Try This!

Hey Man…You Need Yoga!

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In the female dominated world of yoga, I’m actually seeing more men attending my yoga classes. Although the classes I teach are more of a power yoga style, they’re still coming week after week and I love it. It shows me that the old association of yoga being touchy feely, only for women and for hippies is finally making its breakthrough. Men are understanding the importance of adding yoga and stretch to their fitness routine and those who are consistent are seeing results.

With my experience in teaching yoga and performing personalized stretch sessions, it’s evident that yoga and stretch are great for the body and can increase potential in very specific activities. Here are some examples!

Mike Loves Yoga & Stretch
My good friend and trainer, Mike plays football and in order for him to be faster and more agile on the field, he needs to move in different planes of motion at max speed. If his hip flexors and rotators are tight, his ability of moving quickly and easily is limited to a very specific range. He can lack power in agility or move too quickly when tight which can cause an injury. Mike stretches with me once a week in addition to taking yoga classes.  Great job, Mike!

Manuel Loves Yoga & Stretch
My man loves his overhead squats! This CrossFit exercise requires specific muscle mechanics in order to execute safely and properly. So much mobility, flexibility, and stability is required in the shoulders, hips, hamstrings, glutes and adductors. Without a full range of motion or flexibility in those muscles, this exercise becomes increasingly difficult and unsafe to perform. Manuel spends at least 15 minutes after his workout to stretch, takes my power yoga class, and will grudgingly take a class with me. Yay Manuel!

Jonathan Loves Yoga & Stretch
Jonathan owns a finance company and barks orders all day long to over 100+ employees. He is consistently in demand and pulled in every direction. The stress and tension he feels every day is unbearable at times and the only way he can wake up the next morning to handle the pressure all over again is to create space in his body and mind. But that doesn’t come without challenge. In our stretch sessions, he is forced to succumb to specific yoga poses, stretches, and breathing that help release physical and mental tension. Without this, he would not perform at the peak level his work demands of him. Way to go, Jon!

There you are…solid proof that yoga does a man’s body good.
Here are 4 poses/stretches that all men can benefit from. So whether you perform agility sprints, deep squat, or run a successful company, these are the go-to stretches that will change your life!

LOW LUNGE (ANJANEYASANA)

lunge

Low Lunge

Benefits:
1. Stretches hip flexors (illiopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius) and rear of the hips (piriformis and glutes)
2. Strengthens quadriceps of the front leg, helping to support and increase stability in the knee
3. Promotes balance and mental focus

Make sure to:
– Align your front knee above the ankle
– Drop your hips down, engage your abdominals to protect the lower back, and lift the chest up

DOUBLE PIGEON (AGNISTAMBHASANA)

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Double Pigeon

Benefits:
1. Stretches outer hips (gluteal group, tensor fasciae latae) and lateral rotators (piriformis, quadratus femoris, gemellus, obturators, psoas, sartorious)
2. Increases range of motion at the hips
3. Therapeutic for stress relief and anxiety

Make sure to:
– Sit as far forward as you can on your sit bones or in front of your tailbone.
– Align your foot directly on the knee and bottom foot directly below the knee.
– Flex both feet to protect and stabilize the knee joint

DOLPHIN POSE (MAKARASANA)

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Dolphin Pose

Benefits:
1. Opens upper back, shoulders, hamstrings, calves, and feet
2. Strengthens core, arms, and legs
3. Calms the brain and helps to relieve stress and tension
4. Great prep pose for forearm stand inversion
5. Relieves headache, back aches, and fatigue

Make sure to:
– Keep the legs as straight as you can and press the heels down to the floor
– Keep a neutral pelvis and slight arch in the lower back
– Press firmly into the forearms to stabilize shoulders and upper back
– Draw shoulders blades down to relax the trapezius from overworking

RECLINED SPINAL TWIST (SUPTA MATSYENDRASANA)

