So they say about an exercise routine or training program but have you thought about joining a fitness class lately or enrolling in a training program? Did you recently join a gym? Decided to get healthy? Breathed? Well, if you said “yes” to any of those you’ve probably discovered there are soooo many choices, many of which may sound foreign to you.
As they say in the south, “usta could” sign up for a fitness class and know what you’re signing up for. These days however, it’s like trying to buy toothpaste. Whitening? Tartar eliminator? Sensitive gums? HELP!!!!
Well, that’s me. I’m here to help. Help decipher all those classes you’ve heard about. Gone are the days of just aerobics and treadmills, enter the days of spin, barre, essentrics, and so much more.
Just today I saw a Facebook sponsored post on “Body Groove,” a four minute dance workout that promises to work wonders in just four minutes a day! I clicked on the link and watched it for a bit and will say it looked fun, but I don’t think it’s for me. For one, videos don’t work for me. I need to be accountable to someone. But don’t take my word for it on this one. Check it out to see if it sounds interesting to you.
What is for me is yoga and a class I’ve been doing in my neighborhood since we moved almost a year ago. It’s called Essentric Stretch, but come to find out I didn’t really know what it was until our awesome instructor Bonnie told us she had new business cards last week. On them was the title “Essentrics.” What? I thought all this time it “Eccentric Stretch,” as is an unconventional way of stretching. I was way off.
The Essentrics Technique is a full-body workout based on the theories of Miranda Esmonde-White. The completely original exercise lengthens and strengthens every muscle in your body and draws on the flowing movements of tai chi, the strengthening theories behind ballet, and the healing principles of physiotherapy. It increases flexibility, is considered an age-defying workout (I’m in!), and tones the body by dynamically combining strethening and stretching. It’s also low impact. Miranda is one of America’s greatest advocates on healthy aging and following her career as a professional ballerina, she developed Essentrics in 1997. Her show has been airing on PBS since 1999 and she’s served as a trainer to professional and Olympic athletes and celebrities. Who knew?!
I also do Yoga and I love it. And guess what? You can too. As a matter of fact, almost anyone can do yoga. Promise! I’ve been doing it for several years now but once we moved, I had to find a new class as our new neighborhood does not offer it. (Grrrrr!!!!) Our previous neighborhood had wonderful yoga offerings and even though I’d never done it, I just showed up one day and fell in love. Yoga is low impact and it’s beneficial in so many ways. It’s a centuries old Eastern practice steeped in religion but for me it’s just a way to help my body. And my mind. I thought I knew what I wanted as I searched for a new class, but I quickly discovered there are many different kinds of yoga.
In my quest, I came to the conclusion that I’m a Hatha or Vinyasa yoga girl. Hatha classes are generally gentle beginner classes that teach you the basic poses of yoga. Instructors help you with modifications, breathing techniques, and explain why the poses are what they are. Vinyasa could be considered intermediate yoga and classes often have “flow” in the title. It is for those who aren’t beginners but aren’t ready to do a “tree” just for fun. In a Vinyasa class, you will shift positions in one fluid motion. For example, you might start with Warrior 1, go to Warrior 2, then Triangle, then Side Angle. And then start again.
Then there’s hot yoga. Great for advanced students and for tight muscles, the temperature is cranked up over 100 degrees and postures are held for up to one minute. Classes can be grueling but many swear by them.
If you see an Ashtanga or “power” yoga class offered, unless you have practiced yoga for a while or do cardio and strength training regularly, walk away. This variety is the most physically demanding and requires you to not so much “flow” from pose to pose, but jump quickly in order to raise your heart rate.
Whatever level you choose, think of yoga as a way to release the mind while improving breathing techniques, holding poses in order to build strength and balance, reduce stress, and renew energy. On days when I do an evening yoga class, I find I sleep much better.
Barre classes are all the rage now. Most barre-based classes use a combination of postures inspired by ballet, yoga, and Pilates and incorporate a ballet-style barre for balance. Exercises generally focus on isometric strength training and holding your body still while you contract a specific set of muscles along with high reps of small range-of-motion movements like plies. Lots of plies! Some classes also incorporate light hand-held weights and mats for targeted core work. I’ve never done a barre class, but I’ve heard they are hard but produce great results.
