Monday, March 28, 2016

Core exercises for stabilizing the spine

Frequently, when exercisers think about core, the first thing they think about is some kind of  a crunch, and the second thing they think about is a  twist.  That's not wrong.

Lately, however, I've been training my clients in some exercises that are just the opposite - how to use their core to keep the spine from moving.  This is good for things like stand-up paddling, where too much twist will end you up in the water.  It's also good for my client who has a spirited dog, to prevent injury when 60 pound Kate veers this way and that.

Here is a series of exercises with an uneven load on one side of the body, so moving that load without twisting the spine is a fun challenge for the core.


Uneven chest press

Low anchor, don't twist spine.  The farther the hands get away from the resistance band, the more challenging the exercise for the core.

(not pictured - if you turn the exerciser around and have them pull downward in a paddling motion, this is a great functional exercise for stand-up paddling.  I just forgot to film that segment)

One-sided chest fly - no support behind spine

This looks a lot easier than it is.  If you put your back against the machine, it's all chest.  Once you scoot your back off the pad, the core has to stabilize the spine before the chest can even begin to adduct the arm.  To make it harder, feet closer together. Two views

"W" row with one-armed release

You need a CrossCore or other suspension trainer that has a pulley at the top.  Where this becomes a core exercise is when one arm releases, yet the hips, spine and shoulders stay facing forward.  Two views

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Tired of wearing black pants? Let's talk about exercise incontinence

Although this article is a bit embarrassing to write, my hope is that it will be a catalyst for others to get closer to their own solutions for incontinence.  Catalyst for further exploration, not a cure.  It is a conglomeration of what I learned as a physical therapy patient, as a personal trainer, through my 200 hour yoga teacher training, during my MELT hand and foot training, and through trial and error.  Scope of practice warning:  I'm not a doctor, nor am I a physical therapist. This article is intended to tell you about a few things that helped me so you might consider whether they'd be helpful to you.  See a women's health professional.

Here's a fantastic article from a physical therapist that might also help.  I agree with what she writes and I don't think any of the additional things that I write are in conflict with her statements.

It was a typical day in 2012 when I stuck a mini pad into my underwear and went to my martial arts class.  There was a lot of running and jumping in class, so it was habit for me to be prepared "just in case."   It was a bit inconvenient, but live-able.  I'd been doing the mini-pad in the underwear "just in case" for 30 years, since high school gymnastics, too embarrassed to ask my mom and years before Google existed. 

When I got home from taekwondo and changed my clothes, my heart stopped. The mini pad was gone.  

Gone.  My mind raced with all the horrible possibilities of where that pad might have exited my pants.  Somewhere between my car, the parking lot, during class, or at the grocery store, the devil-pad had slipped out of my undies, un-noticed, and wiggled out the loose legs of my uniform.  I was so deeply mortified, I didn't go back to taekwondo for two weeks, and it was months before I went to the grocery store after class.

There's nothing like humiliation to spark the desire for change.

Although I'd had a little experience and education in Kegel exercises related to childbirth, they'd never fully cured my occasional stress incontinence, and the problem was relatively minor so I'd just lived with the mini-pad ritual.  But now, I started googling stress incontinence in earnest.  I also went to a lovely physical therapist who specialized in women's health through an OB/GYN department.  God bless Cindy G. of Kaiser Permanente, her woman-positive practice, her assurances that I wasn't alone, and for her little biofeedback machine!

Here are some things I've learned, the combination of which has helped me.  Your mileage may vary.

1)  How are your feet, calves, and shoes? (my opinion as a personal trainer)

Our feet are the first line of defense against incontinence.  When our feet are strong and flexible, we can reduce the amount of force we create each and every time we land.  I tell my training clients to step and to land "softer than a cat in a ninja suit," rolling from toe, through the ball of the foot, to the heel, and then continuing past that to softness in the knees.  To make this work for you, check how well your toes move, how well you can twist your mid-foot, how much flexion you have in your ankle joint, and how quietly you can jump and land.  Stretch both groups of your calf muscles (this is a good idea whether you suffer with incontinence or not).  The better you can cushion your landing, the less stress you'll place on your pelvic floor in the first place.

