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Category Archive: Training

The Power of Working Out Together

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Discover how training in a fitness community can improve your performance, keep you accountable, and help you tap into a greater sense of purpose.

It’s 6:30 on a chilly morning at Tower 26, a lifeguard station on a quiet stretch of beach between Santa Monica and Venice, Calif. The tourists are still asleep; the Ferris wheel, quiet and dark. For now, the beach belongs to the LA Tri Club. 

There are more than 40 of them, men and women of all ages, eyeing the slate-gray ocean. It looks cold, but the group is undeterred. They don swim caps and goggles, zip up wetsuits, and give one another encouraging slaps on the back. 

Then they plunge into the Pacific. 

For the next 75 minutes, they navigate surf, crest big waves, and practice staying on course to a distant buoy; they swim back and forth, over and over again. They keep an eye out for one another, cheer each other on, and talk trash now and then. It’s a tough workout, but they all get through it, finishing the session energized and alive. 

“The first time I swam in the ocean I was a bit nervous,” says club managing director Deb Carabet. “But the other members taught me not to panic. They held my hand as we went through the surf.” 

Without the group, she says, she never would have tried ocean swimming, much less her most recent adventure — a half-Ironman race this past July that included more than a mile of open-water swimming. 

For many people, fitness is a solitary pursuit: Go to the gym, notch a workout, get on with your day. Many fitness programs and gyms cater to this trend, prioritizing convenience over conviviality in their services and classes. 

But, like those in the LA Tri Club’s Ocean Swim class, many fitness-minded people — as well as the health clubs and specialty studios they frequent — are discovering the value of working out with a group of like-minded friends, acquaintances, coaches, and trainers. 

Ask what they get out of it and you’ll hear reports of camaraderie, motivation, and friendly competition, all of which lead, they say, to better performance and greater fitness —  and, perhaps most important, more enjoyment. 

Simply put, individuals who are active in fitness communities are finding they can get more done, reach goals faster, and blast through plateaus more quickly than they might on their own. 

Team Effort

Nearly a century ago, researchers discovered that people in groups tend to work harder than when they’re working alone, a dynamic known as the Köhler effect. When a team’s performance is determined by that of its weakest link — a mountain-climbing expedition in which all members are tethered together, for example — the weaker member performs significantly better compared with his or her best solo efforts. 

If you ever pick out stronger/faster/fitter students in a fitness class and try to outpace them at pushups, squats, or laps around the gym — regardless of whether they know you’ve selected them as your “rabbits” to chase — you’ll often perform better. That’s the Köhler effect at work. It happens unconsciously whenever people exercise together.

“I’ve been on teams my whole life,” says David Freeman, OPEX, CCP, NASM-PES, national manager for Life Time’s Alpha program, which focuses on Olympic lifting and strength training in a group setting. A pushup is a pushup — but when you work out in a group, he says, “it gives you a sense of greater purpose.” 

A fitness community amps up performance while infusing the practice with something that can be hard to find on your own: meaning. 

Social Animals

One of the biggest benefits of a fitness community is right there in the word community. We are social animals, and interacting with others is good for us. Whether we’re getting together with family for dinner, friends for golf, or acquaintances for a martial-arts class, research demonstrates that groups can benefit us. 

A 2010 report in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior noted that “social relationships — both quantity and quality — affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk.” People with more and better social ties, researchers found, demonstrated better cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and less susceptibility to cancer; those with fewer and lower-quality social contacts exhibited more inflammation and poorer immune function. 

For some people, fitness com­munities play a role usually filled by traditional social networks — neighbors, religious groups, extended families — which have become less integral to our time-crunched, digitally driven lives. 

“A lot of us lead a solitary existence,” says Andrea Jones, cofounder of boutique fitness clubs in Minnesota and Colorado. “More and more people work from home, or maybe at a coffee shop on a laptop, so they spend much of the day by themselves.” 

As a result, fitness communities have all the more value, she explains. “You get one hour when you can feel that people are supporting you, where you don’t have to do it all yourself.” 

Add vigorous movement to the equation, and you have a beneficial, self-reinforcing cycle. 

Play fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community,” writes National Institute for Play founder Stuart Brown in his book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. 

Fitness communities thus create a virtuous circle: They support and enhance health, while health-building movement enhances the sense of community. 

Recreational sports teams and clubs have been around for decades, but the boom in fitness communities within gyms has its roots in group fitness. Organized exercise classes showed gym-goers that the health club could be their so-called third place, after home and work. 

