November 25, 2012

Barre Method: Risk Or Benefit?

The Barre (Bar/Pure Barre/Physique 57) Method is a workout fad touted by several celebrities and passionate fans.  Classes promise long lean muscles and pound shredding workouts, but do they live up to their promises?
First off, these classes are nothing new.  In fact, they are very similar to the original Jane Fonda workout from the 80’s.  They do a variety of movements inspired by ballet (at the bar), combined with core conditioning and flexibility.  Participants perform multiple repetitions of each exercise, flexing and pulsing, until their muscles shake and burn.   However, just because it is painful does not mean the exercise is effective. Continuing through pain can lead to sloppy form and injury. Most classes have little warmup or cooldown, and the stretches are not held long enough to increase flexibility.  The classes focus on spot reducing (a big myth), and there is no cardio or full body strength work.  You may see results at first (if you are new to exercise or dramatically change your routine), but there can be little progression in this type of class.  In addition, many instructors are not certified as group fitness instructors, leaving safety and correction of form a chancy gamble.  That said, if you believe you need the burn to get an effective workout, and you enjoy this type of class, go for it.  Just make sure to watch your form, and get your cardio and strength work in elsewhere.

November 18, 2012

Six Tips To Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

The season has come; time to worry about holiday weight gain.  Truth is most Americans only gain between one and two pounds over the holidays, however, most hold onto those pounds, and year after year it adds up.  Some strategies to prevent the weight creep:
1. Choose well: Do not try to sample everything.  The more variety, the more likely you are to overeat.  Pick just a few special dishes; take the time to really enjoy the food.  Ask yourself if it is worth it (really, stale fruitcake?), before every bite.
2.  Eat before you go: Do not starve yourself before a big meal or event.  This usually backfires with gorging and extra calories.
3.  Get over a setback: If you have overdone it at one meal, do not use it as an excuse to throw healthy eating out the window.
4.  Drink one glass of water between every drink:  Whether it is alcohol, soda or eggnog, most beverages are merely empty calories.  Drink a glass of water in between and you will be less likely to over indulge on liquid calories.
5.  Give what you would like to receive:  If you bring a fruit basket instead of candy, your hosts and friends will be more inclined to do the same.  Perhaps we can slow the regifting of cookies and candies and nudge the population into a healthier cycle.
6.    Move more:  If you do not have time for your regular workout, up the intensity, but go for a shorter period.

Remember, the holiday itself lasts only a few hours.  It is the days after that can really add to permanent weight gain.  Refuse or give away leftovers.  You will be left with room for healthier choices.

November 11, 2012

Think You're Fit? Better Not Sit!

Many of us are complacent that our three (or even seven) day a week cardio workouts protect us from health risks such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  However, a recent study corroborates what other studies have shown; if you sit too much, your exercise routine is not enough to counterbalance the damage caused by underactivity the rest of the day.
It makes sense if you think about it; even if you exercise an hour a day (and how many of us do even that?), you still have another 23 to account for.  The women in this recent study (who were regular exercisers) still sat for an average of nine hours a day!  And nine hours of sitting a day is what most Americans do.  Unfortunately, exercise is not enough to counterbalance the health effects of such long periods of inactivity. 
To offset this negative effect, make an effort to get up at least every fifteen minutes.  This does not mean you need to go out for a jog.  Stand up when on the phone, walk around your desk, walk to your colleague instead of sending an e-mail. You can download reminder apps for your phone or computer to make sure you get up every fifteen minutes.  You will get a physical break, the movement will  refresh you, keep you mentally sharp, and may help stave off the damage of inactivity.

Lynette L Craft, Theodore W Zderic, Susan M Gapstur, Erik H VanIterson, Danielle M Thomas, Juned Siddique, Marc T Hamilton. Evidence that women meeting physical activity guidelines do not sit less: An observational inclinometry study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2012; 9 (1): 122 DOI:

November 4, 2012

Women And Weights

I am astonished that I still hear women say they do not want to lift weights because they are afraid to “bulk up”.  Just look at this picture of my beautiful friend Janet McGovern, and you will see the proof that muscles make curves.
I do not want to get your hopes up; you will never get a body like this by doing hundreds of reps with 3-pound dumbbells.  You do need to lift some serious weights.  I am sure Janet would be the first to tell you how hard she works.  In addition, this picture is of her in competition shape; where grueling workouts and stringent dieting are the norm.  Bulking up?  Most women simply do not have the testosterone to get huge.
However, you do not have to work out as hard as Janet to get the benefits (aesthetic, mental and physical) from lifting weights:
  1. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn at rest.  This is why most men have an easier time losing body fat than women.
  2. Weight training helps build stronger bones, helping to prevent osteoporosis.
  3. You will live longer. According to Tufts University, two of the biomarkers of longevity are muscle mass and strength.
  4. Women with a leaner (more muscular) body mass have a lower incidence of diabetes.
  5. Yes, you will get a great butt and look better.
  6. You will feel better and be able to do more.  Is this not the best reason of all; how could anyone not love feeling strong?