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5 Pilates Moves for a Strong Foundation

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If you’re into cycling, swimming, running, or any other endurance activity, there’s a good chance you have some aches and pains to show for it: a trick knee here, a stiff shoulder there, with an occasional tweaky ankle thrown into the mix.

Most of us are inclined to treat these problems symptomatically, with wraps and massage and ice. Good as those methods are, they often miss the root of the problem, because repetitive-use injuries often stem from imbalances in your torso muscles.

“The muscles in your chest, abdomen, and back are your foundation,” says classical Pilates instructor and competitive powerlifter Sonja Herbert, founder of Black Girl Pilates. “You can’t build anything on a weak foundation.”

In a single workout, a cyclist might perform a whopping 8,000 pedal strokes, a swimmer might windmill her arms a thousand times, and a runner might take 6,000 steps.

When you’re in prime condition, high-dose repetitive movement is no big deal. But if your foundational muscles are weak, or unable to activate or coordinate with other muscles when needed, it’s like driving on a wobbly wheel: Sooner or later, you’ll be in need of serious repairs.

“Pilates connects your mind to those muscles,” says Herbert. The popular training methodology uses low-impact exercises originating from the core to emphasize postural alignment, dynamic stretching, and powerful breathing. Moves often involve twists, rotations, isometric holds, pulses, and body-weight lifts, which can be performed on a mat or with equipment.

Pilates also helps train your central muscles to engage and relax. With these skills, repetitive movement takes less of a toll — technique improves, endurance increases, and injuries abate.

To build a foundation strong enough to support your loftiest goals — in the water, on the road, or in the saddle — try this mat Pilates workout.

The Hundred

Strengthens your abdominals and connects your breath to movement.

  • Lie on your back, arms by your sides, and draw your knees to your chest.
  • Extend your legs about 45 degrees upward and lift your arms about 6 inches from the floor, palms down; engage your core to raise your head and shoulders off the floor.
  • Keeping your body still and your arms straight, gaze at your navel as you pulse your arms up and down about 6 inches.
  • As you pulse your arms, slowly inhale through your nose on a five-count of pulses, counting each time your arms go down, then exhale through your nose on another five-count.
  • Repeat for five to 10 full breaths, or 50 to 100 pulses. Work up to completing the entire series without resting.
  • Make it easier: If it is difficult to keep your legs raised and fully extended, bend your knees so they are stacked over your pelvis and your shins are parallel to the floor. Or place your feet on the mat.

Roll-Up

Stretches your spine and hamstrings.

  • Lie on your back with your legs together and extended, your feet flexed, and your arms reaching overhead.
  • Contract your abdominals and imagine connecting your front to your back, and your back to the mat.
  • Keeping your legs and arms straight, slowly roll up your spine, head first, until you are sitting up. Fold forward, keeping your core engaged and creating a C-shape with your spine and reaching your arms forward, toward your feet.
  • Slowly roll backward onto the floor, laying your spine on the floor one vertebra at a time.
  • Repeat for five reps.

Coordination

Connects breath to movement, and lower body to upper body.

illustration of woman performing the coordination
  • Lie on your back, arms by your sides, and raise your legs off the floor, toes pointed, creating a 90-degree angle between your back and your thighs, and between your thighs and your calves.
  • Raise your head off the floor and bend your elbows, raising your forearms off the floor, wrists straight, palms facing away from you. This is your starting position.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose as you lower your forearms to the floor, palms down.
  • Hold your breath as you extend your legs outward, about 45 degrees to the floor. From this position, separate your legs as much as possible, then bring them back together.
  • Exhale as you return your legs, and then your arms, to the starting position.
  • Repeat for six reps.

Variation for cyclists: After extending your legs outward, bicycle your legs twice slowly forward, and then twice slowly backward, before returning to the starting position (not shown).

Swimming

Lengthens your body, working the extensor muscles of your back.

illustration of woman performing swimming
  • Lie on your stomach, arms extended overhead, legs spread comfortably.
  • Simultaneously lengthen your arms and extend your legs as much as possible, as if trying to elongate your entire body along the floor.
  • Contract your abdominals, connecting your front body with your back body, and raise your arms, head, and legs off the floor. Work on creating length from fingertips to toes as you lift, and avoid straining your back by overarching. Think about your hands and feet reaching to opposite walls rather than reaching for the ceiling.
  • Keeping your arms and legs extended, begin to slowly flutter them.
  • As you pulse your arms and legs up and down, inhale through your nose on a five-count of pulses, counting each time an arm goes down, then exhale through your nose on another slow five-count. That’s one rep.
  • Repeat for five to 10 reps. This is a challenging move — pace yourself and focus on quality of movement rather than speed or reps.
  • Make it easier: Build stamina and coordination by moving the arms and legs only, without raising your head and torso off the floor. Perform a few reps of cat–cow when you’re done to stretch and extend your back muscles. (Learn how at “BREAK IT DOWN: The Cat-Cow“.)

