What does it mean to be fit?
For many of us, being fit means maintaining a healthy weight with diet and exercise.
However, the “healthy weight = fit” idea omits and misrepresents several important components of what being truly fit means. In biological terms, “being fit” means “being able to provide for one’s own life and wellbeing; the fittest are those who can do so the best.” Now that’s a little closer to what we should be working toward. Not just being fit to the point of sufficiency, but being the fittest.
So, the question is: What can you do to be the fittest you can be, or to obtain the best quality of life possible?
To answer that question, we’ll examine the five components of physical fitness. That’s right, there are five. Not just “fitting into my favorite jeans,” “being able to run a marathon,” or “bench pressing twice my body weight.” Our definitions are from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Body Composition: This refers to the relative amount of muscle, fat, bone, and other vital parts of the body. Body composition can provide a better evaluation of overall health than weight or BMI alone, so it is important to maintain a level of body fat that is neither too low (below 3-5% for men and 8-12% for women), nor too high (above 20-25% for men and 29-35% for women).
A variety of body fat measurement tools exist including calipers and bio-electrical impedance devices, and although some are more accurate and expensive than others, all can help you monitor changes.
Tip: Have a body fat analysis performed to know your starting point, and begin implementing small, healthy diet and exercise changes to improve body composition.
Cardiorespiratory Endurance: Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability of the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems to supply fuel during physical activity. This means being able to sustain an elevated heart rate. Activities like walking, swimming, and bicycling will all lead to improvement, and the good news is that the activity you choose does not necessarily have to be strenuous (at least initially).
Tip: choose an activity you enjoy and start slowly, increasing the intensity and duration over time.
Flexibility: Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint. Maintaining good flexibility helps protect the muscles and joints from injury in all kinds of activity. A basic stretching program, such as 10-15 minutes of light stretching for the upper body, lower body, and core after a workout, may be all you need to improve this oft-neglected fitness component. Yoga and Pilates classes can also add more structure to your flexibility program.
Tip: the key to improving flexibility is to make time for it! Add 10 minutes to the end of your workout to stretch or take 10-minute walking/stretching breaks at work.
Muscular Endurance: Muscular endurance is the ability of the muscle to continue to perform without fatigue. You can improve muscular endurance by doing sustained activities such as walking, swimming, or bicycling. When it comes to weight training, completing longer sets (12-25 repetitions) would be considered working in the endurance range.
Tip: look for opportunities to activate your muscles outside the club. For example, walk to the grocery store and flex those biceps by carrying groceries.
Muscular Strength: Muscular strength is the ability of the muscles to exert force during an activity. Sorry to those of you who want to stick to the treadmill, but this means using your muscles against resistance, whether that comes in the form of a dumbbell, resistance band, or your own body weight against gravity.
Tip: take the stairs instead of the elevator, or do some pushups during TV commercial breaks.
To be truly, “totally fit” we need to focus on all five components of physical fitness. Not only will we be healthier overall, but we will also enjoy the benefits of reduced risk of injury and disease prevention (osteoporosis, diabetes, etc.). The added bonus? Improving any single area of fitness will help the others improve as well.
So what are you waiting for?! What areas of physical fitness are you focusing on right now?
LPGA golfer Stacy Lewis’ ability to overcome childhood scoliosis to become one of the game’s rising stars is an inspiring story that hits home with Midtown Athletic Club in Windy Hill, Georgia member Heather McNally, a Coca-Cola Planning and Resource Management Director.
Diagnosed with scoliosis at age 10, Heather began to experience debilitating migraine headaches—often up to 20 times per month—in 2003.
But thanks to a connection made by a Chicago neurologist that directly linked Heather’s migraines to scoliosis, along with a four-day-a-week fitness regimen at Midtown Athletic Club at Windy Hill, her monthly migraine toll is down to just a few each month.