Increasingly, they’re seeking a more personalized, community feel to their training, programs in which they’re not just clients but real people with names and lives and interests and feelings. Health clubs have taken up the challenge of catering to this growing, social clientele. 

Group fitness classes and training programs, such as Life Time’s Alpha and GTX, are increasingly popular. In addition to getting fit, people use these sessions to build friendships and to network. Social-media connections help support in-person relationships, says Freeman. And races, weightlifting competitions, coffee gatherings, potlucks, and other real-life outings naturally arise as a result. 

Suddenly, a gym becomes more than just a gym. It’s a place you can turn to for improving your physical fitness as well as cultivating a sense of connection and belonging.

Group-Mind Motivation 

Solitary workouts can be effective and enjoyable. But coaches, trainers, and other experts have found that some people have better experiences and achieve better outcomes when they don’t walk the path to fitness alone. 

Scientists have attempted to quantify and qualify these successes, but study results have been mixed and dependent on the size of the group and behavior being tested. (And if you’ve participated in or even observed the burgeoning group fitness trend at your own gym or health club, you’ve likely noticed that the types of classes offered, the goals being pursued, and the sizes of the groups are highly variable.)

But gyms and gym-goers don’t seem to need convincing that working out as part of a group is worthwhile. Anecdotally, say Freeman and other trainers, people seem to perform better when someone is watching them: Coaching, cueing, and spotting provide practical, often personalized, feedback. 

Moreover, there’s an apparent benefit to feeling accountable to a larger group. This is illustrated, in part, by colloquial language that describes fitness communities as families and teams in which people find encouragement, physically and emotionally.     

By virtue of their size and diversity, fitness communities can offer a wide variety of feedback and support — something you can’t always get when working solo, or even with a single trainer or workout buddy. 

“Sometimes you need a motivator,” says Freeman, a drill-sergeant type who refuses to take no for an answer. 

“Other times you need a nurturer,” an encouraging, helpful teammate or coach who talks you through rough patches. “As a single coach, I can’t be everything to everybody,” he admits. “That’s where the community takes over.” 

In a group, inspiration can come from almost anywhere. Many mentors — peers, advanced students, teachers, and team leaders — are available to provide the right coaching cues to help you master an exercise; the right phrase to help you persevere though a difficult workout; or the right strategy to get you on track to your next goal. 

“Practically from birth, we’re looking for role models,” says Freeman. “In middle school, you look up to the high schoolers; in high school, you look up to the college kids. Whenever you’re at a pivot point — trying to get better or make a change — there’s nothing more motivating than having someone around who says, ‘I’ll go with you.’” 

True  Competition

Competition is strong medicine: It can discourage or motivate, beat you down or lift you up. 

Some groups embrace fitness as a contest. Online or at the gym, there are often prominent lists showing who lifts the most, runs the fastest, and jumps the highest. 

“In some communities it’s all about the leaderboard,” says Jones. If you’re not on it, you want to be, and if you are, you want to climb to the top. 

 This emphasis on the fitness hierarchy in a group may fire some people up — but it can drive others away. 

Still, healthy competition might be the special sauce that lends flavor to a fitness community. And it doesn’t have to take the form of a whiteboard listing everybody’s top lifts. Simply exercising alongside others can be enough to light a competitive fire. 

“Part of the reason I love weekly rides with the tri club is that I can keep an eye on the other athletes,” says Joey Doran, 36, an LA Tri Club member and frequent podium finisher. 

By trying their best in group workouts with closely matched people of similar fitness levels, Doran and his fellow athletes push one another to greater fitness and performance; no accolade, external recognition, or even explicit acknowledgment of their rivalry is required. 

Such enjoyable-but-high-stakes workouts are a prime example of what David Light Shields, PhD, a sports psychologist and professor of behavioral science specializing in athletics at St. Louis Community College, calls “true competition.” This involves mutually respectful individuals striving to overcome their opponents and bring out the best in one another, says Shields, author of True Competition. Focus and playfulness are balanced. Positive emotions prevail. 

Competition isn’t always so rosy, of course (see “3 Solutions for Overcoming Group Pitfalls,” below), but in a supportive fitness community, it can become the rule rather than the exception. 

“A competitive environment puts people into an aspirational mindset,” says University of Pennsylvania sociologist Damon Centola, PhD, author of How Behavior Spreads. 

