Friday, May 28, 2010

Do You Ever Wonder When to Use a Kick Board and When Not to?

If you are new to swimming or are ever curious why you see some people kicking with a board versus without, we can explain it. Kicking with a board serves a few purposes:
■ it helps isolate your quad for a better workout (if you are kicking properly)
■ it gives your upper body a rest, if you are a sinker while kicking it supports your upper body
■ It is a great opportunity to chat while working out

When you kick with a kickboard you want to be sure the board is not under the water, arms are extended and shoulder relaxed.

However, kicking without a board is the best way to get a good leg workout and continue to improve your swimming:
■ Kicking without a board recreates the same posture you will have while swimming
■ It requires that your core be engaged and that you continue to work on proper body positioning and muscle use
■ It helps to expose any unbalance you may have in the water
■ You can continue to get a anaerobic workout

When kicking without a board you can kick in either a streamline or arms at your side. Where your arms are will change the balance of your body. You also have the choice of kicking on your back or stomach for all four strokes. The arms carry the burden of the work when we swim, often we are unaware that our balance is off. If you can learn to kick properly while also being balanced, it will only help your swimming to improve.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gait Analysis - Why Do I Care About My Gait?

Gait. It’s how you walk (or run). It’s how you move from foot to foot, swing your arms, bend your knees and twist your hips. It is a major factor in how efficiently you get from place to place. An efficient gait places less stress on the body and is therefore less likely to result in overuse injuries.

Your gait also tells us a lot about your musculoskeletal state. It tells a story of legs long or short, muscles weak or strong, or short or long. It may reveal high arches or low, feet flexible or rigid. Your gait may also open a window through which can be viewed the cause, or the result, of, back, hip, knee, foot or ankle pain and injury.

With an understanding of your musculoskeletal state, observation of the body in motion can not only lead to possible improvements in efficiency, but in many cases, lead to simple solutions to many common ailments of the foot, knee, hip and back. Correcting these abnormalities may also lead to improved performance in many movement related sports and activities.

Plantar fascitis, posterior tibial tendonitis, metatarsalgia, patello-femoral pain, trochanteric bursitis, and sacro-iliac dysfuntion, are just a few of the “diseases” that may be the result of faulty gait.

The non-surgical solutions to many challenges related to gait abnormalities may be as simple as a change in shoe wear, or as challenging as modification or elimination of an existing exercise program, combined with a dedication to a number of specific corrective exercises.

Moving Forward
Without getting into too much detail, we can think of your gait as a means to move your center of gravity (Cg) forward. A careful gait analysis will attempt to tease out all of the body’s movements that are NOT involved in moving your Cg forward.

Movements such as arms swinging across the body, and not forward, excessively pronating feet, lateral or sideways thrusts of the hip knee or ankle, are just a few examples motion which is not contributing to the overall forward progression of the body. Identifying these movements opens the door to finding solutions to improving gait.

Having identified movement abnormalities we can then begin to change the things we can, and learn how to live with those we can’t. Remedies can be as simple as changing shoe wear to shoes more appropriate for the individual gait and structure. Or, exercises to strengthen weak muscles or stretch short ones may be applicable.

In more involved cases, custom orthotics may be indicated to individualize movement enhancement. Further down the scale may be regular visits to a physical therapist to adjust muscular and/or joint restrictions and re-train musculoskeletal patterns of movement.

Still more involved cases may require surgical intervention. In any case of severe or chronically worsening pain or dysfuntion, one should consult his or her primary care practitioner for proper screening and referral to the appropriate health care practitioner.

In summary, gait analysis may be the beginning to a more efficient, less painful future.

Written by Phil Armiger
PT, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cardio-Respiratory Training: Why and How Do I Get Started?

Cardio-respiratory exercising is very important to promote overall health and achieve high levels of wellness. Among the benefits, we can consider the following:

• Cardio-respiratory exercises improve our capacity of burning fat as energy.
• By working the heart muscle, we can enlarge it, increasing the capacity of pumping blood with each stroke to working muscles.
• Increase in the amount of oxygen distributed to body tissues.
• Reducing the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes, stroke and many other conditions.
• Stress reduction.
• Increase levels of energy.
• Improving your mood. Yes, cardio-respiratory exercises help us feel "happy".