In desperate search of relief for her headaches, McNally, 41, visited four Atlanta neurologists over an eight-year period. Her quest would eventually lead to Chicago, and her stepmom’s recommendation of the Diamond Headache Clinic. It was here where a clinic doctor observed a direct connection between her scoliosis and headaches.
Heather’s doctor in Atlanta had prescribed a drug given for epilepsy. While it reduced the migraines, the side effects were unbearable.
“I lost 10 percent of my body weight, my cognitive reasoning was weakened, and I had memory loss,” she remembers. “Worst of all, the medication made carbonated beverages taste awful. And that’s not good for a woman who works for Coca-Cola.”
Her family coordinated an “intervention,” insisting that she stop taking the drug. McNally did, but the migraines returned with a vengeance.
It was Diamond Headache Clinic’s Alex Feoktistov, M.D., who finally asked the right question.
“He asked if my head hurt when I tilted my neck,” McNally recalls. Tests would later help the doctor determine that McNally’s headaches were actually caused by stiffness in her neck and upper back—and most likely aggravated by her scoliosis.
Says McNally: “This connection was something that all my doctors previously dismissed.”
After talking with her personal trainers at Midtown Athletic Club at Windy Hill, McNally was provided with a four-day training regimen that has been working well. On Monday, for instance, it’s Pilates; Tuesday is for strength training (including neck and shoulders); Wednesday is her day for physical therapy; and Thursday is for massage therapy at the club’s spa.
Eight months into the program, Heather says that her migraines have virtually disappeared. Her back, she adds, is straighter than it has been in 30 years.
“We all know that physical activity is good for the body,” says Dina Casso, Windy Hill’s General Manager. “But for Heather, the results have been literally life-changing.”
“Many members come to us not only to help them lose weight or firm up areas of their body, but also to help them with debilitating ailments,” Casso adds. “We help by designing specific physical fitness programs to help provide our clients with a better quality of life.”
McNally wholeheartedly agrees.
“For me, even my personality has changed,” she says. “Not living in constant pain has made me a happier person. My family, friends and co-workers have all noticed. If it weren’t for Dr. Feoktistov and my great team at Midtown, I can’t imagine where I’d be today.”
She has 20+ years of dance and fitness industry experience, and we decided to pick her brain to see what we could learn.
Question: How does your experience across several different fitness disciplines help you as a trainer?
Vanessa: While there is some overlap between different fitness disciplines, I enjoy being able to pull from all of them to develop well rounded programs for my clients. Variety is important, not only to keep muscles from getting too used to a particular exercise, but also to add fun to workouts.
Question: One of your specialties is Pilates Reformer training. What are its benefits?
Vanessa: Reformer training is great because it compliments any level or type of fitness program. The equipment is designed to help your body achieve neutral alignment and build a strong, stable core. I have seen incredible strength gains in athletes wanting to take their sport to the next level, as well as beginner-level clients that struggle with proper posture and low back pain.
Question: The Reformer looks a little intimidating. Would it be better to start with a MAT Pilates class?
Vanessa: People often comment that the Reformer looks more like a torture device than exercise equipment! However, the Reformer is actually an easier method because it guides your body into the proper position for each exercise. Reformer also incorporates principles of progressive resistance, similar to changing gears on a bike, so participants of any level can adjust the intensity to meet their needs.
Question: How can you expect to feel after a Reformer session?
Vanessa: Unlike MAT Pilates, which focuses mainly on core muscles, Reformer helps to build overall strength through the arms, legs, and core, through strengthening and stretching weak and tight muscles. The best thing about it is that it is challenging, yet gentle on the body. Most people who have never tried it before say that it helped them “discover” muscles they haven’t used in a long time.
Question: How does Pilates fit into an overall fitness program?
Vanessa: If you are new to exercise or strength training, starting with one-to-three days of Reformer training per week can help expose and correct muscle imbalances before you move into more intense forms of exercise. Pilates should not replace cardiorespiratory, strength, or flexibility training, but it can help improve all of those components. No matter what you do, start slowly and address weak areas one by one to ensure that you are training in the safest and most effective way possible.