Thigh Stretch

Actively stretches your quadriceps (front thighs) and hip flexors.

illustration of woman performing the thigh stretch
  • Start in a tall-kneeling position with your pelvis directly over your knees and your shoulders and head directly over your pelvis. Position your knees and feet about two fists’ distance apart.
  • Gaze forward and extend your arms forward, palms down.
  • Maintaining a straight line between your knees and the crown of your head, inhale through your nose as you slowly lean your body backward, pushing the floor away with your lower legs.
  • Rock back as far as you can while maintaining postural alignment, then return to the starting position.
  • Exhale slowly, then repeat for five reps.

This article originally appeared as “Firm Foundation” in the May 2021 issue of Experience Life.

The post 5 Pilates Moves for a Strong Foundation appeared first on Experience Life.

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Sleep Deficiency Hinders Weight Loss, So Try Better Sleep Habits

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Do you wake up feeling tired? Well, you’re not alone. One in every three Americans does not get the recommended sleep needed for optimal health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sleep deficiency is known to cause weight gain, but also contributes to a whole list of more serious health issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and diabetes, just to name a few.

Why Sleeping Is So Important for Weight Loss

Believe it or not, each and every day the most important thing that you do all day is sleep. Yes, you heard right! Sleep quality and duration are so important that they directly affect everything else you do in life.

“We are nothing but slaves to chemical processes,” says W. Christopher Winter, MD, in an article for Livestrong.

Nearly one third of our lives are spent asleep. During sleep, it is peak time for our bodies to repair muscle and release hormones that control natural processes, including appetite. All this is being done without any conscious energy being consumed.

Consequently, a deficiency in the sleep column affects everything; more specifically, it cuts weight loss and exercise performance by nearly 20%. This spirals into a decrease in hormone production, (which occurs when we sleep), and ultimately affects our daily eating pattern. Popular studies show that weight gain occurs because more calories are consumed on the following day, because of lack of hormone release. Therefore, a continued deficit during the night will only lead to months and years of unnecessary weight gain. On the flip side, if you aren’t already experiencing weight gain, you may just be unable to lose weight at all. So you don’t have weight gain, but no weight loss occurs, either.

Practice Better Sleep Habits

The best advice is to practice better sleep habits, getting optimal rest and avoiding insomnia.

Start with controlling your sleep environment by setting it at the appropriate temperature. Experts suggest trying between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Try eliminating all computers and television sets from your room as well, since any source of light tends to disrupt sleep patterns. Aim for consistency rather than trying to catch up on hours you might have missed the preceding day. Don’t be afraid to take short naps when feeling fatigued. These should be anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes long to help improve alertness, performance, and mood. Lastly, never consume caffeine in the afternoon because it has the ability to stay in your system and interrupt the natural onset of sleep several hours later (See our blog on giving up caffeine).

The final verdict is in. A poor amount of sleep greatly hinders weight loss and sets you up for other health problems. So do yourself a favor: turn out the light, tuck yourself in, and get some much-needed Zzzs.

This blog was written by Cara Hartman, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

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Caffeine Free: Breaking the Habit

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Like most people, I’m busy: full-time job, kids, a house… and in my “spare time,” I’m a high school tennis coach and play a lot of tennis. A few years back I started having issues with exhaustion (go figure). Right around 4pm I would just be overcome with complete, hit-the-couch, exhaustion. The only way to make it through the rest of my busy day seemed to be one more caffeinated drink.

I’m not a coffee drinker, so my drink of choice to get going in the morning was an AdvoCare energy drink called Spark®. I loved my Spark®, probably as much as most people love their coffee. I personally had no issue with using stimulants to keep me going through my day, but that changed one day recently on my drive home from work.

