Tag Archives: cardiovascular exercise

The Benefits (and drawbacks) of Soul Cycle, Body Pump and Barre

 

 

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.

 

 

Soul Cycle

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.

Solution:

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!

 

 

Body Pump

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.

Solution:

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

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.

Solution:

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!

 


Conclusion:

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,

Maggie

 

8 Bad Health Habits I’ve Had to Shake

No one’s perfect and health professionals are no different – I’m certainly not perfect! Far from it. But through the years I’ve awakened to my bad health habits and have refined them through trial and error. In the spirit of keeping things real, here are the habits I’ve had to shake. Maybe they’ll make you feel less guilty for having a few of your own. 

 

 

To Do Lists

Alas, I’m ashamed to admit that my obsession with daily “To Do Lists” wasn’t given a firm kick in the pants until I became a mom. I’m not saying it’s bad to have daily goals and lists but what I would do is obsess over every last detail, staying up way too late to ensure every single little thing was checked off my list. I would run errands even though I was dizzy with fatigue. I would wake up in the middle of the night running through the things I needed to get done the next day. I’m telling ya: CRAY CRAY. Yet I’m astonished at how common this behavior is. 

When my son was born, I was due for a startling realization: I can’t do it all. There were lots of tears. I slowly relinquished control and loosened my grip on life’s minute details. As a result, I can now complete a mere fraction of my lofty “To Do” lists without freaking out. I can officially handle living “imperfectly.” I put my sanity over my task lists. (It feels good.) 

 

Overeating

I never thought that I overate until it hit me like a brick wall one day. I was fresh out of college and working to earn a commission-based living at the height of the recession. I was sitting in a side chair in my dining room stuffing my face with handfuls from a bag of Chex Mix even though I wasn’t hungry. I realized in that moment that I was emotionally eating and that it wasn’t all that different from overeating at dinnertime and finding it soothing.

I was able to “get away” with eating a lot while growing up (probably thanks to having a teenager’s metabolism and playing lots of sports). Even as a kid I didn’t feel like dinner was over until I was overstuffed. I ignorantly equated that overstuffed feeling to being full, even though it was overeating. Fast-forward to my 20s, when I got stressed about the responsibilities of the real world, and I craved to have that familiar feeling of fullness from my childhood. As though it made me feel more centered in life’s whirlwind. But I was wrong. I soon discovered that when I stopped overeating and started eating more intuitively that I had loads more energy and far less inflammation in my body.

 

 

Veggies, What Veggies?

I always ate veggies growing up (thanks mom!) but in college it was all too easy to forget about them. And then life as a recent graduate was a lot of buying veggies with the intention of cooking them before ultimately tossing them in the trash after they spoiled. It took me a solid few years to slowly integrate veggies into every lunch and dinner, but I soon found that it was worth the effort (and pretty darn yummy). Filling up my plate most lunches and dinners with a solid heap of veggies keeps me full for longer, doesn’t over-stuff me, and packs in nutrients that energize me and keep my immune system trucking along. I strongly encourage everyone out there to get creative with veggies and find options they can stay motivated to eat and enjoy on a regular basis.

 

No Time to Snooze

I’ve always valued sleep. Even my former college roommates can attest to this. And so can my husband. I’m pretty grumpy and blah without it. Even armed with this knowledge, I tried to convince myself that I could get by on 7 hours of sleep a night; 7-9 hours is the healthy range so I should be good on 7, right? One would think…but my body disagreed.

I spent a few years getting between 6-7.5 hours of sleep most nights and it just about killed me. I’ve never had a more bleary-eyed, exhausted, mentally unstable period of my life. When I finally respected my body’s screams for more rest, everything fell into order. I felt WAY better and acted like a human again. I’m officially an 8-hour girl. And 9 feels like a slice of heaven.

 

 

‘Twas a Nail Biter 

After my Junior year in college I traveled to Sedona, AZ for the summer to work as a fitness instructor and personal trainer at Mii Amo Spa. (Sedona is known for its positive energy and healing qualities.) When I ended the summer there, I noticed with surprise that I hadn’t bitten my nails all summer, something I had done my entire life! It made me realize that I would bite my nails out of nervous anxiety over nothing in particular, and that the habit never made me feel better – only served to kind of reinforce the stress. So, I don’t bite them anymore. Yay! Small victories are everything. 

