Staying Creative in Your Workouts

I like to think of myself as a creative person. Back before I had my son I loved drawing and painting. Now, however, since there is little time for my creative juices to flow in traditional ways I have to find other outlets. My fitness classes and programs have become that outlet.

Even if you don’t consider yourself creative there is value in being creative with your workout. For one thing, there is evidence that your body will “learn” how to use as little energy as possible when doing a familiar routine. Thus, for maximal calorie burn and to force your body to further adapt and change you need to change what you are doing. In addition, I really believe that a well rounded exercise program is the best way to have life-long health and well being. For example, if you only lift weights in a certain way, some smaller muscle groups may be neglected causing you to be weaker in some areas, which may lead to injury. You will also sacrifice flexibility and cardio health. In my opinion the optimal fitness program is one that changes with your body and incorporates strength, flexibility and cardiovascular training.

In this way I sort of look at my workouts and the classes I teach as a puzzle. Each experience is new and exciting to me with something else to be learned or gained.

So how can you incorporate creativity into your workouts? Here are my top 5 tips:

1. Take other people’s fitness classes- Even if it is not your thing you may learn something new. It’s especially good to take classes focused on something you don’t usually do. If you usually lift weights try a zumba or a spinning class. If you are all about cardio, try body pump or yoga. I have learned a lot over the years from working with different instructors. Sometimes just hearing cues in a different way can be really enlightening.

2. Go Beyond the Movement- In pilates we have 6 main principles: centering, concentration, coordination, breathing, precision and smooth and flowing movement. Sometimes, without even changing the exercises in a class I can create an entirely different experience just by focusing on different principles. You can do the same thing in whatever type of exercise you do or teach. Think of a goal or a purpose for your workout and try to achieve it.

3. Listen to Your Body- Some of the best workouts I have had are when I am listening to my body and just doing the things that feel right. For example, if it’s not a leg day and I feel like doing squats, I will throw some in. If I have a lot of energy one day I might do plyometrics between sets, if I feel like I need to take it back a notch, I might lift lighter weights really focusing on form.

4. Imagery- Did you know that the most effective cues are external. For example in squatting “drive your heels through the floor” is more effective than “flex your thighs.” I believe that this is imagery at work. By using imagery you can get clients (and yourself) to engage more muscle groups with fewer words. You can also create a new experience in the exercise by focusing on different images, thereby challenging your body in a new way. Imagery forces your mind to be engaged in the movement, which also helps you recruit more neuro-muscular connections.

5. Be a Life-long Learner- You tube makes this super easy! If you are curious about something all you have to do is plug it into youtube and BAM you have hundreds of video explanations at your finger tips. That said, don’t believe everything you see on the internet. Journal articles, books and workshops with experts are great too. One of my favorite fitness podcasts that discusses research articles  can be found here. The point is to make sure that you are constantly learning and not stagnating. Push yourself out of your comfort zone occasionally.

Do you consider yourself to be creative? What are some ways you bring your creativity into your workouts?


Finiding Inspiration (For Fitness Instructors)

Hey guys! Hope you have been having a great week! I just got back from vacation (re-cap posts to follow). I wanted to write a little about finding inspiration and staying motivated.

As a group fitness instructor I am constantly looking for inspiration to keep my classes fresh and interesting. Same goes for my regular workouts. I am the type of person who easily falls into patterns so if I don’t consciously try to switch things up I get stuck doing the same routine over and over again.

Finding what inspires you is a process and what inspires one person may not necessarily inspire another person. Additionally, just finding the inspiration is not enough! It takes thought and effort to convert the inspiration into tangible action.

Here are some ways I find inspiration and how I put it into action:

1. Vacation- For some reason, taking a vacation always gets my creative juices flowing. Whether I am working out on different equipment or taking a class I wouldn’t normally take, I always come back from vacation refreshed and ready to share new ideas. This past vacation I took classes from a yoga instructor who was really into cuing breath. I can’t wait to focus on breathing this week with my clients!

2. Continuing Education- Never stop learning. I am always inspired by the knowledge and ideas I receive from passionate teachers. Anytime I feel like I am falling into a rut, I take a continuing education class. Even if the subject is (and sometimes especially because it is) completely unrelated to Pilates, I always find ways to relate what I learned back to my classes and even find ways to use the information to mix up my own workouts.

3. Go Back to Basics- During my training for my personal training certification I learned that there are three main ways to change an exercise- weight, tempo and range of motion. Whenever I feel like I am stuck in a rut I go back to the basics to find ways to change up my routine. Even something as simple as counting in a different way can make a huge difference.

4. Motivational/Informational articles, podcasts and videos- The internet provides a wealth of free information. Instead of browsing pictures of cats, check out some videos or podcasts with a positive message. You can also search for videos or articles on a particular subject that you are interested in. Some of my favorites are: Everyday is Saturday, Muscle Science and Application, Jillian Michaels’s Podcast

5. Taking Fitness Classes from Others- You can learn new things from every instructor, even the bad ones. Taking lots of classes and finding what you like or don’t like. Finding new exercises, new ways of doing an exercise or new ways of explaining and cuing exercises can be a great way to refresh and find inspiration. Feel free to “steal” other instructors information and make it your own!

6. Themes- No, I’m not talking Disco, Disney or Halloween, The themes I am talking about are more fitness related. I have done themes like focusing on flow, breathing or unilateral movement. For me, identifying a theme, gives my creativity a structure in which to flow. It helps me think of the exercises in a new way and helps me structure a  well designed plan.

As you can see from my examples, I get a lot of inspiration from gaining knowledge. For me expanding my mind helps me feel more inspired and creative. This may or may not work for you but feel free to explore these ideas as you try to find your own inspiration.

Although many of these Ideas are targeted to other fitness instructors you can apply them to other areas where you may need inspiration as well.

What inspires you?




Why Pilates is my First Love

I have to be honest with you all, I sometimes feel like a traitor. I am a Pilates instructor and when Clients notice the changes I have made in my body one of the most common questions I get is “So do you only do Pilates to get those results?” The truth is I almost never do a strictly Pilates workout. What I really do when I work out is a small amount of cardio combined with weight training.

But that doesn’t mean I have thrown Pilates to the wayside or that I don’t practice what I preach. In fact, Pilates methodology is the foundation for all of my workouts and I think anyone could benefit from learning some Pilates techniques. Pilates methodology teaches a way of movement that focuses on your core. It’s about moving your body in a mindful way, targeting specific parts of the body without creating compensations. Its all about using control and mindfulness to get the most out of every exercise, while at the same time strengthening and protecting your spine.


The problem is that many people look at exercise that they are not familiar with, with prejudice. Bodybuilders often look down on Pilates as exercise that is not going to change your body and Pilates enthusiasts think bodybuilding involves bulking up to look like a man. I want to share 6 key principle of Pilates that I feel could help change the way you work out.

1. Pelvic Floor: A large focus in Pilates is on the pelvic floor muscles. Your pelvic floor is deeply connected to your core and by engaging your pelvic floor you help support your internal organs and create a stronger base for all of your exercises. Try kegeling during the exertion phase of your exercise, or for a more subtle engagement, think about drawing your sits bones together to sit up taller.

2. Shoulder Girdle: One of the critical connections in Pilates is between your ribcage and scapula. The goal is for your scapula to float smoothly on your back without winging or pulling up. You can see this principle when someone does a plank and lets their shoulder blades cave together, allowing their chest to drop. Don’t be that person! The connective tissue supporting your shoulders is delicate so it is important to strengthen and stabilize your shoulder girdle, this means not letting your shoulders pop up when releasing a lat pull down and not letting shoulder blades wing during push-ups.

3. Neutral Pelvis- Try arching your back, then tuck your tailbone, then find a comfortable balance between those two positions. That is neutral pelvis. Many people compensate with their lower back by arching their back or tucking their tailbone when really they should be engaging their glutes. If you find yourself with a sore back after squats, deadlifts or other glute exercises, you need to work on maintaining neutral pelvis and strengthening your core. Try finding that neutral position and then pull your abs in tight to lock that position in place before you start an exercise.

