June 2008
"Easy Calorie Zapper"

April 2004
"Snow Blind"

January 2004
"Run Healthy All Year"

February 2002
"Stay Healthy Out There"

June 2001
"Self Taut"

April 2000
"Home Improvement"

December 1999
"Gym Dandy"

April 1999
"The Pilates Promise"

October 1998
"Gotta Try It: Kayaking"

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December 1999

Gym Dandy

A fitness center can be your best friend in winter—if you know how to use it

Going to a gym these days is similar to strolling down a supermarket cereal aisle. Everywhere you turn, you're faced with choices: flakes, clusters, O’s... puffed, shredded, frosted ... high-fiber, low-sugar, iron-fortified. Soon you realize you've spent way too much time weighing the merits of Cap'n Crunch versus Corn Pops. You're a busy person. All you want is breakfast.

Same goes for the gym: Those rows of shiny strength machines, cardio contraptions and free weights are most impressive. But where do you start? You're a busy person. All you want is a decent workout.

That's where we come in. Following are eight simple exercise plans that require equipment found in most gyms. Each plan focuses on a different aspect of your running—from boosting your speed to strengthening your quads to firming up your backside. Pick your priority area, then go to it.

PRIORITY: Higher Mileage—Without Increased Injury Risk
Best exercises: Cardio machines. The stairclimber, cross-country ski machine and elliptical trainer are all weight-bearing exercises that don't involve the pounding that running does. If you find these machines too boring to stay on for long, go from one to the other. Spend 10 minutes on the ski machine, hop on the bike for 10 minutes, then move to the stairclimber for another 10 minutes. This way, you'll reap the benefits of a long run without losing your mind.
Benefit: Most running injuries are caused by the impact of our feet against the ground, says Jake Kennedy, director of Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapy in Boston and a veteran of more than 20 marathons. "So the more you can use gym machines to replicate running in nonrunning ways, the less likely you are to get hurt," he says. Meanwhile, you'll be gaining muscle, improving your fitness and burning calories, too.

PRIORITY: Improved Speed
Best exercise: Sprints. Fast repeats on the stationary bike are probably the closest approximation of running fast, says Perry Esterson, PT., a physical therapist and certified athletic trainer in Vienna, Va. Especially if you stand up while doing them. Sprints on the stairclimber also work well. Esterson suggests taking shallow steps, then deep steps, as if you're running up and down hills. Stand up straight and really pump your arms for maximum benefit. Or for a completely different workout, try the rowing machine. To sprint on the rower, program it for 100-meter intervals and then race the clock on each one. Break these up with 50-meter recoveries.
Benefit: You must teach your body to adapt to the stress of running fast if you expect to go fast. But you don't have to do all your speedwork on terra firma. As long as you pump your heart rate way up—and keep it there—your body doesn't care if you're running or blasting away on a stairclimber.

PRIORITY: Better Balance
Best exercise: Step-ups. Find a weight bench or a plastic step and adjust the height so that when your foot is on the step, your knee is bent at 90 degrees. Stand up straight and hold a weighted bar across your shoulders, behind your neck; keep your spine straight and your hips tucked in. Step up onto the bench with your right leg. Then bring up your left leg. Stand steady for 2 or 3 seconds. Quickly step back down, leading with your left leg. Repeat eight to 10 times, then switch sides so you step up with your left leg. For an extra challenge, use ankle weights.
Benefit: "The body keeps a complex interplay of nerve input and muscle feedback going on all the time," says David Jenkinson, DO., an assistant professor of orthopedics and family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. "If you haven't developed this sense of balance, you're more likely to make one of the classic running mistakes—such as turning your ankle 6 miles from home."

PRIORITY: Stronger Quads
Best exercises: Leg presses and backward burners. Head straight for the leg-press machine and do slow, steady, shallow squats to spare the knees, advises Kennedy. Do your leg presses one leg at a time (just dangle the resting leg off to the side) to ensure that you're not perpetuating any strength imbalances. Too boring? Here's another great quad-builder that you can do on the treadmill, but be careful (have a friend spot you the first few times). Set the machine at a 15-degree incline and a steady walking pace. Then quickly turn around and walk backward, squatting down a bit. Be sure to use the handrails. Your goal is to be able to walk quickly but in control. Try doing this for 2 to 3 minutes at first, and gradually work up to 5 to 10 minutes.
Benefit: As the largest muscle in your body, your quadriceps stays very busy when you run. Each leg has to launch you forward with each step, then has to perform a rapid-fire braking motion when you land to keep you from falling facedown. The key to all this is a powerful quadriceps. But strong quads are not your birthright as a runner: You need to fortify them through strength training (and ensure both legs are equally strong by doing balancing moves, too).

