professional or not – can slap them up and look like they’re coming up with a quality workout. Despite my eyerolls over all the fitness professionals who rely too heavily on these basic programs (usually due to lack of experience), they are still worth incorporating from time to time. Perhaps the best thing about exercise pyramids is that YOU can come up with them all by yourself for a fun, energizing workout!
How To: The most basic way to do a pyramid is to pick five of your favorite exercises (or least favorite, if you want to be tough on yourself) and write them down in a list. Assign rep counts to each exercise; 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 reps, and then complete the workout in order of ascending rep count and/or descending rep count. Voila! Complete. There are more complex ways to vary weighted exercises for pyramid training too. If you’re interested, you can check out this post I wrote 5 years ago on the subject (fair warning: infographics were the new blogosphere rage at the time, haha).
Caution: The focus on high rep counts (20+) puts most people at risk of losing form and technique. Be sure you can truly handle the load without putting your body in jeopardy.
Eccentric loading (mentioned above) doesn’t sound like your jam? Good thing concentric-only training (COT) is an option too! It’s the complete opposite from eccentric loading. You work through the shortening phase of the exercise and avoid completing the lengthening phase. Dr. John Rusin is a distinguished fitness professional who has studied and implemented concentric-only training with athletes. Dr. Rusin explains that COT involves a “high amount of central nervous system (CNS) yield with very low amounts of mechanical fatigue.” In other words, you’re working hard but you won’t feel as sore and tired afterwards. It’s also not as mentally grueling as eccentric focused workouts.
How To: Have you ever seen a heavy lifter start a deadlift, stand with the barbell, and then drop it straight to the ground (with a loud bang)? That’s COT, friends! Each exercise will look a little different and it takes some creativity and planning to implement this type of training effectively. Again, Dr. Rusin is an expert on this unique style of training so check out his videos here.
Caution: Make sure you know how to stay safe if you’re dropping weights or doing new maneuvers with COT. It’s simple once you’ve got it down but it might be worth working with a coach or friend the first time around.
Body Weight Freestyle Flow
This is my favorite way to workout, especially on days when I’m not feeling very focused or motivated. I ditch the weights and exercise props, at least to start, and just begin moving my body through whatever moves feel good. I might do a lunge matrix followed by some walking planks or rotating side planks. A sun salutation or two might make an appearance and suddenly, I’m feeling energized enough to do two sets of squat jumps followed by some russian twists and push-ups AMRAP style. No rules apply for sets, reps or order apply to this style of exercising. It’s a freestyle flow following whatever creative and physical energy is available. The workout ends when motivation drops off or heavy fatigue sets in. I typically make it about 34-40 minutes on days like these. I’m almost always amazed at how my “blah” energy turns into one of the best workouts of the week!
How To: No rules apply – hooray! Pick any body weight exercises, in any order, for however many sets, reps or minutes you’d like and just enjoy! This is a great way to hit lots of planes of movement, limber your body, and connect with your energy.
Caution: Be sure to properly warm up before you start doing hard body weight exercises like push-ups or high-impact jumps. Also, if you have any shoulder or wrist issues then exercises that bear weight on your hands might need to be substituted for exercises with props like a kettlebell or band.
One of the most neglected aspects of exercise in the general population is stability training, even though it has been well researched for decades. It feels slow and boring to folks who love speed, sweat and busy workouts, but there’s a lot to be gleaned from incorporating just a few stability exercises into some of your weekly workouts. Stability exercises are great for strengthening the ankles, knees, hips and core. They are also a wonderful way to keep your nervous system sharp. This can help with sports performance and injury prevention, one of many reasons that athletic programs incorporate this kind of training.
How To: Stability training can be as simple as standing on one leg for 30 seconds or as complex as doing a single leg deadlift reach and performing a dumbbell reverse fly at the bottom of the exercise. What matters is that you’re keeping your weight evenly balanced in the heel and ball of your feet and that you’re engaging your core. Get creative using bosu balls, wobble boards, suspension training and other props at your gym. If you’re working out from home then all you need to do is lift one leg! You can do balancing side leg lifts, single leg jumps, and more!
Caution: Build up your balance gradually. Getting “fancy” too quickly can put you at risk for injury. The last thing you need is to fall and hurt yourself so be humble about what you can and can’t manage on unstable surfaces or standing on one leg.
Best of luck!
