Wednesday November 14, 2007

Tending to the Trends for Good Health

Interesting options abound for those looking for a fitness program with lasting results

the year is just about over, and maybe a good bit of the new habits you resolved to pursue with vim and vigor have fallen by the wayside. Don’t be too hard on yourself. No doubt, there were some reasonable goals on your list, like eating healthier food or incorporating a fitness routine into your daily schedule. It can be frustrating when important goals like these unintentionally but gradually drop lower and lower on the priority list until they become non-existent in your life. The good news is that getting back into a fitness program, and sticking with it, isn’t as hard as it seems. According to most fitness experts, the key to making exercise a normal part of your everyday routine is figuring out what you like to do, varying your activities, and understanding that results don’t come overnight.

“I tell everyone it takes patience and time for results,” says Chris Bullock, fitness director for Sudbury’s family sports club, Bosse Sports. “I tell my clients to realize that it took them until they were 30 or 40, or a number of years, to get into the shape they’re in now, so it’ll take some time to get where they want to go.”

Beginners, as well those getting back into fitness programs, should consider taking it slow at first. Bullock says people tend to either pursue too much too quickly or exercise too hard too soon, causing them to lose steam and quit. Gil Cohen, founder and owner of the KOR Personal Training studio in Wellesley, says you can combat that by setting reasonable goals from the start.

“I see a lot of people in other gyms just walking around, using machines with no rhyme or reason, and it’s a shame because they get discouraged and quit. Have a plan of attack before you start anything. Make long and short-term goals, and have them be realistic and reachable.”

This is where a specialized training staff can be helpful. Both Bullock and Cohen recommend initially seeing a personal trainer to ensure that exercises are being done correctly and that the right program will be chosen to meet goals. “Even if you see a trainer just once—to be sure you’re doing the right things—is a great way to start,” explains Cohen, who opened his studio in 2005 after training jobs with the Phoenix Suns and San Francisco Giants. “If you don’t see results, and you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you won’t continue. People need to see one or the other, and a personal trainer can help with that.”

“A lot of people also fail because they focus on one thing, just cardio, for example, and it’s unrealistic,” Bullock adds. “Having a trainer can help with this. He or she will show you a variety of exercises and programs to keep things interesting. And, they’ll keep you on your toes, too,” he says with a laugh.

Trainers also agree that variety is an important aspect of a successful program. Fortunately, there is no shortage of new and cutting-edge programs to choose from. From low-impact exercises to advanced Pilates techniques, there seems to be something for everyone these days.

A trend already popular in Europe, but gaining interest in the US in the past year or so, is the vibration exerciser. With its thin, flat platform and long, curved neck, it looks more like a scale at your doctor’s office than an exercise machine, but gym and studio owners are praising its health benefits.

KibiKibi Body co-founder, Sally Imbo, liked what Power Plate’s® vibration exerciser had to offer so much that she purchased eight for her center in Connecticut.

“It’s a great way to get your strength exercise training in, and a great add-on for a cardio workout. It’s a minimalist fitness approach, but meets needs that a lot of people have.”

Also known as whole body vibration and acceleration training, these machines require little effort but affect practically all areas of the body. Users stand, squat or place their hands on the platform, known as a “plate,” which then vibrates 30 to 50 times a second. The body then contracts those muscles reached by the vibration.

“When you’re curling a dumbbell, you’re telling your brain what muscles to move and how to do the exercise,” Imbo explains. “When you’re on a plate, your brain is automatically telling you to contract your muscles. More muscles are being worked, and they are contracting reflexively, so you don’t feel like you’re working that hard.”

She says the minimal effort is attractive to clients who can’t or don’t want to take the time to change into gym clothes, do a workout and then shower afterwards. Taking off their shoes is about the most preparation needed.

Cohen recently purchased a Power Plate® machine for his fitness studio because it complements the type of personal training he espouses. He focuses on functional workouts, which involve strengthening the body’s core, an area that includes the hips, lower back, abdominals, and just below the chest. He has clients haul and lift sandbags for core strengthening, but he also likes the Power Plate® because of its holistic approach.

“There are a lot of different benefits, which range from immediate improvement to blood circulation to increased muscle strength, better range of motion, and faster recovery from injury,” Cohen explains. “It’s not high impact on your joints or muscles. It picks up on your weaker muscles, and there are different settings - strength, relaxation, massage - so the vibration and intensity is different for what you want to do.”

As a result, the machine can produce a wide variety of results from relieving pain associated with osteoporosis to producing more collagen for firmer skin. Cohen says clients can also use vibrations exercisers on various body areas to decrease cellulite. Despite Power Plate’s® ability to target a wide area of health concerns, he urges clients to vary routines and warns against depending solely on one machine or exercise.

Weston Fitness for Women founder, Wendy Veale, agrees, which is why her car is packed with all types of gym equipment when she visits clients. During her in-home sessions, also a growing trend according to Veale, she rarely offers the same routine twice but instead focuses on exercises that can be incorporated into everyday life.

“I have steps, medicine balls, free weights, jump ropes, and Dyna Discs, and I’ll use that equipment to help people engage their core. Total body awareness is very important, so one week we’ll work upper arms, the next we’ll do lunges and work on getting the heart rate up and down to burn fat.”

Balance and function concepts have caught on at bigger places too, like the family fitness club Bosse Sports. “Our approach is to provide a mishmash of everything with a holistic focus,” says fitness director Chris Bullock. “We’ll incorporate into our programs a massage therapist one day, then yoga and Pilates another, and then tennis the next. In the long run, this will help maximize results and help people stick with their fitness routines because they’ll find things they like.”

He accomplishes this at the Sudbury club through an increasingly popular cardio tennis clinic. For about ten minutes, members work to increase their heart rate by hitting back balls thrown all around the court. When a whistle blows, members run to another court where Bosse pros provide a different tennis drill. After three different tennis drills a fourth court provides exercises that incorporate mats, dumbbells and medicine balls.

“We want to keep members continuously moving, to keep their heart pumping, and for them to have fun. It’s all about enjoying the program so they’ll want to do it again,” Bullock adds.

This approach is what helped Mary Guarente, the founder of Wellesley’s Body in Motion, find a program for her clients that went beyond the back and forth movements Pilates offered. She discovered the Gyrokinesis and Gyrotonic systems, which combine rotational exercises with yoga, dance, gymnastics, swimming and tai-chi movements.

“They are very popular right now in New York City and the world over, and in the next five to ten years, they’ll be what Pilates is today,” says Guarente. “Gyrotonic provides a holistic approach and heals the whole body instead of just one affected part. It opens the spine, much like Pilates does, but because the movements are so fluid and offers such a range of motion, it stretches and strengthens at the same time.”

Gyrokinesis involves breathing techniques and exercises done on a floor mat and stool. Gyrotonic, however, utilizes a bench with a pulley system at its head for weight exercises, and a round, drum-like apparatus at the foot which promotes rotational movement.

“The glory of these machines,” Guarente says, “is that they can be modified to fit your needs and ability. These exercises are for all ages, all body types, so anyone can enjoy them and succeed.”

Maybe Guarente, Veale, Cohen and the other fitness gurus are on to something here. Maybe the secret behind workout and fitness success isn’t so much in vibrating machines, hauling sandbags or chasing tennis balls, but in the enjoyment of it all. If so, it shouldn’t be too hard to find an innovative exercise routine that is challenging, effective, fun, and easy to stick with over a period of time. Instead of wincing at dropped resolutions next year, you’ll be smiling over toned muscles and dropped pounds.



© 2006 Elm Bank Media