I consider this one of the most important posts I’ve written but I wrote it the week of Thanksgiving last year. Not many people read it. Note to self: Don’t publish your best post during the week of a national holiday. This post, and the study it sites, is a must read for all women and the message needs to be made loud and clear to our daughters. The quest should not be for thinness but, rather, fitness. The reality is not only that thin and fit are different from one another but they also don’t have much in common.
Last week I wrote about my favorite brand of fitness apparel. A conversation with one of my clients after that post convinced me to revisit the fitness gear topic this week with a more focused agenda. (Sorry guys, this is a ladies only post.)
My client is a retired personal shopper at a high end department store. It was her job to assist customers in the women’s department to find just the right fabrics, colors, size and style that would look fabulous on each woman based on her unique physical attributes. She told me that she brought new customers to the intimate apparel department to fit them for an appropriate sized and styled bra before doing anything else. “You can put a woman in a great designer dress but if she’s not wearing the right bra underneath, it’s not going to look right,” she told me. She added that most women aren’t wearing the right bra because they’ve never had a customized fitting.
We were just having a chat while she was stretching at the end of her workout, but it got me thinking about whether or not the same is true for women and sports bras. And while my client was speaking about having the right bra for aesthetics, I do think that having the right sports bra is essential for different reasons. Namely, comfort, performance and function.
Sports bras aren’t a gimmick. They are styled differently from and made of different fabrics than regular bras because they serve a specific function and perform a completely different job. The best sports bras are made of wicking fabrics and may have additional mesh venting features to keep moisture away from the skin and assists the body in the cooling process. Most are a racerback or halterback design to avoid strap slippage and shoulder impingement issues and allow for full range of motion in the shoulders.
The style of fitness bra that’s right for you is determined by two things: your workouts and your bra size.
Vigorous Workouts: Characterized by vertical movements and heavy perspiration. Jogging, running, dance-based aerobics classes, HIIT, CrossFit and step classes would definitely fall into this category. Spinning, boot camp, kickboxing classes and recreational activities like basketball and soccer can also be considered vigorous if some jumping or sprinting movements are involved.
- A-B Cups: You may think your size doesn’t warrant worrying about a supportive athletic bra but the skin and soft tissue beneath is vulnerable to jarring, multidirectional movements. Put more bluntly, even small breasted women will sag as they age and wearing unsupportive bras during vigorous exercise will speed that process. Look for compression sports bras. If arm movement isn’t important, such as with jogging, then a traditional tank-style strap is fine. But, if you need full range of motion in the shoulders, opt for racerback styles.
- C Cups & above: Get the most supportive sports bra you can find. Companies that specialize in running apparel are a good place to start – even if running isn’t your activity. Look for cups with multidirectional support. Even if arm movement isn’t important to you, avoid tank-style straps that will dig into your shoulders. Opt for racerback styles instead. You will pay more for the right bra but it will be worth every penny.
Moderate Exercise: Characterized by non-jarring movements and little to moderate perspiration. Walking, Pilates, yoga, biking, rowing, elliptical, tennis, golf and strength training are the most common examples of moderate exercise.
- A-B Cups: Moderate support with moisture wicking fabric is all that’s needed. There are lots of choices in this category. Most have a shelf bra with supportive, soft cups. Avoid ones that only have a shelf bra – that is too little support. Any style strap is fine but if you’re going to have lots of arm movement in your workout, better to get a racerback style.
- C Cups & above: Get a fully supportive sports bra with moisture wicking fabric and opt for racerback style. Companies that specialize in yoga inspired attire are likely ahead of the curve in designing supportive yet comfortable fitness bras for full-figured women.
We already have so many excuses for not working out – lack of time, lack of motivation, unexpected events popping up – discomfort from the wrong bra shouldn’t be one of them. And, it doesn’t have to be. There are now, thankfully, lots of apparel companies who have done the testing and research and have developed, and continue to perfect, high-quality fitness bras for women of all shapes and sizes. Find the right one for you.
After an exhausting day of clothes shopping with my near-teenaged daughter, I didn’t think I had enough functioning brain cells left to write my blog. But, there is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about that coincides with the one activity that dominated my day – shopping. Specifically, shopping for fitness clothing.
