Why Bigger Classes are Not Always Better

Group exercise classes are an extremely popular method of exercising in our society. Fitness seekers enjoy the energy, music, and camaraderie of a group setting. Many people prefer this type of workout rather than working out alone. There seems to be a class for every population and every fitness level.  Due to this group class craze, there is now a range of individual studios that focus only on one specific group exercise, such as spin, yoga, boot camps, Pilates, Zumba, or running. While there can be benefits to group exercise classes, they often negatively impact your progress and prohibit you from reaching your goals.

Each one of us if different. We all have different bodies, comprised of different muscle fibers, strengths, cardiovascular conditioning, injuries, pains, flexibility, balance, lifestyles, and stresses.  So, how can one exercise class be right for everyone? One important goal of exercise is to make sure that you are making individual improvements in strength and weight loss, and to ensure you are performing the exercises correctly for your body type to prevent injuries.

One of the potential problems with large group exercise classes is the teacher to client ratio. It is impossible for an instructor to adequately spot and correct the form of everyone in the class throughout the entire session. Therefore, exercisers may be putting too much strain on certain joints, may not be activating the correct muscles, and may be hurting or straining their backs. This can lead to orthopedic issues, which include muscle tears, muscle strains, and disc problems. Secondly, the activity level of the class may vary. Therefore, some people may be working out too hard while others are not getting the correct amount of stimulation. Because of the class size, it is unlikely teachers will offer modifications to make sure each person is exercising at the correct intensity.  Next, because of the group dynamic, exercisers may be pushed harder than they are capable of working in order to keep up with the group and to be a part of the crowd.   This can be very dangerous if your body is not physically able to perform the class.

Further, the recent surge of group exercise classes has been associated with an increase in rhabdomyolysis, which is a condition that is caused by extreme exercise and could be potentially life threatening. While some muscle damage is normal and beneficial for muscle growth, rhabdomyolysis occurs when the stress is so great that fibers are destroyed and break apart to release myoglobin, which is harmful to the liver. According to the American Journal of Medicine, doctors have been finding that some people, especially beginners, have developed rhabdomyolysis after taking a high intensity spin class. This condition does not only affect spinners; in fact, doctors found it associated with any type of excessive weight training, running, P90X, and CrossFit Classes. It is important to note that not all the people who developed rhabdomyolysis were unfit; they were pushed too hard and then developed muscle trauma. It is extremely important to give muscles adequate time to adjust to new exercises. When you start any kind of new exercise program, try a less intense version to start. Work your way up gradually and know your limits! Do not ignore signs of injury and make sure to rest!

Working out in a group can be very motivating and empowering. This dynamic is the reason that many people go to the gym.  A room filled with loud music and enthusiastic peers can be more uplifting than sitting on a stationary bike by yourself. If you are group class advocate, it is important to know your limits and to abide by them. Wear a heart rate monitor and perform a self-check to see how you feel during the class. Additionally, it would be extremely beneficial to schedule an individual session with a personal trainer to make sure your form and positioning is correct so you can self-adjust during exercise classes.  A trainer can also help you come up with modifications unique to your body type and limitations. Another option is semi-private training or small group classes where the teacher can be more hands-on and helpful.

Make sure that you get the biggest bang for your buck from your fitness routine.  Exercise is extremely beneficial both mentally and physically. That is why it is so important to make sure that you are maximizing your time and effort.  Large group exercise classes are not tailored to individual needs. This may cause injuries and also prevent some people from reaching their full potential and optimizing their health. Please be an educated consumer and work out to your full potential!

