Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Some new inspiration from Boston Mania weekend, Part 1

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What a wild and woolly Friday and Saturday at the Boston Mania Fitness conference. Picture about 800 fitness professionals of all (yes ALL) shapes and sizes, (but mostly well sculpted ones), convening to share experiences, the latest trends and research. There was a lot of hands on, (or should I say bodies on) experiential workshops, combined with many lectures and presentations.

First of all, I’m glad that the conference focused on how we use our whole bodies, and what we need to do to counteract the effects of our lifestyle. Hours of sitting, driving, computer work, and our continuously flexed positions are wreaking havoc on our poor unsuspecting bodies.

  • We need to activate the weaker, tighter muscles on the back of our bodies by doing a LOT of extension, which is something I focus on in individual and group sessions. Let’s take our “core” for example. A common misunderstanding is that our core means our abdominal muscles, which is way too limited. Our core muscles include everything from our shoulder girdle to our pelvic girdle. Essentially, it’s everything except our head, neck, arms and legs. So when strengthening our core, we need to use our shoulders, upper, mid and lower back, gluteals and pelvic muscles. Also, we need to think about lengthening, not just shortening our core muscles. Crunches are a good example of shortening our core muscles.  Both shortening and lengthening are necessary to get stronger muscles, and lengthening is often more difficult than shortening.- Take-away- Emphasize muscle extension (lengthening) as much as possible.
  • Ideally, we should think about activating our muscle groups in the ways we use them in every day life. This is not a new concept, just a repackaged one called functional training. If we want to be better at lifting heavy things like groceries or children, we need to practice in ways that mimic the way we’ll be doing it in real life. This means using our whole bodies, not isolating one or two muscle groups, as we do when using weight machines. For instance when we lift, we use our bodies in the rotational planes, as well as the front to back plane. But our fitness work often doesn’t do enough rotation, or moving side to side, unless it’s some form of dance. Take away –  Include all planes of body when exercising and try to simulate the work you need to do in every day life.
  • Our movement emanates from our feet, but our feet are usually wearing a thick sole, or worse, a high heel so our foot muscles can’t move resulting in weakness and inflexibility. This may cause ankle, knee and hip problems, which can progress up through the rest of our bodies. Going barefoot is good for your foot muscles. You must avoid this if you have plantar fasciitis and/or wear orthotics. However, if you can tolerate it (socks are OK, if they’re not slippery) you will get more flexibility and strength in these important muscle groups without your shoes. Take away- Add ankle and foot exercises to the mix – it may decrease pain in joints higher up in the movement chain. 
  • We often blame our muscles when we feel stiff. Fascia, the cellophane type of tissue that is wrapped around all our muscles, is often what makes us feel tight, – it may not be our muscles and joints. We need to move in all planes and in a balanced way to keep the fascia loose. Take away- After a certain age (about 45), foam rolling and massage can greatly aid in preventing our fascia from limiting movement.
  •  Bones  move, joints feel, and muscles react. Why is this important? We need to keep our bones moving, so we can keep our joints looser and pain free. In turn,  the movement of our bones will cause our muscles to respond, thus maintaining and increasing strength. Varied and challenging movements will cause our muscles to adapt to the new demands and ensure that we can meet the unpredictable needs of our lives.  Take away- Regular walking or doing the same exercise day after day will no longer cut it. You must move your muscle groups in different ways on different days to activate dormant and weak areas- cross training is key.
  • The body needs recovery time to maximally build muscles- this means if you work out strenuously one day, it’s a good idea to work different muscles the next day, or take a day off if the workout was particularly rigorous. This is even more important as we age. Take away – Pay attention to your body’s signals if you feel very tired or sore, and take the rest you need. 

I just threw a lot of information at you at once!  But wait there’s more, but that’s plenty to digest for now.  I hope this gives you some new ways to think about your body which ideally will motivate you to keep up the consistent activity and exercise levels. The old maxim, if you don’t move it, you lose it, is true, but add these few ideas-

  • Use core muscles from shoulders to hips, emphasizing extension and lengthening
  • Move in all planes- front to back, side to side, and rotational
  • Exercise all muscle groups from the toes on up!
  • Use foam rollers, and do regular stretching
  • Cross train to avoid strains and to use neglected muscle groups
  • Heed your body’s messages- take a day off to recover if you feel sore or tired

Stay tuned for more information from the weekend that will focus on nutrition, posture and feeding both mind and body to feel your best!


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