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Reclined Spinal Twist

Benefits:
1. Stretches mid to lower back muscles, pectorals (chest), shoulders, hips and glutes.
2. Stimulates and detoxifies the organs
3. Lengthens, relaxes, and realigns the spine
4. Encourages blood flow and aids with the health and function of your digestive system

Make sure to:
– Adjust your hips to align with your spine before dropping your knee to twist. For ex: if you drop your left knee to the right, move your hips slightly to the left before doing so.
– Relax your neck and try to connect both shoulders to the floor
– Breathe deeply when you twist

There are so many more stretches and yoga poses that are beneficial but these are perfect to do when limited on time. They target the hips, shoulders, lower back and chest – the most commonly tight areas in men. Women can absolutely benefit from these stretches, too. All stretches are great as long your body is set up properly and they’re performed safely.

Yes…yoga and stretching can be boring, monotonous, time consuming, and painful. But we work so hard all day to compound, contract, and tighten our muscles with daily activity, workouts, and simply living life. Take the time to create space, lengthen, and reverse those effects so you can move freely and never feel limited in the potential of your body! Spend some time stretching after your workouts, take a yoga class or learn more about my Stretch Sessions. Now…Go Stretch!

TRY THIS! SERRATUS EXERCISES = STRONGER CORE

Since my last blog post on the “secret core muscle” and why it’s so important in our workouts, I’ve been obsessed with teaching my students how to target and strengthen the serratus anterior muscles. I want them to understand and feel the recruitment of these muscles and how they help increase upper body strength and develop a stronger, more efficient core.

Here are the exercises and tips that I’ve been teaching to strengthen and tap into the power of the Serratus Anterior.

SERRATUS PUSH UPS
I heart this exercise and love to challenge my yoga students by adding them to the sequencing. Not only does it help with deep breathing but it creates a drawing in effect that will instantaneously make you feel lighter.

 

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Targeting Tips:

#1 Stack shoulders directly above the elbows and keep body weight forward.
#2 Initiate the movement from the shoulder blades to isolate the upper body only.
#3 Press the forearms into the mat to round the upper back as much as possible.
#4 Avoid lifting or dropping the hips. Engaging the abdominals, glutes and legs will help.


CABLE  CHEST PRESS

The primary muscles worked are the pectorals (chest) and secondary muscles are triceps and shoulders. Simply adding scapula protraction and retraction is a great way to get the serratus anterior to engage making this upper body exercise a core workout, too.

cable pull down

Targeting Tips:

#1 Step one foot forward and engage the abdominals to maintain a forward lean.
#2 Begin to extend the arms ending in protraction (rounding) of the shoulders. Squeeze the shoulder blades together when releasing the arms to stretch the chest.
#3 Refrain from moving the hips. Keep movement in the upper body only.
#4 Exhale and round the upper back to fully engage the serratus and abdominals.


KNEELING CABLE CRUNCH

This effective exercise recruits the help of several muscles. Your entire upper body and hips help to stabilize and support the movement while the rectus abdominis and serratus are the target and synergistic muscles.

Pulldowns

Targeting Tips:

#1 Focus on articulating the movement from a flat back to a rounded back. Bring the elbows to the legs by curling the upper body down to the lower body.
#2 Keep back and abdominal muscles engaged when allowing the resistance to lift your torso.  This will help to avoid a swinging motion.
#3 Hips and neck remain neutral and stationary through the exercise.

TRY THIS!
3 sets of 15-20 reps of each exercise. Add weight or resistance to develop more strength and power.
Add to any upper body workout and get the core working. Add to a yoga sequence to discover deeper breathing and a drawing-in effect when coming up to inversions.

We’ve all heard it before “…working muscles that we never thought we had”. The Serratus Anterior are one of those muscles.  Focusing and strengthening this secret core muscle will create mind-body awareness and help you harness an untapped resource.  HAVE FUN!

 

Stretch with TRX

Total Body Resistance Exercise (TRX) is a suspension training program that’s known for its strength workouts. The exercises are functional, effective and all dynamically challenge your core by leveraging gravity and your bodyweight as resistance. Here is a great TRX exercise that gets the heart rate up while tapping into your core.