Question: What do you like most about training?
Vanessa: I enjoy helping people no matter how big or small their fitness goals are, and it doesn’t have to be a physical change like fitting into a size 4. One client told me that she couldn’t walk up the stairs without knee pain, and that she couldn’t bend over to tie her shoes. After several weeks of hard work, she accomplished both of those goals. Her excitement from having overcome those hurdles was some of the most meaningful feedback I’ve ever received.
Question: Any last words of advice?
Vanessa: Just remember to start slowly, add variety to your routine, and continue to learn about and challenge yourself.
Thank you Vanessa! If you have a question you would like one of the trainers in the Fitness Department to answer, you can post your question as a comment to this post, or e-mail it to me at email@example.com. If you email the question, I will ask it anonymously on your behalf, and post the question and answer (but not your name) on the next “Ask the Trainer” post. You do not need to be a member to ask a question. Let’s hear it!
Do you experience muscle or joint stiffness, soreness, pain, and/or injury that prevent you from functioning at your best? Have you accepted pain as a “part of life,” and given up hope that it can improve? If you’ve tried Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT), you know that pain doesn’t have to be permanent!
We sat down with Midtown’s Certified MAT Specialist Ron Greenberg to discuss what MAT is and how it can help just about everybody. Here is what we learned:
Question: What is MAT?
Ron: MAT is a systematic approach designed to evaluate and treat muscular imbalances that cause restrictions in motion, joint instability, and muscular tightness and weakness. MAT jumpstarts the muscles to get them working the way they were intended to work.
Question: What led you to become a Certified MAT Specialist?
Ron: I began my career in personal training in 1993 and eventually became a Performance Enhancement Specialist to work with athletes. Over time, I observed my clients enduring more muscle and joint problems as the intensity of their training increased. The regular treatments, such as icing and stretching, weren’t working. It became clear that we were treating the symptoms (pain and muscle tightness) and not the actual problem of muscle inhibition. I decided to become certified in MAT, so that I could treat the underlying problems and get my clients back on track.
Question: Does everyone have muscle imbalances?
Ron: Just about everyone. Imbalances show up in the form of tightness and/or weakness, which are often caused by postural problems (e.g. hunching over a desk all day), or repetitive activities (e.g. running). Tightness is the muscle’s response to protect a positional weakness. In other words, muscles shut down and get tight because they are overworked to a point where they can no longer function properly. MAT restarts those muscles, which not only restores movement, but also addresses the weakness that caused the pain and decreased range of motion in the first place.
Question: Shouldn’t strength training help prevent or correct muscle imbalances?
Ron: Not necessarily. Unless your exercise history is flawless (no injuries, balanced and correct training protocol, etc.), strength training will most likely cause your strong muscles to get stronger and overcompensate, which leads to your weak muscles becoming weaker.
Question: How can someone get started with MAT?
Ron: I am available for appointments on Monday and Wednesday evenings. We would begin by discussing your health history, followed by an initial evaluation and determination of a treatment plan that fits your schedule and budget. Having a MAT evaluation can certainly benefit everyone. Even if you aren’t in pain now, your performance may be suffering in ways that will lead to injury in the future. Too many people spend their lives in and out of pain and physical limitation that can and should be prevented.
Thanks, Ron, for your insight on MAT!
For more information, or to schedule and appointment, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Midtown Oak Park Personal Trainer Jim Albrecht has your answers.
With 10 years of personal training experience (8 years at Midtown), and as a Resistance Training Specialist (RTS), Jim has a great deal of knowledge to share.
Question: Why is strength training important?
Jim: There is a common misconception that we don’t need to strength train if we participate in a particular sport or are active in general. Muscular imbalances are extremely common in all types of exercisers, and strength training balances out muscle groups resulting in improved functionality. Additionally, strength training can prevent muscle atrophy and the resulting loss of strength and flexibility that occurs as we age.