2)  How is your spinal and pelvic posture? (my opinion as a personal trainer as reinforced in my yoga teacher training)

Our pelvis can be thought of as a bowl, with the tailbone and pubic bones at the bottom and the "waist" at the top.  If the pelvic bowl is in neutral, you could pour water into it and it wouldn't fall out front, back, or either side.  If the bowl is tipped too far forward, with the tailbone sticking out, imaginary water in the bowl would spill out the front of the bowl.  Similarly, if the bowl is tipped backwards, water would spill out the back.  Exercise physiologists argue a bit about how to find perfect "neutral" (source:  Tom Myers, from episode two of his webinar, "BodyReading: Visual Assessment of the Anatomy Trains Webinar Series," which can be found at, but this image should give you a basic idea of the pelvic bowl and the idea of neutral.

A person's pelvic position can directly affect the amount of force placed on the pelvic floor, and thus the urethra.  With a neutral pelvis, the internal organs are weighted more over the pubic bone and less over the pelvic floor muscles.  When the pelvis is tipped backwards, the weight of the internal organs is weighted more heavily on the pelvic floor.  Posterior pelvic tilt is common in American culture where we tighten our butts, pressing the the hips and legs forward - perhaps the origin of the term "tight ass?!?"  At any rate, it doesn't do any favors to the pelvic floor.

The pelvis can also be tilted side to side, such as with a difference in leg length.  That's a problem because the muscles will pull and tense in different amounts on different sides of the pelvis.  

3)  The pelvic floor is really complex.  (paraphrased summary of what I learned from my PT)

Kegel exercises are a small subset of what's going on down there...

There are oh, so many muscles, in oh, so many layers, and they're all intricately connected by fascial tissue.  My PT said that's why she went into women's health, because it was complicated enough to be truly interesting while also life changing.  So don't feel bad if you're trying to do Kegels and they're not working to improve bladder control.

There are several sets of muscles, all of which should be contracted, and with a little practice, you can feel the difference between them.  There are muscles that surround the clitoris, there's a sphincter near the opening of the urethra, there are muscles that contract the vagina, and muscles that contract and lift the anal sphincter upwards.  The urethra (tube that goes from the bladder to the outside of the body) is connected to the front side of the vagina through connective tissue, contractions of the vagina are very relevant to continence.

Here are a couple of pictures that I found helpful.  Don't read them if you're bored, but I'm putting them here so I can get back to them.



Vagina (and how it contributes to continence),%2520Vagina,%2520Lower%2520Pelvis,%2520and%2520Perineum/item/445

4)  Strength of the pelvic floor contraction  (paraphrased summary of what I learned in PT, with some helpful tips from yoga)

Just like strength and endurance of your other muscles, strength and endurance of the pelvic floor are both relevant.  First, the strength of the contraction.  What I was taught about Kegels while pregnant with my first child 14 years ago was this.  Imagine that you're urinating and mid-flow, the doorbell rings so you have to stop peeing really fast.  It was a decent enough instruction, but really only worked on the muscles around the urethra and vagina.  

What I learned from my PT in 2012; In order to have a strong contraction, tighten the muscles near the top of the clitoris like you're bringing them down towards the urethra, tighten and lift the muscles of the vagina closest to its entrance like you're picking up a grape, and lift the muscles surrounding the anal sphincter as though preventing the passage of gas or semi-solid objects.  Tighten them all.

Another way to think of this is from a yogic perspective - Mula bandha, aka "root lock."  I first learned this in kundalini yoga about 20 years ago in a "sat, nam" chant, which is done in a seated position (lotus, half lotus, easy pose, rock pose).  In the exhale (sat), there is a strong lift, like you have a golden flame at the base of your tailbone and you are drawing that energy up your spine, by tightening your root muscles.  In the inhale (nam), allow all of the muscles to completely release.  There's a temptation to push them out, but just release and relax.  If you google "kundalini sat nam" or "sat kriya," there are lots of explanations, but the above paragraph is how I was taught and I believe is the most helpful way to think of the sat nam chant in service to strengthening our continence.  It's also got a beautiful meaning in and of itself, about the seed of our internal truth.

I thought I had a strong pelvic floor contraction.  And then I got hooked up to a machine to test how many muscle fibers were firing.  There's some decent technology to measure the strength of your pelvic contraction that don't require anything to be inserted internally.  My PT hooked me up to a biofeedback machine with little electronic pads that stick on the skin above the target muscles, and a little light would go on when I had tightened the muscles enough to measure with the pads.  Then as I got better at it (neurally and muscularly), she could turn the sensitivity down so that I had to contract harder to get the darned light to turn green.  

