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Live Fit Live Healthy

Amy Iannacone teaches a barre class at Oxygen Fitness, a popular mind/body workout.

Amy Iannacone teaches a barre class at Oxygen Fitness, a popular mind/body workout.

photography by Steve Bracci

ThighMasters, Shake Weights and Ab Lounges lie discarded in dusty corners of attics everywhere. Sauna Suits and shape-up shoes, as enticing as their promises are, have joined the assortment of closet clutter in homes across America. Names like Jane Fonda, Charles Atlas, Suzanne Somers, Cindy Crawford, Richard Simmons and Jack LaLanne now bounce around in the collective consciousness like they once did on television and in videos. These pop-culture artifacts and personalities reflect a fascination with fitness tipped off by the fallout from the Industrial Revolution.

Building steam in the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution resulted in masses of people leaving their agrarian way of life to move to and seek work in urban centers. No longer bound to the plow, men, women and even children earned wages through more sedentary occupations, and they purchased, rather than produced, sustenance and other necessary goods. Not that the work wasn’t hard; it simply wasn’t as physically demanding as it was for the generations that came before them.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the results of this dramatic, nay, revolutionary change in lifestyle reared their ugly head. For the first time in history physicians noted a significant increase in cardiovascular disease, cancer and type II diabetes. The digital age has done nothing to reverse the damage. In fact, while the intervening decades saw a decline in death due to cardiovascular disease, it is now on the rise again, along with type II diabetes and obesity, among other serious conditions. Plus the Baby Boomers are aging.

Much media attention has been devoted to the health status of the populace. People know they need to eat right and exercise, but these things take effort. And, unfortunately, when done correctly, results are not instant. A person can’t go from a Fat Albert figure to an Adonis physique in a matter of days. And if he does, he shortly finds out that a quick fix isn’t effective or lifelong. That’s why things like ThighMasters ultimately end up under the couch, out of sight, out of mind.

Fortunately, the fitness industry is more and more ruled by research and less influenced by fly-by-night fads. Approaches to achieving and maintaining true physical health evolve in response to science. Augusta benefits from a medical community and fitness professionals who value providing programs saturated with substance and not just wrapped in bling. Real fitness is about changing habits not about buying gadgets. The following fitness trends predicted for 2013 will make this year your healthiest one yet.

Fitness Professionals With Medical Backgrounds

As the medical profession focuses more and more on disease prevention, its partnership with the health and fitness profession strengthens. An increasing number of personal fitness trainers and group instructors not only have certifications in their areas of expertise, such as yoga or spinning, but also in auxiliary health disciplines, such as dietary science, physical therapy or nursing.

Barre classes merge emphasis on calming the mind with focus on conditioning the body by combining yoga-inspired techniques, Pilates and classical ballet.

Barre classes merge emphasis on calming the mind with focus on conditioning the body by combining yoga-inspired techniques, Pilates and classical ballet.

Kath Girdler Engler, who has a private studio in her home, has worked in the fitness industry for 30-plus years. She’s been doing this so long that she remembers when “everything was aerobics.” Engler is professionally certified to teach children’s fitness, group fitness, personal fitness, spinning, balance ball and several other classes and techniques. On top of that, she’s a registered nurse. When she looks to the future of the fitness industry, she says, “It’s not going to be some cute little gal who took a weekend course to teach a class. It will be much more than going to a gym and sweating. It will be about overall health.”

Already fitness consumers are seeing a difference in who is delivering services and it’s partially a result of elevating consumer expectations. Engler has noticed that clients are no longer satisfied with going to a health club, taking a class and going home. They interact with instructors and personal trainers in a way that they did not in the past. Consumers view them as informed professionals and want advice on nutrition, exercise and safety.

“Barre, like yoga, teaches students to hold certain poses in order to firm and tone muscles...”

Understanding that each client is at a different level of physical health, registered nurse and certified personal trainer Richard Iannacone, co-owner of Oxygen Fitness and Wellness Studio in Surrey Center, draws on both his medical and fitness knowledge to design programs for clients and to discern when a client should seek a physician. Echoing Engler, he says, “Clients are a lot smarter now and they want somebody with some background.” He knows to ask his clients what types of medications they are taking, he checks the blood pressures of older clients, he makes referrals to the registered dietician employed at Oxygen and he counsels with people who, for health reasons, fear being physically active. Iannacone says, “A medical background without a doubt helps you take better care of your client.”

Fitness Programming Specifically for Children

The epidemic of childhood obesity is alarming. It contributes to the untimely onset of type II diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, arthritis and high cholesterol. Psychosocial issues, in addition, plague overweight and obese children. This problem is not one of those national statistics that really doesn’t relate to the CSRA. According to Heather Altman, health and wellness manager for the Salvation Army Kroc Center of Augusta, Richmond County has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the U.S.