Question: What is the most common weight training mistake you see?
Jim: Poor posture. I always teach posture before I teach an exercise to ensure that the movement is as safe and effective as possible. Posture begins with a neutral spine in the lower back and extends up into the shoulders, with a strong core in the middle. I encourage my clients to take a break or lower the weight if they start to lose their posture during an exercise, because perfect reps with less weight will lead to greater strength gains.
Question: How would you coach someone who is just starting a weight training program?
Jim: Beginning a structured exercise program is a lifestyle change, regardless of the shape you are in, so taking small steps is key. Many people push themselves a little too hard at the beginning and end up tweaking muscles in their low back, hips, or quads. My job as a trainer is to help my clients understand their current abilities and provide them with an appropriate level of challenge without overdoing it.
Question: How long does it take to make strength gains?
Jim: It depends on how hard are you willing to work out, and how often. Consistency means working all muscle groups at least one time per week. Two is better, with 3-4 days of cardiorespiratory exercise. On their own, men often avoid lower body work (resulting in weak glutes), and women often avoid upper body work (resulting in a weak back, chest, and shoulders). So, I usually do one day of upper body and one day of lower body with my clients, with the expectation that they will come in and work out on their own. That’s why instructing my clients on how to perform the exercises correctly is so important to helping them reach their goals.
Question: How do you make a strength training workout effective?
Jim: Decide what exercise you are going to start with, take your time with the first set, and then tailor your workout according to the way you feel. If the first set goes well, meaning you are performing repetitions as slowly and controlled as possible and feeling strong, you can do another set. A couple sets of really good reps is better than getting through every exercise on your list. Proper strength training takes a certain amount of concentration – my clients tell me that’s why they never get bored!
Question: Why do you like being a personal trainer?
Jim: Personal training is the only job (other than instructing scuba) where I spend one-on-one time with people I normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to know. Exercise is a concept everyone should think about, and honesty and trust are necessary on both sides of the trainer-client relationship. The most important thing I do is teach people how to use posture to correctly perform an exercise, so that they can repeat it on their own. You don’t have to do it “my way,” just safely and effectively, and you will reach your goals.
Thank you, Jim, for sharing your weight training wisdom with us!
If you have a question you would like one of the trainers in the Fitness department to answer, you can post your question as a comment to this post, or e-mail it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you email the question, I will ask it anonymously on your behalf, and post the question and answer (but not your name) on the next “Ask the Trainer” post. You do not need to be a member to ask a question.
Let’s hear it!
Why do we care about trends? Researchers study them, writers report them, teachers teach them, and tweeters tweet them. Although there are many advantages to being “in the know,” one of the most important reasons to pay attention to trends is that they can help us prepare for and adapt to changes ahead.
Over the past six years, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has identified trends in the fitness industry with their ”Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends” (you can view the full 2012 survey text here). Come January 1, some of the most popular resolutions will be health- and fitness-related, so let’s get a jump on meeting our goals by looking at what the 2012 fitness trends mean for us.
Educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals are the core of a rapidly expanding industry. In spite of tough economic times, consumers still place a lot of value in getting and staying healthy. The fitness industry has responded to this need by employing qualified trainers and instructors.
What does that mean for you? You can breathe a little easier knowing that you can trust your fitness professionals to lead you in safe and effective workouts, helping you reach your goals faster and giving you more bang for your buck.
Strength training is here to stay. Having been near the top of the trends list for several years, strength training is the first training “type” on the trends list, accompanied by personal, core, functional, and group training.
What does that mean for you? Since most of us sit at a desk all day, adding a little weight-bearing exercise such as resistance training can help improve our energy levels, mood, and overall functionality. Expect fitness centers to continue to update equipment and training options to facilitate strength-training programs that meet the needs of all types of exercisers – a stronger body is yours for the taking!
No one will be left behind. Training options are becoming more population-specific, with new programs being tailored to the aging Baby Boomer population and the fight against childhood obesity (just to name a few). Your fitness professionals are trained specifically to work with a variety of individuals from athletes to people fighting obesity or other diseases.