His study of online health networks found that members who interacted within competitive social settings exercised more to keep up with the highest performers; members who interacted in supportive social settings were influenced by the poor performers and went to the gym less often. 

Centola’s research suggests that, compared with other exercise incentives — such as peer support or
monetary incentives — friendly competition is by far the most effective way to motivate healthy behavior change.

Two years ago, Deb Cabaret’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When word got out to members of the LA Tri Club, she says, “40 people came out to do a race benefitting cancer research. They rallied around him.” 

Over the years, she says, club members have been injured and sick,  and members consistently showed up to support them. Members have dated, married, and had kids. 

“It’s a real community,” says Carabet. “And it’s lovely.”

This originally appeared as “Fit Together” in the December 2018 print issue of Experience Life.

 

 , CSCS, is an Experience Life contributing editor.

Original Article provided by Experience Life Magazine

The Hill-Run Workout

This high-intensity workout takes hill repeats to the next level.

If you’re searching for a simple way to amp up your cardio training, look no further than the nearest hill.

Incline workouts improve endurance, increase cardiovascular capacity, burn fat, and build leg strength, says Rebekah Mayer, RRCA, national training manager of Life Time Run.

“When programmed into interval training, hills allow you to push into a higher heart-rate zone,” she explains. Without having to sprint, you burn more fat than you would while running on a flat surface. Running uphill also works your quads, glutes, and calves.

The Sisyphus workout is named after the Greek king who paid for his crimes by rolling a boulder up a hill — only to see it roll back to the bottom before he reached the top, forcing him to start over, again and again.

The protocol trains you to not only push beyond your comfort zone, but to also adequately recover.

Runners can practice hill intervals in the off-season to build strength for flat races in the 5K to 10K range. Marathoners might incorporate the Sisyphus workout into midseason training to prepare for hilly courses.

Those who aren’t training for a specific race but want to build general fitness can perform this workout two or three times a month — yes, per month, because it really is that intense.

Sisyphus Workout

Warm-up: Start with a 10- to 20-minute easy-paced run, followed by a five- to 10-minute dynamic warm-up.

Workout: Locate a hill with a moderately steep incline that is long enough to allow for a two-minute run — a quarter-mile is plenty for most people. Then, perform four hill repeats as noted below.

The Pace

Uphill: Aim for an intensity that is challenging but sustainable for the full uphill interval. It should be a pace at which it is “difficult to carry on a conversation,” says Mayer. If you know your 5K pace, use it as a guideline.

Downhill: Recover with a slow jog or walk. Catch  your breath and shake out your arms.

The Form

Uphill: Lean forward from your ankles and gaze slightly uphill. Focus on landing on your toes, lifting your knees, and pumping your arms. Keep your steps quick and light; avoid long strides or lunging.

Downhill: Shorten and soften your stride. Walk as needed.

The Repeats

Repeat 1: Run uphill for 30 seconds, then jog or walk back to the bottom.

Repeat 2: Run uphill for 60 seconds, then jog or walk back to the bottom.

Repeat 3: Run uphill for 90 seconds, then jog or walk back to the bottom.

Repeat 4: Run uphill for two minutes, then jog or walk back to the bottom.

One set of all four repeats equals about five minutes of uphill running. New runners and beginning exercisers should start with one set. Advanced exercisers and experienced runners can complete two or three sets.

This originally appeared as “Hill Runs” in the May 2018 print issue of Experience Life.

 is a writer and personal trainer in River Forest, Ill. She blogs at www.mamasgottamove.com.

Expert Answers: Non-Running Exercises to Increase Your Speed

Our expert has tips to get you moving faster and more efficiently.

Q | I’m a runner, and I’m curious if there are any exercises I can do beyond running to get faster?

A | Because we run on one leg at a time, unilateral power movements are especially effective at building speed.

“Training modalities that have the individual on one leg have a great carryover to running performance,” says Andrew Long-Middleton, a personal trainer at Life Time in St. Louis Park, Minn. Practicing unilateral power movements “will translate into a more efficient, faster runner,” he explains.

Long-Middleton recommends exercises like the Single-Leg Bound (below) for building speed. Perform five to 10 sets no more than twice per week after a warm-up.

It’s important to remember that single-leg power moves increase the force affecting your lower legs. With running and jumping, some people may experience shin pain. Take care to land softly when jumping, and periodically check in with your body by running your thumb down your shin. If you feel pain, it may be helpful to increase the recovery time between sessions and make sure your whole-foods diet is well balanced (calcium; vitamins D, K, C, and E; phosphorus; and magnesium all play vital roles in bone health). If the pain continues, see your healthcare professional.

