Nike+ Training Club: Workout Review

Nike Training Club

Nike+ Training Club Santa Monica is a fun group workout that keeps you on your toes. Literally. The front part of my Nike sneakers is worn in from doing so many planks, pushups and lunges. Yet it’s always a fresh new workout that introduces various bodyweight exercises. I’ve been to about five of these hour-long workouts and go whenever the timing fits in my schedule. Sign in is 6:15 to 6:30 on Tuesday evenings and the group gathers in front of the Nike store for a pep talk before and after the workout.

The two trainers Ashley and Ryan focus on the participants, and they know what they’re doing. They correct your form if you might hurt yourself but honestly don’t have time to circle around to everyone that is present. Both are also motivational, which helps push you through the repetitions of each set of exercises.

There’s a positive vibe with smiles and encouragement from both the trainers and participants. Arrive by yourself or with friends; the trainers typically encourage you to pair up with a stranger and get to know them a bit regardless. Although it’s technically a meetup group, the social aspect can get a bit lost because more than 100 people work out most weeks. But thanks to this, there are people of all ages, shapes and sizes, so pretty much anyone can blend in.

The workouts occur in the center of the outdoor mall, Santa Monica Place weekly. This part can get a bit awkward sometimes, however, due to the touristy aspect of the place. Onlookers gather to watch the workouts and gaze down from all levels of the mall, which can surprise you if you look up during a side plank and someone is staring down. I’ve never had a bad experience nonetheless. Many shoppers ask about the workouts and Nike Store employees are on hand to answer their questions so the workout is rarely interrupted for participants.

I always bring water, although they do give out 8oz water bottles upon sign in. I usually wear a sturdy sports bra, light t-shirt, leggings and sneakers. Some people also bring a yoga mat, but most do not. Above all bring a great attitude and be ready to move, sweat and enjoy a great, free workout.

If you don’t live near a training club, don’t let that stop you! There’s a free Nike Training Club app to do the workouts virtually. There are more than 100 bodyweight routines to try on the app… so let me know which workouts you love. I just found out about the app!

The Science of Yoga: Book Review

the-science-of-yoga This book cover promised promises to scientifically examine the risks and rewards of

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practicing yoga. This interpretation is misleading, however. I was hoping for clarity on how certain poses or techniques are beneficial or risky – a true scientific examination of yoga that could be directly applied to my practice. William Broad instead examines the history of the science of yoga in an almost chronological fashion, organized in vaguely entitled chapters like health, fit perfection, risk of injury, and healing. The author views the science of yoga as a disjointed field that is reaching a critical evolutionary point, and this perspective is apparent throughout the muddle of the book. Furthermore, the rambling prologue and overzealous epilogue politicize the subject and throw the author’s credibility into question. Although this book did not meet my expectations, it does cite several sources for scientific research on yoga worth examining further. It also is a fascinating, and therefore relatively quick, read. In my own practice, which barely spans two years, I have experienced many of the benefits of yoga that are touched on throughout the book. Fortunately, the risks of certain poses were brought to my attention more than a year ago. My awareness benefitted from reading this article highlighting the risks of yoga [1], a quick article adaptation from The Science of Yoga that highlights the same risks with the same stories. The author’s connections with the New York Times and publicity must immeasurably contribute to the popularity of his novel, despite its failure to actually explain the science of yoga.

My Yoga Practice

agata crane pose

agata crane poseIt’s impossible to adequately describe the amazingness I feel when I can relax into an awkward pose, and the blood-pumping awareness of flow that boosts the feeling in every nook and cranny of my body. My practice escalated from a yoga session three times a month to three sessions a week in just over a year.  It’s become an irreplaceable part of my routine.

Yoga became a weekly workout when I committed to P90X, though that is my least favorite video from P90X because it’s off rhythm. Regardless, it made me feel increasingly strong and I began reading up on different routines, and even planning my own. I also bought a few deals for yoga classes in studios nearby, and the teachers greatly improved my practice and drew me in even further. I’m at the point where I miss the practice when I scale it down to just two sessions in a week, which only happens if I want to focus on a different type of exercise.

I’ve been so drawn in because yoga is not just an exercise routine. There are elements of focus, awareness, balance and meditation that go beyond physical challenge and enter the realm of spirituality. The positivity in my life is much greater because of the joy I regularly experience during the routines.

