Written by Toni Sherwood (February 2017)
Not everyone has the time (or inclination) to go the gym for a workout. The good news, though, is that with just a little creativity in the home and at the workplace, you can get in shape—and maintain it.
Here we go again:
Only a month into the New Year, and you’re already breaking your resolutions. As always, you had the best of intentions, pledging how this year, you really will get in shape. You bought a cool new sweatshirt so you’d look good. You even told people you had started exercising.
But let’s be honest. Americans are working long hours. Many of us sit at desks eight to ten hours a day. And yet we’re exhausted by the end of the day; we have no energy left even though our bodies are sedentary. Getting to the gym, well, it just doesn’t happen.
Yet this was to be the year everything would be different. And it still can be. No, really. Because you don’t have to make yourself go to the gym; you don’t have to set ridiculous fitness goals; and sometimes, you don’t even have to leave the office to stay in shape.
Pedal While You Work
Take the example of Sarah Benoit. Her work in the design and technology field requires long hours sitting in front of the computer. As a result of years in the field, she suffered a slipped disk. “Working on computers has done more damage to me than any other work,” Benoit explains. “The repetitive motion takes a giant toll.”
Since then, for Benoit, fitness is closely linked with pain management.
“My body gets upset if I spend too much time sitting,” she says. “It’s more than fitness; I just don’t want to be in pain.” This morning Benoit did a 40-minute session on a FitDesk Pedal Desk, which is a stationary bike with a desk attached to the front so you can pedal and type at the same time. (The company she works for, JB Media, actually has two Pedal Desks in its office.) And the Pedal Desk is easier to manage than one might think. You simply adjust the resistance on the pedals and adjust the desk position. Benoit wears her typical office attire when she pedals: ankle boots with two-inch heels and a dress. “After about thirty minutes I realized I was breathing really hard,” she says. “I was totally lost in my work.”
Benoit has a gym membership and an elliptical trainer at home as well. “I need a million options for being physical,” she admits. “I created a world where if I have time, I go to the gym, but if I don’t, I have options at home.”
Meg Ragland, president and co-founder of Plum Print (the publishing/memorabilia company profiled in the November 2016 issue of this magazine), had the opportunity to refit her office when the company moved from Candler to downtown Asheville in July 2016. “The employees were into the sit/stand desks, so now we all have them,” Ragland explains. “Most of us alternate between sitting and standing, and our backs feel much better with this option.”
One employee at Plum Print, Keely Knopp, has additionally instigated an hourly one-minute exercise interval throughout the workday. Borrowing exercises from the gym, like squats and sit-ups, the employees can stop working and start working out. Although not everyone participates, Meg sees it as a team building opportunity. “It’s definitely morale boosting and energizing,” Ragland says.
Lisa Falbo is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer based out of Waynesville, North Carolina. She works with clients in Waynesville, Asheville, and everywhere in between. Falbo meets about 60% of her clients at the gym and about 40% at their home or hers, or even at their office—as she puts it, “I try to make it so they have no excuse not to exercise.” That’s part of her equation: Make the time and the place as convenient as possible for the client.
Falbo has seen trends in the fitness industry come and go. [Fads, too—see sidebar, p. 63 ] Interval training is one catchphrase trending now. Some say the short high-energy intervals, coupled with brief rest periods in between, can put them on the fast track to fitness. While Falbo agrees this is a good tool to get in shape, she maintains it’s not the only one you need. “Most people are looking to stay healthy and strong. For the best results, the research supports a mix of interval training, resistance training, and steady state cardio.”
Resistance training can include weights and resistance bands, whereas steady state cardio can be activities such as walking, rowing, or biking at a steady pace. “Your muscles get used to doing the same things, so it’s good to mix it up,” Falbo explains. “Also, the body needs rest and recovery.”
Katie and Michel Cox own BreakOut Training Ground in Hendersonville. The company makes it clear: They are not a gym. There are no machines. There are no televisions. There are no mirrors.
Just two and a half years ago they were teaching classes out of their backyard, until they found their current location in 2014. The open industrial space with painted floors and a huge garage door is no frills, and not the least intimidating. Their vision is a place to focus on fitness while having a blast and not necessarily worrying about charts and numbers.
“I’m constantly encouraging clients to tune into their body,” says Katie, an AFAA Certified Personal Trainer. She cites how one of her past clients had gained ten pounds in muscle, but lost only two pounds on the scale. The client felt devastated despite her body feeling great and her clothes fitting better. “We saw how the scale can be an imperfect measurement of success, so we threw out the scale,” Katie quips.