As much as TRX is known for its intensity, it also serves as a great tool to assist in exercises so one can develop better and stronger form. I love using TRX for my workouts but more recently discovered its assistance for getting deeper into yoga poses. Check out these great yoga stretches to try with TRX!

UPWARD FACING DOG
This pose is a back bend and requires strength in the abdominals, legs and upper body to hold the pose. Using the TRX will allow the hips to drop lower giving a better stretch in the abdominal wall and chest. Shifting the weight forward into upward facing dog can be challenging so be sure to engage the core and press firmly through the arms to help stabilize when moving.
Keep in mind! (1) Set up so that the straps are directly under the anchor point (2) Lengthening the straps will deepen the stretch but will also require more core strength (3) Press hands into the handles to push back to standing

updog

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LOW LUNGE TO STANDING SPLIT
One of my favorite hip openers is Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge). This pose stretches the hip flexors particularly rectus femoris and tensor fasciae latae (TFL) which are both very tight muscles due to prolonged sitting or overuse in exercise. Standing split is a balancing pose that challenges the core and leg strength while stretching the hamstrings. So combining the two poses is not only a great warm up but a great way to open up two very commonly tight areas (hip flexor and hamstrings). The release in both will immediately alleviate lower back pain and tension.
Keep in mind! (1) Twist the handles together so they make one big handle/one strap and line up directly under the anchor point (2) Keep the back leg in strap straight when in low lunge pose (3) Keep the front knee slightly bent when in standing split (4) Make sure to keep a flat back and chest up when in low lunge

Lunge

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HALF ANKLE TO KNEE (PREP FOR TIP TOE POSE)
A very challenging hip opener as it requires flexibility in so many areas. All muscles in the LPHC (lumbo-pelvic-hip complex) must be open to sit in the full Tip Toe Pose. However modifying with half ankle to knee helps to release tension in the glutes and hip external rotators. The TRX straps will help with balance so that you can sit as low as you can while keeping a straight spine. Moving from seated to standing position will warm up the hip but also strengthen the quadriceps of the standing leg. This stretch will also help deepen your Pigeon Pose and Seated Ankle to Knee.
Keep in mind! (1) Keep your back straight and chest up (2) Very important to flex the foot placed on the knee to protect the joint (3) Move hips back (as if sitting in a chair) when bending the knee (4) Don’t be afraid to use the arms to help pull up to standing

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Stretching is an essential part of being fit. Without full of range of motion, your body is restricted to complete any exercise or pose in its proper and ideal form. Find time to incorporate stretching and/or a yoga practice into your weekly fitness routine. Using fitness props such as TRX straps, blocks, yoga straps, bolsters will aid tremendously on modifying and assisting so the body is aligned and working safely, efficiently and pain free. Now…Go Stretch!

Workout Before (& After) You Pig Out!

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s when I really take the day off, hang with my family, laugh, play games, and relax. I know most of us love all of the above but let’s face it…we’re more excited about gorging our faces with multiple servings of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and pie. I’m not for pigging out but I know how delicious the dishes are on this holiday (my mom makes the most amazing stuffing…hands down!). So if you plan on stuffing face all day long and consuming, what the news has reported, well over 3,000 calories in one sitting, then working out is a MUST!

Here’s a quick and effective workout to do before and after your feasting marathon:

Blast the Calories with Cardio: 20 minute treadmill workout

3 min     5.0 – 6.0 speed at 5.0 incline
2 min     6.0 – 6.5 speed at 8.0 incline
1 min     6.0 speed at 3.0 incline
2 min     7.0 – 11.0 speed at 3.0 incline
1 min     4.5 – 5.0 speed at 3.0 incline
2 min     5.0 – 6.0 speed at 6.0 incline
2 min     6.0 – 7.0 speed at 8.0 incline
1 min     6.5 – 7.0 speed at 1.0 incline
1 min     7.5 – 11.0 speed at 1.0 incline
1 min     3.5 – 4.5 speed at 1.0 incline
2 min     6.0 – 7.5 speed at 3.0 incline
1 min     5.5 – 6.5 speed at 1.0 incline
1 min     4.0 speed at 1.0 incline
*Please modify by decreasing speed only when needed.