Yours in health and wellness,
I was sitting on my couch shortly after the holidays, writing this list of life hacks in a note pad on my phone. I turned to my almost 4-year old son as he was playing on the floor and asked if he had any ideas for it. He replied that we should all “race around toy cars” if we want to move more. (Side note: It’s his favorite activity.) So yea, there’s that. But I’m guessing that’s not high on your agenda unless you’re a little boy or happen to have a young son of your own…
Here are some *other* ideas to help you keep your metabolism awake in between exercise sessions. I hope they help you kick off the new year on a healthy note and give you inspiration to maintain an active lifestyle outside of formal exercise time, especially since that’s where we spend most of our time.
1) Keep a Local Bucket List
I love bucket lists. Most people think of travel when they think of bucket lists. Agendas for overseas adventures that seem to get longer and longer every year. But I personally adore local bucket lists! Make a list of local things you want to push yourself to do and you will be getting out and about before you know it! I like to try something new once a month. Even if sometimes this means a local brewery or something less “active,” other months it means a scenic hike or a fun exercise class across town. Either way, a person who is enthused about discovering and experimenting will be motivated to keep on the move for years to come!
2) What Your Grocery Cart Habits Say About You
Answer this question in your head: “Am I the person who puts the grocery cart away in the cart receptacle – OR – am I the person who leaves it in the middle of the parking lot?
This is going to sound random but I feel like grocery cart habits say a lot about a person. The way you answer that question might say a lot about your willingness (or not) to engage in basic movement and physical effort throughout the day. Consider turning into the person who walks the few extra steps to put the cart away. If you want to go the extra mile, you can grab other stray carts on your way. I routinely organize grocery carts in parking lots. Major pet peeve over here, haha.
3) Don’t Waste Time Circling Parking Lots
One rule of thumb in life is to not waste time in your car doing what you can on your feet. That is all I have to say about that.
(Although when it’s raining and you’ve got multiple kids to haul in and out of the car, it’s a free pass to circle until the next day. I feel your pain.)
4) Grow a Green Thumb
I have a love/hate relationship with nature. I absolutely love spring blooms, mature evergreens, a manicured lawn, and tidy garden beds, but HEAVENS it takes a lot of work. The weeds in my mulch beds grow…well…like weeds. It takes a grand total of three sweaty hours every 3-5 weeks in the summer to pluck them all from the ground. I can’t stand it. I start weeding while cursing under my breath but somewhere in the midst of all the hard work I find my groove and it feels cathartic, kind of like a good workout. Same goes for watering and nurturing all 38 trees and plants we have put into the ground as a family in just 2.5 years. It’s tiresome work to weed and garden but it “keeps a girl young” and helps burn a lot more energy than you’d think.
5) Get Physical About Property Management
On the same note as #4, doing the manual labor around your property instead of paying someone for it will keep you honest about staying active. Anyone who owns a home on a semi-wooded property can attest to how long it takes to rake leaves just like residents of the Northeast know what it takes to keep their driveways and walkways cleared of snow in the winter. It’s a LOT of work…but it’s good for you!
6) Play with Kids
Am I the only one who gets completely exhausted from a day spent shuffling the kids around town and playing with them in the living room? I mean, come on! It’s seriously tiring. By their afternoon nap time I’m a hot mess and talking myself out of having coffee because it will keep me up all night…and who can afford to stay up late when you have needy 6 am alarm clocks? Playing with children definitely burns energy and requires all kinds of movement (twisting, bending, rolling, reaching, pulling, picking up, getting kicked down and pushed off the couch, the works).
7) Burn Calories Cooking (that’s right!)
I do NOT believe in working to burn every calorie consumed. Exercise is NOT a punishment for eating. It’s a celebration of our health and a way to connect our bodies to our souls. All that said, a long day in the kitchen can truly burn a lot of energy. It’s kind of incredible. Ever tried hosting a dinner party for eight? Ever prepared homemade finger foods for a holiday party? Or spent all day making several dozen birthday cupcakes just right, frosting and all? Then you know how much your feet and back can ache after that effort.
But honestly, don’t cook for the sake of anything but the love of good food. Put your heart into it and enjoy! Many cultures believe the food will taste bad or have negative energy if you’re not joyful while making it. So, think back on those cute little dwarfs from Snow White and “whistle while you work.”