 

by Denise Groothuis

Gina

My Fight to Be Fit

Anyone who has ever been overweight knows just how hard of a process it actually is. Every single day is a struggle. Like many others, those struggles began for me as a child. I played sports and was fairly active during the summer but not all year round. As a result, my weight reached 180lbs by the time I entered high school. High school can be rough on any kid…but when you struggle with weight it’s that much worse. By senior year, I developed significant problems with my eating. I didn’t know that I had a “real” problem because I was never underweight and I was never formally diagnosed with any type of eating disorder. I’d go from eating one meal a day to, at my worst, one piece of candy or cracker per day. I made myself sick, which ultimately got me to eat again but not nearly enough. As the years have gone on, I’ve come to realize I suffered from what is known as Atypical Anorexia. That disorder continued to plague throughout college and ultimately ended with my spending upwards of 2 hours a day in the gym, barely eating, and drinking (heavily) every weekend. I got down to 130lbs and while I looked great…I didn’t feel it. Looking back on it, I had worked really hard in the gym but done nothing about my diet…or my mental state.

What many people in the fitness industry don’t truly understand is how much of this process is actually mental. You could do all of the right exercises and have the best diet…but if your head isn’t in the game…you won’t be either and that will almost ALWAYS catch up with you. It did for me.

Over the course of my entire life, I probably did almost every fad diet there was. At the time where I was living at the gym, I was also on the South Beach Diet. Like most other fads, once I stopped living in the gym and doing that diet, I gained a lot of the weight back. Over the course of the next 5 years, between health issues, medication and a lack of exercise, my weight climbed to an all-time high of 210lbs. I was miserable and completely clueless as to how I could change it. I needed help but I didn’t know where to turn. Enter the Biggest Loser and Jillian Michaels. The show has gotten a lot of criticism over the last few years for people gaining the weight back. Anyone who drops a crazy amount of weight without changing their mindset and, subsequently, their lifestyle, will fail. That’s just a given. Those who used the show as a method to change their life have stuck with it and their results have lasted. Those who used the show as a game and a chance to win money and fame…have not succeeded. It’s not easy. You have to work at this every single day. But that show, that woman…completely changed my life. If it wasn’t for the one night I turned on that show…I may not be where I am today. I began going to the gym the very next day and I never looked back. To date, I’ve lost and kept off about 80lbs & gone from squeezing into a size 14 to comfortably wearing a size 2/4.

It hasn’t all been roses & sunshine. I didn’t know much when I started. It took me a long time to lose weight and figure out what worked for my body. I began, like many others, by doing a ton of cardio. Slowly, with the help of online videos and Jillian DVDs, I began to incorporate weights into my routine. Without the proper guidance though, I ended up overtraining and doing many exercises incorrectly. This gave way to a serious shoulder injury, which landed me in surgery last October. I became a trainer and nutritionist so I could help others see that they weren’t alone in this fight and give them the guidance that I never had.

Since starting at The Arena, I’ve gone from a personal trainer to a professional. I will still argue that while you may lose some muscle, fasted cardio is the key to my fat loss. After all, every person’s body is different. However, I’m learning more and more everyday just how bad some of the most common exercises are and how they’ve created pain & made my pre-existing injuries that much worse.

Despite negative feedback and research, the Biggest Loser is the reason I got off the couch and did something about my weight. Was it the best, most credible source? Maybe not but it sure was the driving force behind my motivation and what kept me going every single day. I watched season 14 and I connected with the cast and trainers. I used Jillian’s voice as my motivation…and I made a change because of it. I may not have known the proper form or done the safest exercises but I got off my butt and got to the gym. I toned down the partying and eating out. I made small changes and learned how to implement a healthier lifestyle. I did the best that I could with the limited resources available to me. I also did it the smart way – making sure to not restrict myself or start some crazy exercise regimen. I made it work for ME…and it’s stuck 4 ½ years later. Along the way I’ve learned how to exercise safer and what proper form actually is. I’ve learned that I don’t need a TON of cardio to shed fat…but that for my terrible metabolism, I definitely need some. Most importantly, I found balance. Something I strived for my entire life. Now I want to help others do the same.

By: Gina Stallone

Gina holds weekly bootcamp classes every Tuesday & Thursday and is available for small group & individual training. Contact gina@thearena.fit for more information.

See Gina’s videos and articles here: Fight to Be Fit

See Gina’s interview with THE ARENA’s CEO Charles DeFrancesco

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Why Functional Medicine?

