The Latest From Top Fitness

How to Get the Most Out of a Workout Class

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Joining a workout class is a great way to exercise. You’ll meet new people who share your interests. You’ll have an instructor and coach who can provide direction and help you with your form. Many people are also more likely to push themselves in a class than they would exercising on their own. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your workout class.



If you find a workout class you like, commit to going at least once a week, but preferably more. Once you choose one, pencil it in like an important meeting or a doctor’s appointment. When you go regularly, you’ll be able to see your progress over the weeks and months.


Find A Friend

It’s less intimidating and more fun if you work out with a friend. A workout buddy can hold you accountable to coming to class when you’d rather be on the couch eating ice cream. Plus, you can turn the class into a little friendly competition. Find something each week to play—a pushup contest, spin distance or balance challenge. Loser buys smoothies! If you think you don’t have time, replace a weekly friend dinner or wine night with a weekly barre or spin class. You wallet and your waistline will thank you if you replace happy hour with gym time.


Set Goals

A workout class is just like any other exercise routine. Instead of going and blindly following along each week, set goals for yourself within the class. If you go to a strength building class and use five-pound weights, make it a goal to increase to eight-pound weights by the end of the year. If you do yoga, make a commitment to master a challenging pose. That way you have something to work toward and the class won’t get too easy and boring.


Get to Know the Instructor

Don’t just show up right before class and leave immediately after. Try getting there a little earlier to talk to the instructor. They’re there to help people work out and get in shape, so share your fitness goals and talk about how you can use the class to help you reach them. You may find that they’ll tweak their class a bit to help you build shoulder strength or do a headstand. If you have any fears or worries, an instructor can help ease them. Always let them know if you have any preexisting injuries or limitations. They can offer modifications if you need them.


Switch It Up

Instead of going to the exact same class with the same instructor every time, try switching up the instructor or class style. If you practice yoga, don’t just go to hot or power classes all the time. There are many different styles of yoga that do different things for your body. At body toning classes, different instructors will focus on different areas—some will work legs while others will put a heavy emphasis on core.


Have Fun

If you hate the class, you’ll probably end up quitting. Don’t force yourself into spin every week just because you think it’s the “best” workout. The best workout is whatever one you’ll stick with! If you want to do Zumba or water aerobics, so for it!

Finding Balance Between Flexibility and Stability

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For most people, their feelings on stretching are black and white, they either love it or they hate it.  Those that love it gravitate toward yoga classes or the stretching mat at the gym whenever indecision happens during a workout, as their fall back plan.  Those that hate it often seem to find a way to skip it before or after a workout, always having time for an extra set or an extra mile, but never having quite enough time to stretch.

While those that hate to stretch are often chastised and scolded about the importance of stretching in a balanced workout plan, those that overstretch are not doing themselves any favors either.  It’s all about finding a balance between strength and length, or flexibility and stability.


Flexibility is defined as the available range of motion across a particular joint, or how far you can move without restriction, be that restriction within the muscle fibers themselves or at the joint due to tendon issue or inflammation.  Each joint has a prescribed range of motion in each direction, and in those people that are hyper-flexible, they may far surpass the normal range.  Others with mobility restrictions may not be able to use the full normal range of motion.  For optimum performance at most activities, aiming to match, but not exceed normal range of motion is a good goal.  Normal range of motion for each joint can be found here


Flexibility is a part of mobility, but it’s not the whole story.  Mobility is the ability to preform a desired movement without restriction, but flexibility does not necessarily need to the cause of low mobility.  Perhaps you cannot perform a full squat because you lack the strength, coordinator or balance to complete the movement.  While this is not necessarily a lack of flexibility, it is a lack of mobility.


Once you have the flexibility and mobility to preform a movement, you’ll also need the stability to preform that movement in a controlled manner.  This is where the balance between flexibility and muscle strength and tone come into play.  While orthopedic joint issues such as ligament tears can impact stability, those stability issues are a separate issue and to be worked out with a doctor or physical therapist.  The stability you can impact in your own workout is by making sure that whatever flexibility and mobility work you have done, you have enough strength and control to hold the movement.

Finding Balance

While low flexibility and high stability may be easy to visualize by picturing someone with extreme muscle development that lacks the ability to reach their toes or turn their head fully, low stability and high flexibility is harder to diagnose because flexibility is often valued as a goal in itself.  However, imagine someone who has invested a significant amount of time in hip opening stretches and long deep lunges, that now cannot successfully lunge under weight without the laxity of their psoas giving out, or cannot preform a full squat without their knees kicking out due to adductor laxity. 

Exercises to Find Balance

Exercises that help strike a balance between mobility and stability are those that emphasize strengthening a muscle while using it’s length and dynamically stretching while working the fibers.