What does that mean for you? The fitness industry is actively trying to meet you where you are to help you get the most you can out of an exercise program, regardless of your goals or fitness level. In other words, you don’t have to start off looking like Jane Fonda to make exercise a part of your life.
It’s all about energy. Zumba, boot camp, and spinning are growing in popularity. These group classes are high-energy and fun, and put the emphasis on pushing your physical limits.
What does that mean for you?Releasing stress through dancing, high-intensity training, and cycling will leave you feeling strong, accomplished, and ready to tackle life’s challenges. You just have to be willing to give them a try. And although not “trending” anymore, Pilates fans shouldn’t be worried that their favorite class is going to disappear; only time will tell whether these new arrivals and old favorites will continue on as actual trends rather than fads.
The key this year is to work with Midtown to customize a fitness program that will leave you feeling refreshed, rejuventated, and (hopefully) like you had a darn good time.
Now that you know what’s to come in 2012, it’s time to use this information to start doing something that will work for you.
Your 2012 motto shouldn’t be “once I meet my goal, I’ll be happy.” Instead, how about you take a chance on what the industry is giving you and say “it’s time to give myself knowledge, revitalizing energy, and a sense of accomplishment, and add some more fun to my fitness routine.” Now that’s a reason to work out today.
What do you think of these trends? Have you already tried any of these fitness programs or plan to in 2012? What are you going to do differently in your workout routine this year?
If you spend a lot of time around the club, you’ve probably heard talk of Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs).
Trainers are recommending them to clients, group exercise instructors are recommending them to their classes, and friends are comparing their “calories burned” in the locker rooms.
But will a HRM work for you?
Like all things in life, that depends.
Heart rate monitors can range from $50-$450, it’s important to decide whether a HRM is a good investment before you buy one.
Here are 5 ways a HRM can help you, and what other considerations are necessary to make sure your expectations are met as safely and effectively as possible.
HRMs can help you:
1. Improve your health: HRMs can help you find and maintain the right exercise intensity to reach your goals. If you are working to attain the 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (50-70% of maximum heart rate) 5 days per week recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the device will tell you whether you are doing that. Higher-end models can provide specific zone intensity and time requirements to reach weight loss and fitness performance goals.
Unfortunately, your HRM won’t tell you what activities to do, how to do those activities correctly, or how to balance the other components of total health – nutrition, sleep, etc. From inexperienced exercisers to elite athletes, additional input from a doctor or trainer may be needed to paint a complete picture of an individual exercise program.
2. Measure your effort: Measuring the work-rate of the heart is the most accurate method of determining how much benefit you are deriving from your workout, and using a HRM is more accurate than interrupting your workout to take your pulse manually. Apart from user-error (e.g. the strap falling off, or accidentally stopping the training computer during a workout), HRMs are pretty dependable, as long as you always remember to use it!
3. Exercise safely: Feedback from HRMs can help prevent you from exercising too hard in a single session (and thus burning yourself out for several days), and from over-training in general. A heart rate that is higher than you expect it to be before, during, or after a workout, can be a signal that your body needs more rest. Most models don’t see the whole picture, however.
For example, certain medications can affect your heart rate, and your monitor can’t account for working an active job (think construction worker) if you only wear it during structured workouts. Again, listening to your body and asking for advice from a health or fitness professional can round out the picture.
4. Track your progress: Some HRMs are able to store and display weeks’ worth of training sessions, which will help you identify possible training errors, or hopefully just reinforce that you are staying on track! From the perspective of someone who never really liked math and can’t always remember how much she ran three days ago, it’s a nice benefit. However, all of the tracking and reporting tools are usually not available unless additional equipment or software is purchased.
5. Put the fire back in your program: Most of us probably never thought we would be taking orders from computers, but I have to admit, I can’t help feeling a little guilty when my HRM tells me “incomplete training week” or “train a lot more.” That is usually enough motivation to get my butt to the gym.
