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Tuesday
Dec302014

What Is Zumba Step?

In the beginning of 2014 a variation of Zumba emerged, called Zumba Step. When I'd first heard in 2013 that it was being developed, I was thrilled because the first class I ever taught as an exercise instructor was advanced step. It seemed this class could be the perfect combination of step and dance fitness. Excited as I was, I couldn't imagine how the two formats could merge. Would it use classic step moves like repeater knees and turn steps, or would it include more Zumba moves, using the step only as a prop? When I took the training with Acea Theroux, he made me a believer. It was an exciting, effective workout that truly did blend Zumba and the feel of a classic step class.

Zumba Step focuses on working the lower body (legs, gluts). The choreography is more basic and the music tempo slightly slower than a regular Zumba class, because you have to work with the step bench. There are plenty of squats and lunges but still with the fun factor of Zumba. A one hour class might include 10-12 songs each with different choreography, similar to a Zumba class. Acea made it look so easy!

Interest at my gym was high so I expected an instant hit of a class. Um, wrong. This has been the most challenging class I've ever taught. There were two types of students trying the class: the longtime steppers and the longtime Zumba-ites. The steppers wanted high intensity and found the lesser cueing frustrating (step instructors are constantly shouting out cues before each move, while Zumba instructors rarely use verbal cues); the Zumba crowd found the toned-down choreography boring and had trouble navigating the step bench. I spent the first few months trying to please each group, realizing that my watered-down class was pleasing no one, including myself.

For once I'm thankful for my stubbornness, and through a journey of trial and errors (many!) I'm still standing with this class and have developed a personal style that I'm sticking with. I guess you could apply a lesson like this to any new scary and unfamiliar venture: Go with your gut. Highlight your strengths. And don't back down when you feel you're doing the right thing, even if some doubt you. But be humble to hear criticism, especially from people you trust.

To give you a taste, below is a basic routine that I use as a warm-up. To try out a Zumba Step class near you, check out the Zumba website!

Saturday
Dec202014

Exercise Excuses and Review of the Tae Bo® Low Impact Chair Workout

When I counsel people on weight loss, I say that a consistent exercise routine is 50% of a successful plan. Some never come back to see me if they refuse to exercise. Why do people hate it so much? The usual excuses (here are three of dozens that come up) just don't fly anymore:

  • "I can't afford it" = There are gym memberships as low as $9.95 per month for basic membership or $19.95 with exercise classes included. If you consider how much you spend each week getting coffee or take-out lunches, gym fees like these are affordable with any income. Other options: If you enjoy dance fitness, ask a local Zumba instructor if they accept a sliding scale fee (pay what you can). I allow this for my drop-in Zumba classes, as do many instructors if you just ask. There are also endless free video resources at your local library or on YouTube (see below) and don't forget the great outdoors available 24/7.
  • "I don't have the energy" = The biggest misconception of all. As long as you don't suffer from a heart or lung condition or fibromyalgia, exercise will almost always boost your energy. Being sedentary causes fatigue. But you do have to push past that mental block to get started.
  • "I don't have time" = I'm sorry but you have to make time. If you take away 15 minutes from screen time or reading time or even sleep (you won't die!), you can fit in exercise. 

In response to the excuses above, I may provide a link to a free exercise video on YouTube that I prescreen for safety. There's every possible type of exercise....dance, kickboxing, Pilates, yoga, toning, strength, HIIT, barre...all of which can be done in your home at your preferred time. I encourage an activity someone likes and starting with 10-15 minutes of the video, then adding more minutes each week.

The clear downside is safety, as no one is watching to make sure you do the moves correctly and don't hurt yourself. You're also accountable to yourself to do it consistently. Below is a low impact chair workout that may be useful for those with sensitive knees or back. I performed the whole video and provided my two cents below. Although I'm a certified exercise instructor, I don't have the extensive training of an exercise physiologist, physical therapist or personal trainer, so again it's just my two cents! 

PROS

  • Love the seated exercises that are no or low impact. Minimal space and no extra equipment needed. This really is a no-excuses workout! 
  • My heart rate went up and the intensity was good—I sweated. Easy to follow movements.
  • Works most of the major muscle groups. The ab exercises are challenging!

CONS

  • No modifications offered. You'll notice that everyone in the video looks fit and the same shape. I'm surprised that a chair video would not feature at least one person who is larger, older or less fit so that modifications could be shown.
  • Many of the exercises start slowly and then go faster to double time. The faster tempo seems almost too fast. When you go faster, you need to make the movements smaller/tighter. Even then, faster often means losing proper form. Some of the exercises at the fast pace actually caused some hip discomfort but that was just my body. 
  • Would have liked more comments from Blanks on good form, for new exercisers performing the video. What is the target muscle(s) for each exercise? For example with the roundhouse kicks, how high should the knee be? Would the move be as effective if you kept the side knee/leg lower below the hip? If you keep the knee high, you feel the outer thigh working; if you lower the knee, the intensity drops and your leg feels like it is simply flailing.

This is deceptively not a beginner-level workout though most of it is seated and easy to follow. I'd still suggest this video for those newer to exercise, but to do only the seated movements and keep the tempo at the initial slower pace. Also start with 10 minutes and gradually add more time. As always, listen to your body and if anything causes sharp pain, back off. The nice thing about this video is that it introduces seated movements that someone could remember and do on their own, say while watching television...during commercial breaks!

Monday
Dec082014

Just Do It This Holiday Season

Enjoying friends and family around the holidays is synonymous with good food and drinks, so you may be seeing a lot of articles right now on how to avoid being a complete glutton. I find the Do's more useful than Dont's, so I've included my favorite ones below. The goal is to enjoy yourself throughout the holidays by eating well and feeling great!

Photo credit: Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital's employee holiday luncheon

Don’t starve yourself before an event. Do drink plenty of fluids and eat lightly with foods like fresh fruit, Greek yogurt or whole grain toast with nut butter.

Don’t hang near the food and booze. Hovering over snack bowls or socializing near the dessert table or bar almost guarantees that you will overeat. Do plant yourself away from tempting tables and keep your mouth busy by talking: catch up with folks you rarely see or enjoy the special time with friends. Carry one drink and a small plate of food as you socialize, so people won’t offer you more.

Don’t shovel in the food. Do focus on enjoying your food and wait at least 20-30 minutes before reaching for more. It really does take about 20 minutes for your brain to tell your stomach “all set!”

Don’t deprive yourself of what you really want. If you’re dying for a scoop of the bacon cheddar mashed potatoes or a chocolate-dipped peppermint truffle, have some; otherwise the next day you may feel cheated and overeat something else. Do keep portions small. You will appreciate rich foods more if you chew a portion thoroughly and slowly, savoring the flavors.  

Don’t punish yourself with exercise. If you try to double your workout time and intensity, you may feel entitled to eat more as a reward, possibly negating the effects of your workout. Do continue exercising with your usual routine throughout the holidays, even on the day of.

Don’t keep leftovers in the house if you’re hosting a party. Do keep plates or disposable containers and foil on hand to encourage guests to take home a plate of food.

Don’t berate yourself if you overdid it (especially if you enjoyed yourself!). Do start the next day by returning to your healthy eating and exercise routine. One event will not affect your health and weight; your body will forgive you once you get back on track.