Have you ever gone to the doctor with a laundry list of symptoms and he/she is unable to diagnose your ailment or offer solutions? Or have you tried multiple prescriptions and therapies for symptoms that you can’t seem to alleviate? That is because conventional medicine treats the disease state instead of the individual person. Conventional medicine does not treat the causes of the disease; instead, its purpose is to diagnose and to treat the signs and symptoms of a disease state AFTER a patient’s symptoms have progressed. This is just a band aid and ultimately does not restore health or promote wellness.

The purpose of functional medicine is to identify and to alleviate the causes of disease while seeking to determine how and why the illness progressed. With proper treatment, most chronic disease is preventable and curable since chronic disease is a result of dysfunction in our bodies. This dysfunction is caused by genetics, lifestyle choices, and the environment.  Since each person is different, the root causes of disease may vary from person to person. Both the environment and genetics influence the body’s physiological symptoms, and they must be investigated to correct clinical imbalances. Functional medicine relies on research from nutritional science, genomics and epigenics to create personalized, individual treatment plans. Patients and practitioners work together to alleviate and to reverse the causes of disease at the cellular level.  Instead of treating disease states with medications and surgery, functional medicine focuses on lifestyle and environmental changes including diet, nutrition, exercise, stress, and psychosocial issues. It combines western medical practice with alternative therapies such as supplements, herbs, detoxification programs, therapeutic diets, and stress management techniques.

Many patients who visit functional medicine practitioners find that after years of unsuccessful treatments, they now feel dramatically better. My personal story is a great example of why I advocate for functional medicine practitioners. In my mid-twenties, I developed symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and every night I was plagued by terrible stomach pains and bowel issues. For ten years I sought treatment from GI doctors, who could only offer me my diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. They said there was no treatment, and while some doctors did recommend some different food choices,  I could not correct my problems. I thought I was doomed!

In my thirties, a friend recommended that I see a functional medicine practitioner, and my choice to follow that path has been life changing. The first thing my functional medicine doctor said to me was, “We know that your bowel is irritable, but why is it irritable?” After a detoxification diet, a heavy dose of probiotics, and some herbal supplements to heal the inflammation in my gut and to improve my gut flora, I ceased having irritable bowel symptoms. After some trial and error, we discovered my personal dysfunction and how to treat my individual issues. I still have to be careful with what I eat and I had to learn my triggers, but I was able to heal.

My goal is for anyone plagued by symptoms they can’t alleviate to seek treatment other than conventional medicine. This is not a boycott of regular medical checkups or therapies. Conventional medicine has its place, especially in advanced disease states. However, sometimes a combination of conventional medicine and functional medicine is the correct path to follow for optimal health and wellness. Research has shown that conventional medicine needs to catch up with the current studies.

Fit to be Fit

Lower Body Workout – Circuit Style

Circuit training is a GREAT way to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time. Be sure to take your time and drink plenty of water as you do this workout!

Cutting calories on white background

Not All Calories Are Equal

From a young age we are taught that the key to maintaining weight is to burn off as many calories as we ingest. We also have learned that weight loss occurs when we consume less calories than we expend, and that we gain weight when we eat more than we burn off. However, research over the past decade has shown us that this formula may not be quite as simple as it seems.

A calorie is actually a measurement of heat energy. Specifically, it is the amount of energy  that is needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.  This heat energy is what gives our body fuel.  Our calories come from the protein, fat and carbohydrates that we eat. Protein and carbohydrates have 4 kcal/g, fat has 9 kcal/g, and alcohol has 7 kcal/g.

Current research shows us that the source of our calories is extremely important, and that different food groups affect our weight status differently. It is a myth that a calorie is just a calorie. While all calories do have the same amount of energy – 4184 Joules of energy – our body reacts to the sources of calories differently. This is because we digest and absorb various types of food differently. Those foods go through diverse biochemical pathways and affect hormones in the body, which may also affect satiety and hunger.