We all have different goals and each body is unique. Every person enjoys different activities throughout the day but let’s be real, in today’s modern world we all deal with stress on regular basis.

When we are under stress our body releases a hormone called cortisol. That is why cortisol is known as "The Stress Hormone". Even though cortisol offers benefits like quick bursts of energy, less sensitivity to pain and memory improvement. People who live under constant stress are victims of the negative effects of cortisol. Some of them are decreased bone density and muscle mass, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, blood sugar imbalances, suppressed thyroid function, etc. All these changes subsequently could translate into obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and osteoporosis.

There are different ways to keep Cortisol levels under control, one of them being exercise. To be precise, aerobic exercises. Walking or running are the easier and more natural choices for us to work on. Think about it, our bodies are designed to walk/run and modern life has seemed to limit our natural ways. In the early years, people would walk and run every day looking for food and water but in modern society, if we walk looking for food it is often towards the vending machine to grab that quick typically unhealthy snack. Heck, we don’t even walk half the time but use our cars to pick up food through the drive through! Body movement has become very limited, we do not burn as many calories as we consume anymore. So really, we are the root of the problem.

Why don’t we go back to our roots and start walking more or running again? With the appropriate shoes, this is an activity suitable for most among us. I started running in November 2007 and guess what? I used to HATE running! I thought it was boring but after doing a 5K race I realized how much fun it was. How great it was to join hundreds of people with a common goal. My competitive side was awakened again after several years of no competition, and when I say competition, I talk about competing with myself. Simply challenging myself, setting a goal and working towards it. From that point I was hooked, I signed up for my first half marathon then went for the full. The training was a challenge at times, but I always kept my ultimate goal in mind, and I had a purpose. As I ran my self awareness improved. It was evident I was learning how to be present to my body, my breathing, my thoughts and my surroundings. One of the first things I noticed is how happy I felt after running. That feeling of accomplishment, knowing I did something great for my health and I took an extra step towards a goal. I rarely get headaches, but whenever I get really stressed, a headache is almost imminent. Now, anytime I feel stressed I know what the best thing to do is: Run! It is amazing how even with a short 15 minute run stress goes down dramatically. And yes, I can tell you that even my headache has gone away!

How to start a cardio-respiratory exercise routine?
Set a goal! Maybe you can walk a 5K or maybe you want to run for a mile non-stop. Maybe run your first marathon. It doesn’t matter. Set a goal and work towards it. There are different factors important to consider when performing cardio-respiratory exercises:

Type of exercise: Pick your favorite one (I recommend starting with an incline walk on the treadmill).

Frequency: How many times per week? Depending on your schedule and commitment, it varies (I recommend cardio exercises at least 2 or 3 times per week).

Duration: For how long should I go? Start with at least 20 minutes, progression would consider up to 1 hour (or higher for people preparing for a long distance race).

Intensity: At what heart rate? (I recommend going with the “feeling method”). A proper cardio-respiratory exercise session should be done working at different heart rates, especially when the goal is to burn fat. So, start with a 5 minute warm-up (zone 1), then accelerate your pace or increase the resistance and go into zone 2 (feels like you are working, but you could “be there all day”), later, increase the intensity into zone 3 (now it’s getting harder, but you could sustain that pace for a good amount of time). Slow down into zone 2 again and to end go into a cool-down (zone1), for 5 more minutes.

For this basic workout, we consider a total of 25 minutes (5 minutes for each zone). Remember, cardio-respiratory exercises are great but it is highly recommended to combine them with resistance training (weights, or any other kind of resistance) for a good balance and to maintain/promote overall health. Your exercise program combined with proper nutrition will help you be healthy and achieve your goals.

Written by Fernando Rosete
Personal Fitness Trainer, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Succeeding In Yoga Your First Time Out

Finally it’s your turn to give this yoga thing a whirl. You know plenty of people who already do yoga, right? There are those folks at work who talk about it like it’s fun, and you also have a few friends who go to their “classes” regularly.

But now here you are. You are about to enter the room where your first yoga session will soon begin. You are facing a new and mysterious situation where you have to do – well, you don’t quite know what. It’s stressful, frankly, despite the nice music playing from inside the room.