Thanks to the skills that are inevitably developed when practicing something so regularly, I’m increasingly enjoying my yoga practice. I’m constantly exploring various routines on my own and, also, there are a few teachers, Derek Beres in particular, who keep me on my toes in class by constantly switching up traditional poses to flow in peculiar and beautiful ways. So much work and focus goes into the yoga, and it feels empowering when it’s all over because I know that I’ve become stronger both in body and mind.

Minimalist Shoes: Why and how to transition

minimalist

minimalist

I’ve finally bought a pair of minimalist shoes. I looked into it a few years ago when they first came out on the market because a friend who had knee problems swore her knees stopped bothering her when she transitioned over to a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, but they were expensive. Now, for about the same cost as a normal pair of shoes, I have my own pair, although I picked minimalist shoes that don’t separate my toes instead.

It seems that I had the right idea to transition with a relatively normal pair of minimalist shoes instead of switching directly to toe shoes. Minimalist shoes don’t support your foot and take some getting used to. The most common injuries are toe stress fractures while transitioning.[1]

I assume that sticking with more traditional minimalist shoes decreases the odds of toe injury. According to a salesperson at REI, the toes are more protected when kept together. They also said I should transition to minimalist shoes slowly to give my feet a chance to properly build up the muscles that haven’t been used due to the structural support of traditional shoes. My research confirms this[2], and goes further to show that your running style changes with minimalist shoes, so it makes sense to build them into your workouts instead of switching into them for a long-distance run right away.[3][4]

Overarching benefits to wearing minimalist shoes are readily apparent. A recent survey found that while 46.7% of runners that wear traditional shoes reported injuries, only about 13.7% of runners that wore minimalist shoes reported injuries. The type of injuries was also different.[5] On the whole, I suspect that such shoes diminish the odds of running injury because you can feel the ground with every step, which makes you more aware of your foot positioning and posture.  Such shoes also strengthen your foot muscles by removing artificial support structures, thus making your feet work to naturally balance you in motion. For the same reason I choose to do yoga barefoot.

As for how to run, a guy featured in the Oregonian summarized his takeaway from a class on how to run in minimalist shoes. “Stand up straight while leaning forward slightly, and to land with our feet directly underneath our hips on every step.” [6] He also tried (and described) several different models of minimalist shoes if you’re interested in reading about his experience. He also recommends wearing such shoes, and I’m looking forward to breaking in my new pair.

Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body: Book review

halleberryswim

If you are frustrated whenever you get in the pool to swim laps because it doesn’t feel like you’re getting far or improving, this is a great book to read and apply. It’s particularly great if you want to swim but have never enjoyed it, or enjoy it but are frustrated by your performance. Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body is all about working with water to balance and propel yourself forward calmly and efficiently.

I took swimming in college because it was offered and I wasn’t going to have to pay extra for it. I didn’t need the credits, but I wanted to get in the habit of going to the pool twice a week. I didn’t read the course description upon registration, and was surprised when we were required to buy this book as part of the class. Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body is a guide to “swimming better than you ever imagined.” This is the promise on the cover and I thought it was cheesy – it turned out to be true.

That swim class taught me more about balance and focus than any other class I had to take in college. The lessons I learned based on its principals did not just apply to time spent in the pool, but throughout my life to this day. It deepened my meditation practice, and showed me how to prioritize things logically, otherwise I would drown.

On my way to the final for this swim class I was delayed due to traffic. This combined with the very little sleep I had been getting throughout finals week, and I began to hyperventilate as I walked from the parking lot to the pool. The stress was too much for my body and I was forced to sit down and calm my mind. I had just been reading this book and thinking about the fundamentals of balance and patience, and continuous improvement; Remembering how far I had come that semester, and that even if I did fail that final it was due to circumstances beyond my control, I could continue on into the gym and keep on swimming.

This book shows you how to learn four basic strokes on your own: breaststroke, freestyle, backstroke and butterfly. The author, Terry Laughlin, engagingly shares how he has been continuously improving his swim practice well into middle age and beyond. He also has a series of instructional videos and has written other books about total immersion, which is the key to underwater efficiency and is appropriately the name of his company.

totalimmersion

Resistance Training: Gender differences

strongisnewskinny

I’m still surprised whenever a man picks me up with ease, especially if I know that they don’t work out regularly. It’s frustrating knowing that I could not do the same despite having focused on muscle strengthening for a year now. But muscle composition depends strongly on gender and there is a long list of how our muscles differ…