Walking Lunges with a Deep Stretch – These require a deep stretch of the hip flexors as you pause at the end of the motion, allowing the knee to contact the ground and then resting into the stretch before slowly coming up to a standing position (with hands held overhead throughout the motion).  Hip flexors are taken to the fullest of extend of their range of motion, and then gently challenged and engaged to bring the body back to standing.

Serratus Push-ups – In the plank position, allow your chest to fall toward the ground without bending your elbows or relaxing your strong abdominal engagement.  The shoulder blades slide toward each other, and once they’ve reached their passive range of motion toward the spine, the upper back is engaged to pull them ideally to within an inch of touching each other, stretching the pecks and serratus and working the rhomboids.  The motion is then reversed and the serratus and pecks are engaged as the shoulder blades slide apart and actively push the chest away from the floor until a stretch is felt in the rhomboids and upper back.

Both exercises above take muscles through their full range of motion to a stretch before recruiting them again into contraction and strengthening them across their full range, enhancing both flexibility and stability, and helping ensure functional mobility throughout the motion.

Pilates 101: Understanding the Basics Before Your First Class

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If you’ve never tried Pilates, there are many compelling reasons to incorporate it into your cross training routine.  Pilates workouts can form the foundation of any fitness routine, by focusing on core strength and stability, and emphasizing smaller stabilizing muscles in the hips and shoulders.  While most people are familiar with Yoga either from personal experience, friends or through popular culture, Pilates is still a mystery to the vast majority of the population.  While some describe it as “yoga with sit-ups” this description doesn’t do it justice.  Here are the basics to get you started before attending your first class.

History and Background

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, a German man born in the 1880’s.  He began his life a as a sickly child, and devoted his young life to fitness to overcome his ailments.  By adulthood, he was no longer sickly, and was an avid boxer, gymnast, skier and diver.  One of his first jobs was training Scotland Yard officers in self defense in England.  Caught up in an internment camp in WWI, Joseph developed a fitness training regimen for other prisoners and hospital patients using various props, including springs and lifts from hospital beds.  After the war, he continued to refine his fitness regimen, and his workouts eventually became the go to methods used by dancers around the world, including the entire NYC Ballet in the 1920’s and 30’s.

From humble origins in internment camps with invalids, to elite dancers, Pilates is meant to form the foundation for all around fitness and body stability, regardless of an individuals level of health.  As many of the exercises were developed in hospital beds, it is a great routine for even the most inexperienced that can be leveled up to challenge even the fittest athlete.

Workout Focus

Pilates workouts can be designed to work every muscle in the body, but as a whole it focuses on toning muscles rather than building bulk.  For that reason, it’s become more popular with dancers who wish to be strong, stable and flexible without changing much about their overall shape.

Full and complete breaths to promote the circulation of oxygenated blood is a big part of the workout, and throughout the class instructors will cue breathing, asking students to expand their rib cages or use their deep abdominal and pelvic floor to exhale fully.

Every exercise begins with abdominal engagement and spinal alignment, even when the specific movement seems to be targeting extremities such as arms and legs.  That core stability focus helps athletes in other fitness fields to consciously keep abdominal engagement throughout their workouts and competitions even when off the mat. 

Many athletes, including professional basketball players and football players, have begun adding Pilates to their workout regimen.  Trainers specifically adapt exercises to the needs of these elite athletes, and as one trainer for NFL athletes notes, “People look at Pilates as sort of a girls’ exercise, [but] you can ask one of those men I worked with . . . how much we kicked their butts. They were shaking, they were sweating, they were uncomfortable. And then afterwards they felt calm, relaxed, loose.”  Trainers for elite athletes focus on, “creating a natural muscle balance, where he has the appropriate length and strength of each muscle on opposing forces.”

Types of Pilates Classes

Mat Classes – These classes require limited equipment, and are easy to preform at home to workout videos.  They’re a great place to start for beginners who want to get to know the basics of Pilates without a huge learning curve.  Classes start out with breathing exercises to engage the core and diaphragm, and that engagement is stressed as participants work through various forms of core exercises including at least 5 different forms of sit-ups targeting different groups within the abdominal.  Planks, side planks, and balances help to round out the core work, before moving onto hip stability work including leg lifts, bridges and various glute exercises.  The arms tend to get less focus in mat work, but are touched upon a few times with exercises like tricep dips and various forms of push-ups.

Reformer Classes – These classes are often taught in private or in small groups because they require complicated and expensive equipment.  A “reformer” is a piece of fitness equipment that has a movable carriage on rails that the participant sits, stands of lays on to provide weight resistance while the carriage is moved against the resistance of springs.  Straps and pulleys distribute the weight, and allow for a full body workout that in some ways is a bit similar to a Bowflex machine with the ability to pull or push against resistance in just about any plane.  Reformer workouts are much better at targeting arms and legs, but also help work on dynamic core stability as the carriage moves.