5)  The duration (endurance) of the pelvic floor contraction is important (paraphrased summary of what I learned in PT)

The ability to hold a pelvic floor contraction is important.  After I had a strong PF contraction with all the muscles firing (step 3 above), I started being measured with an external biofeedback machine while going up and down stairs (pretty easy) and then jumping (oops!!!).  What I learned was that although I got a good strong contraction when I took off from a jump, I wasn't holding that contraction through to the very end of the landing.  Note:  Landing from a jump includes the toe-ball-heel + knee bend of the initial landing, all the way until the legs re-straighten.  There's still a lot of downward force until the jump and land are totally done.

6)  Avoiding liquids does NOT help!  (articles, experience)

In high school and college, I would allow myself one glass of milk in the morning for my instant breakfast drink, and then I wouldn't drink again until after gymnastics or drill team practice.  That strategy doesn't work.  One of the articles I read while writing this blog mentioned that the reason it doesn't work is because concentrated urine can be irritating to the bladder.  This makes sense to me now, because it sure didn't make sense to me at age 16 how I could have almost no water in my system, yet still leak a few drops during a dismount from the high bars or a ballistic tumbling pass.

7)  And in fact, there's evidence that chronic dehydration can make things worse (from my MELT education).  The earth needs wetlands in order to absorb water.  When we put too much pavement over too many surfaces - what happens with it rains?  Flood!  Healthy, elastic tissue (including but not limited to connective tissue and muscle) absorbs and transports water.  And worse, dehydrated cells don't just forego water, they tend to spread / collect like sediment, and eventually die without the ability to get nutrients and flush waste.  The answer to this is to drink small amounts of water throughout the day AND to work on the hydration and elasticity of your connective tissues.  How does one hydrate connective tissue?  I am sure there are several ways, but the way I know of and am trained in is MELT.  If you're in the Portland, Oregon area, message me.  The sequences that helped me in particular are the soft ball foot treatment, the SI joint shear, and the inner thigh glide/shear.

8)  Scar tissue from c-sections and other surgeries can alter the lines of pull of connective tissue, and the lines of pull of connective tissue can affect the urethra's ability to close evenly and stay closed.  Nobody told me this after my first or my second c-section.  Thanks a lot!!!  The good news is, massage therapy can help tremendously in working out and breaking down scar tissue.

Good news!  No more pads for me.  I exercise hard, and often.  I sweat buckets, so there are still classes where I am drenched all over, including the pants.  But at least now, 99% of the time, it's just sweat.

My hope for you is that you keep exploring, that some of these ideas resonate with you, and that you find a professional you find safe to address these questions with.  After taking my MELT training and seeing the effects of scar tissue, my bias is towards trying as many non-surgical methods as possible.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Restorative Yoga on a Budget - Cat Not Included

Restorative yoga is a wonderful way to rest, recuperate, gently stretch tight areas of the body, and to let the "thinking brain" slow down while we dissolve into relaxation.  An important part of the relaxation response is to feel comfortable and safe.  The yoga industry has created many props and tools to aid in comfort, and I own most of them!  However, we needn't make our wallets uncomfortable in order to be comfortable during class.  Here are some of the props you might commonly find in a restorative yoga class, and how you can use available items from home or the gym to make yourself comfortable.  Special thanks to our cat, Oreo, for modeling some of the equipment.  Cat is not required for restorative practice.


One of the most common elements in class is a yoga mat.  These can range anywhere from $10 to over $100.  My first mat was a $20 mat that lasted for four years, so good mats can be found cheaply. If you don't have a mat, at the facility where I'm teaching restorative yoga, Boom Fitness Tanasbourne, you may use one of the yoga mats in the group-ex room or line up two of the shorter but thicker black mats.  Even if you have your own yoga mat, softening it with two black mats underneath might enhance your comfort level.

Mat-recycling tip - when a mat starts feeling "old" to you (for me, it's when enough of the top surface rubs off that I feel like my feet will slide), don't throw it out.  You can set it below your newer mat to add more cushion between your body and the floor.  You could also roll it up and secure it with rubber bands to make your own soft foam roller or bolster (see below).


A standard yoga block is 4 inches by 6 inches by 9 inches and is tucked under knees, hips, arms, and any other places that can't reach the ground while you're trying to relax.  Ideally, you will be fully supported by a block, a towel, a rolled-up mat, or the floor in every part of your body so you can relax.  Boom has standard yoga blocks, so you may use what's available at the gym.  If you want a softer, more shape-conforming block (especially for back bends), there are fancy rounded blocks called "Namasteggs," which are quite comfy.  Also, the purple block shown is twice the size of a regular block.  If you have difficulty sitting on the floor, this block might be useful to you.  Just keep in mind that extra blocks are an option, not a requirement, for class.