Well, let’s see if I can ease your mind a little. I have been scouting the yoga landscape for quite some time and I have some great suggestions about how to get the most of your first yoga experience, and hopefully many more after that.

First, my humble credentials. I’m a pretty regular guy – plenty of organized sports growing up, not injury-free, but luckier than most; a fulltime job for many years; still loving to be active as an adult. I’ve been “doing” yoga, more or less, for nearly 15 years. That includes teaching a class twice a week at Northgate SAC for the past ten years. My own yoga practice as a whole has had its ebbs and flows. These days I attend classes regularly, and when I have some time I do some stretching at home, too.

Like many people I didn’t come to yoga in a “naturally flexible” body, not by anybody’s definition. Due to my yoga practice and other interested efforts, inflexibility diminishes, and in my early 50’s it’s wonderful to say that my body is a much more enjoyable and useful vehicle than it was in my mid-30’s.

Here are the three useful keys to remember for that first yoga class:
1) Focus on watching your body breathe as your primary goal.
2) Keep it simple. This is your first yoga experience. Take it way, way easy until you and your body know more about it.
3) Respect the situation, but trust only what your body tells you is okay to do.

To hear the feedback your body gives you, you have to be able to turn on or turn up your “inside-out awareness”. This very slick aspect of your “human being tool kit” allows you to watch what you are doing as you are doing it. The best way to connect to it is to create an ongoing focal point. You have one built in already: The one specific action that is always going on within your body is your breath. It’s also a great barometer of our stress level once you learn to check in on it.

You can actually switch from “fight-or-flight” responses to a healthy, calmer part of your nervous system with a little practice. By choosing to focus on how you manage your breath, you buy a return ticket back into your parasympathetic nervous system. That’s where your capacity to heal, and learn and create have the easiest time of it. The muscles relax and attune there. The mind becomes calmer. Athletes call it “the zone”, and rave about their enhanced performance when they find themselves in it.

Here’s something interesting: One consistent report I often get from new yoga students who make breath awareness a priority is that their sleep patterns soon change for the better. Right on -- a quick and easy health benefit realized -- so what if you can’t touch your toes yet! First things first, and becoming more self-aware is definitely job #1.

So breath awareness is one key, the big one. Next, especially during that first session, another kind of k.i.s.s rule: Keep it Smilingly Simple. Maintain a light heart. Avoid the desire to lurch, heave, rush or throw your body headlong into the next posture or action that is being offered by the instructor. Remember: you don’t have to do anything. No matter what the person next to you may be doing, no matter what the person up front making the suggestions says. Listen to your body, first and foremost.

Here’s the basic body science backing this idea up: One of the many benefits of yoga is to eventually create or restore the correct neural and motor patterns for proper, non-debilitating movement or stability – in many ways not that far off from the “functional training” methods practiced by many personal trainers these days.

Some yoga positions or movements aren’t super-difficult, but they are building blocks. Problems can occur if you launch willy-nilly into your hyper-adrenalized version of what the more experienced practitioners are doing during your first few sessions. It may take many later sessions to undo and re-arrange the neural and motor patterns, if at all. Seared into place unconsciously, these kinds of patterns can lead to ongoing frustration and potential injuries in the more complex positions and movement series that are part of the yoga “playbook”.

That brings us to the last key: Respect the situation, but trust only what your body tells you is okay to do.

So for that first yoga experience, respect the space and the sincerity of all the participants. Follow along at a pace that works for you. Breathe, observe, do what your body says is okay. If your body says “No”, let that be the final word. Politely resist a teacher’s interest in taking you where you are not comfortable going, especially the first time out. A good rule of thumb: If you can’t do it, and breathe, and smile, all at the same time, then ease up on the pose, or stop the movement completely. Find your breath. It’s your body, your mat, your yoga.

For your first yoga experience, take a nice sip of what yoga has to offer you. Wait until the day after, and then let your body tell you more about how it tasted, and if another class is worth considering.