8) Listen & Move
There are so many great podcasts and audio books out there these days. It’s not difficult to find them and they are usually pretty accessible (free or an affordable price). I love to put on a good audio book while folding laundry, getting ready for bed and doing chores. It motivates me to stay upbeat while I move through mundane tasks.
Do you feel like getting moving when you’re tired and grumpy? Not so much. More like sit on the couch and zone out to reality tv or sports. Dehydrated adults self report higher than average levels of fatigue, anger and confusion. Even mild dehydration can impact our mood, cognitive function, and overall physical health. Do yourself a favor and carry water with you throughout the day so you can feel your best and stay engaged in an active and fulfilling life.
10) Treat Your Furry Friend to the Great Outdoors
Have you ever seen a dog’s entire body shake with excitement at the mention of the word “outside” or “walk?” Take poor Fido outside for some exercise and watch your pup leap with joy (literally). Enjoy the fresh air yourself, while you’re at it.
11) Eat Energizing Foods
That post-Thanksgiving dinner feeling…you know it, right? Eating too much or eating heavy foods can slow us down and crash our energy. Healthy, fibrous foods like vegetables and fruits rarely ever tank us. Lean, heart-healthy proteins like salmon and chicken also seldom make us feel like we can barely lift a limb from the couch. There’s a truth to the saying “you are what you eat.” When we eat energizing foods our bodies are given nourishment that boosts the metabolism and supports internal health, leaving us with plenty of energy to “get up and go.” If you’re struggling to fit in more movement then take a close and honest look at how you’re eating.
12) Become a DIY Person
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it but the other month I made my forearm sore for a week after pressing down on a spray can for a DIY project. Our master bathtub jets were a dull yellowed color due to age and any time I walked into the room I couldn’t help but feel irritated by them. I know, I know…major first world problem here. I decided to take it upon myself to try a bright white plastic paint on them. The DIY project wasn’t very complicated yet it still took me a few hours. Holding the spray nozzle down for 20 or so minutes made my forearm seriously sore to the point that I couldn’t press down on buttons or turn knobs for days to follow. It was sort of pathetic…and sort of awesome because with all that effort I unintentionally gave my forearm the workout of a lifetime! In many cases, DIY projects require both creative and physical energy.
13) Take the Stairs
I made a commitment to myself that even though my gym is four stories tall that I would never take the elevator up and down. For the most part, I’ve stuck to that resolution – even during pregnancy! That’s right, I would trudge my big belly straight up eight flights of stairs (two per floor) to walk up to the cafe bar and breathlessly order my favorite post-workout smoothie. Walking the stairs is great for you! It trains your heart and glutes to be strong.
Four years ago I made a similar commitment after having my first son. I decided that even in his infancy I would walk up the stairs to change his diaper at the changing table instead of doing it on the same floor. I was lucky that my delivery was uncomplicated so I could do this safely. Those early months whipped me right back into shape because I was going up and down the stairs allllllll day long. On days that I couldn’t fit in any formal exercise I knew that I was still doing plenty simply from moving around my own house.
14) Actively Care for Others
Actively caring for someone can look a lot of different ways. It might be caring for an elderly family member or neighbor, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, coaching youth sports, performing acts of service for your significant other, or running errands for your children. When we’re caring for others we expend a lot of energy plus we address the needs of others in a selfless manner. If you want a thought-provoking article about the benefits of care giving you can read more. Just don’t forget about self care. It takes a lot of energy to be caregiver and we must prioritize and refill our energy tanks too!
15) Keep Slip-on Shoes Handy
Keeping slip-on shoes by the door makes stepping in and out of your house or apartment much easier. It’s a simple thing we can do to make everyday decisions easier. For example, keeping slip-on shoes by the door might help you choose to walk outside to get the mail every day instead of only a few times a week. My husband rolls his eyes at me because I actually get upset if he checks the mail before I have a chance to. I’ve come to really enjoy taking a few deep breaths of fresh air on the way to and from the mailbox. It wakes me right up from my late afternoon energy slump!
16) Organize Your Life
Organizing things is a great way to fit in more movement. Not only will you be bending, lifting and carrying but you will be clearing space for what’s important! A friend started her own home organizing business last year here in Richmond and she laughed one day that she “always sounds out of breath” in her video reveals of clients’ spaces following her services. I told her that it makes sense that she is out of breath – organizing requires a TON of energy! Which might be why so many people choose to use her!
