Dynamic Opposition

Dynamic opposition creates stability. This is one of the less frequently talked about principles of the Pilates method. I was familiar with this concept because it came up a lot in dance classes. Dancers tend to do this fairly naturally because it promotes a total body awareness, and three dimensionality that is great for performing. Basically dynamic opposition is the conscious decision to think about every action in two directions. If I’m thinking, “sit up straight” I’ll try to sense energy shooting through the crown of my head, but also energy grounding me down through my tailbone. If I’m thinking draw the shoulder blades down, I’ll also be thinking open the chest, broaden the shoulders.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

This way of thinking keeps us from floating away, or getting pulled to the ground. We are always trying to search for the appropriate middle area, the elusive feeling of balance. Whether you are looking at your posture or your form when exercising try imagining pulling forces of energy. It turns out it is a lot more effective and much simpler than trying to list all of the things you think you should or should not be doing simultaneously. You might just find that things fall into place and find a more natural harmony.

 

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Book Review: The First 20 Minutes

I’ve been following Gretchen Reynolds’ Phys. Ed. Column in the New York Times for years now. And I’ve just finished her book The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer. I will be talking about this book for months. A lot of the content of the book comes from studies she been writing about in her column over the past couple years, but seeing it all together really shines light on how much startling information has come to the surface. And the bottom line is this- Stand up and start moving, it will save your life, literally.

In one study by the National Cancer Institute, 250,000 americans, ages 50-71, were followed for eight years. They found, unsurprisingly that the most sedentary adults had the highest risk of cardiovascular and cancer mortality. But more surprising was the fact that the group of adults that averaged 7 hours of exercise per week, but also spent at least 5 hours per day watching TV or otherwise being inactive, were also more likely to die prematurely compared to those who exercised but watched less than an hour of TV daily. Unfortunately, it looks as if isolated bouts of exercise aren’t enough. What they’ve found is that long periods of sitting still changes the cell’s physiology. Overtime, inactivity decreases levels of Lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that that is known to aid in the breakdown of fat in the bloodstream, blood sugar levels spike after meals, and early symptoms of insulin problems and eventual diabetes could become apparent. It’s down right scary. Of course that was from a study that had adult male volunteer to be completely immobile for a day, not putting any weight onto their legs whatsoever. Extreme, yes, but those results were just after twenty four hours!

The book is chock full of great fitness advice, but if there is just one thing that I will take away from the book is that sitting for eight hours during my work day is not OK. I get up more often, if just to fill my water bottle and say hello to my co-workers. I stand at my desk. I take frequent breaks to briefly walk around. If nothing else, it has helped with my energy levels, it has done away with the 3pm slump, and helps assauge my fears of becoming the ever average couch-potato like American.

If you are having trouble motivating yourself to change your lifestyle, or just curious about exercise physiology and the recent research that people all over the world have been working on to prove that exercise is anti-aging and life extending, this is a must read. And I know that sounds cheesy, but seriously the results of these studies are staggering. Gretchen has a strong entertaining voice that isn’t judgmental but instead invested and very encouraging. Although the book is based entirely around different studies, the information and the implications of their results keep you wanting to turn the pages. I highly recommend the read!

 

 

Why is the gym so intimidating?

I haven’t been to a gym in years. I have relied on time spent in the studio dancing, running and doing Pilates for my exercise routines. But since I’ve always had a bit of an issue with my knees from years of athletic modern dance, lately running on concrete around the neighborhood hasn’t  been feeling too great. So I decided to check out the options for nearby gyms. Running on a treadmill doesn’t bother my knees, so even though it’s not as entertaining as the outdoor adventures, it’s much better than laying on the couch with ice on my legs after each run. (And apparently, I’ve learned recently that icing doesn’t do much to help sore muscles feel better or heal faster!)

I walked into the cheapest option that was down a couple blocks from my apartment and almost immediately turned around. I wasn’t looking for a fancy spa like atmosphere but if I can’t stand the smell of the place, I’m never going to want to come back to work-out. And you get what you pay for though, at ten dollars a month, I was warned never to use the lockers unless I want my things stolen.

I declined that membership and walked on to the gym that’s just around the corner from my apartment. Smelled fresh, the place was spotless, the front desk staff was friendly enough. I asked to speak to someone about membership options. Although the membership staff could have been more welcoming, the gym had all the amenities I would ever need and then some. It even had a hair and nail salon on site. Ridiculous, yes, but maybe convenient? It was big, CLEAN, and no funky smells. Everything checked out except the price. Of course the year membership cost was way more than I had intended to spend.

I checked out a few other places but they were smaller, and I was afraid that the treadmills would fill up fast at peak hours, and they were all off the beaten path, so to speak. I ended up deciding that since going to the gym was going to be a new challenge for  me anyway, I might as well choose the one place I wouldn’t dread going to in the first place. I took the easy, if slightly expensive, route.

My knees have been thanking me since the switch away from concrete, but I’m taking it slow to start out. I haven’t worked with weight machines since college so I’ve been a bit hesitant to venture to the weight room. It doesn’t help that everyone there seems so serious, I’m almost intimidated to go wait by a machine for it to free up. Why is everyone so somber? The treadmill that I’ve been using faces the weight machines so I’ve been doing a lot of people watching to pass the time. Its surprising how much people are lacking in form. I’m not a personal trainer, but when you are using momentum more than strength to flex your bicep, my guess is that your not doing a whole lot to benefit your muscles.

I see all kinds of strange forms and exercises that seem like they are more painful than anything else. And everyone has a straight face and attitude as if they know exactly what they are doing. Does it have to be like that? There is something about being surrounded by people working out that makes me insecure about my own fitness. I’m sure other people must feel that too.  Even if I think I know what I am doing, and know exactly what I want to do, I feel myself second guessing it all and then deciding to do my core work at home in my living room instead.

Maybe it’s the gym I chose, or my own self doubts of being back in a gym environment, but it’s something I’m going to have to figure out for myself.