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25 Fitness Truths I’ve Learned After Teaching for 25 Years

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The advent of 2021 marks my 25th year teaching and working in fitness. I'm not really sure how that's even possible since, in my head, I'm only 25.
But, alas, it's true. It was 1996 when I embarked on my teaching career as a step aerobics instructor as I was just finishing up high school and starting college. I was a mere 18 years old, and always the youngest in the room and on staff. I was young and hungry and just wanted to move and learn. Over the years I would teach everything from step to hi/lo aerobics, PiYo, Pilates mat, outdoor bootcamps, indoor bootcamps, strength classes, cycle classes, yoga classes, TRX classes, and hybrids of all of the things. I've created my own formats. I've worked for big gyms, universities, small studios, boutique studios, events, big brands, tech companies, myself, and everything in between.
Now at 43, I'm always one of the oldest in the (virtual) room or on staff. But I'm still hungry and still only want to move. The old adage about age and wisdom is actually true. That wisdom comes from many years of many mistakes and so much learning the hard way. But if you're lucky enough to endure and pay attention along the way, at some point you get to be the wise one in the room who has some advice to pass down.

Hi, it me.
To mark my 25th year in the field, here are 25 fitness truths that I've learned after teaching for 25 years. While most of these are things I've learned teaching in front of the class, I've also been an avid participant for just as many years. A lot of these lessons will hold true whether you are the teacher or the participant. And some are just generally good principles that can apply outside of the fitness industry as well. Here they are in no particular order.
1. It's bigger than fitness.
It's bigger than “transforming” bodies. (“Transforming” in quotes because while it's a widely used industry term, you are not a Transformer, your body doesn't need transforming). It's bigger than the number of followers, features, or dollars you have. These are people's lives and health that we are working with. Our role often influences the health of society, the strength of a community, and even the longevity of generations. It's SO much bigger than “just” fitness.
2. Take care of your body.
If you're in this industry, it's part of your job. If you inhabit a body, it's also kind of your job. That means moving your body, eating well, getting the proper sleep, focusing on recovery, taking care of your mental health, taking rest days and time off, and everything else that contributes to your health. (Of course, look at all these behaviors as a bigger, overall-picture goal, rather than having to achieve perfection in each aspect all day everyday.)
3. Safety first, safety first, safety first.
When I step into a room, I am always safety first, form second, fun factor last. Going over-the-top fun without the basis of safety first is a recipe for disaster that I have seen play out into some horrible ways. Running all over the room and jumping on the back of treadmills to hype the class up may seem fun, but it can be extremely dangerous to both the trainer and the client. An example of not keeping it safe can also be cracking jokes to be funny that may be hurtful to someone in the class. As a client, you should always feel safe physically and emotionally in a class or session.
4. Know your lane.
You can swerve all over that lane, but don't jump into another one, when you don't have the expertise without educating yourself first. For example, if you are not a registered dietitian, be mindful of what nutrition advice you are and aren't qualified to give. Have a qualified professional ready to refer to when your clients ask. On that note, if you, as the client, have a question about eating or nutrition, ask your trainer for their recommendations for someone they trust that you can contact.
5. Be aware that the industry has been built around
ableism.
Assumptions about what it means to be “healthy,” that any/all issues can be solved by eating “better” or working out more, and that you can tell what is happening in someone's body or mind just by looking at them are just the tip of the iceberg. Stay aware and make an effort to be inclusive as much as you can. The whole industry is geared towards able-bodied people with set “ideals” that are not inclusive. We all need to do better with this.
6. There are more benefits to fitness and movement than any potential physical changes.
The fitness industry is set up to focus on aesthetics over everything. Don't get caught in the trap. Aesthetics do not necessarily equate to mental or physical health outcomes. Chronic disease prevention and longer lifespan are also kind of cool in my opinion.
People's health, wellness, and wellbeing are our jobs; you cannot disassociate wanting to help people live healthier lives from the reality of their life in the body they inhabit
8. If you start to feel robotic, chances are you are coming off as robotic.
Something needs to change. That might mean even taking a little time off to refresh yourself. It's best to get to the root of this feeling sooner rather than later. For me, this generally means changing up when I teach or what type of class I teach to break the monotony. If changing those isn't possible, I might change up the structure of the class or pick all of my favorite songs for a playlist.
9. As a fitness professional, it's not about you, it's about them.
It's not your workout, it's theirs. Show up with your workout either done or completely out of your mind until you are done teaching or training. If you're a participant, take note if your teacher seems more concerned with getting their own workout in during class rather than how you/the rest of the class is responding to the programming.