Blast the Belly with Core Work: 3 sets back to back

1. Elbow Plank to Hand Plank: 1 minute total
Stay in elbow plank for the first 30 seconds then press up into hand plank for another 30 seconds.

2. TRX Mountain Climbing: check out my post for instructions. Can also be performed without TRX.

3. Alternate leg raises: 20 reps on each leg
Support your neck with your hands then press your lower back into the floor to lift your shoulders up. Lower one leg down then switch legs. 

4. Elbow to side plank: 10x each side
Start in elbow plank. Shift your weight onto your right side, stacking your feet into side plank. Then go back to elbow plank and switch to the left side.

5. Hand plank reverse crunch on stability ball: 15 reps
Set up in hand plank with your shins on a stability ball. Perform a reverse crunch by rolling the ball towards your chest while keeping your shoulders on top of the wrists. Extend your legs and repeat.

Let’s get to work! Work hard, burn those calories, and enjoy your Thanksgiving meal…guilt free! Have a happy one!

 

Burpees, Push Ups, Squats…OH MY!

I’m a one-on-one trainer at heart but I’ve been leading more classes lately to expose myself to groups and to tap into a different side of my teaching. One of the main reasons I stick to personalized fitness training is because I can focus on teaching form and technique to make sure my students move safely and in alignment. But as of late, I’ve struggled with coaching several people performing exercises in ‘eh’ form and most in terrible form. I cringe when I teach these classes and I have to force myself from stopping the class so I can show the proper form. Instead I try to emphasize what muscles to use and the importance of correct form. But I’m losing this battle and I’ve come to terms that I can’t force people (or their bodies) to cooperate in these classes.

The three exercises that are most commonly performed in poor form are burpees, push ups, and squats. And that’s not only in a class setting but also on the gym floor and in training sessions. They’re all challenging exercises that require full body strength and range of motion so it makes sense why they are often done incorrectly. Let me explain the proper form for each with the help of my student, Nadia, in the video clips and images below.

BURPEES: A dynamic and full body exercise that requires strength and cardio endurance. A burpee should only be done by someone who has already developed a foundation in strength and balance and can understand how the body should land and exert force.
Most common mistake: Jumping back and landing in plank. There is too much compression in the spine when jumping back into a plank pose. Repeated jump backs into plank can create lower back pain and possible spinal disc injury.
Fix it! Once you jump back into plank, quickly jump forward again. In the advanced version, once your feet are off the ground to jump back, bend your elbows right away to land your chest to the floor.

Modified Burpee

Modified Burpee

Advancedburpee

Advanced Burpee

PUSH UPS: A calisthenic exercise that requires a pressing up of the entire body weight in plank pose. The muscles in the upper body and core are essential for strength and stability. Another exercise that requires full body strength.
Most common mistakes: Those not strong enough to perform a push up will usually (a) sink their lower back which shows minimal or no core engagement (b) less than 45 degree bend in the arms which shows weakness in the upper body (c) bobbling of the head which shows they’re not moving from a solid foundation and just trying to get through the exercise.
Fix it! Nadia shows us a perfect push up below. If your upper body is not quite strong enough, drop your knees to modify. Another great alternative is to elevate your platform which will decrease the load you have to press up.

Perfect push up

Perfect push up

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SQUATS: A compound, full body exercise that requires strength primarily from the lower body and isometrically from the entire body especially the core and upper body. I was always under the impression that squats were only for the legs and glutes. But this exercise requires full body engagement and is used as a great assessment to show strengths and weaknesses in the body.
Most common mistakes: If the body is not fully engaged, you will most often see (a) knees collapsing towards each other (b) deep lower back arch (c) heels lifting up and knees falling forward past toes.
Fix it! There is no shame in using a stability ball for support in perfecting your squat. Place the ball against the wall and position your back against the ball. Align your feet hip distance, bend your knees to lower down into your squat. Make sure your knees don’t go past your shoe laces and your lower back keeps its natural arch and rolls against the curve of the ball. Using TRX is also a great way to work on your squats. The TRX straps assists to keep your spine erect while your lower body can focus on proper form. Using these modifications are great ways to build strength so eventually you won’t need them.