I believe that any yoga class, at any level, can be a genuine and valuable learning experience. The education I am talking about is the one that comes from the intimate and fulfilling dialogue that blossoms between you and your body. To deepen and refine that relationship (polished by breath awareness) – it’s the best gift I can possibly recommend to anybody. Enjoy!

Written by Jonathan Yurkanis
Yoga Instructor, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Increase Your Efficiency in the Water to Build Speed

Integrating changes to your swim strokes or workout routines can often be so difficult that it becomes easier to throw in the towel, than work through the challenges.

Most seasoned swimmers find it hard to take on new ideas or methods to improve their swim stroke, when they feel their current way works just fine. It’s likely a swimmer could go faster and move through the water cleaner if they modify their stroke.

Here are some helpful suggestions:
1) First, find a trusted eye (coach, instructor, or personal trainer) that has knowledge, credentials, and proven track record. Explain to them your goals, and remind them of any physical problems that might get in your way (diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, etc.).
2) Find your weaknesses, and seek drills to improve upon those pieces.
3) Train with others that make you work harder/more often, yet encourage you to swim efficiently.
4) Periodically time yourself for different distances or a predetermined amount of laps.
5) After you warm up, and before your cool down, check the number (count one hand only per length) of strokes it takes you. This will encourage you to not forget to glide in your stroke.
6) Remember that it always takes less work to swim efficiently, and makes you faster in the long run.

Written by Dan Lavin
Aquatics Director, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Squash for beginners: How to get involved

For many of us at the Seattle Athletic Club, Squash is something we see frequently but are unsure of how to get involved. The idea of jumping in with both feet and buying all the best equipment seems foreign to you, as it should, so here is a guide how to get started on a budget.

Squash is a great workout and one of the healthiest ways to stay fit. According to Forbes magazine Squash is the healthiest sport to participate in. Based on six categories, Squash beat all other sports judged including rowing, swimming, running, and rock climbing. 30 minutes on the squash court provides an impressive cardiorespiratory workout. Extended rallies and almost constant running builds muscular strength and endurance in the lower body, while lunges, twists and turns increase flexibility in the back and abdomen.

One thing you must understand is that squash is a game made for everyone, and you are already at an advantage being an avid participant in group exercise and yoga classes, but for those of us who want to turn exercise into something more challenging and fun, Squash is your solution.

Your first step on how to get involved would be to learn the game. After you have a basic understanding, try watching a game or two at the club.

The next step to your growing addiction to Squash is simply talk to one of our staff. There are several ways to go about this: Our own Ayub Khan will offer you free tips while watching you practice for 15 minutes (at least 3 times) until he believes you are ready to participate in Round Robin, where you will play similar skilled members one-on-one; Another way to learn squash (if you are a lady) is from Yusuf Khan, our squash director, who offers women free lessons on weekend mornings; and for those of you looking for an even larger advantage, lessons can be booked through the squash office throughout the week (please call ahead for all activities).

The final step would be finding a partner to play with. If you haven’t already done this through round robin tournaments, we will match you with one! A partner matching form can be found on our web site.

As for not jumping in with both feet, racquet rentals are available for $3 in the pro-shop, and balls can be rented for free at the front desk. Aside from that, all you need is a pair of non-marking tennis shoes and you will be well on your way towards one of the most rewarding sports you can play.

Written by Ayub Khan and Kevin Kramer
Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hans Swim Paddles

Hans Paddles:
The Han’s paddles (the small black ones) are smaller and are a great place to start when first using paddles. Because the Han’s paddle does not have a wrist strap it gives you immediate feedback as to whether you are swimming efficiently. If at any time the paddle is sliding on your hand it is telling you that you are not keeping adequate water resistance on your hand and are not propelling your body forward.

These can be worn in three different ways but the most popular is with the boxy end at the top of your fingers and the more curved end at the bottom (as illustrated).

This position teaches the hand, wrist, and elbow order of entry and encourages the downward sweep of the hand and high-elbows positioning in order to continually reach for “new” and “more” water with each stroke.

Strokemaker Paddles:
The Strokemaker paddle (which comes in various sizes and colors) is the bigger paddle that we offer. It increases distance per stroke by preventing you from allowing an early recovery (exiting arm from water). The size allows for strengthening of your swimming-specific muscles and aids in water propulsion. It is imperative that you do not take out the wrist tube in order to ensure proper use and to make sure you finish your stroke. You can use paddles in any stroke but be aware that the larger the paddle the more stress is put on your shoulder joint.