Fitness professionals and organizations are responding to the dire need to address this tragic reality of modern culture that has the potential to result in lifelong weight problems, chronic disease and shortened lifespan. Programming for children requires a different approach than programming for adults, however. Altman says, “Children are not just mini adults when it comes to planning fitness training. Their developing and growing bodies require a different intensity of training. They require activities that assist their coordination and cognitive growth. They need variety to prevent boredom.” Engler agrees, saying, “The approach has to be fun,” without putting too much strain on muscles, ligaments and growth plates.

Richard Iannacone, co-owner of Oxygen Fitness, draws on both his medical and fitness knowledge to design programs for clients.

Engler offers a program called Run With Art that combines fitness and creativity especially for kids. “We don’t call it exercise,” she says of the games and outdoor activities. Classes for kids at the Kroc Center offer variety too. Junior Fitness may feature outdoor relays for one class, circuit training on another day and sports drills on yet another. The Kroc Center’s ZumbAtomic adapts the Latin-dance influenced Zumba for kids and throws in the added benefit of intentional character development. Smart Start for Teens introduces them to the equipment in the gym and educates them on how to structure a healthy lifestyle. Engler’s and the Kroc Center’s classes for kids are complemented by the local Girls on the Run (See “Health Notes” page 12) organization and Family Y fitness focused on children and teens.

Children, as most parents know, are notorious for enthusiastically starting an activity and then quickly becoming disinterested. To best take advantage of the kids’ programs popping up in the CSRA, guide a child toward something she will continue. Altman tells parents to make sure the program is age-appropriate, planned and led by a qualified trainer and is an activity that truly appeals to the child (as opposed to the parent). She adds, though, “Unless the adults in their lives get on board, there will be many programs out there to little or no avail.”

Tabata-Style Workouts

In the late 1990s, Izumi Tabata, a physiologist in Japan, in collaboration with colleagues, conducted scientific research to determine the most effective workout to get the best outcomes. Tabata discovered that through short, high-intensity interval training, an individual can maximize both cardiovascular and muscular results.

Kath Engler, who has a private studio in her home, sees that clients are increasingly seeking advice from trainers not only on fitness but also on nutrition and safety.

What fitness buffs find appealing about Tabata-style workouts, which were originally intended for Japanese Olympic athletes, is that they promise fast results. On first glance, skeptics might put Tabata training in the same category as Sauna Suits. That’s just the devil talking, though, because, unlike the Sauna Suit, it requires a high expenditure of effort. Plus Tabata-style training has been proven effective. Engler cites research demonstrating that Tabata training increases metabolic rate up to 24 hours after a four-minute session. A four-minute Tabata session done four times a week with an additional 30-minute steady-state workout (spinning, for example) can be more beneficial than five 30-minute steady state workouts per week.  

Tabata-style training increases metabolic rate up to 24 hours after a four-minute session.

A typical Tabata session lasts four minutes, with eight intervals of high intensity lasting 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest. Tabata training can be done on its own, doing a circuit of several sessions using different exercises, or incorporated into another class, such as Pilates or Zumba. Because it requires no special equipment, even a person who exercises independently can use the technique. “It’s simple, quick and beneficial,” says Engler, touting the advantages of Tabata. All ages can master it safely. Iannacone adds, “It’s versatile. I use it in all of my classes.”

“For it to be truly beneficial, you have to go 100-percent,” Engler says. She adds Tabata sessions to workouts designed for her clients, but does not advise it for clients just starting. She helps them build strength and stamina first. Thus, it may be best to learn Tabata under the guidance of a professional trained in the technique. The Kroc Center and Oxygen Fitness offer Tabata boot camps, but Altman gives a word of caution: “Due to Tabata being a high intensity interval training form of exercise, it is very taxing to the body. If you know that you have high blood pressure or have had a history of strokes and heart attacks, consult with your doctor first to see if you are physically capable of performing the Tabata exercise.”

Body-Weight Training Programs

Body-weight training is a back to basics approach that will remind many people of their school days when they participated in mandatory physical education classes. Back then, students performed sit-ups and push-ups and pulled their body hand-over-hand up a rope while a coach clicked a counter and looked at a stopwatch. The essence of body-weight training is using the weight of one’s own body to build strength. Like Tabata, it is attractive because it requires no special equipment, and it can be done in a gym with a trainer or at home on your own. Body-weight exercises improve balance, flexibility and strength. A person can start gently and then progress to more challenging levels.

According to Engler, women can build mass and muscle fiber by weight lifting without walking out of the gym looking like Mr. Universe.

Body-weight training might be back to basics, but it is far from being old school. Engler offers TRX suspension training, a body-weight program growing in popularity. The program originated with the Navy SEALS. Using special straps for resistance and one’s own body weight, arm, leg, chest, back and core muscles are strengthened. Body-weight training, whether done TRX-style or with crunches, squats, chin-ups and the like, is so effective that it’s frequently infused into a variety of fitness offerings.  “We incorporate so many body-weight exercises into our group classes,” says Engler of herself and her colleagues.