17) Make Things Inconvenient
Remember I mentioned taking the stairs to change diapers? Nothing screams inconvenient like that! But I must confess that for my second child I put a diaper caddy downstairs because going up and down the stairs all day while supervising two kids wasn’t feasible. But diapering aside, my husband and I currently make our recycling inconvenient. It would be much faster to toss recyclable items into a bin inside our kitchen but we opt to walk them out to the larger bin in the garage each time. It seems like literally every time we’ve taken a few things out there is something new that needs go. Suffice to say, it helps us get in our steps!
Online shopping sure is easy but it doesn’t get us moving, does it? Sometimes it’s refreshing to get out the old-fashioned way and shop on foot! Make a nice afternoon of it and pick an outdoor shopping strip or city street with a cafe or lunch spot that you’ve been wanting to visit.
Despite the fact that we aren’t moving when we are resting, it’s an essential ingredient for an active lifestyle. The two [rest and exercise] reinforce one another quite nicely. Daily exercise helps us get restorative sleep at night and adequate rest helps us feel energized enough to exercise. Some combination of sleep, rest, relaxation and restoration is crucial if we want the necessary fuel to stay active.
20 ) Find something you enjoy
Finding a hobby or exercise class that you enjoy is one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle. This sounds like a no-brainer yet so many people commit to things they feel they “should do” instead of what they actually want to do. It’s time to stop thinking about what kind of exercise class you’ve been told you “should do,” and start asking yourself which type you will enjoy the most. Trust the answer you come up with and go for it. If you hate every minute of exercise or movement then it will never serve you well. So, forget about “the rules” and just have some fun. Do it for you!
Cheers to a healthy year!
Yours in health and wellness,
Benefits of Group Exercises Classes
Group exercise classes are truly one of the fitness industry’s great gifts. They’re energetic and uplifting, not to mention an efficient use of time. Many gyms offer these classes for free with a monthly membership while other “boutique” studios offer options for people who don’t belong to big box gyms (think Pure Barre, Soul Cycle, OrangeTheory, SolidCore, etc.). Classes are a great way to stay in shape and ride the energy provided by the participants and instructor.
Common Challenges in Group Exercise Classes
There are drawbacks in group fitness too. Some instructors lack experience even though they outwardly appear to know what they are doing. This can lead to low quality coaching for participants. It can also be difficult to keep pace with group classes when you’re a newbie, sometimes making the exercises physically precarious and mentally intimidating. Overall, the benefits and drawbacks vary according to the studio/gym, instructor and format.
Three group exercise formats in particular have proven the test of time and have mostly positive participant experience; Soul Cycle, Body Pump and Barre. They are so popular that they have “cult followings” of people willing to pay top dollar to participate and attend class several times a week. It’s easy to get swept away in the results and excitement of these wonderful programs! But just as every class holds promise for results, each also has the capacity to wear down participants.
Let’s explore the benefits and drawbacks of each of these popular classes so that you can stay keenly aware of how to care for yourself when/if you participate.
I can still remember people in the fitness industry whispering about the increasingly popular Soul Cycle studio up in NYC. I was working in DC when Soul Cycle was just getting started up there and no one could believe the concept. Free weights on a bike? Candlelight during an energizing cycle class? And people are paying WHAT for it? It’s fairly ironic that Soul Cycle opened up in DC right across the street from the sports club that I worked at during my 20s. No one thought it could ever expand and transform the landscape of boutique fitness offerings in the way that it did.
Soul Cycle is incredibly fun and helps participants burn a lot of energy in a short period of time. It involves an engaging, full-body workout on the bike using upper body exercise equipment while pedaling away to loud music. It’s great to knock out exercising both the upper and lower body at the same time but when we step back from the excitement and think about it hard, we have to ask ourselves: Was the bike designed to be used for upper body exercise? Short answer: No.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with getting creative with exercise equipment. Switching things up can keep workouts fun and fresh. But when we use equipment in ways that it wasn’t designed to be used, contraindications can arise. In Soul Cycle, participants are at risk for low quality upper body movement because of the challenge engaging the core for stability without compromising the lower back. At best, the free weight workout will build a little bit of upper body endurance while helping people burn more energy on the bike. My professional preference remains keeping my hands on the handlebars and better utilizing the bike itself for energy burn (longer hills, interval work, heavier resistance, speed drills, in/out of saddle drills, etc.), but that’s just me.