Men are stronger and have a larger cross-sectional area of muscle fiber. While it’s easier for men to build muscle, their muscles also deteriorate more quickly as they age. On the other hand, women are more resistant to muscle fatigue and have a higher proportion of oxidative muscle fibers and higher density of muscle capillaries. Men may be able to build muscle faster but women’s muscle dynamic strength builds more quickly (albeit from a lower base.) The reason may be partly because although womens’ bodies signal muscle growth like mens’, they also send out signals that hinder muscle growth after participation in resistance exercises.[1] Another cause may be hormonal; with about 10 times more testosterone boosting muscle growth in men than in women. [2]

Why our bodies react differently to weight lifting is not as important as how we, as women, can harness the differences to our advantage. Most weight-lifting regimen are male-focused because men have had to build their muscle strength in order to dominate and survive throughout history.

The biggest change for women’s strength training routines should be to vary up the weights and repetitions. Many women only lift lighter weights and do many reps, often not even feeling a burning sensation in their muscles during the workout. This doesn’t fully exercise muscles and, therefore, significantly limits results. Women are scared of getting big and bulky, but if you do regular cardio workouts in addition to weightlifting then you will maintain a lean physique. To reiterate the studies above, womens’ muscle mass builds a lot more slowly and from a much lower base than mens’, so to be big and bulky you would have to do frequent isolation exercises regularly (which is what female body builders do.) Hitting the gym with your guy friends or find a weight-lifting routine just outside of your comfort zone is fine, just make sure to feel the burn!

A Lazy Mood

one-arm-triceps-extension-arnoldExercising requires focus so that you maintain good form, which helps prevent injuries and boredom. However, to work out you don’t have to be in a certain mood; if you’re waiting until you’re in the mood to exercise then you will rarely get around to working out. A routine is essential to working out, and its easiest if you do it daily.[1]

Even once you’ve developed a routine, it is really hard to get motivated to exercise some days. Today in particular, I didn’t feel like exercising, and I don’t feel like writing this blog post. I’ve been drinking too much coffee, which has disrupted my sleep patterns and made me toss and turn last night. I even cancelled my early morning class in the middle of the night because I wanted to be able to sleep in as much as possible!

I didn’t enjoy my workout today, but I completed it nonetheless; I focused on keeping good form and simply trying to do all of the moves until I finished the workout. One thing at a time, just like I’m writing this post one word at a time; I’ve committed to doing both so I’m just doing it. I’m also feeling a lot more positive since working out. My mood lifted, and I’m looking forward to relaxing after writing this. I’m also done drinking caffeinated coffee for a few days so that I can sleep better. Sometimes I just get carried away with it because it tastes so good!

This is my process for working out, and it’s applicable in most areas of my life. If I have decided to do something I’ll follow through. I don’t have to enjoy the process at all parts, nor make everything perfect. Sometimes just getting through the day is hard, but that’s all right because there’s always something to look forward to. By sticking to my daily workouts I increasingly look forward to being healthy and happy, sometimes throughout them and other times shortly thereafter.

Workout Review: P90X

p90xchallenge

About a year ago my husband decided to do a couple of the workouts from P90X.  They looked interesting and when he asked if I would join him in doing the program it took me a few days to decide. I had been doing workouts about 2 or 3 times a week, and this was a commitment to exercising every day.

P90X stands for Power 90 (days) extreme and is split into three phases that each last about one month. The program has a workout and a nutritional component; I’ll save the nutrition review for later. Daily workout videos are scheduled and involve routines that focus on different muscle groups and activities depending on the day. For example, there are videos that primarily involve pushups or pullups with weight lifting in between sets, and then there are kenpo and yoga routines. Three times a week you also have a core workout component, which depends on which version of the program you choose to do. Every four weeks there is a rest week, which simply means that workouts are more cardio-oriented and do not focus on muscle development, so you also skip the core workouts in those weeks.

P90X is complex and was designed meticulously so that you customize it. There are step-by-step instructions that explain how to decide on what schedule you will follow. Then you decide at the beginning which version of the program you will do, and it depends on your fitness goals.

Once you have made the decision to do a P90X workout it becomes a question of sticking to the schedule. Because it becomes painfully simple to check which video to put on and hit play, you just have to do it.

Motivation to stay with the schedule was the hardest part, especially during the first few weeks when my body didn’t understand that the workouts were a good thing. I quickly found that just doing the workouts was better than pushing hard through them because then I didn’t have the excuse of being sore or weak, and I never hurt myself. And as I became stronger I naturally did more and more repetitions, toward the end I exceeded the number of repetitions they tell you to do for certain things!

