Tag Archives: Sweat

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

 

MasterChef and WellnessWinz Unite

MasterChef, a reality TV show on Fox, features three famous culinary icons as judges; Gordon Ramsey, Graham Elliot and Christina Tosi. In its latest season, DC area resident, Ailsa von Dobeneck, joined the esteemed group of home cooks, ready to compete before the judges for the title “MasterChef.”  This past week, I was honored to join forces with Ailsa to offer a fun and healthy event for women. The workout was sweaty and the food was to die for! Here are some details on how to replicate both.

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The workout that I coached is SO easy to replicate at home or in a local park with friends (as we did – see our beautiful park below!) since it doesn’t require any equipment. Also, it’s fun and fast-moving so you don’t get bored or hit a wall. Plus, if you do the workout in a park then you get the added benefit of sunshine and fresh air. What better way to spend a Saturday morning?!

Pssst – I converted Ailsa, a professed foodie who has little history with exercise. If she enjoyed it, I bet you will too!  

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The Workout:

1) Pick 12 exercises that involve the entire body and boost your heart rate. Write them down on a piece of paper.

2) Exercises 1-3 should be performed in sequence (including rest intervals) and should be repeated 2-3x.  This breaks up the workout’s sets and gives you mini goals to accomplish.

3) Each individual exercise should be performed with maximum effort for 30-60 seconds. After each exercise you rest for half the amount of time that you were working hard for. For example, if you do mountain climbers or burpees for 60 seconds, you rest for 30 seconds. This keeps you working at full capacity each exercise as you progress through them.

To sum:

  • Choose 12 exercises
  • Perform exercises 1-3 in sequence for 30-60 seconds, each with 15-30 seconds rest in between
  • Perform exercises 4-6 ”     “
  • Perform exercises 7-9 ”     “
  • Perform exercises 10-12 ”  “
  • …Sweaty and DONE!

The whole workout will take you less than 30-35 minutes but you will have exercised your entire body, burning tons of energy and maximizing toning potential.

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Here are some of the exercises that we did (videos will be uploaded for demonstration purposes to Instagram: @maggie_wellnesswinz):

Set 1:

  • High Knees while holding the arms straight over head
  • Lateral Squat Hops
  • Diagonal Mountain Climbers

Set 2:

  • Double Leg Lift + Sit-up (alternating)
  • Burpees
  • Speed Skaters

Set 3:

  • Down Dog to Upward Dog (with tricep burner transition)
  • Plank Jumping Jacks
  • Alternating Lunge Jumps

Set 4:

  • Core V-tucks
  • Balancing Plank Hand-to-Toe Taps
  • Quick Feet

Don’t stop, get it get it!!! 

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A few of the girls who participated…happy after a hard workout. That’s the spirit!

Recovery Snack:

Now, for the FOOD! I know, I know, it’s probably the best part of the experience. It’s a bit of a love/hate relationship that forms when I coach people through a tough routine, but Ailsa…well, she just gets the love part of the equation as a chef.

chia pudding

Let me tell you, we were lucky ladies to be fed this easy-to-replicate recipe that Ailsa brought us as a recovery snack. Ailsa has all sorts of delicious recipes up her sleeve and many are featured on her blog, The Curious Tastebud, but I have to say, this one recipe felt like perfection after a summer morning sweat.

She made us a delicious fruit pudding that was perfect for restoring our energy and supplying us with key nutrients. The pudding’s exact recipe will be posted to her blog early this week, so check it out! The recipe consisted of mango, chia seeds, strawberries, shredded coconut and agave. Another helping, please?

In case you don’t know much about chia seeds, they are what many health professionals call a “superfood.” It’s pretty close to the truth too. Chia seeds pack in tons of fiber, protein, omega-3s, calcium, magnesium and more! Magnesium is especially important after a workout since it helps repair muscle tissues. Here is a typical nutrient breakdown for just a single ounce of chia seeds:

  • Fiber: 11 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s)
  • Calcium: 18% of the RDA
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDA
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDA
  • Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA

IMG_2226  yummmmm – enjoying our post-workout revival snack!

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So now you can see that it’s straightforward and fun to create your own healthy girls’ gathering. In fact, it may be even more enjoyable than bonding over cocktails! Or is that too much of a stretch?!? Oh, life’s great questions…

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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References:

http://authoritynutrition.com/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds/

The Spice of Life

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What do I have in common with Oprah? We’re both champions of Laurent Amzallag, DC’s favorite fitness motivator. Oprah chose Laurent as a fitness expert for her “Live Your Best Life” tour. ELLE Magazine, FOX, NBC and CBS have also featured Laurent and his unique, invigorating cardio workout class YaLa, which means “Let’s Go.”

Tons of women enjoy Laurent’s workout program on a regular basis and allow it to recharge them physically and emotionally. Through his leadership and encouragement, many women, including myself, have discovered that they are worthy of feeling sexy.

I’m honored to have known Laurent for six years. I met Laurent during a “dark time” in my life when we were both working at the same health club. I was suffering major back pain due to a car accident. I was losing sleep and gaining weight. My confidence was dwindling. I realized that as a young woman, I had been using my physical strength and appearance as a crutch for self-worth.

I remember asking Laurent “How are you doing?” on a particularly glum day. His response caught my attention, “Great, Maggie! I say any day above ground is a good day.

It’s this kind of attitude that makes Laurent a ray of sunshine to all those around him. He can make anyone realize that “sweat is the spice of life” (a regular quote of his) and I have seen women, young and old, leave an hour of working out with Laurent with smiles stretching from ear to ear. He’s hard to ignore and impossible to forget. Ladies, enjoy this one-of-a-kind man and his message for YOU!

Check out the video below. What are you waiting for?! YaLa! Let’s Go!

Ready for more YaLa inspiration? Feel free to connect with Laurent:

Youtube Channel:
YALA! Fitness
Vimeo (free and On Demand videos)
Twitter: @yala_fitness
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Yours in health and wellness,
Maggie
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