As stated above, different foods are digested and go through different metabolic pathways, some of which are more efficient than others.  Protein requires a lot more energy to metabolize than fats or carbohydrates. When protein is ingested, it requires more energy to digest and absorb, which uses more energy.  Therefore, the calories ingested from protein are less fattening than carbohydrate or fat calories.

Another benefit to protein is that it increases satiety more than the other macronutrients. Appetite is reduced and less food and calories are consumed, which may lead to weight loss. This just demonstrates that the type of food that you eat is extremely important, and that all calories are NOT the same.

Further, people who eat whole foods rather than processed foods tend to eat less and have less issues with obesity. Whole foods require more energy to break down and digest than processed foods. This is because many processed foods contain refined carbohydrates, which are low in fiber, low in nutrients, and usually have a high glycemic index. Foods with a high glycemic index are digested quickly and rapidly spike blood sugar levels. This causes food cravings and increased hunger and food intake.

Additionally, foods high in fiber are less likely to cause weight gain. This is because more energy is needed to breakdown the food, and much of the fiber is not absorbed into the body but rather is excreted as waste. Therefore, the body is not necessarily getting the amount of calories listed on the label.

The take home message is not to worry about counting your calories to lose weight. The food choices that you make are much more important for both your health and for your weight. Different food sources affect energy expenditure, hormones, and hunger, which all affect satiety and weight gain. Think about what you are eating rather than how many calories you are eating and look at your food a little differently. If you change your perspective, you will ultimately reach your goals and get healthy!

 

By Denise Groothuis

mens health

Breaking the Silence on Men’s Health

It’s important for everyone to take responsibility for their own health. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, especially among men. Research shows that women are 100% more likely to visit the doctor for annual examinations and preventive services than men. June is National Men’s Health month, in which we heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection & treatment of disease among men and boys.

There is a silent health crisis in America. On average, American men live sicker and die younger than American women. The health of men in America is steadily deteriorating, largely due to poor health education, lack of awareness, and culturally induced behavior patterns. This has caused a silent health crisis, whereby men face higher mortality rates than women for 9 of the 10 leading causes of death, in addition to a shorter life span. Today men, on average, die almost five years earlier than women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Men are dying at significantly higher rates than women for the top 10 causes of death. This crisis in men’s health has very little to do with physiology. It has to do with the tendency of men to not seek care for their health issues. No matter the age, men have issues with things that don’t have every day symptoms, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Studies show that an alarming 13 million men have diabetes, while 450,000 die each year from heart disease! While genetics certainly play a role in getting both, so does lifestyle. The same cardio-metabolic risk factors that lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions are just as prevalent in men as in women. However, if more men sought diagnosis and treatment for those risks, their chances of controlling or eliminating those conditions would increase dramatically. High blood pressure has been referred to as “the silent killer” because people are often unaware that they have an issue. Have your blood pressure and your cholesterol checked often by your doctor, and closely follow any prescribed treatment they provide. In addition, you should exercise and eat right. By exercising moderately for about 30 minutes per day and eating a well-balanced diet with limited cholesterol and no saturated fats, you will be off to a good start. Always be sure to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day, and limit your alcohol consumption as well.

Along with heart disease, cancer is among the top two leading causes of death among men, with prostate cancer being one of the most prevalent. The prostate gland is prone to three main conditions — 1). inflammation that can cause burning or painful urination, the urgent need to urinate, trouble urinating and other symptoms;  2). benign enlargement that can compress the urethra and slow or stop the flow of urine, a condition that affects about ¾ of men over 60; and 3).  prostate cancer, affecting about 1 in 7 men during their lifetime. As men approach their 40s, familiarity with the prostate gland becomes important. The prostate gland is a walnut sized male accessory sex gland that rests in front of the bladder. It usually enlarges with age and can constrict the urinary tube, thereby causing trouble with urination. Symptoms can include: diminished urinary stream, excessive nighttime urination, increased frequency and urgency.

 

by Gina Stallone

Fit to Be Fit

HIIT It Up

High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, workouts are a phenomenon sweeping the nation. What is it, and is it safe? Read on!