(For more on unilateral training, check out “Taking Sides: The One-Sided Strength Workout“. Learn more about speed training at “Speed Workouts X 3“.)

Single-Leg Bound

Single Leg Bound

  • Standing on your right leg, swing your arms back slightly, and gently bend your standing knee to assume a single-leg athletic stance.
  • Swing your arms forward for momentum and jump off your standing foot. Drive the left knee up for additional power.
  • Land softly on your right foot, slightly bending your knee, while allowing your arms to swing behind you once again. The distance of the bound will vary from person to person, but aim to keep each repetition about the same length.
  • Repeat the movement on the same leg without stopping until the distance between bounds shortens — or no longer than 20 seconds.

Illustrations by Colin Hayes

A version of this article first appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Experience Life magazine. Click here to subscribe

WEB EXTRA!

Modifying and Progressing the Single-Leg Bound

Make It Easier: Double-Leg Bound

Newer exercisers can begin with a two-legged bound to get their bodies accustomed to the stress of power movements. Perform the above move while jumping with both legs. Once you build up your comfort with the bilateral version, try the exercise on one leg.

Make It Harder: Triple-Tuck Jump

  • Perform three single-leg bounds on one leg, then jump to bring that knee to your chest.
  • Land softly, and immediately perform the next series of three bounds on the same leg.
  • Stop when height or distance shortens, or no longer than 20 seconds. Repeat on the other leg.

Lauren Bedosky is a Minnesota-based health and fitness writer.

Saying No to the Plateau!

For those of you training for the upcoming Chicago Spring Half Marathon in 2 weeks (or any race in general), there comes a time in your training when you hit that “blah wall.”  You know the one we’re talking about- the point in your training where you no longer find any excitement or challenge in your routine. Or even worse, where it seems that you are not making any progress whether its gains or losses. Ladies and gentleman, we have with us here today: The dreaded plateau.

Now, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. This is a good thing and it is absolutely normal. In fact, you should be proud that you have stuck through your training and put in 100% day in and day out to even get to this plateau. The truth is, there are many reasons why we reach a plateau; it can be anything from boredom to an unbalanced diet. Your body is constantly changing and while training, we put it through a rigorous path of exertion. Let’s look at some reasons why we hit a plateau and the best ways to shake some life back into our routine.

Mind Games

First and foremost- do not get discouraged! Most people will hit a plateau, believe they are not making any progress and give up. Don’t you dare! You’ve made it thus far and you should not give up on the progress you have made. Running is all mental. Sure it takes stamina and endurance but we all know it is a persistent ’84 year old couple bickering’ between you and that annoying voice in your head. Don’t let it get to you. Often times, our discouragement comes from not achieving the ‘X results’ we thought we would see by ‘X time’. Please remember that everyone is different and while Stacy from the gym was running at a 9:30 pace by Week 10, that doesn’t mean you will be too – and that’s perfectly ok. Focus on you. Take encouragement from your own personal victories. How far have you come in the past couple of weeks? Think of where you were when you started your training and where you are now. Reminding yourself of your own small victories will help clear the cloud of discouragement that overwhelms the spirit during a plateau.

Eat, Sleep, Run, Repeat

Our bodies, like machines, are a finely tuned and oiled machine; we get what we put into it.  A big reason behind a plateau is our lack of adjusting our eating and sleeping patterns to match our training patterns. We won’t get into how many calories you burn while running as this varies immensely depending on distance, terrain, weight, etc. What we will focus on is the fact that the calories burned running should be compensated with your daily calorie intake. Do not make the mistake of cutting back on calories while training. Your body will not perform at optimum level if its running on vapors. This will lead to lack of energy, decreased endurance and you called it- the plateau. In addition, make sure that the calories you intake are good, healthy calories. Protein and vegetables will take you a lot further than a night out at the local pizza joint.

Lackluster and stalled performance can also be a sign that you are not getting enough ZZZ’s at night. Let’s be real. It is the sweet embrace of soft sheets and the tender peace of counting sheep that we look forward to after a long day of adulting. Yet, sleep is the first thing that we shove headfirst to the backseat as we go through our non-stop and chaotic daily lives. Sleeping is essential when training. Just as a machine gets routine maintenance, your body needs routine rest. The key word being routine. Depending on your schedule, the optimal 7 hours a night may not be possible. Keeping your sleep amount consistent will allow your body to get the most from your rest.