Many of the poses in restorative yoga are done on our backs, and some of the poses are even more effective if the head, shoulders, and chest are raised so that the arms can relax at a lower height than the torso.  The softest and most comfortable way to do this is on a yoga bolster (see the black cushion in the second photo below).  Think of a yoga bolster as a tightly stuffed sofa cushion a little shorter than a foam roller.  They are very comfortable to recline upon, but they're not commonly found in our homes or gyms.  Here are some alternatives.  Most gyms have foam rollers, and that's what we'll be using during my classes at Boom.  When you compare the feel of a foam roller to the feel of a bolster, the foam rollers can feel hard and unyielding, making it hard to get comfortable.  Fear not!  There's an easy way to make a hard foam roller soft - simply cushion it with a towel.  If that's still too high or feels too stiff for you, folding two towels longwise and stacking them will also aid in comfort.

Here's an example of how to set up for a very common reclining pose, reclined bound angle pose, with "typical" yoga equipment and with two towels.

The bolster set-up with 5 Namasteggs to raise it and to support under the thighs will get you higher up, and it will be very comfortable; it will also cost you a little over $100.  Stacking a few towels, even if you have to buy them, would be much, much cheaper (and there are already blocks at Boom).

So, you might think you need all of this to relax.

But really, you might just need this.

No cats were harmed in the writing of this blog post.  She simply follows me everywhere when I'm home, so I didn't shoo her out of the pictures when her front end was facing the camera.

Namaste, and much relaxation to you.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What Fitness Format(s) Should You Teach? Ideas for making a decision

Introduction and credit where credit is due:

One of the questions I've seen arise on several fitness forums that I frequent is, "What format should I teach next?"  I'm writing this article for my more practical friends who want to take the courses that will be the most salient, relevant, joyous and profitable for them.

My main inspiration is from two sources.  The first source is Chalene Johnson, who gave two lectures at the IDEA World Fitness Convention in 2008 about how to be a rock star instructor.  The inspiration behind her words has lingered with me for years - develop a fitness mission that matters to you and seek a client demographic who matters to you - and has shaped many of my career decisions for the better.  The second source is Kristin Benton, whose blog article on choosing the right fitness format intrigued me enough that I felt compelled to write my own laundry list and credit hers!  Here is Kristin's Article on choosing a fitness format

Where to start?  What's out there?  

When I see people post, "What should I teach next?" on social media, the inevitable result is dozens of posts with the names of currently popular brand-name formats and many, many exclamation points, emoticons and hearts.  This is a helpful start because it gives us a bit of a pulse for what's out there, and which formats are marketing heavily.  That's a good thing.  When an instructor is passionate about a format, there's no reason they shouldn't shout it out to the world.  However, there are fabulous formats that aren't heavily marketed, either because they're new, they're small, they don't have a huge marketing budget, or their inventor isn't trying to go global.  Further, many instructors who have group-ex certifications design their own formats and don't market them at all.

This is why I love playing fitness detective - finding the hidden gems and then tweaking them to fit my own clients' goals. If you want to learn about what else is out there in the fitness community that's non-branded or quietly marketed, here are some ways to get information that's more in-depth or more relevant.  Instead of posting, "What format should I teach?" I post something more akin to...

  1. What are the 5 most successful formats at the club where you work?  If they're not brand name classes, please tell me a little bit about the formats.
  2. What are a couple of the formats you've seen that are the best for (insert your target demographic here).  If they're not brand name classes, please tell me a little about the format.
  3. Have you ever taught classes for (insert target demographic here)?  What kinds of things did you include to make them successful?
  4. If you've ever launched a new format at your club and kept it going successfully for more than a year, what kind of format is it, and did you design it yourself or is it a format I can get certified in?

That's too much work.  I'd rather teach a branded format.

That's cool.  Here are some things to consider when exploring possible brands.  There are huge differences in fee structures, license requirements, continuing education, and creative freedom, so it may behoove you to ask about these items up front.  A few of these items are from Kristin's list (linked above).

Questions about the format itself.  

How much does the training cost?

After the training, what additional costs are involved - monthly membership dues, annual re-licensing, music, equipment, etc.  Are those fees optional or required?

If there is an optional monthly club, membership, pro team etc., what are my rights to teach the format if I don't join, and can I successfully launch and teach the format if I don't join?

Is the format 100% pre-choreographed, partially choreographed, or does the instructor design their own workouts using the main principles of the format?

If the format is pre-choreographed, how much leeway is there to stray from their choroegraphy, i.e. are there options for differing levels of ability or modifications for injury?

Does the course offer CECs from major providers like ACE, AFAA, or ACSM?

Am I required to hold a group exercise certification in order to teach the format?  If so, does the format itself design workouts that are consistent with the theories, principles, and contraindications of that group exercise certification (my personal pet peeve)?

Is there an exam, video, or other quality control feature in order to teach the format?  What about after I've received my training - are there quality control standards for continuing instructors?

What kind of trainer support will I get from the company?

What kind of instructor - to - instructor network is available for me?  How active is it in general?  How active is it in my area?  Meet-ups, practice sessions, conferences, masterclasses....?

When I correspond with the company, how responsive are they? Are they eager to help?

What, if any, costs are associated with cancelling my membership?

What marketing support is provided for the format?

Will I be encouraged to sell any products that parallel the format?  Does this opportunity interest me?

Questions about myself and my area.

Is this a format that I'm personally passionate about and feel like I would enjoy teaching?

Will my current clients be interested in this, or is this a format where I will need to expand my clientele in order to succeed?  If this is new territory for me and I need to attract a different type of client, am I willing and excited to do this?

Am I already good at this?  Am I willing to put the time into being good at this?  What skills / talents / attributes do I not yet have that will make me sellable in this format?

Do the company's ethics match mine?

Do I prefer to be the first to market, blazing a trail with a new format, or would I rather launch something that's tried and true?

Brand recognition - do people know about this format in my area?  And if so, what's the format's reputation in my area?  Is it consistent with my own reputation?

Market saturation - popular enough to be able to get a job and get subs, but not over-saturated.

How much prep time will it take me to prepare for my first class, and how much prep time will be involved in future classes?

Do I know any of the instructors in the area?  Would I want to network or collaborate with them?

What does my gut say?

Friday, April 03, 2015

Quarantining Bad Attitude in Class

This blog entry is for my fellow fitness instructors and trainers, on the power of positivity and its ability to continue upbeat energy in class.

We are all so different, and our member needs are so different, thus it's impossible that every member who takes our class will like us.  The more classes we teach, the more probable it becomes that someone will display a bad attitude during class or walk out.

I've given some time between the event this post, and will leave details as minimal as possible, so as to not identify or offend any individuals.

Some time ago, as I was just about to start a weight training circuit class, two new members entered.  As normal, I went over to introduce myself, explain the class, and ask if they had any injuries.  Person #1 was smiling.  Person #2 was frowning.  She was upset before ever entering my class, so I knew that deep down whatever was going on with her wasn't about me, but I took it upon myself to try and help her have a good class experience.

During warm-up, I chat with all of my attendees and see how they're doing.  It's a small class, about 16 people, so I can make a brief connection with each person, check in on injuries, progress, etc.  I found out that these two were new to the gym and that one of them had taken Zumba (another class I teach and love).  Aha!  An opportunity to connect with person #2, maybe helping her to warm up to me but if not to give her some customer service by letting her know about our fantastic Zumba program.  So I started chatting her up, asking her who she's taken from at our club.  She stopped walking, looked me in the eye and said, "Look, I'm going to be honest with you. I really just wanted to come to the spin class but we got the wrong time."

Well, alrighty then!  No matter what I did, she was not going to like me.  At least I gave her points for honesty.

What I wanted to say was, "The door is over there."  

What I actually said was, "Well, I'm sorry that my class wasn't your first choice, and I hope you enjoy the workout."

I've had people walk out of my class before.  I've had people glare at me before.  I won't detail each behavior, I'll just say that this was one of the rudest attendees I can remember in 24 years and over 11,000 classes taught. But there were 15 other people, most of them long-time regulars, so I remained my energetic, positive, goofy, professional self for the entire 30 minutes she was there, although the energy drain on me was huge.  (separate blog post, yes, I believe there is an overlap between goofy and professional and that my teaching style falls within it)

The last half hour of class went smoothy and it was a good class.  A few times, I examined the group that had formerly included "Ms. Grumpy," expecting to see signs of relief on their part that her negativeness was gone.  Everyone continued just fine, not one peep, eye-roll, or sigh of relief.  They were all so attentive to their own workouts, they hadn't noticed her negativity, nor had they really noticed her departure. 