I often get questions – from clients, friends, family – regarding where I purchase my workout clothes. I always enthusiastically tell them Athleta is hands-down my favorite place for exercise attire. And it’s because they do nearly everything right. Here are just 7 reasons why:
- Functionality: When one is serious about exercise, this is the most important feature in workout gear. Athleta offers functional specific clothing for a variety of sports and exercise activities. Always made with comfortable, soft, breathable fabrics and most with moisture-wicking capabilities.
- Quality: The clothing lasts workout after workout, wash after wash. It doesn’t lose its shape or fade.
- Ease of Care: There is nothing that irks me more than workout clothes that can’t go in the dryer. Seriously, I shouldn’t have to treat exercise gear like it’s a silk dress! While some of their casual clothing (skirts, dresses and slacks, for example) suggests line-drying, I’ve yet to find a fitness-specific garment that can’t go in the dryer on a low-heat seating.
- Feminine: Their fabrics, cut and fit are all clearly meant to flatter the female body. Not a Paris run-way stick figure, but a real woman’s body. I feel pretty in Athleta gear, even if I’m sweating it out on the track.
- Their Models: Browse through an Athleta catalogue or their website and you will see women who are exceptionally fit and healthy, not exceptionally thin while being freakishly well-endowed in other areas. They have well-defined muscles as opposed to well-defined breasts. They are in poses of strength and flexibility as opposed to sexually suggestive poses. It’s the kind of women’s clothing advertising I want my daughters to see.
- They Practice What They Preach: The Athleta stores in my area have a group exercise room where they will host a variety of classes. They use community outreach to advertise and promote local fitness facilities and often will sponsor teams or individuals in local charity races.
- Affordability: It’s not the least expensive workout clothing you can get. But, when you consider the 6 previous points, you’ll realize the prices are fair. You really do get what you pay for and that makes it affordable.
They also offer lines of casual clothing made with the same perspective and comfort as the workout clothing. So, my entire wardrobe is inhabited with Athleta clothing.
I work hard to be fit. And I feel fit in their clothing. You work hard to be fit too, you should feel the same way. Give it a try.
Tis the season for road races and marathons. And I am dedicating this post to the runners of the 2014 Boston Marathon. (See link below for an inspirational video for this year’s participants.)
Distance running is a popular competitive sport but the combination of high mileage and repetitive high-shock footfalls puts most participants at high-risk for joint, ligament and tendon problems. Add to that the tendency of participants toward a one-note exercise regimen – namely, workouts by distance runners tend to only include running – and you have a recipe for being forced to watch races from the sidelines.
No one can offer a workout regimen that will guarantee to protect a distance runner against injury. But you can put the odds in your favor. Strengthen the muscles involved in running and you lessen the load on ligaments and tendons. Run-centric workouts create muscle imbalances where some muscles become chronically weak and others chronically tight. This puts undue stress on the ankle, knee and hip joints. Regular workouts that strength train the weak muscles and flexibility train the tight muscles will make the adjacent joints stronger and perform more efficiently. Strengthening the core helps in two ways. It improves posture which will improve your overall running form and movement efficiency. And a strong core can work as a shock absorber relieving some of the shearing force on lower extremity joints.
Activity-Specific Workout of the Month Defined: A 30 minute strength and stretch training workout tailored to benefit those who engage in a particular recreational sport or activity. The workouts will be challenging and safe for the novice but will also offer progressions for the experienced. If your children participate in these activities, know that strength and flexibility training is not only safe for kids but beneficial as well. The workouts will have minimal equipment requirements so they can be done anywhere. The goal is to properly strengthen and stretch the key muscle groups involved in the activity so the participant can achieve performance improvements and reduce the risk of injury. Click on the exercise to link to examples and step-by-step descriptions provided by www.acefitness.org.
Strength and Flexibility Training for Distance Running
Concept: Primary strengthening targets are the leg and hip muscles with emphasis on the glutes, quads and calves. Secondary strengthening targets are the abductors (outer thigh), adductors (inner thigh) and core. Flexibility training focuses on the typically chronically tight muscles for runners: hip flexors, hamstrings, IT band (outer thigh) and dorsiflexors (shins). The base exercises are for those new to strength training. Progressions are offered for those more experienced in these strength training exercises. Whether novice or experienced, be sure you can perform the base exercise at the recommended repetitions with excellent form before incorporating the next progression. Perform this workout 1-3 times per week, allowing a minimum of 48 hours rest between workout sessions. When in training mode for the 2 weeks leading up to a race, perform this program on your day off or on your lighter mileage/slower pace days.