150970_10151293348046821_923207410_nI did P90X on the condition that we would also follow the accompanying nutrition plan – there was no way that I would devote so much time to daily workouts and risk not seeing results! At the end of the first month I was incredulous that my body could change so quickly and people started asking what I was doing differently. By the end of three months I had tripled my original weight loss goal. I was stronger than ever, and I ended up continuing doing P90X daily for another two months, making it 5 months running. At that point we traveled abroad for a few weeks and I decided to branch out upon our return. I still do these workouts about once a week and am extremely thankful that I decided to commit to the routine because it kickstarted my healthy and fit lifestyle.

Focus on Hamstrings: Particularly important for women

squats

Due to a knee injury several years ago and spats of runners knee ever since, I’ve been particularly aware of tell-tale signs that I might be aggravating those injuries. One of these signs is when my hamstrings are particularly tight.

Hamstring exercises

Here’s a workout that I created this week to exercise the hamstrings and thighs. Even though it’s not a perfect workout, it’s customized for hamstrings specifically. I’m learning how to get the timing and instructions right, it’s definitely a challenge that has made me appreciate just how awesome my teachers are in class.

http://freshworkout.com/w/calf-bi-tri-quad-ham-

There have been a few studies done on women to show what types of exercises work to strengthen hamstrings in particular. One method is to do a single leg wall squat instead of a regular wall squat.6 Plyometric training can also strengthen hamstrings in particular.7 From personal experience, any type of a forward fold (whether it is standing, sitting or laying down) will stretch out your hamstrings, which can also help improve flexibility and prevent injuries. Focusing on hamstring strengthening and flexibility regularly is also helpful in cross-training for high-impact sports like running, especially for women.

Background on the gender hamstring imbalance

The hamstring to quadriceps ratio is a measure of the relative strength of the muscles running along the back of your thigh (the hamstrings) compared to those running along the top of your thigh (quadriceps). Starting during puberty, muscle development in the upper legs differs between men and women. Although researchers are not yet sure why, they have observed that men develop strength more evenly in their upper legs, while women’s hamstrings lag in development compared to the quadriceps.1

An imbalance between the hamstrings and quadriceps is directly linked to knee injuries because it leads people to place uneven stress on the knee joint. Women are more likely to get injured in the hamstring and knee area. In particular, women are 4 to 6 times more likely than men to injure the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which is in the knee. 2

The imbalance is apparent in several recent studies; women see greater improvement from upper leg resistance training on hamstrings than quadriceps, while the inverse is true for men.3At the same time, it is harder for women to exercise their hamstrings specifically 4, because the quadriceps are much stronger and the body compensates toward using stronger muscles.5

Core Workouts

core-body-abs

Although you may not get washboard abs just from core workouts, they are key to fitness. The area from your mid thighs to your armpits is called the core because it supports your spine and torso, meaning it is integral that you strengthen it along with the rest of your body. If you have a weak core, for example, your arms could lift some heavy boxes but your back won’t be sufficiently supported and you could severely injure yourself.

Core stability enables your other muscle groups to function fully because it maintains strength and balance in your torso.

Numerous research studies support the fact that the core is key to good balance and injury prevention:

  • According to a 2007 study, researchers found that cyclists who strengthened their core stability significantly decreased their chances of injury while bike riding for long distances. [1]
  • Soccer players that were involved in a similar study were found to have fewer knee-related/costly injuries if they performed core strengthening exercises regularly. [2]
  • Older adults were also found to benefit from better balance during their daily activities if they participated in a core-strengthening routine three times a week. [3]

Core exercises, like strength training, can benefit everyone regardless of age or fitness level.

Some of my favorite core exercises include mountain climbers, steam engine, bird dog, yoga bicycle, heels to the heavens and side-arm balances. Due to the fact that the core is such a large muscle group, there are literally hundreds of different ways to workout the core – I’ve even found a few different exercises that I have yet to try while doing background research for this article. Sites like Livestrong.com and the Mayo Clinic show plenty of varieties.  Share your favorites with me!

As with all other exercises, it is important to vary your routine and to consistently come back to these muscles while still giving them a break. I do a core-focused workout at least once a week and then also do core exercises at least three times a week. It’s one of my favorite muscle groups to target because I keep finding new ways to focus on core strength and stability.