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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Rachel Pfeiffer

Recent Posts by Rachel Pfeiffer:

NIFS June Group Fitness Class of the Month: Mat Pilates

mat-pilates-2.jpgWhen it comes to working out, I have always been the “faster, harder, stronger, better” type. If I’m not going to sweat and feel like I’ve accomplished something, what’s the use? As such, I never put much stock in mind/body classes. What could that type of exercise possibly offer that I wasn’t getting through my intense cardio and/or strength training sessions?

Fellow cardio lovers, weightlifters, and HIIT people, does this sound like you? If so, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered Pilates to be one of the most challenging workouts—physically and mentally—that I have ever done. Adding it to my weekly regimen has pushed my limits, helped me break through plateaus, changed my body composition, and ultimately made me “harder, faster, stronger, better.”

How does Pilates do this, you ask? The short answer: by building a strong core, creating overall muscle strength and balance in the torso and limbs, and improving posture. Please allow me to elaborate.

A Little Background

Joseph Pilates, a performer and boxer who, through years of self-study and practice, developed a method of exercise that would not only prove to last, but gain immense popularity, developed Pilates in the 1920s. The original exercises of Pilates in their purest forms were performed slowly in either the seated or lying position. They were carefully designed to train the body to be conscious of movement control, and thus move more efficiently. Joseph’s wife, Clara, learned her husband’s techniques and developed modifications to train those with injuries. Springs and pulleys were incorporated with the exercises to add resistance, and many could even be adapted to benefit bedridden clients.

Mr. Pilates died having never trademarked his method. His pupils went on to train numerous others, maintaining many of the original concepts but adding their own personal styles. Thus, since its creation nearly 100 years ago, many schools of practice have emerged. In 2000, a federal judge declared “Pilates” to be a generic term. As such, it is impossible to know exactly what to expect from a class simply titled “Mat Pilates.”

The Constant: The Core

Despite the plethora of styles, this remains constant: while the core remains at the “core” of the exercise, Pilates evenly conditions the entire body, thereby creating muscle balance and improving posture. No one muscle group is overtrained or undertrained. While the core musculature is the focus, the extremities are utilized to add load to the core, and thus the entire body reaps the benefits.

Take one of the basic exercises, the Plank. Think of all the muscles that must fire to correctly hold, simply hold, a high plank: rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis, glutes, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezii, paraspinals, BUT ALSO deltoids, triceps, hip flexors, quadriceps, anterior tibialis, and more. Then add a movement such as a pushup or a leg extension, and engage even more muscles.

The plank is just one example; all of the exercises and progressions performed in a Pilates class work multiple muscle groups in a very controlled manner, so as to promote muscle and movement awareness and fine-tune strength. Pilates is intense, but low-impact. It is challenging, but modifiable. It will push your limits, but it is sustainable. And it is extremely effective. When performed correctly, it will create an evenly conditioned body, improve sports performance (your golf swing will be considerably more impressive when it’s backed by a strong core and balanced muscles), and prevent injuries.

What Can I Expect in a Mat Pilates Class at NIFS?

mat-4.jpgSo the ultimate question is, what specifically can you expect when you walk into the NIFS Group Fitness Studio shortly before 5pm on Wednesdays? You can expect a low-impact entire-body workout that flows nonstop for 50 minutes to upbeat, current, familiar music. You can expect careful instruction on form. You can expect an occasional self-assessment on strength and flexibility. And, even though this is not a cardio class, you can expect to sweat! Mats will always be used, and often you will be instructed to grab a small piece of equipment (small weighted balls, light dumbbells, springloaded rings, small towels, and exercise bands are commonly used). Shoes are optional. Let the instructor know if you have any injuries.

As the music comes on (which, did I mention, is always familiar with a driving beat and all original artists?), realize that the next 50 minutes is all yours. It’s yours to discover how strong you are, and build on that strength. It’s yours to get lost in the flow of the moves, or the flow of the music. It’s yours to take breaks or stretch when you need and to modify the moves as necessary or desired. It’s yours to build joint stability, improve your balance, and become more flexible.

Pilates has something to offer everyone, from the beginner to the elite athlete. So grab a towel and your water, and I’ll see you at 5pm on Wednesdays!

To access the full group fitness schedule at NIFS, click here. Not a member? No problem! Click here to get a free class pass and try Mat Pilates or any group fitness class on us!

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This blog was written by Rachel Pfeiffer, ACE and AFAA certified Group Fitness Instructor and Board Certified Neurologist. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here. Photos by John Bragg.

Topics: group fitness workouts group training balance core stretching Pila

Step: Welcome to a New LEVEL of Fitness!

Whether you are 18 or 80, man or woman, looking to lose weight or simply maintain, step aerobics just might be the perfect addition to your fitness program! Have you ever considered taking a step class? Perhaps you have found yourself thinking, “I’m not coordinated enough,” or “Step is too intense for me (or not intense enough”). Well, give me two minutes to change your mind.

Step Burns CaloriesStep-web.jpg

The bottom line is, stepping up and down off a raised platform burns calories. In fact, it burns A LOT of calories. According to Self Magazine (July 2012, page 101), stepping up and down off a raised platform burns more calories than doing jumping jacks, split lunges, power squats, or speed skating for the same length of time. Great way to lose weight? YES! Great way to maintain weight? YOU BET!

Anyone Can Do Step

Maybe you are thinking that you lack the coordination required to do step. But the reality of it is, if you can march in place, you can do step. The basic step is just that: basic. Up, up, down, down. Of course that move would get pretty boring pretty quickly, so we add music, rhythm, and variations on that basic move. While it helps to have a little rhythm (can you clap your hands to the beat of a song?), anyone can step. It may take a few classes to really get the hang of it, but it is quite do-able, and FUN! Don’t be intimidated!

There is a first time for everything. At some point, every single person in the class, including the instructor, attended their very first step class. I am not gonna lie, you probably won’t pick up every single thing the first class you take. But let’s face it: What would be the fun of mastering it in the first hour? Half the fun is seeing yourself improve on the step, seeing your cardiovascular fitness level improve, and becoming more efficient overall (doing more work with less effort). Step will get you there!

You Can Adjust the Intensity LevelStepIS

You may be thinking that step would be too hard or too intense for you. While step is designed to be a challenging cardio workout, the intensity level can be adjusted in a number of ways to meet the needs of each participant. The height of the platform is not uniform; with use of individual risers at each end, the platform can be set as low as just a few inches off the floor (or as high as 8 to 12 inches).

Another easy adjustment, which your instructor will show you, is to limit your range of movement with each step. As you become more comfortable with the format, you will be able to add intensity by increasing range of motion with the steps, and by adding arm movements to further increase your heart rate. Because of this, the challenge never ends. There is no plateau.

Step Can Be a Challenging Cardio Workout

On the flip side, maybe you are thinking step is not intense enough. Perhaps you are thinking that only girls take step, or that you are too fit to benefit from it. Regardless of your fitness level, step can be a very challenging cardiovascular workout. It is a well-known fact that the U.S. military utilizes step aerobics to improve our troops’ agility, coordination, and endurance. If it’s tough enough for our soldiers, then it’s tough enough for me! In addition to step, I also teach Insanity, total body conditioning, and kickboxing classes. Step meets or exceeds these other formats in intensity level and calories burned per hour.

Step Is Great for Group Fitness

Step is the perfect group fitness exercise because it accommodates all fitness levels. And if you haven’t tried group fitness, well that’s a whole other conversation. But in short, try it! The camaraderie and accountability among the participants, the music, and the FUN factor will have
you hooked!

So, are you ready to take your fitness regimen to the next STEP? Click her for a free class pass to NIFS!

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This blog was written by Rachel Pfeiffer, ACE and AFAA Certified Group Fitness Instructor Insanity Certified Instructor; Proud NIFS Step Instructor since 1999

Topics: NIFS cardio fitness center weight loss group fitness workouts step