Some of you may prefer a social or physical push to exercise that can make a digital reminder more of an annoyance than a motivator. But at least for me, having that little screen tell me that I met my training goal for the week feels like the extra pat on the back I couldn’t give myself.
What do you think? Is a heart rate monitor worth it?
Boot camps are a popular trend in the fitness world. Participants expect to be pushed to their physical limits to achieve results fast. This is certainly an enticing proposition, but may also be somewhat intimidating.
Is Boot Camp appropriate for all fitness levels? What does Boot Camp offer that other fitness classes and programs do not?
I sat down with Personal Trainer Kelly O’Brien to learn more about what Midtown’s Boot Camp is all about.
Kristen: What is Boot Camp?
Kelly: Boot Camp is a small group training class that allows participants to get semi-private training at an economical price. Each session is designed using the principles of interval training to burn more calories.
Kristen: What is the advantage of interval training?
Kelly: Interval training consists of periods of higher intensity exercise, which increase the heart rate, followed by periods of lower intensity exercise to allow for recovery and the ability to accomplish more high-intensity work overall. Interval training has been shown to increase cardio-respiratory fitness and burn more calories in shorter periods of time.
Question: What happens in a typical class?
Kelly: It’s hard to talk about what is “typical” because we mix it up all the time! Weather permitting, we usually go to the track and field area at Concordia University (about a 5 minute walk from Midtown). We run, do squats, lunges, pushups, sprints, jump rope, run bleachers, and sometimes finish up back inside the club with TRX. The variety in the class is a big benefit because it constantly pushes the body to adapt to new challenges.
Kristen: That sounds pretty intense. Can anyone take this class?
Kelly: Anyone can do Boot Camp. We modify or change exercises to obtain the most appropriate challenge for all fitness levels. Safety is our number one priority, followed by effectiveness and fun! That said, all members are welcome to check it out. Better yet, bring a friend, so you don’t have to “feel the burn” alone!
Kristen: How big is the class, and when do you meet?
Kelly: We currently have 3-5 participants per class, which allows me to give participants more personal attention. The class meets Monday evenings at 7PM and Saturday mornings at 8:30AM for fifty minutes to an hour.
Kristen: What is the cost of the class, and how can I sign up?
Kelly: A four-week session costs $136 or $34 per class. The next session will begin the week of October 10th. Participants can register for one or two classes per week. Registration forms are at the front desk.
Kristen: So, does it really work?
Kelly: Participants have told me they feel stronger and that exercise is getting easier. Here’s one I remember, “After starting my boot camp workouts with Kelly, I feel more in shape than I have felt in a long time. In fact, I think it has made my other cardio workouts much easier.”– Vicki Custardo-Koch.
Kristen: Why do you enjoy leading Boot Camp?
Kelly: I love teaching the class mostly because I enjoy the people. I love challenging them and showing them that they can do more than they thought they could. I am so passionate about exercise, and I really like to share my knowledge with others.
Don’t miss your chance to take your workouts to a whole new level! What fitness goal are you working to accomplish this fall? Do you think Boot Camp can help you get there?
But we DO share the same workout space.
That means we can’t just plug in our ear buds and ignore how our workout habits effect others. Young or old, male or female, fantastically fit or still getting there, we can and should work together to ensure a safe, comfortable, and professional environment for everyone.
So, if you’ve ever wondered about the DOs and DON’Ts of the fitness floor, check out Midtown’s Eleven Rules of Weight Room Success.
So, those are our top eleven.
Are there any important rules we missed? What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to health club etiquette?
Whether you already feel like you spend every waking moment at the club, or you are still looking for motivation to get yourself in the door, something on this list will entice you! I spoke with Midtown’s managers and staff to uncover the club’s best-kept secrets and their responses won’t disappoint. From special fitness opportunities to recreational and family activities, these former “secrets” will leave you wanting to come back for more!MORE