It can transform your class/session/someone's experience, so put some (if not a lot of) effort into your selection. Also remember that if the playlist gives YOU energy, that will most likely transfer to your students.
11. Keep honing your craft.
This should go beyond your continuing education requirements. I like to learn about how different modalities approach movement, and I also like to learn about the bigger picture of society and movement. So while I may be required to take a certain number of units for continuing education for a certification I have, I will also hop into lectures or listen to podcasts purely out of curiosity. I never want to lose that intellectual or physical curiosity.
12. Take other people's classes or train with other trainers.
You will learn SO much about teaching, cues, things you like and don't like. This also goes for training in modalities outside of what you teach. This is where I have learned the most. If you are a strength and conditioning coach, I guarantee you that if you take a yoga or Pilates class, you will learn some really great cues for how to do some of the movements you coach. You might also see patterns of movement in other people in class which can inform your own coaching. In non-COVID times, I take classes of all kinds because I want to see the difference in coaching even the most basic movements such as squats, lunges, planks, etc. There are gems hidden all over the place about how to do what you do better.
13. Look beyond the trends.
From fashion to equipment to styles of classes to technology to the most popular trainer of the moment, trends are inevitable. Keep your eye on them, participate in them if they resonate with you, but understand that if you rely on one trend only, it might not last. Same goes if you are an avid fitness participant instead of a trainer. Of course, try new things if they interest you, but also do some research, ask around, use your best judgment about whatever latest and greatest thing pops up. And if you like something, stick with it—you don't need to switch up your workouts just because new modalities keep popping up.
14. Injuries are inevitable.
How you handle them will determine how long you will be down, how likely they are to reoccur, and how you will be able to move in the long run. Also, whether you intend it or not, how you handle your injuries will model to your students how they should handle theirs. If you try to power through or go against doctor's orders, that may show them that it's OK for them to do so as well. Stay mindful.
15. Remain coachable/teachable.
This cannot be said enough, no matter what industry you're in. There's always more to learn, ways to grow, things to work on. If you ever get to a point where you feel like you know everything, you made a wrong turn somewhere. Step back, reassess. Find the path of growth, seek feedback, go learn something totally brand new, become a beginner again. Not only will it serve you as a human, as a coach, and as a professional, but it will also serve your clients. Your desire to be coached will show them theirs as well.
16. Expect consistent industry evolution.
Much like 2020 taught us, it's all about the pivot. Pivoting is SO crucial. Stay on your toes and as many steps ahead as possible.
17. Understand that your words matter and should be chosen wisely.
What you say to people will likely stick. Make sure that the words you speak are the ones you would want to stick. This goes for everything from disparaging comments about your own body or what you ate to talking about getting a certain body type to guilt-laden, shame-inducing comments in any form. We are here to build people up, not break them down.
18. Don't ever assume you know what's happening with people.
You don't know what's going on in people's bodies, minds, or life. Refrain from publicly commenting on any of these things without permission. Or maybe at all.
19. Show up ready.
Always put effort into the preparation of your class or session. It's OK to have notes. I would always rather see a trainer or teacher show up prepared with notes than to show up and just wing it.
Not everything you see is exactly how it seems on a feed. Likes do not equate to efficacy, followers do not inherently imply qualifications, trending posts are not necessarily demonstrating the best moves, fans do not necessarily convert to customers, and those with great wisdom don't always know how to articulate it in a TikTok. Social serves its purpose, especially during a pandemic, but the “real” part of IRL still has no complete replacement.
21. Focus on the fundamentals. Forever.
This is as much about the fundamentals of training as it is about the fundamentals of teaching. Thanks to social media, extreme moves (like a backflip off the wall into burpees over a box ending in one arm push-ups off a cliff) get a lot of views, but they aren't necessarily going to help someone learn how to move their body well throughout all phases of life. Same goes for knowing how to program, cue, and create a safe space for your clients. Whether you're the person teaching or the person learning, make sure you are checking back in with the basics from time to time. Never underestimate the importance of knowing how to properly squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull, plank, and communicate.
22. Protect your intellectual property.
This can include your brand name, branded classes, formats, or any products that you create, etc. Be really cautious with the contracts you sign and the innovations you create.
Prep your body for what it's about to do. Prep your class for what it's about to do.
24. Never forget your own love of movement.
Always come back to that love. Always.
25. The human body is a GD miracle.
Don't ever take that for granted, and don't ever stop celebrating that.