Warm-Up: 2-5 minutes of high knee marching in place, moderate pace on stationary cycle or elliptical or brisk walking on a treadmill. The purpose of the warm-up is to increase the heart rate slightly and warm up the muscles.
Strength Workout: Perform the following exercise circuit in succession with no rest between exercises
Squats: 10-20 repetitions. Works quads, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings. Progression: *add weight by holding free weights, medicine ball or containers filled with water while performing. Start with lighter weights, 1-5 lbs, until you can easily perform 20+ squats in a set before progressing to heavier weights.
- Front Plank: Hold for 10-30 seconds. Strengthens entire core. Progression 1: hold plank for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, return to plank for 10-30 seconds. Progression 2: Plank with Knee Drag.
- Forward Lunge: 10-20 repetitions each side. Works quads, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings. Progression 1: add weight according to the protocol for squats above* Progression 2: Walking Lunge with a Twist
- Side Lying Leg Abduction: 10-20 repetitions each side. Works outer and inner thighs. Progression 1: Side Lunges Progression 2: add weight to side lunges according to the protocol for squats above*
- Standing Calf Raises: 10-20 repetitions. Works calves and shins. Progression 1: Calf Raises with front of feet on step – on the downward phase, allow heels to drop below step level for greater strengthening in the shins. Progression 2: single leg calf raises (10-20 repetitions each side) or add weight to calf raises on step according to the protocol for squats above*
- After performing each exercise once, rest for 1-2 minutes and repeat the circuit (squats through calf raises) for a second set of each exercise. After performing the circuit twice, perform the flexibility workout.
Flexibility Workout: Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds
- Side-Lying Quad Stretch: Stretches hip flexors & quads. This stretch may also be done while standing (runner’s stretch); grasp top of foot with hand to point toes toward ceiling to stretch the shins as well.
- Seated Toe Touch: Stretches entire back of leg: glutes, hamstrings and calves.
- Supine Hamstring Stretch: Also stretches the shins and calves.
- Supine IT Band Stretch: The iliotibial band runs along the outside thigh from the hip to the knee. Runners commonly experience tightness in the IT band.
- Childs Pose: targets core and provides instant relaxation to end your workout
The keys to safe and effective strength training are the same regardless of gender or age – proper warm-up, form, breathing, load, progressions and stretching. The cues for these exercises provided by ACE Fitness (via my links) are excellent and, if followed, anyone can perform this workout safely, even a novice. It’s important to focus on your own body’s feedback and listen to the cues your body is providing you. Adults are much better at reading those cues than children. For this reason, if any of these exercises are new to your child, I recommend having a professional (such as your child’s coach, gym teacher or sports trainer) review the proper form for each of these exercises with your student athlete.
This post is dedicated to the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and to the racers who will run in their honor at this year’s Boston Marathon on April 21st. Good luck, be safe! #WeWillRun
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.
Click on the link to view previous Activity-Specific Workouts of the Month: Hockey & Cross-Country Skiing, Snowboarding & Figure Skating, Golf & Softball, Distance Running, Racquet Sports, Swimming, Waterskiing & Surfing, Cycling, Rowing & Desk Jockeys, Track, Field & Court Sports, Throwing & Pitching, Dancing, Downhill Skiing
If you’ve been following my Small Steps toward a fit life program in 2014, you’ve taken control of your daily calorie intake (January’s portion control), practiced planning ahead to minimize high calorie meals and maximize opportunities for exercise (February’s plan ahead) and used strategies to manipulate your environment to decrease the odds that you’ll fall back into unhealthy habits (March’s accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives). Congratulations!
This month’s step is more of a tweak than an all-out change. These substitution suggestions will work in tandem with the new habits you’ve adopted over the last few months.
If you’re already following the first small step, portion control, you’re careful to consume the right amount of each food at snacks and meals. This small step is about substituting a correctly portioned higher quality item for all or a portion of one food item in each meal or snack. Higher quality items are high in nutrients while lower in calories and saturated fats. This ensures you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs but reduces your total daily saturated fat and calorie intake.