Make sure, if you start using paddles, to start out slowly. Only use them for 200-300 yards for the first few sessions and then build upon that. If you have any shoulder pain, stop. Start with the smaller paddles (ie: the black Han’s paddle or the green Strokemaker paddle) and build up. Most recreational swimmers should not go beyond the yellow Strokemaker paddle as the red (the largest we carry) is designed for elite swimmers or those that have been swimming with paddles for some time.

Written by Teresa Nelson
USAT Level II Triathlon Coach, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Band Flexibility Exercises for Runners

With Spring here going out for a run is looking more and more appealing. Though just getting out there and hitting the pavement is tempting a little precaution is always a good idea. Flexibility training is an excellent way to improve performance and prolong your running future.

Though I am huge fan of any form of flexibility training Band Stretching is by far my method of choice. The muscles are designed to be elastic in nature just like a rubber band. When muscles are fatigued they lock up and lose their elasticity. This starts off as soreness and can lead to chronic pain and overuse injuries. Using dynamic stretches with the band excites the nerves and restores the rubber-like properties of your muscles.

Let’s take a look at a few of my favorite band stretches for runners…

This is a great place to start. How and where your foot hits the ground will dictate your stride. Ideally your calves act as a shock absorber and propel your foot up under your hip. If they are tight they pound into the ground and your joints pay the price. Keeping them lose can fight off nagging aches and pains (ex: plantar fasciitis, shin splints).

It is very rare that I meet a runner who doesn’t have tight hamstrings. In a good stride your entire body helps out. When the hamstrings are tight they can’t lengthen properly and take a beating every time your place one foot in front of the other. Give your hammies a break by reminding them exactly long they are supposed to be.

Does your back ache when you run? Do your legs feel like lead when you run? This can be caused by tight quads and hip flexors. When these muscles are tight they pull down on the front of the pelvis. This in turn causes undue pressure on your low back. Tightness in these areas also inhibits the hips from doing their job. This leads to heavy legs as you plod down the road. Keep the hip flexors and quads loose to run faster and more fluid.

When the hips lock up this causes all sorts of troubles for your back and knee. Before things get out of hand get those hips back into working order and stay on the road running free.

Written by Curt Ligot
Personal Fitness Trainer, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown
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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Common Injuries to Watch Out For As a Runner

As a runner, our worst fear is to be sidelined by aches and pains and have to take a break from running. God forbid our overall running fitness be affected or we don’t get our usual endorphin fix, but in reality running injuries can happen to both the novice and elite runner. Here are a few common injuries to watch out for that may help before a single symptom strikes.

Area of Pain: Shins. You think it could be: Shin Splints. It could very well be: Stress Fractures

Only a doctor can tell you for sure. Usually you need an x-ray (though many stress fractures won't show up until they start healing), bone scan, or MRI to tell for sure whether it's shin splints or a stress fracture of the tibia.

In general the differences between shin splints and stress fractures are that shin splints will hurt over a larger area. With a stress fracture, you usually can find one small spot (often you can cover it with one finger) that hurts a lot if you press on it. The spot will be located right on the bone.

Shin splints are often worse when you first start exercising, but do get better as you warm up, only to usually come back at the end. Where stress fractures will hurt more and more the longer you exercise, often to the point where it makes you have to stop.

Also, shin splints usually stop hurting once you stop exercising. A stress fracture will often hurt even after you stop exercising, including while walking and might even keep you up at night.

Lastly, stress fractures will often hurt if you walk up or down stairs. A quick test is if you can hop up and down on one foot on the affected leg ten times without causing severe pain, you probably don't have a stress fracture, but rather shin splints. If you had a stress fracture, it would be almost impossible to hop up and down like that without causing a lot of pain.

Treatment: Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate (R.I.C.E), proper footwear, try pool running or the stationary bike, limit excessive training and follow a consistent stretching routine. Seek a personal trainer for ideas and extra support.