This is an ever-evolving industry with ever-changing rules and norms, but over decades of changes and trends, the above have helped me navigate it all. These fitness truths have also helped me navigate many other parts of my life, which, as we know, is kind of the beauty of movement. It goes beyond just a workout; it has the potential to be the backbone of all that we do.
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4 Common Habits Sabotaging Your Sleep

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In addition to proper nutrition, hydration and recovery days, sleep can be one of the top factors that can make or break your fitness performance.

In a recent study looking at sleep quality and athletes, researchers noted that people who are in training tend to experience more sleep issues than non-athletes, due to training load and stress. The study also suggests athletes require more sleep than those who don’t work out because they have higher recovery needs.

But knowing that you should sleep and getting that sleep can be two very different things. When dreamtime proves elusive, there tends to be a slew of common sense strategies people use — yet it’s possible that, for some, those allegedly proven tactics are actually making the problem worse. Here are some habits you might be putting in place that are keeping you from getting enough shuteye:

1. TAKING MELATONIN AT THE WRONG TIME

Around sunset, your brain produces melatonin, a hormone designed to start a cascade of sleep-inducing reactions. But if you’re frazzled or anxious, the hormone might not be as abundant as you’d like. Because of that, many people turn to taking a melatonin supplement.

But they often pop it like a sleeping pill right before bed, thinking it’ll take effect immediately, according to W. Christopher Winter, MD, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. Melatonin in the body tends to take around 3–4 hours, so if you’re taking it at 9 p.m., you might not sense any effects until about 1 a.m. — by then, you could be so frustrated by insomnia that you’re up watching TV instead, which will lower that melatonin back down.

2. GOING TO BED ONLY WHEN YOU’RE SLEEPY

Schedules become variable especially as seasons change — you stay out later on those bright summer nights, for example — and that can lead to hitting the sack when you’re tired. But too much variability can leave your body unsure about when to actually sleep, according to Mia Finkelston, MD, family practice physician.

“We can handle some changes to our usual routine, but not as much as you might think,” she says. “When you go to bed only when you’re tired, you’re introducing too much unpredictability into your sleep schedule. And that can catch up with you.”

3. COUNTING SHEEP (OR ANYTHING)

Some yoga and meditation breathing techniques rely on counting each inhale and exhale, so it makes sense that you might try to import that to your sleep routine. But Winter says some people find counting to be an anxiety-provoking exercise, instead of the de-stressor it’s meant to be.

“Maybe you get anxious if you hit double digits and you’re not asleep yet,” he says. “Or, you might have fallen asleep around 30 the night before but now you’re nearly at 50 and still counting. Then you might wonder if you’re doing something wrong.”

When that happens, it can sabotage your sleep efforts. Instead of counting, he recommends visualizing a well-known process that’s calming to you. For example, one of his patients “bakes” every night — she envisions getting out the measuring cups, chopping up ingredients, arranging the bowls for flour and sugar — and has found the process so effective, she jokes that nothing ever makes it into her imagined oven.

4. CHECKING THE CLOCK

Although it might seem like it would be a relief to know you have five hours left until you have to get up, looking at the clock is a bad habit, says Finkelston. It can be so counterproductive that she’s even advised some patients to put their alarm clocks in another room or the closet.

“To recognize how much time you have left to sleep, you have to wake up to a certain degree,” she says. “That might be just enough to kick you out of your cycle and cause some insomnia.”

READ MORE > HOW BAD SLEEP SABOTAGES YOUR FITNESS GOALS

BETTER HABITS, BETTER SLEEP

In general, it helps to play around with different strategies to see what works for you, says Winter. If melatonin is your jam and it’s working, that’s great. But if you’ve tried it for week or so and you’re still staring at the ceiling for an hour, then try switching it up instead.

“The last thing you want to do is try to force something to work, because then you’ll be agitated when it doesn’t,” he says. That can increase levels of cortisol — the hormone responsible for your stress response — and you’ll be back where you started.

Instead, try implementing good sleep practices, where consistency is key. Limit screen time before bed, set a regular bedtime and get up at the same time every day (yes, even on the weekends, sorry). Winter suggests starting a “wind-down routine” about a half-hour before bed, which can help send a signal to your brain that it’s time to relax.

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Trainers Favorite … Stretches

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Flexibility is an important, yet often overlooked, pillar of fitness. We asked members of the Under Armour Training team what they felt were the most beneficial stretches. If you are short on time, pick a few of these to improve mobility and overall movement.

My personal pick is the seated straddle stretch. Sit in a straddle position with toes pointed up toward the sky. Keeping a flat back and hinging at the hips, lean toward the center and slowly move over each leg.

1. POWER BAND SHOULDER TRACTION

The stretch: Loop the band around your wrist. Take an offset stance and walk back from the rack until you feel a gentle pull (traction) in your shoulder and lat.