HIIT is a cardio session that consists of short, high intensity bursts. HIIT can be an incredibly effective way to work out to see the body composition and fitness results that you want, but you need to do it right. Numerous studies have shown that working your hardest is key when it comes to boosting endurance, increasing metabolism, regulating insulin levels, and losing body fat. HIIT routines that involve bodyweight work (e.g. push-ups) or added weight, such as kettlebells, medicine balls, or dumbbells, will tone your muscles while spiking your heart rate. All types of exercise will ultimately help you burn fat by burning calories, but the more intense the exercise, the more fat you will burn. As a result, it is a very effective way of helping people get the “shredded” look.

A true HIIT workout will involve pushing yourself to the max during each set, which should never exceed 90 seconds. These workouts are typically quick and convenient since they are such high intensity; they usually are 30 minutes or less. They can also be done virtually anywhere, with little to no equipment. The only stipulation is that you should rest in between sets. This may not be the first thing that comes to mind with such an intense workout, however, it is imperative. Recovery is essential so that the body works to adapt from the anaerobic (high-intensity) period to the low-intensity recovery period in HIIT. This workload results in high caloric expenditure, which can lead to fat loss.

That fat loss also comes from an increase in metabolism, which is a benefit to any high intensity workout. Research shows that this is due to an increase in post-exercise exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. EPOC speeds up your metabolic rate and can result in a metabolic boost for up to 48 hours after a complete HIIT routine! The high intensity cardio raises your metabolic rate to the point where you continue to burn calories even after the session ends—in some cases 15% more.

If weight loss is your ultimate goal, the old saying that you can’t out-train a bad diet is true…even if your workouts are super demanding. HIIT isn’t an excuse to neglect your diet, so keep it clean! By incorporating HIIT training into your exercise regimen and keep your diet in check, you’ll start to see some amazing results!

We’ve put together a safe but killer HIIT workout for you to try. Give it a shot & let us know what you think! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G43UTJoa6gw&t=2s

 

by Gina Stallone

Celiac Disease

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac Disease is a serious autoimmune disorder in which the body cannot process gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, & barley. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage of the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, which promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body. Eventually, this can lead to malnourishment, as well as to the loss of bone density, miscarriages, infertility – and even to the beginning of neurological diseases or certain cancers.

Celiac disease isn’t the same thing as a food allergy, so the symptoms will differ. If you’re allergic to wheat, you may have itchy, watery eyes or a hard time breathing if you eat something that has wheat in it. However, if you have celiac disease and accidentally eat something with gluten in it, you may have intestinal problems (like diarrhea, gas, constipation) or any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Anemia
  • Itchy, blistery rash
  • Loss of bone density
  • Headaches or general fatigue
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn

This disorder occurs most commonly with a genetic predisposition. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, or sibling) have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease. Most people with celiac disease never know they have it. It’s estimated that 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for serious health complications. The damage to the intestine is very slow and symptoms are so varied, that it can be years before someone gets a diagnosis. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to the following conditions:

  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Early onset osteoporosis or osteopenia
  • Infertility and miscarriage
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Central and peripheral nervous system disorders
  • Pancreatic insufficiency
  • Intestinal lymphomas and other GI cancers (malignancies)
  • Gall bladder malfunction

 

Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet. Many people opt to eat gluten-free diets but for those with celiac disease, it’s a must. Those living gluten-free must avoid foods with wheat, rye and barley, such as bread and beer. Ingesting small amounts of gluten, like crumbs from a cutting board or toaster, can trigger small intestine damage.

Some people have a gluten sensitivity but not full blown celiac disease. People with non-celiac wheat sensitivity experience symptoms similar to those of celiac disease, which resolve when gluten is removed from the diet. However, they do not test positive for celiac disease. Some people experience symptoms the same symptoms found in celiac disease, such as “foggy mind”, depression, ADHD-like behavior, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue when they have gluten in their diet. The terms non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS) are generally used to refer to this condition, when removing gluten from the diet resolves symptoms.