4. Heel-Glute Connect- This is so important for bikini competitors. Like I said in my last point, a lot of people compensate with their lower back when they should be using their glutes. The heel-glute connection helps you focus on targeting glutes. In any exercise you are trying to focus on glutes, try to press through your heel. This will automatically help you recruit more of your glute muscles.

5. Golden Triangle- Inner thighs, sits bones and lower abs make up the golden triangle. Any time you want to engage your core more deeply think about drawing inner thighs, and sits bones together while pulling your belly button back to your spine. This guarantees a greater engagement in your core, which will also help stabilize and protect your spine.

6. Belly Button to spine- Have you seen weigh lifters with bugling bellies? Chances are they have a diastasis. This usually occurs because people tend to let their abs pop out when they are lifting heavy weights. Try doing the opposite, envision pulling your bellybutton back to your spine when you are exerting effort. This will help you engage your transverse abdominal and help you create a smaller waist.

Pilates has meant so much to me in my fitness journey. It truly is a great foundation for any type of exercise. These are just a few principles that have helped me but there are many more. If you haven’t tried pilates yet. Give it a try. You might learn something.

Have you tried Pilates? What did you think?

On Goals and Dreams

I just joined a new gym. Its called Lifetime Fitness and it is HUGE! Lifetime is a chain of gyms that tries to encourage members to live healthy in all aspects of their lives. As such it has a built in cafe, spa, pool, rock climbing area, not to mention a ton of innovative equipment. While I love the concept, Lifetime is a lot more expensive than other gyms I have belonged to in the past. Not just the dues– but the cafe. It makes you feel like you are shopping at Disney World– “Really, $4 for a bottle of water?” Besides that I really love it.

I feel so much more motivated at this gym. I’ve actually switched up my routine which was getting stale since I had basically been doing the same thing for the past year and a half. Here’s some changes I made:

1. Started using the heavy machines in the weight section– i.e. the smith machine, the super squat, barbell chest press etc.

2. Increased resistance– I had been lifting 10 lbs. for shoulder/bicep/tricep dumbbell exercises, now I am up to 15lbs.

3. Increased variety– so many new machines and pieces of equipment I can’t wait to try them all. I got to use the TRX again and love the ab coaster for pikes and plank exercises.

When I was doing my personal training certification, they taught us that there were a few ways to change up the same exercise: change the weight, change the direction, change the timing and change the stability. I have been underusing these variations but now I am trying to switch it up each time I work out to challenge my muscles in different ways.

New beginnings are always fun and that brings me to my next topic– why I wanted to start at this new gym. Since I had Cyrus, I have been trying to workout at home daily. I bought workout DVDs, equipment and I have my elliptical for cardio. However, its been 7 months and I really find myself getting bored with the same routine and I find it much more motivating to be surrounded by others. I knew that in order to take my fitness to the next level I needed to get back to the gym.

Its also about following my personal dreams. I always knew I wanted to do something big with my life but I was always unsure about how to get there. After doing a lot of soul searching I really think that fitness is the path I want to take. I want to help others learn how to get fit, feel better and love the way that they look. Jillian Michaels, Tracy Anderson, Jackie Warner, Tracy Mallett and other fitness “stars” are my role models. That is what I want to do.

I have been thinking for a while about how I can achieve that and I decided to take baby steps. The first step I took was educating myself– I’ve bought, read and watched countless fitness books, dvds and webinars. This is one step that is a constant process as one should never stop learning. The next step I took was starting this blog. Ultimately I hope that it is a way for me to reach other people to teach and learn from them. Now I have joined a gym and am looking to start teaching Pilates classes there. I can’t wait! My audition is next Tuesday and I am SUPER nervous. I really want to impress them. I’m no where near my goal, but at least I am taking steps in the right direction.

Do you have a goal? What are you doing to work toward it.