PRIORITY: Stronger Buttocks and Hamstrings
Best exercise: Supine lifts. Find a big gym ball, then lie on your stomach on an inclined weight bench, with your hips at the edge of the elevated end of the bench and your legs hanging straight down. Place the ball between your ankles, tighten your glutes, then slowly lift your legs until they are parallel with the rest of your body. (Don't lift so far that you begin to arch your back.) Start and control the movement with your hamstrings and glutes, rather than "swinging" your legs. Hold the position for a count of three, then slowly lower the ball again. Hold it an inch or two above the ground, then lift again. Repeat eight to 10 times for a set. Work up to two or three sets.
Benefit: Building up your backside makes you a faster and more efficient runner. It also gives you an edge when charging up hills and sprinting across finish lines. Many of us think our glutes and hamstrings are strong enough already, so we neglect them and lose the chance to develop what should be our greatest assets.

PRIORITY: A Stronger Core
Best exercises: Crunches and raises. For your abdominals, the simplest and all-around best exercise is the crunch. The key here is form. Before you start, tighten your abs and press your pelvis down so you're forcing the small of your back into the floor. Then curl up—one vertebra at a time—so your shoulder blades lift off the ground, but no further. Breathe out as you curl up, and don't strain your neck. Hold yourself up for 3 seconds, then slowly curl back clown. Do eight to 10 at first, and work up to 20, 30 or even 40. For the obliques (muscles on the sides of your torso), try lateral raises. On a flat weight bench, lie on your side with your hips at the edge and your upper body hanging off the end. With your top foot in front of die bottom foot, grab the bench with your feel (or have a friend sit on your legs) so you won't fall off. With your hands interlocked behind your head, slowly raise your torso, using only the muscles in your midsection. As you grow stronger, add a twist (literally). Begin the exercise with your shoulders square to the floor, then slowly turn them up toward the ceiling as you come up. Hold a weighted ball for more of a challenge. Do sets of eight to 10.
Benefit: A solid midsection means better running form and less susceptibility to fatigue. ‘These core muscles initiate virtually every move you make in running," says Kennedy. "And as soon as they tire out, your shoulders, hips and knees get out of sync. Then everything falls apart."

PRIORITY: Better Running Form
Best exercise: Pushups, plus. Try a pushup that builds strength and stability in the chest and shoulders. Place a free weight on the ground, then lower yourself into the down" pushup position so your hands are on the same side of the weight. Push up, steady yourself, then "walk" your hands, one at a time, over the weight. When you've crossed over, do a full pushup, paying close attention to your form (back straight, no sagging, head up). Then cross back over and do another pushup on the other side. Repeat eight to 10 times. For more of a challenge, arrange several obstacles about 8 inches apart in a semicircle, then "hand-walk" your way over them, doing a full pushup after each. Still too easy? Grab a medicine ball and do your pushups on top of it. (The wiggling ball really makes this tougher.) With pushups, think form, not reps. Do as many as you can without getting sloppy
Benefit: Unless you want to look like Ichabod Crane when you run, your chest should be forward, shoulders back and head erect. "Runners with good upper-body strength usually have the best form," says Kennedy. And the better form you have, the less energy you waste. The less energy you waste, the longer and faster you'll be able to run.

PRIORITY: Strong Lower Legs
Best exercises: Shin and calf raises. For your shins, stand about 6 inches from the wall, knees straight, back pressed against the wall. Lift your toes up as far as you can and hold for 3 seconds, then lower. Repeat 10 times. For your calves, stand on the edge of a step and let your heels drop down slightly. Starting in that position, raise your body up on your toes. Repeat eight to 10 times. To work another part of the calf, try seated calf raises. Sitting on a bench with a 20-pound weight across your knees, raise your heels as high as you can eight to 10 times while keeping your toes on the floor. Add weight to increase resistance.
Benefit: Runners are notorious for neglecting one muscle group while training a neighboring group too much. Case in point: The well-muscled calf and its neighbor, the humble, neglected shin. "If the muscles in your lower leg aren't strong and in balance, they fatigue more easily and start to transfer the stress load onto the bone and Achilles tendon," explains Jenkinson. This can lead to shinsplints and even plantar fasciitis, which is triggered by an overburdened Achilles tendon.

Get the Lead Out
If going to the gym is not something you relish, try these tips from runners near and far:

"I think about all the cute sleeveless dresses and shirts hanging in my closet, and how great my well-toned arms will look when I wear them. And I always treat myself to coffee on the way home from the gym. I really look forward to that cup of joe."

"I try to incorporate as much variety as I can by mixing and matching my alternatives. When I don't spend much time on any one machine, the time flies."

"While I'm lifting weights, I repeat to myself ‘Each lift of the weight helps my running. Each lift of the weight helps my running. Each lift...’"

"This sounds weird, but I use lucky numbers. On a day when I really don't feel like running on the treadmill, I'll think of my lucky number 28 and then run for 28 minutes or bike for 28 minutes or swim for 28 minutes. Then I'll use another lucky number—13—and do 13 reps of 13 different exercises. I also reward myself with something sweet afterward!"

"I buy most of my CDs in the winter. My rule is, as long as I use them in the gym, I'm allowed to buy them. Also, my wife doesn't run, but at the gym we can still work out together, even if we don't do the same exercises."

"During my workouts, I think about what I can make—and eat—for dinner."

"Everyone should learn to do exercises properly. Nothing defeats you quicker than nor making progress because you're not doing things right."

"Cross-dress! I once ran 30 miles on a treadmill— in a wedding dress. It was for charity. So many people came over to talk to me that the time just flew by."



March/April 1999

The Pilates Promise

The latest craze in fitness has the power to transform your body. Here's how to do it at home

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Ever notice someone who seems to command attention even if her figure isn't flawless or her face famous? Someone who's strong without being bulky, lean but not emaciated? Chalk it up to good genes—or Pilates.

Endorsed by celebrities like Madonna, Courteney Cox, and Julia Roberts, as well as a slew of models and professional dancers, Pilates may seem like just the latest fitness rage. But the unique and complicated exercises have achieved their status for good reason: They work. Pilates promises increased muscle strength, flexibility, and an overall improvement in your carriage that'll have you routinely mistaken for someone renowned (or least someone who's supremely self-confident).

Joseph Pilates, a German-born bodybuilder, boxer, and gymnast, first developed these movements while working as an Army nurse during World War I, teaching injured soldiers to stretch and strengthen their muscles. During this time, he created much of the fitness equipment that's still used today. There are also Pilates floor exercises—including the ones on these pages—that can be done without any machines, just a mat or a towel. Although Pilates may look simple, it's far from easy. After a session, you'll definitely know you've been working out, even if you're not drenched in sweat. Pilates himself told his followers that they'd feel different after 10 sessions, look different after 20, and have a brand-new body after 30.

Core of the matter

What's the real secret of Pilates? It starts with the core. Your spine, hips, and shoulders remain in place, while you keep your abdominals engaged and hollow. Then your arms and legs join in. So although scissoring your arms or lifting your legs isn't all that taxing, completing each move with your core muscles already engaged is the real challenge — for both mind and body.

Mental focus, in fact, is a big part of what makes Pilates so successful. The kinds of changes that are required to truly transform any body, whether it's already strong or not, must come from the inside, says Clare Dunphy, a certified Pilates instructor and the owner of Progressive Bodyworks in Boston. " Pilates exercises engage the whole body and mind, challenging you to fully concentrate on body alignment and control, so completing them becomes its own reward." The benefits sneak up on you because you are just too busy being proud of yourself for performing the moves correctly.

"The beauty of Pilates," says Linda Farrell, a fitness expert and certified Pilates instructor at Equinox Health Club in New York City, "is that it gives you a real body awareness. Most people never realize that posture is all about how you hold your body; it's not something you were born with."

The routines are not a replacement for or aerobic activities; they won't improve your cardiovascular condition. But a Pilates session will grab your attention and won't let it go, forcing you to flex, stretch, and work your muscles and joints. And while you may not drop pounds, you'll probably find that your clothes begin to fit differently. "The moves are designed to eke out that very last tiny bit from your muscles," explains Dunphy.