Area of Pain: Knee. You think it may be: “Runners Knee”.It could very well be: Illiotibial Band Syndrome

In general, the kneecap (also known as the patella) can move up and down slightly because the foot evenly distributes the impact of your body weight when running. Runners’ knee is where the kneecap is pulled inward because the foot rolls in when it touches the surface. When this happens, the quadricep muscle pulls the kneecap outward which causes rubbing on the thighbone. So these two opposing forces cause the friction which causes the pain and inflammation in the knee. No Fun! Now, Illiotibial Band is the connective tissue that runs from your hip to your knee. A tight IT band can cause friction on the outside of the knee and create inflammation to this connective tissue which keeps it from gliding properly and in effect causes the pain in the knee. A runner can be more prone to Illiotibial Band Syndrome if mileage has increased to quickly, the gait of the runner is off due to overpronation or runners who are bow-legged.

Treatment: Stretching (Foam Roller), Icing (R.I.C.E.), Cross-Training, Rest and/or work with a Physical Therapist.

Area of Pain: Pain in the lower calf, near your heel. You think it may be: Ankle Strain. It could very well be: Achilles Tendonitis

The Achilles tendon is the large tendon at the back of the ankle. It connects the large calf muscles (Gastrocnemius and Soleus) to the heel bone (calcaneus) and provides the power in the push off phase of the gait cycle (walking and running). Achilles tendonitis is a running injury that typically occurs from abnormal foot stroke in push off and too-tight calf muscles. A runner that pronates when running to the side and at an improper angle, can cause the area to become stressed and inflamed. An orthotic would work well to correct the biomechanics of the foot stroke at push off.

Treatment: R.I.C.E., wear a heel pad to lift the weight off the achilles tendon, wear proper running shoes and /or seek medical help for rehabilitation and treatment.

Below are general tips on how to avoid injuries:
Avoid Overtraining.
Cross-Train: Stationary Bike, Pool Running; or something low or non-impact. Wear proper shoes.
Integrate a stretching routine.
Seek out a personal trainer for specific stretching and training needs.

Lastly, to speed healing use R.I.C.E.:
Rest the injury. As much as possible, try to avoid putting weight on the injured area.
Ice to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours everyday, or until the pain is gone.
Compression. Use an elastic bandage, straps, or sleeves to give you’re the area extra support.
Elevate (if you can) the injured area on a pillow when you're sitting or lying down.

Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs), like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs can have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers so check with your physician first.

Keep in mind that running injuries are often hard to diagnose, so at the first sign of pain take a break from running for a few days and cross-train instead. Most runners misdiagnose, so if pain persists after you head back out again seek medical help to get to the root of the problem.

Written by Crystal Kennedy
Wellness Director / Personal Fitness Trainer, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pilates Mat - Question and Answer

Have you ever taken a mat class, and wondered why we teach them the way we do? I’ve been teaching mat classes since 1999, and I hear these same questions over and over. Let’s address them!

Why doesn’t the Pilates Instructor workout with us?
A Pilates Instructor teaches her class based on what she sees, and she responds to your abilities. Observe the mat class closely and you will notice that a good Pilates mat class is interactive. Are you having trouble with an exercise? She may come over to help you. Is the class moving too slowly? She will give you energy with her voice. If she did her whole workout in front of you, why would you come to class? You could just stay at home and pop in a DVD if you would rather just go through the motions and not be pushed. You are not the “audience”; you are the active participants and are helping to design the class!

Why does the instructor walk around? What is she looking at?
She is looking at you! She is watching your form and judging your abilities so that she can form the exercises around the needs of the class. When I’m teaching, I notice right away as people walk in whether they are dragging their heels with a lack of energy, or come bouncing in with a lot of energy. If they have a lot of energy, I’ll make the 100 more challenging by adding the criss-cross legs. During the roll-up, I notice if the class is generally flexible or stiff. If no one can touch their toes, I’ll spend more time stretching during single-leg circles.

I like having the dim lights. Why are the brighter lights on?
The instructor needs to see you! Dim lights are great for a meditative, stretching, breathy class. But Pilates is meant to invigorate, not put you to sleep.

