Cherries do so much dancing! With all the glitter and glamorous costumes it’s easy to forget that we are also athletes. Just like athletes, we need to condition our bodies to be prepared to handle any new choreography and to prevent injuries. As a personal trainer and Pilates instructor, I get asked all the time for fitness and diet advice. I’m so excited to get to answer some of your most common questions here!
Q: Should women weight lift? I want to but I don’t want to get bulky, I just want to tone.
A: This is probably the most common question I get and the one I feel most passionately about. Unfortunately, many women believe that lifting weights or strength training will make them bulky or turn them into steroid-taking body builders. So instead, they waste hours on the treadmill or doing billions of shoulder circles with 3lb weights. If you are nervous about this, rest assured this is only a myth. Women don’t have enough testosterone or the specific type of muscle fibers to get really big from weight lifting. You would have to lift extremely heavy weights for a very long time and possibly take steroids to get really big and manly looking. On the contrary, when women strength train, they actually develop a smaller and a more sculpted physique. Weight lifting properly can actually enhance your feminine curves!
And on the term “toning.” This also is a myth perpetrated by women’s magazines. There really is no such thing as toning. You cannot tone a muscle. You can however build muscle and you can burn fat, which will create a nice lean body.
Strength training has so many benefits for women. The more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism is. This means you can ease up on the diet a little bit! (foodies rejoice!). Weight bearing activity also strengthens the bones resulting in reduced risk for osteoporosis and arthritis. By strengthening the muscles that support the knee, shoulder, spine etc… we can also reduce the risk for injuries. But in my opinion, the greatest benefit of strength training is the feeling of empowerment is provides. There are often many situations in life where we feel weak or helpless (maybe you lose your job, get dumped, lose a loved one etc…). Especially for women, we are constantly bombarded by messages to be weak, small, dainty etc… Strength training can be your way to regain control over your body and seek your full potential.
Q: Can I strengthen my feet and ankles to make dancing in heels easier?
A: Yes you can! But, these muscles are smaller and will take a lot more patience and diligence to see results. I myself have a painful ankle injury, but I have learned some great exercises.
Here are my favorite exercises:
– Negative calf raises: You can do these on the ground or find a step to get a deeper stretch. Start with straight legs, quickly lift up to your toes/balls of feet and then descend back down very slowly. By slowing down the descent (or eccentric part of the movement) you strengthen the muscle quicker while also encouraging that muscle to relax and lengthen. Once you’ve completed a set, do the same exercise but with bent knees. Keep the same angle in the knees the entire movement. This will work the soleus muscle, which is below the calf and closer to the Achilles tendon. If you’re doing these on a step, let your heels drop low to get that nice stretch and a fuller range of motion. Progression: Try doing these on one leg at a time
– Resistance Band Flex & Point: These resistance bands are great for a variety of exercises and stretches. If you haven’t seen these, they look like giant rubber bands and are very inexpensive. They also weigh nothing, which makes them great for travelling with! For the feet, place your toes in the middle of the band. Point your heel, focusing on moving from the ankle rather than the toes, and then point the toes. On the way back, flex the toes, and then flex the heel. By separating the movement, you can isolate the muscles of the ankles, foot and toes much better.
– Balancing exercises: Find a Bosu ball (they’re round on top and flat on the bottom) or stability disk (they’re squishy circles). You can stand single-legged on these (make sure you are close to a wall or friend in case you lose your balance) for 30 seconds each leg. You can also perform various types of lunges or squats on to them to increase the stability of the foot. If you enjoy yoga, you can even try your tree or dancer pose on them. The next time you try those poses on the ground, you’ll notice a big improvement in your balance!
And don’t forget to stretch those achy feet and calves! Tight calves and soleus muscles can cause all sorts of problems from Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis to shin splints. You can stretch your calf by placing your foot at the corner of a wall with heel on the floor and toes on the wall. Lean and place your weight forward into the wall until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. You can move the stretch down to the soleus by simply doing the same stretch but with a slightly bent knee. The more you bend your knee, the deeper the stretch, so go slowly.
To stretch the bottom of you feet, simple sit in a kneeling position with your heels up, toes flexed on the ground and your tush resting on your heels. Make sure all your toes are flexed and flat on the ground. If some are curled, use your hands to straighten them out. This stretch will hurt a little, especially if you’re tight here. Once you can relax a bit, try to move the heels back to get a deeper stretch.
BONUS! Find a tennis or lacrosse ball to massage out any knots or tightness in your calves, shins and arches. Think of this as a free, home-made massage!
Q: How can I get a great butt?
A: Ok, maybe this is the most common question I get. While you can’t change the genetics that gave you your unique shape, you can do exercises that will strengthen and lift your tush. Here are my favorite 3 exercises:
1) Squats: Yes, squats do target your quads but they also work your glutes and hamstrings. Because they work so many muscles at once, squats are a great time-saving exercise for any program. You can also change up your squats to emphasize different muscles or movement patterns. You can perform squats just with your body weight, with dumbbells, a bar on your back. You can place your feet wide or narrow. You can wrap a resistance band around your thighs to activate your hip rotators and outer quads. You can even do jump squats to better prepare for landing those lindy-hop aerials! Make sure you have proper form. Keep heels down, hinge from the hips sending your glutes back making sure to not push your knees forward. Also pay special attention to your knees! Try to get them to move the same direction as your toes. Don’t let them cave in or out. This is especially important as women because our hips are often wider than our knees. This is also crucial to people who are bow-legged or knock-kneed
2) Deadlifts: This old-school move is another great multi-tasking exercise that will benefit you for the rest of your life. Deadlifts work your hamstrings, glutes, lower back and depending on which handgrip you use, the muscles of your upper back and shoulders. They can also prevent you from injuring yourself when you bend down to pick something up as you will be able to recruit your muscles better. Just like the squat, there are many different ways to do a deadlift. You can do them with bent knees, straight legs, wide legs, single-leg, various handgrips. Again, make sure you have proper form as this exercise can be risky if you have poor posture or have tightness in certain areas. If you are a beginner or are unsure about how to perform a deadlift, please ask a personal trainer or physical therapist to help you out
3) Hip Bridges: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to lift your hips up. Again, there are many ways to perform this exercise. Start with your feet and knees hips width apart and engage your inner and outer thighs to prevent your knees from caving in or falling out. If this is challenging for you, you can place a yoga block in between your knees or tying a resistance band around your outer thighs. To make this exercise more challenging, try them with one leg up or placing your feet on a foam roller, Bosu ball or Stability ball. Bonus: With feet on a foam roller or stability ball and legs straight, lift just the hips up by squeezing the glutes. When your hips are still up, bend your knees to curl the roller or ball in towards you. You can do these with feet parallel or turned out in a “V.” But just make sure to bend your knees the same direction as your toes and hips. I guarantee your butt will be kicked with these moves!
Now, who am I and why should you listen to me?
I am a certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise and have been teaching Pilates for a little over a year now. My fitness journey began back in my first year of college when I gained the freshmen 15….ok freshmen 20. I was overweight and didn’t even know it until I saw pictures of myself. I needed to make a change but couldn’t afford a personal trainer. I started cooking at home, researching exercise and diet techniques. There is so much bad information out there so I made it my mission to seek out science-based information. Ultimately I was able to lose 22 lbs and keep it off! I did it without having to cut out carbs, gluten, alcohol or dairy. I didn’t have to to buy any snake-oil products to help me. I truly believe in a balanced and simple approach to controlling one’s weight. If you have any other dying questions or are interested in personal training, please don’t hesitate to contact me!