Cross Training

Hitting a training plateau is the equivalent of hearing your significant other say “we don’t do fun stuff anymore.” It is your body telling you that it is time to spice things up! This is a great time to incorporate cross training as it helps immensely to refresh what may seem like a stagnant routine in addition to helping those who feel like they are getting “stuck” – whether it be physically, emotionally or mentally.

Why cross train?  Well, it can improve your aerobic fitness level, increase power, improve performance, help with injury prevention or even rehabilitation, and certainly help with any boredom factors.  When you incorporate cross training, you focus on other muscles and moves that aren’t usually dominant during running.

Recommended Cross Training Activities

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Stretching
  • Plyometrics
  • Strength Training
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Water aerobics or water jogging

You want to avoid activities that put a lot of strain on your knees or that are overly weight bearing.  As always, if you try something new, be careful and monitor your body’s response!

Free Chicago Half Marathon Starting Line 101 Clinic

Training for the Chicago Half Marathon? Begin your event journey with our new Starting Line 101 clinics. Clinics are a FREE, fun and relaxed way to learn from experts, set goals, find out details specific to the Chicago Half Marathon and make new connections! The next sessions will be offered on the following dates:

July 29
5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. with Life Time Run Coordinator Ryan Moran
Meet at Life Time Fitness Warrenville

August 12
5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. with Life Time Run Coordinator Deborah Barnat
Meet at Life Time Fitness Romeoville

Clinic schedule will be as follows:
5:30 p.m. – Meet and greet, games and registration outside the club
6:00 p.m. – Starting Line 101 Seminar
6:30 p.m. – Beginner’s run/walk (20 to 30 minutes)

Clinic topics include:

  • Nutrition
  • Safety
  • Getting started tips
  • Gear
  • Race preparation
  • Goal setting
  • Chicago Half Marathon course overview

 

On-site race registration will be available. Click here to view our Training page for more information.

 

Athletico Monthly Tip: Dealing with Foot Pain

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Our feet can become painful or sensitive over time and foot pain is a common complaint in physical therapy, especially in runners. There are many basic strategies and self-treatments you can try if foot pain plagues you. Read more.

If you experience aches or pains as you train for the Chicago Half Marathon & Hyundai Hope on Wheels 5K, we’d be happy to see you for a complimentary injury screening at any of our 80+ locations.
> Click here to choose a location and schedule your appointment

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When Your Training & Racing Conditions Don’t Match

By Brooke Schohl, MS RD

Climate can pose some interesting challenges when it comes to racing. Whether you’re going from a hot, dry climate to a cool one or vice versa, you will need to make some adjustments to your fueling and hydration strategy. Help prepare your body with these tips.

1) Hydration is vitally important year round; however, heat and humidity require greater fluid intake than cooler climates as your sweat rate increases. Research the location of your race and prepare properly by increasing fluids if you are racing in heat/humidity. An excellent indicator of hydration status is urine color. If your urine is lemonade colored, you’re good. If it’s apple-juice colored, better drink up! A general rule of thumb is 16-24 ounces of fluid per hour. This number could go up or down depending on climate.

2) Electrolytes go hand-in-hand with fluid. If you’re increasing fluids consumed, electrolytes must be reciprocated. In heat, your sweat rate is increased and you are losing precious sodium via sweat faster than you can snap your fingers. Electrolytes must be replaced quickly to keep the body in check and muscles functioning efficiently. Be careful though — increasing salt intake drastically from one climate to the next can create GI distress and other unpleasant effects. Gradually increase electrolyte intake during training to match what you will require on race day. Electrolyte supplementation can be achieved in a variety of ways, through “real” food sources like bananas and pretzels, with sports drinks/powders, through Salt Stick or Hammer Endurolyte capsules, and via sports products like gels, chews and bars.  

3) Racing Fuel Type: The foods you train with in 45-degree January weather may or may not cut it in 90-degree March weather. The solution? Have alternatives. Try out many different fuel types during training — sports drinks, powders, sports gels/chews, bars and real food items. Don’t try new things on race day; reserve the experimentation for training.

Much of the fun and the frustration of race day is the unknown. Many things are out of your control, and let’s be honest, that’s part of what makes crossing that finish line so darn impressive. What you can manage is your fueling preparation and experimentation during training. Research your upcoming race — the average temperatures, the humidity, the types of fuel available on the course — and use that information as a starting point. This preparation points you toward a successful race day, regardless of conditions!