Why is there no music?
Pilates is very rhythmic. Can you picture the instructor counting the 100 right now? What about open leg rocker? Have you ever done the criss-cross quickly, then slowly? Each exercise has its own rhythm that is unique to that particular exercise. We manipulate the rhythm to make the exercise harder or, occasionally, easier for you. Music would interfere with this technique.

Stay tuned for next weeks Pilates Mat Class Q & A, where we will answer:
Why use “Magic Circles”?
Why don’t we use heavier weights?
What should I wear?
What should I tell the instructor about me?

Written by Danielle Zack
Pilates Director, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Do You Struggle with Side Breathing During Your Swim Workouts?

The skill of being capable of side breathing or not, usually separates the struggling beginner swimmer from those that swim in comfort. Breathing has that affect upon the wet set.

Although it’s called “side breathing”, it really should be called “slightly looking back” breathing.

To start with, we want to reduce any amount of drag (resistance) that makes us work harder, and slows us down. Our goal is to swim as level as possible head to toe. Allow the side of your head (ear), to remain in the water while you rotate your head. Don’t lift your head, like a teeter-totter; your feet will drop faster than you can say “cannon ball”.

Roll your head to take your breath. Keeping your spine aligned, just rotate your head and look back in a 45-degree angle. By doing this, the small wake created by your foreword progress will move behind you, not find a home in your mouth.

Expel about 95 % of your air supply underwater, through your nose, but save the remaining 5% to expel while you are rotating your head. With the short amount of time that your face is actually out of the water, you want to use to breathe deeply through your mouth

Lastly, the longer the pull, the bigger the breath you’ll receive. Relax, you’re on your way to being more comfortable in the water, and lookin’ like the fish you always wanted to be.

Written by Dan Lavin
Aquatics Director, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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Friday, May 7, 2010

A History of Squash

Squash, a game that derived its name from a small soft rubber ball, is gaining much attention throughout the world as being a both intellectually and physically challenging game, but few know of its less noble routes. In this first SAC Squash blog edition, the history of squash; from prisoners to politicians.

Games of hitting a ball against a wall with ones hand had seen many forms for nearly a millennium, with documentation going as far back at the twelfth century, but it was not until the early nineteenth century that racquets began to gain popularity in a very unlikely place – a debtor’s prison in London known as “The Fleet”.

The prisoners within Fleet Prison took to exercise by hitting a ball against a wall with a variety of racquets. At the time, having no game standards or specific set of rules, the game was dubbed with the name “rackets” and eventually gained enough notoriety to be picked up by an even less likely source – English school children.

While how or why the sport transcended from prisoners to private schools around the year 1820, it was the children who pioneered squash as it is known today. The first recorded history of the game “Squash Rackets” was to be at Harrow School in England in the year 1830 after the children had devised a way to change the game forever.

By puncturing, or placing a hole in, the ball it was discovered that the resulting ball deformation causing the ball to “squash” on impact. This created a greater variety of shots and required much more effort, as the ball would no longer simply bounce back to the relatively static player positions. This variant gained popularity over the 30 years and the first four squash courts were constructed in 1864 in Harrow School.

Over the next century Squash, as it became known, gained popularity throughout England eventually making its way over seas to North America, where the United States would become one of the first countries to hold a national tournament in 1907, while England would trail another 13 years before its first professional tournament in 1920. By 1994 over 46,000 courts existed throughout the world with almost 15 million known players and continues to gain popularity today. And while the International Olympic Committee recognizes the sport, it has yet to see its first inaugural game during the events – a very likely future for the sport.

Written by Ayub Khan and Kevin Kramer
Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Yoga Pose of the Month: Side Plank

Vasisthasana = “best, most excellent posture”
Vasisthansana or “Side Plank Pose” is a very rich core exercise indeed. As summer approaches and we want to look our “bikini” best, time to add Side Plank to your routine.

Most summer athletic sports require a strong core and flexible side waist. Think, reaching for a football pass, keeping your balance on your mountain bike while ripping up a tricky trail, or max length for free style swim. Side Plank will strengthen your Serratius (deep side muscles) and Latissimus Dorsi (the big group of outer corset muscles that span from your shoulder blades and wrap around your side waist to pelvic region). This pose will also strengthen wrists, shoulders, arms and legs, while creating flexibility in your hips. I will give modifications for those with injury in the arms.