Pilates sessions can even aid in relieving chronic injuries (a qualified instructor can help modify moves to accommodate specific concerns). Matt Gomillion, a 39-year-old anesthesiologist in New York City, credits Pilates with alleviating his chronic back pain—and leaving him looking slimmer and taller in the process. "I've always been fit, but I've never been this strong before," says Gomillion, who has been working out at a Pilates studio twice a week for the past year. "It requires a lot of motivation and dedication, but the benefits have been enormous. I only wish I'd known about it sooner."

But perhaps most of all, you'll appreciate the way Pilates affects your spirit. "I love it because of what it does to my mind," says Christiane Northrup, MD, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom (Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1998), who recently became a Pilates devotee. "Pilates changes your brain. It's truly a mind/body exercise—you're bringing consciousness to your muscles."

For a listing of Pilates-based instructors in your area, called The Pilates Studio (800-474-5283), Current Concepts (800-240-3539), or PhysicalMind Institute (800-505-1990).

The Exercises
The hundred
Lie with back completely flat against mat and bring knees into chest. Extend spine and press each vertebra into mat; visualize navel pressing down toward floor. Hold arms straight out along sides, palms down and a few inches above floor. Lift chin to chest, elongating neck rather than straining it forward. Keep knees at eye-level. Slowly straighten legs, pointing toes. Hold legs between a 45- and 90-degree angle, making sure to keep entire back flat on floor. Maintaining this position, pump arms up and down at sides, breathing in and out of nose for 5 counts on inhalation and 5 counts on exhalation, for a total of 3 to 5 sets.

Single leg stretch
Lie on back, pressing navel down toward floor, and bend left knee into chest. Hold right hand 2 inches below left knee, placing left hand on left ankle. Bring upper back and shoulders off mat, moving toward chest without straining neck, and look at navel; keep elbows wide. Lift right leg off floor as little as possible while keeping back flat; switch sides and pull right leg into body. Complete a set of 5 to 10 repetitions on each side.

Double leg stretch
Lie as above, this time pulling both knees into chest. Grab ankles with hands and press chin into chest. Inhale and reach arms overhead, fingers together and stretched out; at the same time, extend legs at a 45-degree angle to floor. Exhale and circle arms around body and bring both knees back to chest, grabbing ankles; exhale further. Repeat movement 5 times, pulling abdominals in and keeping spine pressed against mat throughout.

Spine stretch forward
Sit on floor with legs extended, 3 to 4 inches past shoulder-width. Keep feet slightly flexed and thighs soft. Raise arms parallel to floor, shoulder-width apart. Inhale and tuck chin into chest; exhale and reach both arms and legs forward while pressing spine in opposite direction. Slowly begin to curl spine forward, rounding back until forehead faces floor, pulling abdominals in throughout movement. Hold for a few moments, release, and repeat 5 times.

Circles against wall
Stanched with hold back — head to tailbone — against a wall, feet about 12 inches away and parallel to each other. Draw abdominals toward spine and lift arms in front; keep both arms within peripheral vision and raise them toward crown of head, pressing abdominals toward spine and shoulders down. Slowly pull arms apart and lower to sides, elongating them from waist. Repeat 5 times.


October 1998

Gotta Try It: Sea Kayaking

Skim the ocean blue.
Explore the shore.
Float toward fitness...

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Sea kayaking takes you places you'd never reach on foot, provides a new perspective on familiar sights, and puts nature literally at your fingertips. The thrill of skimming along the water and watching seabirds dive for their dinner makes you forget you're actually getting exercise. But you are. And it's a whole new way to work out. Unless you're an avid tennis player or regularly lift weights, your arms probably don't get much work. Activities such as walking, jogging, and cycling focus on the legs. But I recently found a great way to explore the great outdoors—and sneak in a workout for my arms, shoulders, back, and abs: Sea kayaking.

My first kayaking excursion is off Cape Ann, Mass., a beautiful stretch of rocky coastline just north of Boston. I've signed up with Essex River Basin Adventures, an outfitter that caters to paddlers of all ages and abilities. My group includes a few couples in their 30s and 40s, some boisterous 20-somethings, and a man in his 60s.