Squatversions

It’s not anyone’s fault that they can’t perform these 3 exercises in perfect form.  They’re all really tough exercises.  Most people don’t have enough knowledge or information on how to do so. Or more than likely, their bodies may not be able to move that way that day. So modify, move with consciousness and effectively. This will ensure a safe workout so you can continue your workouts…pain free!

Try This! The “Tipping Point”

After years of teaching and doing yoga, I still struggle with inversions. So much so that I included it on my first post of 2014 as one of my New Year’s “explorations”. I have been practicing “Going Upside Down” several times a week and have finally understood the “tipping point” of inversions which has served as an epiphany in my practice.

Stand up straight and visualize an arrow. Imagine the very top of your head as the arrowhead, your body as the shaft, and your feet as the fletching (feathers). The shaft of the arrow will run directly down the center of your body, very much like your spine into your pelvic floor. Like Mountain Pose (Tadasana), where you are standing at the top of the mat, you want to maintain that very same line and structure when attempting inversions. Before you go completely upside down, you have to bring your body to stack, which is the hardest part of inversions. Stacking is when your joints are aligned so they can rely on each other for support. Once you’re stacked, you will immediately feel the “tipping point” where your centerline will find its natural place. Falling out of inversions won’t happen as often because you will be able to catch your body before it does.

Check out my video! I demonstrate in headstand how the “tipping point” can help you find your center in these very challenging inversions. Try it and let me know how you do!

Try This! Lunges are awesome…learn to love them!

The title of this post may be a bit misleading. You probably think I’m going to list the benefits of the lunge and all the reasons you should do them. Instead I am simply going to answer the question that I posted on Facebook.  That question was: Which lunge is better? Lunge with a straight back or with a lean forward?

Which is a better form of lunge?

Most chose the lunge with a straight back but the answer is both!  Each form serves a specific purpose and targets key muscles. Lunges are one of the most effective lower body exercises to help develop butt and leg strength. They’re also great for stretching the hip flexors, challenging your balance, and getting your heart rate up. Check out the video for more information on what you accomplish with each lunge and the muscles targeted. Then TRY IT!

Try This! Get your heart rate up with this Yoga Sequence.

Known more for balance, stretch, and mind body connection, many would not look to Yoga to lose weight or to help increase cardio endurance.  Unless it’s a Bikram Yoga class (due to the high temperature in the room, your heart rate increases as a means to cool your system down) or performing an intense and fast paced yoga sequence (which is never recommended for beginners due to the likelihood of injury), the average maximum heart rate reached in a yoga class is anywhere from 95bpm-100bpm. MSN writes a good article about calories burned in yoga in comparison to other activities.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I encouraged everyone to try Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutation) to find a calming yoga practice. But if you’re looking to get your body warm and increase heat, Surya Nasmaskar (Sun Salutation) is the way to go. I love to add strength and power into my workouts especially when I teach yoga. Not necessary for all sequences but great if you want to cultivate some heat into your yoga practice. Check out this version of a Sun Salutation with two exercises that will increase your heart rate and get your sweat on! Try it!

Try This! Moon Salutation

In Vinyasa Yoga, a very common sequence is the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar). Sun Salutation is considered a Yang practice where the flow of the asanas (poses) are faster, more aggressive and challenging and is meant to create heat and energy in the body. Most yoga classes will start off with Sun Salutations as a warm up or within other sequences to push and challenge the body. The complimenting sequence to Surya Nasmakar is the Yin practice of the Moon Salutation (Chandra Namaskar). This quieting practice is slower, passive, more grounding and is meant to soothe and calm you – a perfect cool down or restorative practice.