If you are currently on a gluten-free diet, your physician may recommend a gluten challenge to allow antibodies to build in your bloodstream prior to testing. The recommended gluten intake for the gluten challenge is two slices of wheat-based bread for 6-8 weeks. A gluten challenge should only be supervised by a physician trained in celiac disease, who can move you immediately to a biopsy if your symptoms are severe. Never undertake a gluten challenge when pregnant.

Celiac disease can be difficult to diagnose because it affects people differently. There are more than 200 known celiac disease symptoms which may occur in the digestive system or other parts of the body. Some people develop celiac disease as a child, others as an adult. The reason for this is still unknown.

The most common way to diagnose celiac disease is with a simple blood test. People with celiac disease who eat gluten have higher than normal levels of certain antibodies in their blood. These antibodies are produced by the immune system because it views gluten as a threat. You must be on a diet containing gluten for antibody (blood) testing to be accurate. For most children and adults, the best way to screen for celiac disease is with the Tissue Transglutaminase IgA antibody, plus an IgA antibody, in order to ensure that the patient generates enough of this antibody to render the celiac disease test accurate. For young children (around age 2 years or below), Deamidated Gliadin IgA and IgG antibodies should also be included. Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms at all, but still test positive on the celiac disease blood test.  A few others may have a negative blood test, but have a positive intestinal biopsy. However, all people with celiac disease are at risk for long-term complications, whether or not they display any symptoms. While it is very rare, it is possible for someone with celiac disease to have negative antibody test results. If your tests were negative, but you continue to experience symptoms, consult your physician and undergo further medical evaluation.

 

By Gina Stallone

How to sit

How Should I Sit?

Most Americans sit in an office chair all day. In fact, about 86% sit an average 13 hours per day! A good number of people realize that sitting all day is not ideal, but it is unavoidable in order to pay the bills and get from point A to point B. Since we spend most of our day sitting, it is imperative that we sit correctly to avoid back and neck pain as well as other issues. We need to consider how we sit at a desk, behind the wheel of a car, and on the couch in order to make the best of the situation.

For starters, the type of chair that you select is very important. It should support the curvature of your spine and be at about a 100-110 reclined angle so that your upper and lower back are both supported. When sitting, your hips should go as far back in the chair as possible and your feet should rest on the floor or a footrest so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. Ideally, your knees should be equal to or lower than your hips and your shoulders should always be relaxed.

Your keyboard and mouse should be easy to reach and at the same level.  The monitor should be directly in front of you, with the top of the screen around eye level or 2-3 inches above eye level to keep your neck relaxed.  Those who wear bifocals should lower the screen. Additionally, the screen should be centered above the monitor. Your hands should be at the level of your elbows or slightly, your wrists should be straight and your arms should be close to your body. After adjusting your chair to make sure your wrists and arms are correct, put your feet flat on the floor. If your feet do not reach the floor, use a footrest or anything nearby to keep your feet flat. Make sure there is room for your legs under the desk and try to keep this area free from clutter.

Many people use the computer and type at the same time while craning their neck to use the phone. If you talk on the phone, use a headset or put the phone on speaker to avoid neck issues. Also, be careful of the glare coming from windows or actual light. It is important to take frequent breaks to get up and stretch about every 20-30 minutes. Try to rest and refocus your eyes to avoid fatigue by looking away from the computer monitor into the distance or covering them for 5-10 seconds.

It is important to consider how you sit in every situation, not just behind a desk. Slouching on a couch, crossing your legs, or sitting incorrectly in a car can all have a negative impact.  When driving, the steering wheel should be as low as possible and you should hold it at 9 am and 3 pm instead of 10 am and 2 pm to help relax your shoulder. Also, try to keep your wrists straight while driving. Your knees should be in line with your hips, the seat should be reclined 100-110 degrees, and you should be able to reach the pedals without straining. Your neck should rest on the neck rest and you should try not to slouch. On a couch, if your couch is deep and you are slouching, put a small pillow behind your lower back.

Since we can’t help sitting too much throughout the day, let’s make the best of a bad situation. Correct your posture and pay attention. This will help you feel better and be more productive.