Soft Body Pilates

Pilates is great for creating mind/body awareness, skilled movement, and physical introspection that we do not always spend time with on the gym floor. It is sometime defined as controlled movements through a strong core. Id like to think all training could be described this way. The "long, lean look" they preach is more of a selling point. Long lean muscles are created in the kitchen with your diet, and your genetics. Though I know what everyone means, when they say they want to get "toned," its actually a reflection of the tension or strength your muscles can create. Strength and tension is created using resistances of progressive intensity. Being defined, is a reflection of your body composition, which is 80% diet, some training, and genetics. Using "smaller muscles" is not entirely true either. Muscles used for movement can be categorized as agonists, antagonists, stabilizers, and neutralizers. They are all involved in any body movement, from getting out of a chair, to walking, movements on a Pilates reformer, or bench pressing in the gym. Agonists and antagonists are your main movers, the pushers and pullers, flexors and extensors. They re the muscles you see and become developed, hence their focus in exercise. You also have muscles that aid these movements called stabilizers and neutralizers. Theses muscles stabilize joints throughout your agonist movements and neutralize any unwanted movement elsewhere in the body when performing an exercise. These muscles are often under your superficial muscles, making them harder to visualize. They are also not as voluntary, making it harder for you to recruit and engage, sometimes even involuntary, and do not need to be engaged, i.e. the transverse abdominus. This lack of awareness or ability to engage or recruit has made Pilates and mind/body training popular. However, in Pilates, like any other mode of exercise, all four types of muscle actions are taking place, and no single mode of exercise truly isolates any of these. So to say Pilates works small muscles is not entirely true. In fact, I would argue that the resistance generated during a barbell squat or dead lift recruits more of your smaller stabilizing/neutralizing muscles, than a resistance created on the reformer with resistant springs attached, much like a bench press or pull up, trains the smaller muscles more than pulls on the cadillac, or equivalent pushing movement in Pilates. It does have application for corrective exercise and injury prevention/rehabilitation in addition to traditional resistance training. However, it lacks progressions, scientific periodization, and objective measures of its training protocols. If you continued to use the same resistance for a given exercise, you would plateau and eventually regress, as that stimulus would no longer elicit a response. There s a diminishing return for the same intensity, which is why strength and conditioning applies systematic progressions.

Often yogis, dancers, and individuals that are already genetically lean, long, and flexible, are drawn to Pilates, which allowed for a subcultural attractive look to develop. You don't see overweight Pilates clients, because they are doing something more efficient for fat loss, and an overweight Pilates instructor can not stay in business long. It would be fair to say that many personal trainers are former athletes or fitness enthusiasts that always had good genetics and results too, but there are many trainers with life transforming stories. Because Pilates is fairly new and does not have mass appeal yet, there is little science or research to support any of its benefits. The entire philosophy of Pilates was developed by one German man looking for an alternative way to be healthy through physical activity. It is now passed on from instructor to instructor and has evolved over time. Many fitness professionals, on the other hand, have degrees in exercise science and internationally recognized certifications. Their training and expertise is routed in science, supported by facts and centuries of historical application. I recently had a conversation with a Pilates instructor who mentioned their instruction specifically avoids anatomical terminology, in terms of their branding and imaging. And while some instructors are educated in anatomy and physiology, the focus of Pilates is more about feeling and less about applying real theory. In some ways it made me think of a placebo....

Jack LaLanne the "Father of Fitness"

On Sunday, the fitness community and world at large, mourned the loss of the "father of fitness", Jack LaLanne. 96 years young, Jack, succumbed to complications of pneumonia, leaving behind his legacy as the pioneer of what we know as fitness today. He was truly ahead of his time with his philosophies for moderate resistance training and no sugar dieting, practicing what he preached up to his final days. Jacks philosophy on moderate eating and activity are a true example of how a healthy living can keep one active and vibrant through the lifecycle.

According to a recent article in the New York Times - "Aging: Paying the Physical Price for Longer Life",  "a 20-year-old man today can expect to live about a year longer than a 20-year-old in 1998, but will spend 1.2 years more with a disease, and 2 more years unable to function normally." They analysized recent governement data, and found that life expextancy is going up, not because people are healthier, but because medicine is keeping people with chronic disease and disability, alive longer.  In another article in the New York Times - "Full-Service Gyms Feel a Bit Flabby", data shows only 15% of Americans belong to a gym. Despite knowing exercise has nothing but tremendous health benefits, Americans are still too sedentary. In fact 60% of us are overweight, and 40% of us are obese. I for one, plan to enjoy activity for many years to come. The year is young, make it a healthy one. Let us learn from Jacks legacy that an active lifestyle, will lead to a healthy and disease free one, for many decades to come.

Moving Some Kilos in Budapest!

Boldog uj evet kivanok! I decided to start my new year off on the right foot (and the left) with a workout, on my vacation to Budapest. Once or twice a year I visit Hungary to spend time with my fiancee's family. Year's past this has been a "deloading" period for me, aka deconditioning period. While the city provides lots of physical activity, walking, stair climbing, etc, holiday eating offsets any ancillary calorie burning. Disappointed with my conditioning when I return from these visits, I decided to make training arrangements before leaving, and take the same advice I give all my clients.

Formal fitness in Hungary is growing, but is not as popular as it is in the states. In addition to the hotels, which cater to international clientele, Budapest also has a few chain gyms, like Gold's Gym, among others. However, many people participate in traditional sporting activities, like soccer, handball, and aquatics, to stay fit. In addition to some pickup soccer and water polo games, I also lined up access for training in a small gym in the bowels of a post-soviet era apartment building gym, about 300 square feet,  pictured above. While this gym is far removed from the luxury of new york city fitness chic, it is more than adequate. It reminds me some of the equipment that sparked my interest in weight training and fitness as a teenager, and forced me to be creative balancing out a full body training program.

Accompanied by my future brother in law, and a national pentathlete, we ventured down into the basement for a full body resistance workout for about an hour. While balancing our pushing and pulling, I tailored the exercises towards his Pentathlete events, introducing him to some sport-specific movements that may give him an edge in his sport. The Pentathlon is a five event sport consisting of running, swimming, fencing, horse back riding, and shooting, a challenging blend of both skill and physically intensive events, requiring many hours of conditioning and skill development.

After a dynamic warm up, we began two, three exercise circuits, three sets of 15 repetitions, consisting of: barbell bench press, pull ups, stability roll outs - Rear foot elevated split squats, bent over rows, and straight arm pull downs. Short and sweet after an evening of mild indulgence and less than adequate sleep. Perfect start to a healthy new year. This holiday season, don't let your travel plans get in the way of your fitness. Whether you start your training today or Monday, make it a priority this year. Cheers!

10 Ways to Speed Up Your Metabolism

Have you hit a plateau with your current diet and exercise lifestyle, or lack of? Try these 10 simple lifestyle and training modifications to boost your metabolism and start burning more calories at rest!

1. Get 7 hours of sleep - Sleep boosts immunity, decreases stress, and stimulates the release of human growth hormone, which helps rejuvenate the daily toll of activity and stress. It keeps your cells young, helping you feel and look younger, longer. A sure fire way of accelerating the aging process, increasing the stress hormone cortisol, and decreasing your productivity, is cutting rest short. Add a nap mid day, if you are lucky enough to afford one.

2. Start your day off with breakfast - Research shows those who start there day off with a balanced meal, eat fewer calories the rest of the day. The act of eating, alone boosts your metabolism. It takes energy to digest and metabolize food. Not eating sends your metabolism into a dormant mode, setting you up for over-eating later, when your blood sugar is on the floor, and more prone to storing that over consumption as fat. Start your day with a balanced meal of healthy fats, high fiber carbs, and lean, heavy metal free :) proteins. Failing to combine all three macronutrients can have a negative impact on insulin release, fat utilization, and satisfaction before your mid morning snack.

3. Eat 4 - 6 smaller meals per day, every 3-5 hours - Stoke your metabolic fire by eating regularly. Burn calories, while consuming them, by maintaining a steady blood sugar level. Your muscles are metabolically active tissue. They burn calories at rest, but they need to be fed. Starve them, and they will atrophy, killing your metabolism and increasing your fat stores.

4. Drink plenty of non alcoholic, low calorie beverages - We drink far too many of our daily calories. Liquid calories are deceiving and often unsatisfying. Fruit juice is one the biggest offenders. A seemingly natural and healthy beverage loaded with way too much SUGAR. Eat an orange, grapefruit, or apple instead of that glass of juice in the morning, and add some fiber to your diet. Soda is by far the worst, and that includes diet sodas. There is nothing in soda that sustains life. A 12oz can of regular soda contains 10 packets of SUGAR! And diet soda is loaded with artificial sweetener, which has been linked to metabolic problems, cancer, and an increased sweet tooth. In fact the only beverages anyone really needs is water. To mix things up, add tea or coffee to the list. Studies have shown they have little impact on dehydration, despite common thinking, and they aid in fat utilization.

5. 30 mins of activity EVERY day - The American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) recommends 30 mins of accumulated activity each day for health and weight maintenance. They recommend 60 mins or more for weight loss. A combination of both resistance training and aerobics are best. How much are you getting?

6. Get out of your chair - More and more healthy problems are being linked to excessive amounts of sitting. So much so we now refer to specific problems as the Sitting Disease. Many of us go from our beds, to the breakfast table, to the car, the desk, and then the couch at night. Get up and out of your chair as much as possible. Simply standing burns more calories than sitting. Small caloric changes day to day add up over time. The average adult gains 2 pounds a year.

7. Walk and take the stairs - Walk or bike to your destination when appropriate. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. You would not have to spend extra time working out, if you added simple light activity throughout the day. Technology and modern conveniences are allowing us to be lazier.

8. Mix up your workout routine - Breakout of your routine. You become increasingly efficient doing the same mode of activity each time. Burning calories requires inefficiency. Get your hands off the treadmill or stepper, use an upright bike instead of a recumbent. Take a new running/walking route. Train your weaknesses. Mix it up!

9. Hit the weights - Many of us accumulate enough light aerobic activity, walking, climbing a flight of stairs, etc, to maintain heart and lung health. High volume aerobic activity compromises metabolically active muscle tissue. Skip your 3 mile steady state cardio routine, and add some fat scorching muscle to your body with resistance training.

10. Manage your stress - At this point, if you are managing 1-9, your stress is in check. If its not, return to number 1 and start over. Stress releases cortisol, cortisol stimulates fat storage. Stress effects your sleep, disrupts your diet, gets in the way of your workouts and absolutely has an impact on your waistline.