Other Equipment – If you get further along in your Pilates journey, or go to a physical therapy clinic that is Pilates based, you may encounter all manner of other Pilates equipment that’s used for private instruction or to target specific issues. 

Setting and Keeping Health and Fitness Goals in 2017

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The New Year is right around the corner, and you may be starting to think about what kinds of goals and resolutions you want to set for 2017. It’s a common practice, but most people end up giving up on their resolutions at some point in the year, often as soon as February. It is possible to stick to health and fitness goals. Here are some tips for setting and keeping your New Year’s resolutions.

Set Attainable Goals

You’re much more likely to keep your resolutions if the goals you set are within your reach. They should still be a stretch, but should be something you can reasonably accomplish. Running a marathon by June when you’ve never even run a mile isn’t a reasonable or attainable goal. For example, running a 5K race is a great goal for a beginning runner.

Be Specific

“Get in shape,” “lose weight” and “eat healthy” are great goals to have, but difficult to stick to because they’re so vague. It’s hard to see the results because they aren’t specific enough. When setting goals, be really specific so you have a way to measure your success. For example, instead of eat healthier, try eating three vegetables a day or only eating sweets once a week. Instead of saying you want to get in shape, set a goal to lose ten pounds or work out five days a week.

Create Mini Goals

A year is a long time to wait to see results. By setting mini goals throughout the year, you’ll have a quantifiable way to measure your results and see how far you’ve come. If you want to run a 10K race by the end of the year, maybe you set mini goals to run a mile without stopping by March, run a 5K over the summer and do a 10K before Christmas.

Write Them Down

There’s something about physically writing down a goal that makes it a little easier to accomplish. You can put into words exactly what you want to do, and create a plan for how you’re going to do it. Getting specific and setting mini goals will help with that plan. You should also post your goals in a prominent place so that you see them all the time. That will help you stay motivated to keep going.

Find Your Motives

When it comes to health and fitness goals, it’s not enough to just want to do something. Consider what your motives are. If you just want to look good, that’s often not enough of a reason for most people to stick to a strict diet and exercise regimen. Figure out the deeper reason—you want to feel better about yourself, have more energy or live a long time for your kids and family. Maybe you want to be able to take a dream hiking vacation or play with your grandkids. Figure out your motive and let it be the driving force throughout the year.

Reward Yourself

While you should definitely reward yourself when you reach your big goal, you should give yourself small rewards throughout the year, too. If you finish that 5K race in the summer, treat yourself to a new pair of running shoes. It doesn’t have to be fitness related—you can see a movie, go to a spa or take a weekend vacation.

What to Look For in a Personal Trainer

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You’ve decided that you want to seriously improve your fitness. Whether you’re a fitness fanatic looking to step your game up or a newbie trying to get in shape for the first time, a personal trainer can work with you to help you reach your goals. They work with you to create a personalized plan, push you through tough workouts and help you with your form so you don’t get hurt. Still, a personal trainer can be a big expense, so you want to make sure that you’re hiring the right person for you. Here’s what to look for in a personal trainer and some things to consider before taking the plunge.


First thing’s first—a trainer should be able to show you their qualifications. In the age of the Internet, it’s very easily to get a certification online with minimal training as long as you’re willing to pay. Make sure that they’ve passed an exam and received their certification through an accredited organization such as The American Council on Exercise (ACE), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).


A trainer with more experience who can show you proven results from other clients will likely be able to help you reach your goals. Keep in mind that there are plenty of great, new personal trainers out there, so experience isn’t everything. Plus, a more experienced or in-demand trainer may cost more than someone who’s just starting out.


You want to make sure that the trainer’s personality is compatible with yours, and that they’re coaching style matches your training style. If you need encouragement and positivity, a trainer who shouts, insults you and acts like an army general might not be for you. If your personalities don’t mesh, you may wind up quitting. See if you can do a trial session before committing.

Exercise Philosophy

The way your trainer sees exercise should match your personal workout style. Is the program going to be mostly indoors at the gym, or can you do the workouts outside? Do they place a heavier emphasis on cardio or on building strength? Make sure their exercise philosophy matches your personal style and aligns with your goals.


If you want to hire a popular trainer, they may be very busy with other clients. If you’re dedicated and disciplined enough to stick to your program even when your trainer isn’t there, you might be okay meeting once a week or even less. You’ll also need to consider whether he’ll be able to meet at different times, or whether you’ll have to schedule appointments weeks in advance.


Personal trainers can be expensive. You’ll need to look at what you can reasonably afford. Remember that this is usually an additional cost on top of a gym membership or equipment. Even if you can’t afford regular one-on-one sessions, some trainers offer group sessions or even packages that come at a discounted price.


This is probably the most important thing to look for in a personal trainer. There will be times when you don’t work as hard as your trainer would like, don’t follow his advice or don’t do everything in your program. A trainer who can be patient with you as you work to reach new goals will help you get the results you want.