These dueling practices hold significant benefits so depending on where your mind and body is at, choose the practice that will help bring balance to you. If you are feeling agitated and stressed, Chandra Namaskar would be beneficial.  And if you are needing a pick me up or are feeling fiery, try Surya Namaskar to strengthen and energize.

Since we are in the Fall season, where life’s pace picks up speed, I invite everyone to try Chandra Namaskar.  It’s goal is to ground and nurture your body but you will still feel your muscles benefit from the stretch this sequence gives you.

Practice this sequence 5 times on each leg and observe how your body feels. Check out next week’s blog post when I mix up Surya Namaskar with some challenging strengthening poses to really get your heart rate going!

Is a longer cardio workout worth your time?

Most are under the impression that to lose weight or fat you need to spend a good chunk of time doing cardio. Jump on a treadmill for 45-60 minutes = burn the most calories = drop the weight. That mentality does hold some truth because calorie intake vs expenditure is the key to weight loss. But the bigger question is what does that cardio workout consist of?

Low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio workouts are often what you see in the gym. This type of workout consist of purely low to moderate type of exercise. An example would be walking on the treadmill or riding a bike and being able to hold a conversation. When considering our body’s energy system and what it uses for fuel, LISS does help with burning fat as a whole. At a lower heart rate (120 beats per minute or less), your energy source is primarily body fat. Once your heart rate starts to climb (140 bpm +) and you begin to fatigue, your body will start to look for other sources of fuel such as blood sugar and muscle glycogen.  When your heart rate reaches a consistent 150-160 bpm for 45-60 minutes, your body will revert to using fat as fuel. Sounds great when you’re focused on losing fat. However, in the initial weeks of LISS cardio workouts, you will see a change but your body quickly adapts, your metabolism will plateau, and eventually the weight loss will cease. That same workout will be what your body will use simply to maintain.

If one of your goals is to increase strength and muscle tone while losing fat, then LISS aren’t the workouts for you. During long periods of LISS, after it has used fat as fuel, your body will start to search for glycogen.  Once your body is depleted of glycogen (mainly due to improper diet), its next source will be protein.  Once it starts to use protein, your body begins to waste its muscle, known as catabolism.  This works against all the strength training that one does for that toned and sculpted look.

Consider high intensity interval training (HIIT). This method of exercise allows for high intensity training alternated with short periods of recuperation or low intensity training. An example of HIIT would be running at a fast speed on a high incline for 1-2 minutes followed by a moderate pace walk or rest. Originally developed by track coaches to train their runners for speed, HIIT has scientifically proven to burn more body fat – in less time- than LISS workouts. The main reason for this is due to the great calorie burn that’s maintained after the workout is over, better known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). HIIT workouts require muscle strength and endurance.  Once you develop muscles and continue to strengthen them, your body burns calories even when you’re sitting around doing nothing. This, in turn, helps to increase your metabolism. This “resting” metabolism helps muscle cells promote fat burning and prevent fat storage.
Win-Win!

This doesn’t mean that LISS workouts are not effective. They’re actually great for beginners that have just started a fitness routine and for those that may not be ready for the intense interval workouts.  But if you’re looking to maximize your workouts (especially those that have limited time), ditch the long cardio workouts and TRY THIS! on a treadmill. Have fun!

1. Walk at 3.5 speed on 3.0 incline (1 min warm up)
2. Light jog at 4.5 speed on 5.0 incline (1 min warm up)
3. Run at 7.0 – 11.0* speed on 10.0 incline (1 min)
4. Walk at 3.5 speed on 10.0 incline (2 min)
5. Run at 7.0 -11.0* speed on 8.0 incline (2 min)
6. Walk at 3.5 speed on 8.0 incline (2 min)
Repeat steps 3-6 two more times and cool down with a 3.5 walk on 3.0 incline for 2 minutes. And don’t forget to stretch!
*Depending on fitness level, minimum speed is 7.0 or maximum speed is 11.0.