Upper body exercises aside, Soul Cycle and many other cycle studios spend a lot of time out of the saddle (i.e. hovering above the seat). People tire very quickly in this position and tend to lose form, allowing their hips to drift forward in front of the seat. This creates a more upright posture and undue pressure on the knee joints. In a perfect world, instructors will correct form but more often than not, it goes unchecked.
Enjoy Soul Cycle and pedal your heart out! Just remember to properly engage your core and do slower and heavier upper body exercises at another time too. And don’t forget – keep your rear in OR above the seat at all times!
Next year will be the 30th year of Body Pump’s existence in the fitness realm. It was developed by a man named Phillip Mills and his wife Jackie, a doctor and former gymnast. Phillip was inspired by his father Les Mills who was a former Olympian. Phillip created the Body Pump class and checked all the boxes for what can make a successful group fitness experience. For this reason, many big box gyms train instructors to teach Body Pump for their class offerings.
Body Pump is a full-body workout and it consists of the same exercises every class, with some variations here and there. There is a lot of technique instruction for squats, lunges, deadlifts, presses, push-ups, rows and chest presses, to name a few. Each exercise is set to a song so there is plenty of time to focus on each move. The class creates an environment where dedicated participants get to master the moves and watch their progress improve as they place heavier plates on their bars.
Although Phillip created an amazing class, it does have its challenges too. In practice, a newbie walking into Body Pump can get easily overwhelmed if they rack their bar with heavier plates than they can handle. Many people feel peer pressure from the quick tempo of the regular participants and won’t stop to adjust their weights to what they can safely do. This creates a major injury risk for people doing several minutes straight of a single exercise without any breaks! It’s also challenging to get the full range of motion for the exercises in class due to the fast tempo. This can make some movements ballistic and contraindicated.
The endurance nature of the weight lifting in Body Pump isn’t for everyone, especially people who like to lift heavy and have rest intervals. A lot of people also mistakenly assume that Body Pump is strength training but it’s not…at least not according to the true definition of what strength training is: 10 or fewer reps until muscle failure. So while it will create definition and muscular endurance, it doesn’t create “strength” according to classic standards.
Body Pump away! But remember to slow down and/or adjust the weights to your needs, even if this means pausing mid-class or setting your own speed to stay safe. Also, it’s a good idea to hit the gym for some heavier and slower weight lifting exercises from time to time. You will find that your technical foundation from Body Pump along with your improved endurance will make for success on the gym floor!
Barre is a ballet-inspired format that utilizes – go figure – the bar! I’m guessing this isn’t news to you though. Barre tends to be a popular option for women, particularly those who have a dance or gymnastics background or who don’t love weight machines and classes focused on lifting. Barre classes can vary greatly depending on the studio and instructor but they typically involve time spent working the core and hips at the bar, and a free weights portion to incorporate more upper body exercises. Each class incorporates stretching intermittently through class or at the end.
Barre is a great way to challenge the glutes and lower body muscles. Rapid pulsing movements are used to get a solid burn in muscles being worked. The burn comes from the exercises being fast and endurance in nature, and also from focus on the “transition zone” of the muscle. This zone is where the muscle goes from shortening to lengthening. Exercising in it can cause muscles to be very sore and can result in positive neuromuscular adaptations.
While the transition zone is a great sweet spot for exercises, it’s difficult not to become ballistic with moves in it. A good barre instructor will be quick to catch participants who are getting ballistic but unfortunately in many cases participants start to put work that belongs in the abdominal muscles into the lower back. Additionally, some barre classes instruct participants to keep a “C” curve in the core, which can actually heighten risk for the lower back because it’s being stretched for long periods of time before being worked in rapid contracting movements again.
Be a Barre babe, if that’s what you want! Just remember that every studio and instructor varies on form critique and safety. So, if an exercise feels uncomfortable in any part of your core (and I’m not talking tired or burning because there IS a difference) then flag down the instructor and ask how you can do the exercise better or differently. Low back injuries are no joke. Don’t flirt around with them!
Every group exercise class comes with inherent risks. It’s up to *you* to be proactive about your safety and health. Don’t hesitate to be brave and advocate for your own health by asking instructors for help or modifying for your individual needs. The world of group exercise classes should feel wide open for you to choose what you enjoy!
Yours in health and wellness,