The Impact of Stimulants on the Brain

While listening to Fresh Air on NPR, I heard a discussion on sleep with sleep scientist Matthew Walker. Part of the talk discussed the effects of caffeine on the brain and how it alters the natural functions of the brain, including the buildup of adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical in the brain that builds up throughout the day, edging you to sleep. Caffeine comes into the brain and masks the effects of adenosine on the brain so that you are fully awake. One problem is that adenosine continues to build up, so when the caffeine wears off, you have additional levels of adenosine in your brain. This creates the effect we know as caffeine crash.

This made me think about what I had been putting in my body and the fact that I was using caffeine to mask the real issue I was having: not enough sleep. This one show made me rethink how I was treating my brain and how I had allowed caffeine to creep solidly into my everyday habits. It also reminded me that I was disregarding the need for one of the most critical things needed by the body and brain, sleep.

Giving Up Stimulants and Getting More Rest

Three months ago, I quit caffeine drinks cold turkey: no Spark®, colas, or energy drinks. In addition, I put the theory to the test and began carving out eight hours for sleeping each night. At first it took a bit more structuring, but now I don’t allow myself not to get a full night’s rest.

The results have been pretty amazing to me. In the first few weeks after quitting caffeine, I can honestly say that I was not tired. My energy levels were good all day and I was tired at the right time in the evenings, leading up to a decent bedtime and better sleep. I have also lost the cravings I had for those caffeinated drinks, which is an added bonus since I didn't have to worry about ordering more Spark® each month.

Many will tell you there are pros and cons to quitting caffeine but for me its one of the best things I have done for my health recently. Cutting caffeine has allowed my brain to function the way it was meant to, without a stimulate to interfere. For me, that is a step in the right direction.

This blog was written by Trudy Coler, NIFS Communications and Social Media Director. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

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Game of Inches: 5 Tips to Help You Stay Committed to Your Fitness Goal

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Some people in this world are really good at staying committed to something they have started, but there are many others who struggle with meeting a goal or expectation that they have set for themselves, then actually following through with it to completion. It can be a challenge to hit those markers if you cannot seem to stay committed to something, which in turn leads to discouragement, a sense of failure, and feeling defeated.

The 5 Goal-Setting Tips

If you find yourself needing to restart your fitness plan all the time, take a few minutes to read these 5 tips that will help you to achieve what you want.

Track your stuff. A handful of things are lumped into this category when I say your “stuff”: food, workouts, weight, body fat, measurements, and the list goes on. Tracking fitness—where you started and what you are doing—will allow you to see progress over time and keep you committed to what you originally started. Write down your goal. After you have your goal(s) written down, post it someplace that you can be reminded of it constantly, such as on the fridge, on the mirror, in the car, or at work. Find a place that it will stare you in the face and not allow you to bury it in the “someday” fitness bucket list file. Establish some accountability. This looks different for each individual. Maybe it’s an actual accountability partner who is invested in your goals, or maybe it’s being accountable to yourself through writing stuff down, keeping a fitness journal, or using a fitness tracker to push yourself. Whatever it is that will keep you accountable in the times that you are struggling to get done what you need to do, be sure to find that and begin implementing it right away to see yourself succeed. Join a fitness challenge. Many gyms or even wearables have fitness challenges throughout the year that you can take part in. Be sure to find one and sign up for it right away. These challenges are typically built to get you into the gym a certain number of times per week or keep you on an exercise schedule. Don’t be afraid to fail; sign up for one and keep yourself going! NIFS is currently getting ready to launch a fitness challenge called the Game of Inches. Whether your goal is putting on mass or weight loss, you can participate in this 10-week program for a chance at some cool prizes! And the best part is, you don’t even have to be a member. Make it a habit. One of the best ways to ensure that you meet your personal fitness goals or expectations is to make them healthy habits. When something is a habit in your life, it’s not forgotten or pushed off to the side. Make exercise a habit in your life so that it won’t be compromised when your schedule gets hectic or your responsibilities increase.

If you have been struggling to meet your fitness goals, following these simple steps will get you back on track, and staying on track, in no time. Find out what works best for you and make it a habit.

NIFS’s Game of Inches Helps You Meet Your Fitness Goals

Register for Game of Inches at the NIFS track desk, complete your Fit3D scan between October 15 and 21, complete the 10 weeks of training, and scan out between December 31 and January 6. Non-members are welcome too! For $130, you receive full access to the NIFS facility for the duration of the program. 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-place prizes will be awarded for both the inch loss winner and the inch gain winner.

For questions, contact Tony Maloney: tmaloney@nifs.org.

This blog was written by Amanda Bireline, Fitness Center Manager. To read about the other NIFS bloggers, click here.

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