OK, so here's the moral.  A bad attitude doesn't have to spread, and by staying positive as instructors, we can keep it from spreading.  As hard as it was to be in the room with this person, her attitude didn't infect the rest of the class.  By continuing to teach just like normal, and ignoring the attitude, I quarantined her effect on the rest of class.  While she was in the room, I had been absolutely certain that this girl must be draining other participants' energy, at the very least the group of members who were in her circuit team, and they'd be just as glad as I was that she was gone.  Nothing.  No reaction.  They were fine with and without her.

Quarantining a bad attitude so the rest of my attendees can have a great class isn't a dreary part of my job; is part of my POWER and skill!

Here are some things to help foster this outcome.

1)  Non-competitive environment defined up front - when we teach our members to work on their own goals and results, they don't compare to others and will focus on themselves.  No matter what class I'm teaching, I mention in my introduction an appreciation for each one's uniqueness, abilities, and ask that they work at their own pace.  If it's a Zumba class, I say, "Dance your own dance."  If it's a weight training class, I say, "Run your own race, work as hard as you want, and compare only to yourself."  If it's a yoga class, I say, "This is a non-harming, non-competitive class were all are welcome."  The point is, each member is responsible for their own workout.  

2)  My own attitude shift from victim to powerhouse.  Honestly, there were several times when I wanted to ask this person to leave because she looked so unhappy in my class, and her half-hearted movements weren't doing her any good.  But she wasn't hurting herself or anyone else, so I spoke to her as often as I spoke to everyone else and kept the energy up.  I did not change my behavior for her, because everyone else was depending on me to be, well, me!

This represents a huge shift in my own attitude.  When I was a newer instructor and someone didn't like me, I let it get under my skin and would feel devastated when I heard criticism in or out of class.  My next step in developing a thick teaching skin was to let the negative bounce off me, or toss a funny but passive aggressive comment back at the offender to preserve my own ego.  The problem with bouncing attitude back is that there can be casualties; it can then draw the attention of others who weren't previously aware of it. Now I've let a drama of one infect others in my class.  Not any more. My new plan, continuing on with the quarantine analogy, is that I'm going to act like a white blood cell.  When bad attitude hits me, it will sizzle out like a match in a gallon of water.  pfft.  I won't take on the drama - I'm too powerful for that - and I will insulate the rest of my class so they can get the good class they deserve.

3)  The following mantra - "It's not about me.  It's not about me.  It's not about me."  This person was frowning before she ever entered my room.  Since I wasn't her favorite spin instructor, it didn't matter who I was.  It's hard, sometimes, when we're in the front of the room to remember that the expressions on members' faces aren't always because of us. That goes for the happy expressions as well as the sad expressions.  That's not to say that there aren't these amazing moments in class where we feel like we've got them all in the palm of our hands and they're hooting and hollering and we helped them get there.  That stuff happens, and I'm grateful for it.  But I also try to remember that sometimes people bring in baggage that they can't set down for an hour and I have to honor that, or at the very least not let it affect the others who are depending on me.

4)  Even when it is about me, it's really not about me.  Most of the time, a member's baggage is their own, and they bring it in with them.  But sometimes, it's our teaching personality and they actually don't like us.  I've heard that I'm too loud, I talk too much, I tell too many jokes, I whoop, I cue like an air traffic controller, I act like a know-it-all, etc.  My favorite criticism of all time is that I'm too short, as though I'm going to be able to fix that!

Those critiques are all based in truth.  I teach with a lot of energy and I send it outwards, sometimes with whoops, hollers, and the occasional floor drumroll.  I tell jokes, but the moment after I tell a joke, I might make a very technical form correction and explain that by engaging their deep external rotators they're protecting their medial knee.  I choose to make big visual cues because I have young adults with special needs in my Monday morning classes and I love that they're there.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  My teaching personality is what it is.  I am who I am, and I'm not going to beg people to like me.  ...especially because people keep coming to my classes, year after year...  Those people are the ones to whom I cater, the long-term members who enjoy my class, and me, for who I am.    

Awesome classes to all!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Zumba(r) Step! My DVD review.

In it's never-ending quest to dominate the world of Fitness, Zumba(r) has introduced a step format that rolls out in early February, 2014.  The consumer DVDs just came out this week and of course you know who had to buy it and pay for rush shipping so I could be the first kid on the block with the new stuff...  I know, I know, first-ness is kind of an obsessive thing with me.

I'm very excited for this format!  I'm getting my license on March 1 (driving to Canada for it) and I hope to start teaching it March 3!  I've taught step for over 20 years, so as long as they let us use our own choreography, I'll be ready.  I'm half ready now because I'm a good guesser and the format is almost exactly as I expected it would look.

Here are some basic facts based on my first run-through of the DVD.