I’ve forever thought Pilates was created for and by dancers, but it was actually developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates and consists of controlled movements that improve flexibility, build strength, and develop control and endurance. It puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, developing a strong core core, and improving coordination and balance. Exercises are traditionally done in a specific order, one right after another, and may incorporate Pilates-specific equipment designed to help accelerate the process of stretching, strengthening, body alignment, stretching, strengthening, body alignment, and increased core strength. All Pilates work is done around the six original principles of concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing. It’s demanding but not the kind of workout where you work up a sweat. (Hello lunch break class!) It has a strong mind/body connection and might be just what you’re looking for if you want to strengthen your abdomen and pelvis, maintain good posture, strengthen and tone, and for increasing your flexibility. Surprisingly, it’s often incorporated into other classes such as my stretch class and you’ll often find combo “yogalates” classes.
I did discover there is a dance tie-in though. Apparently dancers often practice Pilates as the method doesn’t build bulky muscles, which is something they try to avoid for the most part. Instead, elite dancers seek holistic strength of their entire body as daily dancing takes a toll on the body. Pilates helps them rectify the imbalances they tend to create in the studio and give them the space they need outside of the studio and outside of class to re-balance, release, and re-connect.
My daughter works with a personal trainer and visited a spin class and in a word, she said it was tough. You’ve probably heard about it and seen commercials for Soul Cycle and other programs, but what exactly are they all about? Spinning is a high-intensity cardio class consisting of cycling on stationery bikes. Classes are loud and energetic thanks to mic’d up class leaders and upbeat playlists. Participants are dripping in sweat, experience burning legs, and saddle soreness is not uncommon. Similar to treadmills and stationary bikes found in gyms, you can control speed and resistance on your cycle and some classes mix in upper body workouts, resistant bands, or a themed adventure. One idea I came across that might interest me at some point, are spin classes in the water! Still, even though Lady Gaga and Kelly Ripa tout spinning as the bomb, in my opinion, beginners need not apply.
Zumba is dance fitness aerobic program inspired by Latin American dance and created by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto Perez. Proponents say it is a fun workout that involves aerobic dance and movements performed to energetic music. The choreography incorporates hip-hop, samba, salsa, merengue, and mambo as well as squats and lunges. Surprisingly, the name “Zumba” means nothing and was chosen arbitrarily by Perez and the program consists of nine different types of classes, all with different goals.
CrossFit is a branded fitness regimen created by Greg Glassman that is both an exercise philosophy and competitive fitness sport. The strength and conditioning program consists of a mix of aerobic exercise, calisthenics, and Olympic weightlifting. People who do it swear it’s the fastest way to get fit but its military-style mix of squats, weights, barbells, and sprints is not for the weak. Hour-long classes at affiliated gyms, or “boxes,” typically include a warm-up, a skill development segment, the high-intensity “workout of the day,” and a period of individual or group stretching. Competition and individual progress on the WODs are common.
You’ve recently seen them pop up in strip centers everywhere, but they’re not juice places or paint stores. They are basically one hour group personal training inside orange-glow filled rooms where you are pushed to get your body in the “orange zone.” The program was developed around a scientific approach called EPOC or post exercise oxygen consumption. Using this method, heart rates are monitored to keep the rate in a zone that is designed to continue burning calories after the high intensity interval training is over. This so called “after burn” keeps heart rates in a target zone that spikes metabolism and increases energy. Conducted in small studios rather large gyms, Orange Theory workouts are also designed to build camaraderie and cultivate a team environment. Orange Theory is a tough workout and for those serious about their fitness routine.
Tracy Anderson Method
I’m including Anderson because her results are amazing. Think Gwyneth Paltrow and JLo. And because…have you seen Tracy’s body?! But don’t be fooled by the low impact design of the Method. Anderson’s revolutionary workouts are tough stuff and far from easy. I ordered her Metamorphosis DVDs, which are for those not near a TA studio, and didn’t hate them, but like I mentioned before, I need a class and an instructor I’m accountable to. If Ms. Anderson wants to visit my home three times a week, I’m in!
Anderson’s revolutionary method is intended to give anyone long, lean muscles and “true body happiness.” She knows this, because she’s done it herself. After moving to New York City on a dance scholarship when she was 18, Tracy gained a ghastly 35 pounds that she couldn’t shake from her 5’ frame despite over-exercising and under-eating. She put her dance dreams on hold and took note of the rehab program of her pro basketball player husband who was suffering from back problems. In it, a doctor eased the strain on large muscle groups by strengthening small, accessory muscles. The concept resonated deeply with Tracy, and after years of research, self-testing, and refinement, Tracy completely transformed her own body. Over five years, she created custom workouts that engage not the big muscles we think of, but smaller ones using small, quick movements. Her results didn’t lie then and they don’t lie now. If you don’t believe me, check her out.