In similar fashion, Katie notes that while she used to have her classes do repetitions (such as twenty sit-ups, ten squats), she found that using timed segments worked better. “In a class, the timed segments mean everyone finishes at the same time, and it takes the competitiveness out of it,” she explains. “Everyone can move at their own pace.”
One of the buzzwords going around the fitness community of late is “functional” exercise. These exercises mimic movements we might do in our everyday lives, such as lifting the groceries into the car or walking up stairs. The idea, Michel explains, is by strengthening the muscles we use every day, we are less vulnerable to injury. “Life is not a static plane,” he says. “Some workout machines have us move in ways we don’t in real life.”
Erin Porter, head coach at Orangetheory Fitness in South Asheville, views functional exercise also as a response to out-of-date fitness trends. “The reason ‘functional exercise’ is a trend is because so many exercise programs that came out over the years focused on ‘no pain no gain’,” Porter says. “Which often translates into ‘fast and furious’ and ‘hard and heavy,’ all of which tend to compromise form.”
Katie has observed clients who can chest press their weight easily on a machine, but struggle to do pushups. One reason is there are so many more muscles that come into play when we are not only pressing weight, but balancing. “How about the leg extension machine that you sit on and extend your legs from the knee?” Katie muses. “When do you ever do that motion in real life?”
Porter adds there are a variety of ways to think about functional exercise, such as mindful exercise that helps people get stronger to bring balanced musculature. Some exercise programs or trends focus on certain aspects of the body, but may ignore other parts of the body; perhaps they focus on power and strength, but not endurance. Orangetheory offers programs that focus on power, strength, and endurance, designing exercise routines that work the whole body to bring about overall balance. “When our musculature is imbalanced, it sets up for possible injury and/or pain,” she explains. “If not immediate, then at some point in the future.”
In fact, both Katie and Michel have suffered past injuries from repetitive motions that they must accommodate even today in their workouts. Katie spent so many years as a step aerobics teacher that she blew out her knees. “I overdid it,” Katie admits. “It’s important to find balance and mix it up; don’t get in a rut.” For his part, Michel injured his shoulder playing baseball in his youth and he has had back surgery. “People fall into their ‘exercise candy’ and do it too much,” he says. The Coxes’ own injuries are a constant reminder to have awareness of when clients are training too hard. Because growth happens in recovery, rest is required to build muscle.
“We don’t lift Olympic size weights or lift for speed,” Katie says. “We do a lot of balance work and we’re more into encouragement than competition.” To that end, BreakOut hosts Friday night dance parties, open to the public, on the first Friday of each month as a means to dance away the week’s stress and kick off the weekend.
BreakOut is also about to launch their Desk Workout. Katie has designed a workout specifically for an office or cubicle environment. Other than a desk and a chair, it requires no special equipment or attire. All levels can get a challenging workout with modified movements. “The workout lasts about 20 minutes, so you still have time for lunch,” she explains. BreakOut will visit workplaces to train clients as well as offer an instructional video.
Working Out At Work?
Not every office has a FitDesk, and not every office is going to offer visits from trainers, so most of us can’t work out at work, right? Oh, well, we’re screwed. Too bad we won’t benefit from increased energy, reduced tension, and better focus. But that’s not the worst news.
The assumption has been that we can counterbalance sedentary activity by working out. But the American Heart Association (AHA) has come to some rather daunting new conclusions. According to a statement released this past October, the AHA advised that the negative effects of sitting eight or nine hours a day cannot be undone by working out. So the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle, such as diabetes and cardio vascular disease, cannot be counteracted by any amount of physical activity. “Regardless of how much physical activity someone gets, prolonged sedentary time could negatively impact the health of your heart and blood vessels,” said Deborah Rohm Young, PhD, director of Behavioral Research at Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena and chair of the AHA.
With so much at stake, Americans need to get strategic about moving more, especially at work. Personal Trainer Falbo has developed some tips that require no special equipment to keep moving throughout the workday. We have listed a few here for your enjoyment.
Take A Walking Meeting: Walking often spurs creative ideas and different ways of looking at problems. Why not work out the kinks in your muscles while you work out the kinks at the office?
Stand Up: Another option to consider is a standing desk. Although you’re not going to sculpt your muscles or lose weight with a standing desk, it’s one way to keep the blood flowing and the energy up. Some models are adjustable to several different heights (including for sitting), and there are also desktop add-ons that allow you to turn any desk into a standing desk.
Get On the Phone: Whenever you are talking on the phone, start walking or pacing. This way you get that blood flowing regularly.