  • It follows the Zumba format of letting the music drive the movement.  When the music changes, the movement pattern changes.  
  • It's still based on international rhythms and the typical dance steps from those rhythms, with some pop (30%) songs.
  • Not necessarily 32-beat, but the songs do feel like they have a steady beat - no dramatic pauses mid-song and not a ton of parts in any of the songs. 
  • It's not tapless.  (I know some step instructors will die inside reading that, lol, so I figured I should put that comment up near the top so I can clear that air).
  • When I started typing this, I'd only seen the first 5 songs, and my review read:  "Step tempo pretty much in a normal range for step - I didn't measure with my metronome but nothing in the first 5 songs as I type this sounds like an egregious tempo liberties.  The tango is slower than a normal step tempo, but the movements are very focused plie squats so it makes for a decent squat/toning song."   But in the sixth song, an oldies rock and roll style song, it was so fast I had to get out the mentronome and measure it for myself - 167bpm.  Yes, I'm a geek.  First of all, I have a mentronome and second, I knew exactly where it was.
  • Very simple routines.  This is not the advanced, multi-layered choreograhy that many of us used to teach.  There are almost no layers at all, perhaps one layer to add a larger limb movement, but no layers in the sense that you're "building" a routine.  This will be boring for those who are used to advanced step classes, but for new participants it will be easy to catch on, if it's cued well.  
  • The Rizer is used, sometimes to step on, sometimes as an accessory.  Sometimes when it's used as an accessory it's cute and feels like it fits into the choreo for that spot.  But sometimes, it looks like they're tapping on the Rizer because they just remembered they have a Rizer there and they should probably use it. 
  • A few of the moves that you would see in an old-school step class.  There are basic steps, and a few across the tops, and some lunges from the top, alternating knee lifts or side leg lifts, T-steps, some knee-lift + tap downs, and straddledowns.  Yes, some of them tap.
  • Not every musical segment uses the step.  There are sections of some songs that use the floor, or just tap on the step.  So IMO it's a near equal blend of dance and step.  
  • There are times where it's used very effectively like some lunge passages that are killer.  Kind of like Zumba Toning, but with a step.
  • Personally, I would not teach this without verbal cues, but there was an option on the DVD to turn the cues off.  I suppose if you're going to do the same routine week after week, after a while you could cut your cues down because you're not teaching any layers, really.  IMO, this is one of those formats where if you don't cue, you're gonna be dead in the water.  People have a hard enough time following Zumba; if you add a 4 inch Rizer(tm) that they can trip over, you've got to cue.  Visual, verbal, air traffic control signals, whatever works.  But cue.  Please, fellow instructors, I'm begging you.  CUE!
  • Three contraindicated moves, for those of us who are either certified in group exercise or step (I have held both, although Exersafety Association where I got my step cert is now defunct).  I was NOT happy to see these, especially on a DVD that will be sold to the masses and to instructors who will follow it "because Beto did it on the DVD."  But in my choreography, I simply won't do them.  (1) One minute into the warm-up, they started doing a move that was 4 jumps in a row, march march, 4 jumps in a row.  This is too early to be jumping in a fitness class (sure, it goes with the song, but so would a good fist pump without the jump. AAAAARRRRGHHHHH!).  (2) The very old recommendations for step were a maximum tempo of 128bpm.  Many instructors have exceeded that tempo, as have I, but the majority of instructors commonly accepted that 135 was about the top "safe" end of stepping.  167 is way above that, although in their defense the movements are pretty simple.  (3)  In the same song that's 167 bpm, they have multiple repeated moves on the same leg.  The industry standard number of repetitions on any one leg in a step class is 16.  They were doing 24 and I think they also snuck 32 in there once.  

Overall, this is a format with a ton of potential.  

Some will love it.  Others will hate it, especially advanced steppers.  I'm planning to rock the hell out of it.

Existing step instructors will catch on quick, if they can get over the idea that step must be tapless, layered, and 32-beat.  Step didn't start tapless, nor did it start 32-beat.  Everything old is new again.  As an instructor who is a stronger "educator" than "performer," I think I'll fit right into and enjoy the format a lot as it resonates with my stepping roots.  

Existing Zumba instructors who have never taught step aren't going to have as hard of a time as I think some people are predicting.  But I think the "performers" are going to have to put on their "educator" hats because there are some safety issues inherent with a four inch high obstacle that can't be ignored.  Cue.  Cue.  And then cue a little more.