Kickboxing is a full-body workout that includes knee strikes, kicks, and punches. It’s high-energy but fun training that challenges the beginner and elite athlete alike and helps build stamina and endurance, improve coordination and flexibility, burn calories and blast fat, increase self-confidence, and build lean muscle. It also teaches discipline. There’s no area of your body kickboxing won’t tone and tighten, and as an added bonus, you also learn self-defense!
Kickboxing is considered part of Mixed Martial Arts, better known as MMA, which has seen a substantial increase in interest over the past few years, thanks in part, to Ronda Rousey and Anderson “The Spider” Silva.
Which brings us to martial arts. There are many kinds, but here are descriptions of some of the more popular types:
Aikido. A gentler self-defense style that emphasizes mental acuity, breathing, and timing. It focuses on finding the body’s spiritual center and physical center of gravity.
Judo teaches the principle of using your opponent’s strength against him. It’s highly physical and a tough workout.
Karate is actually a broad term that covers hundreds of styles using highly rehearsed strikes and blows using both your hands and your feet.
Tae Kwon Do combines the art of hand and foot fighting and includes the popular breaking of boards and sparring with opponents.
Tai Chi It incorporates a series of silent, fluid, seamless, and slow motion movements to improve strentcth and balance. It is considered the national exercise in China.
Finally, here is just a brief description of some additional fitness terms you may often hear often but are not quite sure what they are or how to do them:
A plank is an isometric core strength exercise that involves maintaining a position similar to a push-up for the maximum possible time. You can also do perform one balancing on your elbows instead of your palms. Holding one is tough, but research shows that the best way to strengthen your core is via a simple plank because it builds isometric strength to help sculpt your waistline and improve your posture. When doing a plank, you use virtually every muscle in your body, so a simple hold is improving your back, arms, shoulders, glutes, and hamstrings. Start by holding maybe 30 seconds and continue to build up. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your stamina improves.
A kettlebell is a cast iron cast-iron cast steel weight that resembles a cannonball with a handle. They are used to perform ballistic exercises ballistic exercises that combine cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training and, if done properly, engage the whole body. “Done properly” being paramount. Holistic in their nature, kettlebell exercises often consist of large amounts of swinging movements in addition to dead lifts. They should be used with caution and only in the presence of a professional trainer. The improper use of a kettlebell can damage backs, wrists, and hamstrings.
Created by New York Physiologist Royal H. Burpee in the 1930’s (yes, the thirties!) to assess the fitness of everyday people, the four-count movement only later would it evolve into the six-count beast we know today. The full body exercise will condition your entire body, develop strength, increase power, and improve anaerobic endurance. a full body exercise used in strength training and as an aerobic exercise. The basic “four-count burpee” is done in multiple hi-rep sets and consists of:
- Squat down and place both hands on the floor in front of you.
- Jump feet back into plank position
- Jump feet forward.
- Return to standing.
Is your goal to burn more calories? Are you pressed for time to exercise? Then maybe you should consider interval training. Once the domain of elite athletes, interval training has become a powerful tool for the average exerciser, like me!
When I worked with a personal trainer a few years ago, she always had me do interval training. This mostly consisted of fast pedaling on a stationary bike followed by bursts of harder and faster pedaling. That’s basically interval training in a nutshell: simply alternating bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity. Another example would be while out walking, mix in a few bursts of sprinting or jogging. It’s easy to do and you’ll burn more calories. Best thing about it? There are no hard and fast rules or do’s and don’ts. Simply figure out your stamina and go from there.
All of this doesn’t include traditional programs like aerobics and I could include popular “at home” programs like P90X (lauded by Pink and Sheryl Crow), and Insanity, but I’m exhausted just thinking about all of it!
One long-time popular option I will briefly address is water-aerobics. While similar to aerobics, water aerobics differs in that it adds the components of resistance training and buoyancy. Although heart rates do not increase as much as in land-based aerobics, the heart is working just as hard and underwater exercise actually pumps more blood to the heart. In fact, exercising in the water is not only aerobic; it also builds strength but is easy on joints and muscles. It’s a great aerobic option for those physically unable to do regular aerobic workouts.
In researching this topic, I read something interesting. It recommends workouts be done at 4 p.m., when you have a natural dip in your metabolism. After any workout, it’s important to refuel. Protein is best and if you want to increase your metabolism, build lean muscle, and lose inches, eat a healthy meal within 45 minutes of your workout.
In all honesty, I envy those who are physically fit and actually enjoy exercising. I don’t and really never have. At this point in my life my goal is to be healthy and not be stiff. I don’t want to be one of those “seniors” who has trouble getting up and down or just getting around. So for now, I’ll stick with my walks, my yoga, and my stretch class. They stretch me to my limits and I actually enjoy them. That, my friends, is the first step to physical fitness. After that, just get moving.