Testing the waters
Instructor Richard "Ozzie" Osborn starts with the basics: how to maneuver and balance the sea kayak and how to get back in if we flip over. This is where I realize the subtle—but definitely noticeable—work the muscles in my arms, shoulders and midsection will be doing, both in propelling me forward and keeping me upright in the undulating water. After about 45 minutes, we are each fitted with a life vest and sprayskirt — a rugged, waterproof contraption that seals you into the kayak from the waist down. Hmmm, sealed into something that can tip? I'm happy to hear that you can detach easily in that event. (Other types of kayaks have you perched on top: See "Different Boats for Different Folks," below.)

With a push from one of the guides, my kayak slips into the shallow water, and I take a few tentative paddles. Easy, I think, grinning at the sight of my classmates ramming into one another a few yards ahead. I use my rudder, a simple foot-controlled device that makes the kayak easier to maneuver, and attempt to swing out of the way.

Too late: I'm drifting right into Adam, another beginner. "Look out! " I yell. Adam lifts his paddle out of the way just in time for my kayak to smack into his. "Sorry," I mumble. Luckily, the kayaks are made of heavy-duty plastic, so there's no harm done. Adam smiles agreeably, then proceeds to slam into another paddler. We all laugh.

With a little practice and more instruction, I improve my stroke and master the art of turning. Now I feel balanced and secure, and I'm giving my legs a break for change, using my abs and back for balance while my often-neglected arms and shoulders keep me gliding forward.

Into the deep
Once we're all maneuvering without too many more "bumper boat" incidents, we paddle into the main waterway, hugging the shore and checking out the mud flats, low dunes, and piles of clam and mussel shells. I find myself gliding through water less than a foot deep, cruising right up to the shoreline to inspect the moss-covered rocks; the kayak sits only about 6 inches below the waterline, allowing me to explore places I never could have approached in a canoe or other boat.

Skimming along, I spot an osprey searching for its dinner along the mollusk-covered shoals as powerboaters zoom by unaware. Next I see Crane's Beach, the crown jewel of Boston beaches, and Hog Island, a wildlife refuge. Both are familiar to me, but here, from my sea-level perspective, things look different. The beach is a pristine crescent of white sand, and the island's craggy shore looks lush and impenetrable. Hardly the suburban, tourist-filled places I remember.

I glide along, enjoying the soft splash my paddle makes with each stroke. Suddenly, I'm pulled out of my reverie by a change in water conditions. We are now in the middle of the channel. The wind is gusting and frothy-capped waves are rolling in from the Atlantic. My kayak is bouncing all over the place. "Point your bow into the wind!" shouts a guide. I obey, and boost the effort of my strokes. The nose of my kayak slices through the waves, and I'm bounced over the choppy surface with a rhythmic smack, smack, smack. As a light mist sprays my face, I concentrate on keeping my strokes steady and my body balanced as I bob along. I pump my arms with each stroke, and I'm breathing harder and starting to work up a sweat; I feel exhilarated.

We're back into calmer waters after about 20 minutes. Several cormorants (large, black fishing birds) swim beside us. The water is perfect now, with a steady current that keeps me gliding along with next to no effort. My kayak slips through the water like the birds' bodies, low and sleek, as we head for home.

Different Boats for Different Folks
If you don't like the idea of being attached at the waist to your boat, try a sit-on-top-style ocean kayak.
That's the boat that Saul Stanton, 60, of Boston, bought four years ago when he first discovered kayaking. "I tried it once, and I've been hooked ever since," he says. "The kayak is very safe; its stable. I always wear a life vest, and I feel comfortable taking my kayak anywhere. I've taking it through marshes and into the Atlantic and as far as 20 miles south, to see the U.S.S. Constitution."

Get out on the water!
Where to go: Ask local camping supply or sporting goods stores for suggestions of tours or rental agents in your area, or contact the Trade Association of Paddle Sports at 414-242-5228.
What you'll pay: $30 to $50 for a beginners' class and rental. My three-hour "introductory" trip cost $45 and included all equipment and instruction.
For more information: On the Internet, check out GORP (Great Outdoors Recreation Pages) at www.gorp.com. And check out Sea Kayaking: A Woman's Guide (Ragged Mountain Press, 1998).

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