Rich Hesketh, athletic development coach at DECAMAN Athletics

2. TRX FORWARD LUNGE WITH Y FLY

The stretch: With the suspension trainer at mid length, begin standing facing away from the anchor point. With arms directly in front of your body (like Frankenstein), take a long step forward with your right foot, carefully lowering your left knee close to the floor and opening your arms up into a Y position. Brace your core, press down on the handles and return to a standing position.

Marc Coronel, owner of Open Mind Fitness and master instructor for Trigger Point

3. TRX LOWER-BACK STRETCH

The stretch: Adjust the suspension trainer to mid length and stand facing the anchor point.  Walk back until your arms are directly in front of your body, and then fold at hips, feeling a release through your shoulders and back.

Michael Piercy, 2017 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of The Lab Fitness

4. THE DROP SQUAT

The stretch: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Step one leg behind the other and bend both knees. When your front thigh is almost parallel to the floor, return to the beginning posture.

Tim DiFrancesco, former head strength and conditioning coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and founder of TD Athletes Edge

5. TRX WORLD’S GREATEST STRETCH VARIATION

The stretch: With the TRX suspension trainer at mid length and in single-handle mode, take a half-kneeling position facing away from the anchor point. With your right leg in front, place your left hand in the handles and reach overhead. Push the inside of the right leg outward gently with the outside of the right arm. To improve shoulder mobility, sweep the left arm into various positions along a pain-free, natural arc.

Kari Woodall, swim coach, firefighter and owner of BLAZE Fitness


READ MORE TRAINER’S FAVORITE

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6. SUPINE BAND HAMSTRING LEG SWINGS

The stretch: Place band around waist. Begin lying on floor and place other end of band around your foot. Pull your leg up with the band, so your foot moves toward your head until a moderate stretch is reached. Swing leg back to the ground and repeat.

Steve Saunders, Director of Performance for the Baltimore Ravens and Founder of Power Train Sports & Fitness.

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5 Mistakes Sabotaging Your Workouts

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When you’re a beginner, the very act of going to the gym is enough to achieve results, but once you’ve been training for a few years and have a solid base of strength and conditioning, it gets harder to make consistent gains and improvements.

If you want to take your training to the next level, avoid these five result-sabotaging mistakes:

1. NOT USING RECOVERY DAYS

The fitness community has seemingly adopted the philosophy: “Go hard or go home.” But, as one of my favorite strength coaches says, “Train as hard as you should, not as hard as you can.”

Avoid overtraining by doing high-intensity sessions followed by recovery days. For example, the day after a hard workout, do 20 minutes of light aerobic exercise, followed by stretches, mobility exercises, activation drills and foam rolling — that’s it! You’ll speed your recovery, flush out your muscles, release tightness and tension and feel a heck of a lot better than before.

2. NOT DIALING IN YOUR NUTRITION

To reach a higher level of fitness or physique goals, you’ll need more fine-tuning with your nutrition and hydration. For example, your specific needs might require more of a macronutrient (carbs, for example) than you previously thought. Or maybe you’ll require better pre-workout nutrition to power you through intense training and better post-workout nutrition to help you recover.

You’ll also need a bit more sacrifice. A beer or a few cookies throughout the week is totally fine. But too much alcohol (especially in one sitting) and junk food hinders your progress and makes it tougher for you to reach your goals.

3. NOT RESPECTING YOUR SLEEP

You know you should get eight hours of sleep each night. But how about the actual quality of that sleep? How’s your mattress? How dark is your room? What time do you go to bed?

All of those factors make a huge difference in the quality of your slumber and how restorative it is. Make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet and dark.

4. NOT FOCUSING ON THE DETAILS

Focusing on one specific adaptation (i.e. strength) requires a slight sacrifice on something like endurance, so it’s best to focus on one specific adaptation at a time.

For example, if you’re a soccer player, focus on developing your overall aerobic capacity first since it’s the foundation for your entire sport. Then, work to maintain your aerobic fitness as you emphasize lifting heavy weights to build strength. Then, maintain your aerobic and strength while building your alactic capacity (0–10 second sprints). That way, you constantly build one fitness adaptation to support the next one.

5. NOT FINE-TUNING YOUR TECHNIQUE

To make sure you aren’t leaving anything on the table, improve your technique and double-check that you’re using the correct muscles, you’re positioned correctly and everything is properly aligned.

Get someone to record you doing a lift from all angles. If you’re serious about making improvements, consider getting a trainer or attending coaching clinics to learn from elite coaches and lifters. A simple tweak by an expert with your grip, setup or arc can quickly help you lift more weight than ever before.

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