The first option is to make the portion of proteins and grains smaller and substitute what you’ve eliminated with fruits or vegetables. Some examples:
For one cup each of cereal and low-fat milk, substitute: 3/4 cup each of cereal and low-fat milk & add fresh berries
- For a full deli meat sandwich, substitute: 1/2 sandwich with extra vegetables
- For a soup and 1/2 sandwich lunch special, substitute: soup and side salad
Another option is to substitute all your protein or grain with a higher quality version. For meats you can substitute fish, egg whites, beans, nuts or seeds. Substitute low-fat dairy for the full-fat variety. In the grain department, choose them in as close to straight-from-the-farm as possible: quinoa, barley, wheat berries, farro, bulgur, whole oats, potatoes baked in the skins and brown rice are some examples. When they are processed (cereals, couscous, breads, pasta) look for 100% whole grains as the first ingredient. But, remember, portion size is king. Don’t sabotage your substitutions by portioning out more than a serving. Some examples:
For a snack of 1 oz cheese & serving of crackers, substitute: 1 oz reduced fat cheese & medium apple
- For a salad with 3 oz of grilled chicken, substitute: a salad with 3 oz of chickpeas or tuna
- For a 1/2 cup white rice, substitute: 1/2 cup brown rice
- For a cup of cream-based soup, substitute: a cup of broth-based soup
- For a granola bar, substitute: a small banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter
What you don’t want to do is eliminate proteins and whole grains. Both contain macro and micronutrients your body needs to thrive and help keep you satiated until the next meal. This is about making smart choices, not elimination.
There’s a common refrain among my clients – 150 minutes of exercise every week (the minimum recommended for all adults by the US Dept of Health and Human Services) just to maintain one’s current weight is an unrealistic and unattainable goal for most adults. But most people interpret this number the wrong way. Most imagine that the recommendation refers to structured exercise, otherwise known as workouts, and that the workouts would need to be strenuous to count. Neither assumption is true. The 150 minutes refers specifically to moderate exercise and it can be in the form of duties within a paid job or household chores. Housecleaning, yard work, dog-walking and professions that require manual labor or extensive amounts of time standing or walking (floor nurses, security guards, chefs, restaurant wait staff, just to name a few) all rack up minutes toward the suggested 150 weekly total. In other words, you don’t have to log 150 minutes sweating in a gym to meet the standard. So, this month try to substitute more movement for what otherwise would be a sedentary or passive activity.
At every chance you get throughout each day choose standing over sitting, walking over standing, and walking further distances or faster paces. Examples: stand while on the phone, take the stairs, park in a space furthest from the door. Can you incorporate walking or bike riding in your commute or errand running? Use half your lunch hour to take a walk. Always use the restroom on a different floor or furthest from you. Before you know it, these choices to move more will be incorporated into your life without you ever thinking about it and, coupled with structured workouts, make logging 150 minutes (or more) of exercise each week realistic and attainable.
Incorporate these substitutions even if you already exercise. The latest research shows that even those who exercise regularly are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease if they are sedentary for long periods during most days.
If you need external motivation, get an inexpensive pedometer (Omron Pocket Pedometer, $25) that you can wear discretely all day. Aim to top your total amount of steps each day. Some pedometers (Striiv Smart Pedometer, $100) come with access to apps for your mobile phone so you can compete against frenemies or win prizes.
My One Small Step Philosophy: A fit life is attained by making small, manageable changes in food consumption and exercise over time. This allows a person time to create and hone new, fit habits that then become adopted and integrated into her everyday life. The result is a person who is living a fit lifestyle each and every day, making her healthy and strong for a lifetime. I have used this philosophy to create my One Small Step blog series. Each month, I give you one healthy change to work on for that entire month. Sometimes it’s a diet change, sometimes an exercise change and sometimes one of each. The idea is to concentrate only on that one change for a month so that it becomes ingrained into your daily meals or weekly exercise routines, making you able to take on another small change at the beginning of the next month.
Author’s Note: I am an exercise professional, not a nutrition professional. My food recommendations are based on the most current science-backed information provided by nutrition professionals in the fitness industry publications I receive and my personal experience. Mine are general recommendations that are in line with the guidelines published by the US Dept of Health and Human Services for apparently healthy individuals. If you have a health condition that requires dietary restrictions, I recommend consulting a medical doctor or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet.