Posts Tagged ‘intervals’


November 13, 2013


Yet another gender inequity has emerged, and frankly, this one leaves us literally breathless.

Healthy women experience greater incidence of shortness of breath than their male counterparts. This is due to the fact that women’s lungs are biologically smaller, and their airways are narrower, with weaker breathing muscles than men’s. These muscles need to be activated more aggressively in order to move air in and out of the lungs. Basically, women need to work harder just to breathe than men do! While this is not apparent in day to day activity, it is more obvious when we workout.

While the biological facts remain, there are a few things women can do to breathe a little easier at the gym:

Interval training can be a work out for your respiratory system, as well as the fastest ticket to fit. Add a few high intensity intervals to your next cardio session for the best benefits.

Practice Pilates breathing, which focuses on breathing in through your nose, and out through your mouth. This activates your diaphragm and brings consciousness to your breath.

Drink up! Staying hydrated keeps the airways from feeling dry.

The good news: reaching our anaerobic threshold though intense exercise promotes strength, speed and power. Go all out and let yourself become breathless during short intervals, to increase your fitness level.

photo: Glasshouse Images

Cycle Snob

August 21, 2012

I admit it. I am a cycling snob.

I am a devoted follower of just 3 instructors, who are all known to be among the best in their field.  Every time I try a substitute, I am disappointed and vow never to stray again. With my knee still not quite ready for primetime, having 2 of the 3 on vacation this week posed a fitness dilemma. Should I be open and give someone new a chance? Maybe this time they will be great.
I open-mindedly (okay, very skeptically) approached classes last week with new teachers thinking it might just provide a shock to my system or at the very least a new experience. Once again, I was disappointed.
I have been trying to figure out the delicate balance between a great instructor and a less than stellar one. I mean, we are essentially riding a bike to nowhere for a designated period of time, with loud music playing. There is only so much variation that can take place. So what’s the big difference?

Pedaling away on a bike that doesn’t move requires motivation and variation. The great teachers keep you going with a constantly changing menu of sprints, standing runs, climbs and flat roadwork. For me, terrain based classes make the ride a more realistic experience.

The lesser instructors get you moving but the responsibility for your intensity is entirely in your hands. The work is often monotonous, with long stretches of single speed, unchanged resistance and not much encouragement. In order to work up a sweat, and get your heart rate up, you need to crank the intensity on your own. The 45 minutes of class feel like an eternity, and often leave you tired, not energized.

The great teachers plan each of their classes out in advance to ensure that you are challenged and get a well-balanced workout. They are often training vehicles which help you build strength and endurance, versus someone who just gets on the bike and pedals away with little thought to how the participants might evolve to meet their fitness goals.

The great teachers push you beyond your limits. They somehow motivate you to move out of your comfort zone and into a place where you never thought you go. They aren’t sitting quietly on the bike. They are walking around, screaming, coaching, encouraging and making you fight for every pedal stroke and every breath. These classes are crazy hard, and without them pushing me, I know I wouldn’t be able to achieve that intensity.

The not so great ones are spinning away on their little platforms, offering very little in the way of guidance or motivation.

As a fellow cycler said today,” I feel like they are talking to the wall or ceiling, and not really resonating with me.”

The great ones let you know where you are in the ride. They tell you what is coming up, and lead you through the segment. They let you know how much time you have left in the intervals. It makes it easier to really push your boundaries when you know you only have 30 seconds to go before you can back off and catch your breath.

The music is important, and very subjective. Even if your taste in music is different from the instructors, variation between songs and a good strong beat is key.  A 45-minute playlist of house music tends to blend together into one long song.  The average not so great teacher tends to have the class do a lot of tedious standing runs with a sprint or two thrown in for good measure. Tedious riding and monotonous music makes for a boring ride. ‘Nuff said.

The great teachers are precise, and have the class moving as one unit, or competing as teams. There is no ambiguity in the ride. The not so great classes often become free for alls, with many people doing their own thing to break up the boredom, or make the ride easier or more difficult.

Yes, I am a bit hardcore. I go to the gym to get results, and I love feeling sweaty and breathless at the end of class.  I feel as though I am in the hands of true professionals, who take their work and my fitness seriously. I love the sense of accomplishment when I make it through a particularly difficult patch without pulling back. My goals are to grow and develop my stamina, endurance and strength.

Not everyone feels that way. There are many people who just like the group atmosphere and aren’t interested in facing that feeling of extreme discomfort and pushing past it. For them, there are lots of instructors out there to choose from.

So go ahead and call me a cycling snob. I’m sticking with my 3 favorite instructors, “loyal to the end.”

photo: Glasshouse Images 

Doubles Match

May 7, 2012

Do you ever do “doubles?” What I’m talking about is 2 workouts a day. They can be back to back, or once in the morning, and again in the evening. They can even be done at more than one location. Think it sounds a bit extreme, and that only athletes or swimsuit models do that? Think again!

Today’s New York Times Sunday Styles section documents the phenomenon, and it’s way more prevalent than you might think.

They talk about the 350-yard dash, from Barry’s Bootcamp in Chelsea, to Flywheel Sports located just across the street.  Or the run from Soul Cycle on the Upper West Side, to Pure Yoga next door, for a barre-method class.

The interesting fact is that most of these people are females who aren’t athletes or models. They are working professionals with fulltime jobs who just want to stay in shape and find the classes good stress busters.

These classes don’t come cheap. Most individual sessions run about $32 a piece, with a discount when purchased in bulk. Multiply that by 2 (sometimes 3!) per day, 6 days a week, and the cost is pretty hefty. And some of them maintain gym memberships as well.

Just as I was sitting there thinking that the women in the article were obsessive nuts, I glanced at the clock and realized that I was going to be late for my own Sunday morning “double.”

Although I am a long-term Equinox loyalist, I am guilty of doing doubles, when time permits. While I often mix weights and cardio into one workout for maximum efficiency, on Sunday, I do intervals in a circuit training class aptly called “Whipped,” followed by a spinning class. I too workout 6 days a week, but try to stagger my activities to work different body parts and intensities to avoid burnout or injuries.  I totally get what these women are doing, but I think it’s a bit extreme even by my standards.
It has been my experience, that once you start working out regularly and vigorously, your body stops responding the same way, and requires more intensity or frequency to get results. I don’t actually see the benefits of the 90 minutes or more of walking that I do for transportation purposes each day, but when I stop, I notice the difference in a negative way. These women (and I to a slightly lesser extent) are setting ourselves up for actually needing this much exercise, instead of just wanting it.

At what point does this morph from being calming and invigorating, to a dangerously unhealthy obsession?

photos: Glasshouse Images

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