Be the best instructor

I had a good day yesterday. Tuesdays are one of the days that I teach at the Pilates studio, and I have been working really hard to improve my teaching ability and sequencing. I think its paying off for two reasons: confidence in myself and class attendance. Trying to get better at teaching fitness classes has been a real journey for me. When I first started teaching college I had no clue. To this day, I walk around hoping not to run into the individuals unlucky enough to attend some of my first classes.

Teaching also involves a lot of skills, some of which don’t come naturally to me. Like public speaking ( I was shaking when I had to give my graduation speech in 6th grade and again in 12th grade), being a DJ (not everyone likes house music), and being motivational (I always feel silly when I say things like “Slice that cellulite off”).

I really wish there was a book or some kind of training out there that walked you through the skills to be a fitness instructor beyond the exercises. After 5 years of teaching classes on and off here is my advice for new instructors on how to teach great classes:

1.Consider your audience. I have some classes that I teach where the clients just want a hard workout or want to tone a specific body part and some classes where the clients are more interested in the therapeutic and health benefits. I got great advice from the personal training director I worked with at Bally’s: “The worst exercise to do is one that your clients hate the most.” Think about it, would you come back to a class if you hate the exercises. If a client lets you know that they like a certain exercise, take note and do it again.

2. Take a lot of classes. You can always learn something new. Take other instructors classes to see things from your clients perspective. Ask yourself what you like and what you didn’t like. For example, I like when instructors are a little funny or silly, I like when the class has a quick pace, I like to be challenged but there are certain exercises I don’t like and don’t think are effective. It’s also a good idea to take different style classes too. For example, if you are a Pilates instructor, take a cross fit class. You’ll gain new exercises, new ideas and be able to incorporate your favorite aspects of all training programs.

3. Ask your clients what they want. Sometimes I flat out ask my clients, “Does anyone have any requests for exercises or body parts to focus on?” This gives you key insight to why your clients are coming to your class and what their goals are. That’s valuable info! When you give people what they want, they keep coming back for more.

4. Music. This is one area that I am still trying to work on. Have you ever been to an exercise class where all you could think of is, “Gosh, I wish this song would end already, my ears are bleeding.” A good fitness instructor knows how to cater to a large audience and doesn’t get pigeon holed in one style. This is another area where you want to consider your clientele’s demographics, And while there is a reason “top 40” is so popular, people get bored of hearing the same songs on the radio and in class.

5. Flow. I can’t tell you how much improving my flow, improved my teaching abilities (no I’m not talking about my monthly visitor). I’m talking about having things set up and planned out. Clients are there to work out, not to set up equipment. When you can transition from one exercise to the next without making the client do the prep work, you streamline your classes and give your clients a better workout with fewer unnecessary pauses.

6. KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. No need to fill your class with “creative” new exercises that no one has ever done before. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds content. Filling your routines with effective, time tested exercises is best. After all, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Most people are resistant to change anyway. A great way to mix up old exercises is by altering timing, throw in  isometrics, increase/decrease resistance, combine exercises to work the whole body simultaneously (ex. add squats to a bicep curl). Of course there is value to novel exercises too, but use them sparingly. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time you teach a class.

7. Touch. Don’t be afraid to correct clients. Touch is especially effective. Hey, I’m not telling you to risk a sexual harassment suit, but humans crave touch. When you give client’s that one on one attention, they feel more connected to you and more confident in your teaching abilities. A good rule of thumb is to check in with each client at least 5 times per hour long class. This could be as simple as saying, “great job,” or correcting their form. When I was pregnant I went to a specific yoga teacher that would always guide her clients by touch at least once per class. My favorite pilates instructor always ended class with a neck rub.

These are my tips, but admittedly I am still learning. If you have any advice or comments for me, please leave a  comment!

In mommy news, last night I set Cyrus on my bed as I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed. I returned to see his little head poking out above the mounds of blankets and pillows. As I walked closer I realized that he was sitting up for the first time! He gave me the biggest grin and I dashed to get my camera. Right as I was about to capture the precious moment on film, he toppled over. I couldn’t be more proud, albeit, a little disappointed to not have gotten a picture.

That’s all for now.


Fit Val