 

Sit Up Straight

Mom – this one’s for you! Remember how you always told me to sit up straight as girl? “Don’t slouch!” was the exact wording, I believe. Well, you were right. Sitting and standing with better posture helps my whole body feel better. And I’ve noticed that slouching doesn’t just happen during the daytime – it happens at night, too! I notice that I feel better when I sleep straight instead of tucked into a ball. Give it a try!

 

 

Color Me Cardio

Once upon a time I was the cardio exercise queen. It was my mojo. I did cardio all the time. And I loved it. But to be honest, only doing cardio was kiiiinda a bad habit. It might not sound like it initially but constant endurance exercise can deplete your muscle mass and make certain parts of your body weaker. When I first became a personal trainer I had to adjust my mentality. I couldn’t only do cardio and coach other people to lift weights, could I? I had to start cross-training and weight training more regularly and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy at first. I can still remember the day when foam rolling felt difficult because I lacked upper body strength. I can still remember feeling like planks must be the devil’s favorite form of torture. And I can still remember the time when doing anything other than cardio felt forced. But that all slowly changed in an epic way. I’m pretty darn strong now and I love doing a huge variety of exercises. So, it’s okay if getting started with cross-training or weights feels like a chore. You may feel differently one day. Stick to it.

 

Sunday Fun Day 

This phrase is so common that it’s even a little sticker for Instagram stories! There’s something to be said about taking one day a week to truly relax – and I mean no chores, no work emails, no obligations, and for me, no exercise. I used to push myself hard all seven days a week and wondered why I never felt rejuvenated. Isn’t that just so ridiculous? I’ve really come to embrace the concept of “the sabbath” being a day of rest and encourage you to do the same, even if you’re not religious. We aren’t meant to go-go-go, ever pressing life’s accelerator down harder. What’s the point? Why are you doing it? Ask yourself these questions and the consequences of them. And then ask yourself the consequences of NOT resting. If you value your health, you’ll find that the consequences of not resting far outweigh anything else. We’ve all got one body to get through this life in. Let’s learn to honor it.

 

Life’s not about perfection. It’s about progress.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

The Inside Scoop on Exercise During Pregnancy

 Prenatal 3

Something is in the water! As I’ve attempted to embrace my first pregnancy, with a balance of privacy and sharing my experiences with other women, pregnant ladies have come out of the woodworks – and they’re all curious about how they should exercise during pregnancy. It has long been my passion to make sure that people feel supported and confident about their health and exercise choices, so, without delay, it’s time to jump into the deep end. Whether you’re currently pregnant, planning to be pregnant one day, or have a relative going through this season of her life, I encourage you to read and share! *Insert my favorite corny hashtag: #knowledgeispower.*  

These initial insights on how to approach exercise during pregnancy are just that; beginning steps and considerations for how to cope with the new changes in a pregnant woman’s body. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many practitioners and trainers to broach this topic in detail because every woman’s body – especially while pregnant – is unique and requires special, individualized care. For this reason, there is no single perfect routine for a pregnant woman, especially because her physical needs change from trimester to trimester! Nonetheless, I will do my best to walk you through a lot of information to consider for your personal needs. I know, all this stuff can really can make one’s head spin. Don’t worry. We’ll get it screwed back on the right way.

In the sections that follow, I will attempt to paint a high-level picture of universal prenatal exercise considerations. In the future, I will also post an article including exercises that have been modified to meet the needs of a growing belly.

 

Benefits of Exercise during Pregnancy: 

  • Improvements in energy, self-esteem and mood
  • Improvements in posture and reduction of back pain
  • Promotion of muscle strength, endurance and tone
  • Promotion of positive sleep patterns
  • Reduction of constipation, incontinence, bloating and swelling
  • May help prevent or improve gestational diabetes
  • Improvements in circulation which may relieve leg cramps, nausea, varicose veins, insomnia, fatigue and edema
  • Reduction of instances of hypertension, diastasis recti, deep venous thrombosis and bone-density loss
  • On average, 30% shorter active stage labor, 50% reduction in need for labor inducing drugs, and 75% reduction in need for C-section and/or forceps

Note: This is just a short list of benefits for the mommy-to-be, not to mention a plethora of benefits for the little one if you exercise just 3x/week!

For more information, and signs that you should STOP exercising, please refer to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s (ACOG) guidelines and precautionary measures for exercise during pregnancy: http://bit.ly/1yoHwgl

Also, check out the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) comments on this topic: http://bit.ly/1ihe1GH

 

Prenatal 4

 

Prenatal Exercise 101:

Woo hoo! You’ve peed on a stick and discovered that life is now growing inside you!