Mind/Body Workouts

The mind-body connection has yet to be fully understood, but it has long been recognized. Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, “If the body is feeble, the mind will not be strong.” Traditionally, the mind piece of the fitness puzzle has been met by the quiet, centering practice of yoga or tai chi, and the body piece has been met by group fitness classes that push the adrenaline with pulsing lights and thumping music. Up until now, the mind and body have not joined for rejuvenation and revving up on the same mat in the same arena.

While heart-pumping, high energy workouts intended to improve the physique really grabbed the attention of America in the ’80s, disciplines like tai chi and yoga have existed for a few thousand years. They arose on the continent of Asia as endeavors to attune the physical need for movement with the emphasis on developing spiritual enlightenment.

Trainer Brian Broady works with a class of children at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center.

Today, in this fast-paced culture, many people lack time for relaxing the brain in one class and making the abs burn in another. Combining opportunities for both seems like an obvious solution to the problem. More than that, both are necessary. “Mental health is part of the total mind, body and cardio health,” says Iannacone. He believes that a well-rounded fitness routine attends to both physical and mental fitness. The basic format of a mind/body workout may vary from instructor to instructor and from class to class, but in general it follows a pattern of beginning with centering activity to help the client connect with his breathing. It continues with a warm up, usually in the form of yoga poses, and transitions into more rigorous strengthening exercises. It finishes with a cool down concentrating on strength and flexibility and ends with a period of complete relaxation.

The Kroc Center’s BodyFlow classes, designed by Les Mills in New Zealand, are a great example of mind/body workouts. Set to modern, uplifting music, BodyFlow blends tai chi, yoga and Pilates. Altman recommends it for the person who is not interested in traditional yoga, but who would like to reap the benefits of it.  “There are many kinds [of mind/body workouts],” she says, “but mostly it is a workout that will leave you feeling emotionally centered, mentally calmed and physically refreshed.”

Children require activities that assist their coordination and cognitive growth as well
as variety to keep them from getting bored.

Oxygen Fitness’s Barre class merges emphasis on calming the mind with focus on conditioning the body by combining yoga-inspired techniques, Pilates and classical ballet backgrounded by upbeat music. Barre was developed over 50 years ago by an injured German dancer as a rehabilitative program. Amy Iannacone, who teaches Barre at Oxygen Fitness, explains, “Barre, like yoga, teaches students to hold certain poses in order to firm and tone muscles. It also focuses on improving posture and body alignment.” In addition, it uses aerobic interval training with elements of ballet, employs free weights and works on isolated muscle groups. “You leave feeling stretched and not beaten down,” she says.

Heavy Weight Lifting for Women

“A lot of women are afraid of heavy weight lifting because they think they will bulk up,” says Engler. What women often don’t realize is that they will build bone mass and muscle fiber without walking out of the gym looking like Mr. Universe. Women’s bodies are designed to tone. They don’t have the hormones to build the same kind of bulk that men do.

As the population ages and attention is focused on diseases of aging, heavy weight lifting for women is growing in popularity as a remedy for osteoporosis. It also helps combat weight gain. When a person builds more muscle fiber, she burns more calories. “Most women as they age,” remarks Altman, who is looking at adding a heavy weight lifting class to the Kroc Center’s repertoire, “lose bone density.” Heavy weight lifting increases bone density, strengthens muscles and protects joints from injury. Even so, Altman discourages women from going out to the garage and lighting into their husband’s or teenager’s barbells. They should participate in a planned program under the guidance of a trained professional.

The Kroc Center offers a wide variety of classes and programs designed for children of all ages and interests. Trainer Brian Broady instructs one young member on the center’s exercise equipment.

Other fitness trends evident in Augusta include the movement from massive workout centers to more intimate, less intimidating settings. Private studio’s like Engler’s and boutique gyms like Oxygen ease the anxiety over joining a class. In addition, people are combating the affordability barrier to accessing personal trainers by combining funds and retaining a personal trainer for a small group. Fitness classes are also changing. Instead of the one size fits all, instructors are making modifications for individual participants. Furthermore, there’s gravitation toward developing well-rounded workouts into single sessions. Instead of focusing solely on cardio or solely on strength training, instructors engage participants in activities that meet multiple physical goals.

If you really want to make a lifestyle change and start an exercise program that ensures long-term results stay away from the fads. Stick with fitness programs that have staying power. How to tell a fitness fad from a fitness trend? Fitness trends seldom require the purchase of unique gadgets, and they don’t make promises of improved fitness in the absence of effort. Trends are grounded in science rather than pop-culture. A fad feeds off of the human desire to get fit quick and costs a pretty penny for a person to purchase it and fail. A trend is embedded in versatility and proven outcomes and is sustainable over time.

If it’s being hawked over the airwaves at 3 a.m. by a guy in a tight T-shirt who can’t open his mouth without yelling, buyer beware. A trend helps a person change his habits; a fad only helps him change the width of his wallet. “There are so many things in our lives we have no control over,” says Engler, “but we can have control over our bodies.”

Feeling inspired to take control?

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