Here is the playlist.  Some of the songs are ZIN(tm) songs that instructors will recognize.  I wasn't thrilled with about half of the songs, but that's the beauty of Zumba over pre-choreographed formats.  We have the freedom to choroegraphy our own works, and for those of us who enjoy that freedom, it allows us the ability to really show our uniqueness and personality.

Bem Vindos (ZIN 41)

I Came to Party (ZIN 45)
Boogaloo de Paris (salsa)
Love on Me (pop)
Chande Papa Dio (bollywood?)
Tanguajira (Tango)
La Aguafiesta (I know I've heard this song, but I can't find it on my iTunes)
Pam Param Pam Pam (reggaeton)
I Want Your Love (old time rock and roll)
Tempo (bachata)
Zumba Viento (cooldown) - very pretty song and I liked the stretch patterning.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

My knees feel great, but my back hurts.

This is my second blog post about squats and knees.  The first talked about why a group exercise instructor might give different instructions than a personal trainer regarding the same exercise.  A group exercise instructor in charge of many people is going to give cues that keep the majority of them safe, even if it means omitting exercises that could be done with no problem by many people (and in fact are done every day).  A personal trainer, on the other hand, is paid to assess the individual and make recommendations on exercises and movements based on that person's present fitness level, injury history, and goals.

This post is not intended to be an exhaustive study of proper squat technique.  I'm just going to mention one unintended consequence that I've seen in group exercise classes when the following cue is given all by itself.

Most of us have heard that cue.  I've given it.  And it's not technically wrong.  But I don't like it any more.

Here's what I see a lot of.  This is me.  I didn't inflict it on anyone else!  I'm going to follow the knees-behind-toes cue, and see how far that cue gets me absent other information.

The knees are well behind the toes just like the cue says.   Problem is, in over-focusing on keeping the knee back, I've shut down mobility (in this case, flexion) in my ankle.  When my ankle stays relatively locked and my knee bends, the only way I can keep squatting without falling over is to over-hinge in my hip joint, putting un-needed stress on my low back.  My video shows me keeping my head up and shoulderblades down, but sometimes this squat is accompanied with a head drop and a lurch forward in the upper back.  Ouch!

What really drives me nuts is when people get down into this squat and pulse there by moving only their knee joints; the glutes bounce up and down but the back stays low and the ankles stay locked.

This is a problem for several reasons.

1)  The most obvious is the stress on the low back.
2)  A quieter problem, but still a problem, is the lack of mobility in the ankle.  We need ankle mobility and calf flexibility to stand, to walk, for basic function.  A well-done squat promotes mobility in the ankle.
3)  It's not functional!  OK, maybe if you're are a jockey.  But if you are not a jockey, the risks of hurting the back and reduced ankle mobility outweigh, in my opinion, the benefits of the glute bounce.

Let's view a better squat (from a knee perspective) for a moment.  Thank you, B. and T. for letting me use you as examples.

Here, the knee is still behind the toes for the duration of the movement, but notice that it gets closer to, and further away from, the toe throughout the squat.  The whole motion is like the coiling and rebounding of a spring - three joints are moving - the ankle, the knee, and the hip.  Since the ankle is also moving, the back isn't as hinged over, creating less strain on the low back.  The concept is called triple flexion.  All three joints share the load.

How could / should this be cued?

Here are a few things that I do to get safe and effective squats in group exercise situations where I don't have time to lecture for long or spend one-on-one time (unless someone is acting really dangerously, then I will correct them).

1)  I pre-educate members about "triple flexion" before class, and then I can say "triple flexion" as a quick cue that reminds them about the shared load on all joints.
2)  Or I'll say - "Bend three joints - hip / knee / ankle and keep your chest up."  Sometimes it's easier to cue a more obvious part of the body.  When I say chest up, I really mean flex the ankles.  If they can't keep their chest up, chances are that they're not flexing the ankles.  (note: this cue works most of the time but sometimes people will flex at the ankle and the knee but not at the hip, then we get knees way out in front of the toes, so it's important to emphasize all three)
3)  Or I'll say - "Drop the hips back and keep the chest up."
4)  This one depends on how good of a sense of humor your class has.  "You have to go potty, but the toilet seat is dirty so you have to hover over the seat.  BUT, you don't want to pee on the back of your shoes.  Don't look down!!!"  This actually gets great compliance but don't say it if it's going to get you fired.

Takeaway lesson

What's the best cue ever?  There's not just one.  But good cues are:
Meaningful to your audience.
Concise, yet complete.
Gets the highest rate of compliance, without creating safety issues, dysfunctional movement, or offense.