First thing I want you to know is that relaxin, a hormone that can cause your joints/muscles to be looser than normal (in preparation for Junior’s big debut!), kicks in on day one, literally. Some women can experience small changes in their body’s laxity very soon after conception. Interestingly, that is one of the first ways I knew I was pregnant – I woke up on day 25 of my cycle with my back totally out of whack. I didn’t sleep on it weird or do anything to aggravate it the day before, so the only thing I could think of was that hormones may be shifting already. A couple days later, when I went on a run with a friend, I was unreasonably out of breath and had to ask her to walk with me. It was then, in between gasps for air, that I was certain I was pregnant. On day 28, I snuck into the bathroom without telling my husband and did the classic pee-on-a-stick, and there it was – pregnant! Not every woman will experience these changes at such an early stage, but they are anecdotal evidence that hormonal changes are the REAL DEAL. Fo sho.

Due to relaxin and impending changes in elastin and progesterone (other hormones that can loosen soft-tissue), you’re going to have to see how loose and/or unstable your body feels as you enter your workouts. Hardcore high-intensity interval training or workouts with sudden lateral or twisting movements may become contraindicated. In addition to being less safe for your muscles and joints, maximal bouts of exercise also have the potential to divert oxygen away from your fetus to your large muscles. For obvious reasons, this isn’t ideal for the growing life inside you. Additionally, maximal bouts of exercise are likely to be more challenging to recover from, so it’s best to stick with what feels like “exercise in moderation.”

Some women may feel that running a half marathon is manageable because they’re in a long-distance running routine already and happen to be blessed with enough energy during their pregnancy to handle it. More power to ya – have no idea how you do it! Other women may find that their normal exercise routines feel incredibly laborious all of the sudden and/or they may have challenges getting into the gym due to nausea and/or dizziness. The point: You have to see how your body is responding to pregnancy and then make a day-by-day game plan. This is one time in your life when it’s best to set an intention for exercise, but to wake up and see what your body can actually manage, rather than pushing yourself through a set-in-stone weekly routine because you “have to.”  Pregnancy is NOT the time to push your body beyond its abilities. Let yourself off the hook a little if you’re feeling stressed about it. Don’t go signing up to train for something you’ve never done before. Your baby told me he/she won’t be very happy about it. 😉

 

Cardio Guidelines:

Unless your doctor has told you otherwise, feel free to run, use the cardio equipment at the gym, swim, dance, or anything else that suits your fancy. What’s important is to avoid sudden, uncontrolled movements and exercises/sports where you may be at risk for blunt trauma to your abdomen and/or falling (contact sports, downhill skiing, mountain biking, etc.). These guidelines seem strict, but, if you want to play it safe, it’s a good idea to modify your activities. Mind you, I’ve seen women ignore some of these guidelines and, luckily, avoid injury, buuutttttttt, I’m not going to be one to suggest risk taking.

To ensure that you’re exercising at an appropriate intensity, use the “talk test.” If you can talk while exercising, you’re good to go. If you’re feeling really out of breath though, you should probably take down the intensity. You may only need to reduce the intensity for a few minutes, or you may have to switch up your routine in its entirety.

I like to tell non-pregnant clients to use a scale of 1-10 to assess their workout intensity. A 1 means you’re lying on your couch watching Desperate Housewives. A 10 means that you’re working out as hard as possible – a level that’s not sustainable for longer than a minute or two, at most. For pregnant clients, I like to use the same scale. I counsel them that it’s no longer going to be appropriate to reach a 10 on the scale during their workouts, but that exercising up to a 7 is going to be just fine. You might even hit an 8, from time to time, if you’re really fit. But, it’s best not to linger in that zone for very long – especially if you’re feeling really out of breath.

 

Prenatal 1

 

Strength Training Guidelines:

You may be gaga for your beach body workouts or CrossFit, but pregnancy can definitely take some of the oomph out of your weight lifting routine. If you find that lifting your normal weights is a lot harder than it was before getting pregnant, then it’s a good idea to reduce the weight to a safe level. You will want to keep your heart rate in an appropriate range (see the 1-10 scale of exertion mentioned in “Cardio Guidelines” above). A lot of women find they can’t lift as heavy due to cardiac changes taking a toll on energy (ex: blood pressure drops, dizziness, fatigue). But, again, listen to your body.