Make Time: Set a timer for every 30 minutes or every hour. Whenever it goes off, stop and do two minutes of something—jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, march in place—and do something different for each segment. By the end of the day, you’ve given yourself a workout. “It mimics interval training,” Falbo says. “You’re getting that heartbeat up, and your muscles are not atrophying.”
Sooner Rather Than Later: Another tip is to work out earlier in the day. Explains Falbo, “The later it gets, the more likely you are to skip it. Fifteen or twenty minutes during your lunch break still gives you time to eat lunch.”
Let’s not forget the psychological benefits of working out: from less stress to better mood and focus. Sarah Benoit finds exercise helps keep her energy up throughout the day, releases tension, and even helps her sleep better at night. “Working in technology, we do lots of mental processing and creating ideas,” Benoit explains. “When you haven’t burned off energy, your brain can’t stop, so your mind is racing all night.”
There are other long-term benefits that may be subtle. “When you’re working out, and pushing through even though it’s hard, it trains you to fight life’s battles,” Katie says.
So before you say, “Oh well, I didn’t work out today, screw the whole year,” remember that tomorrow, you can simply wipe the slate clean and start again. Falbo puts it this way: “I always tell clients, if all you can do is four minutes at a time, that’s better than nothing.”
The Ghosts of Fitness Trends Past
1. Vibrating Belt Machines
There’s nothing American’s won’t do to lose weight, including doing nothing. Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, these jiggle belts promised to shake the fat right off you. Popular in spas and wealthy homes, the allure of an effortless workout led many to purchase these clunky machines. All you had to do was lean back and let the weight loss begin. Turns out, um… no.
2. The Thighmaster
Who can forget Suzanne Somers in her shiny leotard and headband, promising us perfect thighs? The Thighmaster is made from two looped metal tubes with a hinge between creating resistance when you squeeze it between your thighs. Like many devices advertised in the 1990s, the idea was you could do something else, like watch TV, while your thighs miraculously got into shape. It’s still for sale, and the latest version, the Thighmaster Vibrato, vibrates.
3. Earth Shoes, Toning Shoes, Fitflop
Footwear purporting to address ergonomic/biomechanic issues periodically captures the out-of-shape public’s imagination, most recently via the hideous, Kardashian-shilled Fitflops. The jury is still out on those, but their predecessors, toning shoes, also known as rocker bottom shoes (the ones with the unstable/wobbly/curved soles that supposedly toned up your butt, legs, and abs), were thoroughly discredited a few years ago by the American Council on Exercise; Skechers even had to settle a $45 million lawsuit over their Shape-ups shoes—yes, the same ones famously endorsed by Kim Kardashian’s butt. And raise your hand if you remember the pride of the ‘70s, the Kalsø Earth Shoe, whose remarkably uncomfortable Negative Heel Technology made users—translation: hippies, gurus, health-food store employees—feel like they were constantly trudging uphill.
4. The Shake Weight
A dumbbell that, wait for it… shakes! Debuting in July 2009, the Shake Weight went on to sell two million units by August 2010. Their “slightly pornographic” infomercial went viral, spawning parodies of the phallic-shaped product on Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and Southpark, among others. Unfortunately, Consumer Reports found the product to be inferior to conventional exercises.
5. Power Balance Bracelets
Speaking of “consumers” and “inferior products,” less than a decade ago, these colorful wrist gadgets employing “holographic technology” to tap the body’s “natural energy field” en route to flexibility and strength were all the rage. But no longer: Minus scientific evidence to support their claims, Power Balance was sued for fraud and had to file for bankruptcy in 2011.
THE WORKPLACE HASN’T BEEN IMMUNE TO FITNESS FADS ‘N’ FLOPS, EITHER
Office Square Dancing
Back in the ‘80s, when “Greed was good,” office square dancing offered a respite from the stress of insider trading. It didn’t last, of course; maybe it was all the files and desks that got knocked over, or that time when the boss decided to be the “caller” and no one could unsee it.
A/k/a the balance ball, it was actually invented in the 1960s by an Italian toymaker. It subsequently got introduced in the United States in the ‘80s. And yes, the yoga ball is still around, and people do sit on these bouncy balls instead of their desk chairs, and at times they fall off them. But if you think you are working your core into a six-pack or whittling your waist, um… no.
Office Partner Yoga
This sprang up after the tech bubble burst in the ‘90s to help workers cope with being middle class again. Who knew even yoga could be competitive? Let’s just say it gave “breath of fire” a whole new meaning.
The original article is below. Click to open in fullscreen…