Let’s Play
1. Start in Down Dog and tune into your breath. Once your breath is steady and engaged, then start your practice. This will help you stay focused.
2. Roll forward to Plank Pose
3. Move your right hand underneath your nose on the mat, and spread your fingers wide like a pancake. IF you have injury in any part of your arm, please drop your bottom knee on the floor to support your body weight from here on out.
4. Carefully roll to the side, opening hips and stack your feet on top of each other, lifting the hips as high as you can, reaching the left hand straight up to the ceiling.
5. If you are feeling fresh, lift your top leg a few inches off the other while lifting hips. This will increase your balance and strength practice.
6. Hold Side Plank for 5-10 breaths and repeat on opposite side.
7. Rest in Child’s pose with hands by hips for 10 breaths before moving into the rest of your practice.

1. Drop bottom knee to the floor, and keep it there.
2. Rest on forearm for side plank instead of wrists, to protect injured parts.
3. Engage your core, and lift kneecaps for max focus on strength. Stay like a board, not sagging in the hips, shoulders, etc.
Side Plank is one of my favorite poses to build the core strength and awareness for more complex poses and inversions. I am available for private Yoga coaching at SAC, if you have any questions about this pose or want to enrich your on going practice!

Written by Tonja Renee Hall
Yoga Instructor, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Celebrate Your Right to Bare Arms This Summer

Tank tops, swim suits, strappy sundresses- warmer weather is just around the corner and that can send even the fittest women into a frenzy! Not only do you want to get your body in top, toned shape, but you also want to be ready for anything the season might toss your way.

Here’s a Pilates move that will give you shapelier arms, sexier shoulders, stronger back, and of course, strengthen your core. Perform this exercise at least 2-3 times a week and include it your regular total-body Pilates program and/or current fitness regime.

In no time, you’ll be able to “bare” it all; looking strong and sculpted in any sleeveless style the warm weather demands!

Pilates Push Up
1. Stand tall with your heels against the back edge of the mat; toes turn out to the Pilates V.
2. Keeping hips over heels; inhale; pull your navel into your spine and roll your torso down toward the mat. Place hands on the mat slightly more than shoulder width apart. (Knees can be slightly bent.)
3. Exhale and walk your hands out onto the mat until your palms are beneath your shoulders and your heels over your toes. Your body will be in a Plank (or Push-Up) position -- a straight line from head to ankles.
4. Perform 3 Push-Ups with the elbows into the sides of the body. To come out of the Push-Up, fold up in half, bringing your chest toward your legs; pressing your palms and heels into the mat. Pull your navel in and give yourself a gentle stretch.
5. Inhale, walk your hands back toward your feet; trying to keep your legs straight.
6. Exhale, roll your body back up to a standing position and repeat 2 more sets.

For an advanced challenge, perform the entire Push-Up sequence while balancing on one leg. The same steps apply for the Single Leg Push-Up; remember to keep your leg lifted throughout the entire exercise; repeat the exercise on the other leg.

Written by Jocelyn Paoli
Pilates Instructor, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Side Kick Series - Inner Thigh Lifts

This exercise works your inner/outer thighs and stretches the back of the hip.

1. Lie on your right side with your left foot crossed in front of your right leg. Try to keep the left foot flat on the floor; knee cap facing the ceiling.
2. Rest your head on your arm. Press the palm of the other arm down into the mat in front of you; elbow towards ceiling.
3. Extend your straight (right) leg long out from your hip and raise it off the floor. Turn your heel slightly toward the ceiling.
4. Lift and lower your straight (right) leg 5-10 times without letting it touch the mat.
5. Then hold the leg in the lifted position pulsing it for 10 small pulses. You can also try 5 small circles forward and back staying lifted.
6. Repeat other side.

If it is too uncomfortable to keep the leg crossed over the straight leg, rest your knee on the mat in front of you. Head to Toe Checklist: Maintain a long steady upper body. Don’t bend your outstretched leg as you lift/lower and/or pulse. Keep the quadriceps relaxed, not gripped.

Written by Jocelyn Paoli
Stott Certified Pilates Instructor, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown
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