You should also be extra conscientious to keep proper exercise form since it can have positive or negative consequences for your changing body. Thus, choose the weights that feel appropriate and don’t be surprised if you’re a wee bit deflated by having to step down from the heavier weights that you were so proud to lift before. Weights that you can control will be best for your body!  In fact, many women find that they have to opt for lower weights with higher reps. Do what you’ve gotta do! No self-shaming.

Full-body workouts are always going to be the golden ticket, but, during pregnancy, you may want to put a little more emphasis on hip and core exercises since these areas will be largely impacted by the growing weight of your uterus and baby. For optimal core strength, begin focusing on your transverse abdominus through planks and stabilizing exercises instead of crunches. Crunches may still feel okay for a little while during the first trimester, depending on how quickly your body changes, but they can 1) weaken the pelvic floor and 2) place inappropriate stress on a stretching belly (which can cause diastasis recti).

Pregnancy is a great time to focus on back exercises. These are super important for postural support and can minimize lower back discomfort (common in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters) and upper back discomfort (commonly results from breastfeeding and consistently holding your new bundle of joy).

Other considerations:

  • While weight lifting, always remember to breathe so you don’t get faint.
  • Avoid exercises lying flat on your back once you’re putting on significant weight and/or the pressure becomes uncomfortable. This may be towards the end of your first trimester, especially if this is not your first baby, or it may be around the end of the fourth month of pregnancy for new moms who are slower to expand.
  • Aim for stability and moderation. Sticking with safer routines doesn’t mean you can’t get a great workout.
  • Don’t compare what you can do to what another pregnant woman can do for exercise. ‘Nuff said.
  • KEGALS!!!!!! 😉

 

 

Prenatal 5

 

Stretching Guidelines:

After the first trimester a lot of women may need to avoid static, prolonged stretches in some or all areas of the body (esp. the stomach), and may find that foam rolling becomes difficult due to a growing belly and/or foam rolling’s impact on blood pressure. Stretching to the point of discomfort, for any period of time, is going to be contraindicated throughout the entire pregnancy, for all women.

Some women may find that their regular yoga class feels comfortable for a while. A lot more women will probably find that prenatal classes are a better option once they are well into their second trimester or early third trimester. Plenty of yoga and stretching exercises can relieve some pressure and discomfort in areas that get tight from daily exercise and/or the physical burden of carrying extra weight; however, the pregnant body needs modified versions of many poses and stretches.

Ultimately, your body now craves a lot more stability to counteract the natural loosening of soft-tissue, so I encourage you to consider the following:

If you’re performing yoga or stretching exercises and you notice an increase in discomfort, rather than a decrease, you should consider finding alternative routines and exercises. Plenty of women will find short-term relief of discomfort when stretching due to the increase in circulation that takes place; however, if you’re uncomfortable a few short hours later, you may try skipping yoga/stretching for a week and replacing it with stability exercises. If your discomfort decreases then there is your answer; your body is craving stability, not stretching. If you’re not noticing any change in regular discomfort, and you’ve already consulted a qualified exercise professional to learn appropriate stabilizing exercises, then it’s probably time to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist. They can give you modified exercises and hands-on care to relieve your pain.

 

Fueling Your Workouts with Food:

Since you’re growing a new life, you’re going to need to eat back the calories you burn. First time you’re ever going to consider doing that, right?! 😉 In general, the first trimester you can eat for weight maintenance since you don’t need many more calories per day (baby is still itty bitty). During the second trimester you need approximately 300 extra calories/day. The third trimester, depending on your pre-pregnancy BMI and your current pregnancy weight gain, may vary and go up to as much as 500 extra calories/day. Mind you, it’s best to keep track of your weight and discuss these things at your OB check-ups, especially if you have a rapid weight gain or loss at any point during pregnancy. Lastly, if you’re an expectant mama of multiples, you will need even more! Eat up!

If you’re experiencing nausea, try to eat a light carb-based snack before you exercise. This may help ease the symptoms and will give you the necessary fuel to get moving.

If you’re exercising regularly at ANY point in pregnancy, make a note that you may need to talk to your doctor about getting additional iron through your diet so that you don’t develop full-blown anemia (very common in pregnancy).

Lastly, although carbs are probably the first good group on your pregnant brain, it’s still important to eat plenty of healthy fats and proteins. A great time for eating a healthy portion of protein is immediately following your workout.

 

Prenatal 2

Please don’t hesitate to ask me questions if you’re expecting or expecting to be expecting! No one should have to feel “in the dark” when it comes to pregnancy and exercise. You have a built in support system right here!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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