Friday, December 27, 2013

Workout Inspiration: 360 Degrees of Core

By Susie Crossland-Dwyer

"The mind, when housed within a healthful body,
 possesses a glorious sense of power." 
-Joseph Pilates

Most people think of your core as just your superficial abs (rectus abdominis) or the traditional six-pack abs. But true core work covers muscles surrounding your pelvis, rib cage, shoulder girdle as well as those that follow the length of the spine--from tailbone to crown of the head. This includes your all-important transverse abdominis, which is the deepest layer of abdominal muscle that connects to the spine and aids in posture. This type of core work aims to stabilize and support the spine, allowing for freedom of movement in your extremities. Imagine if you took a Barbie doll, popped off the arms and popped off the legs--what you have left is your core (more than pictured below). 

I could go on and on about the benefits of core strength/spinal flexibility but let's just say it makes you a significantly better athlete and should be a daily requirement for any human who wants to live to an old age in this sedentary society. In fact, one piece of research I read recently cited that it was the number one indicator of overall health.

In every core workout, I aim to create symmetry in the body. If we work the front side of the core, we also work the posterior. If we challenge the right side of the obliques, we also challenge the left, etc.

This workout is 360 degrees of core and engages both the superficial and deep layers of muscle.
The key to these exercises is slow, controlled movement accompanied by a steady inhale and exhale. Consciously connect to each movement you are making and become aware of each muscle you are using to create the exercise. The more we connect with our movements, the more powerful they become--even on a cellular level. 

Pilates Roll-Up
8-10 repetitions
1. Start on your back with your arms overhead, palms toward one another. Feet can be pointed (harder) or flexed (easier) and together (harder) or apart (easier).
2. Very slowly begin to roll-up off of the mat one vertebra at a time, making a c-shape with your spine as you do. Your abs should be pulled in during the entire movement, creating a hollowing feeling through the low abdominals.
3. Continue to roll forward into a stretch, checking to make sure your shoulders are still staying away from your ears.Your body should be in an elongated c-shape, with the spine still rounded.
4. Hold the spine/hamstring stretch for 10-15 seconds and begin to roll back down, keeping the c-shape in the spine and the abs pulled in. Return all the way back to the starting position and repeat.

Oblique Twist 
10-20 repetitions

1. In a seated position, shift the spine back until you feel weight on your tailbone. Knees are bent at 90 degrees and feet can be lifted (harder) or on the floor (easier).
2. Feel the navel pull into the spine and keeping the abs engaged twisting side-to-side slowly. Inhale to one side and exhale back to center. Repeat on the opposite side.
3. Aim to keep the head in line with the rest of the spine and the shoulders wide, even if it limits how far you twist.
4. Make the exercise more challenging by leaning back more or adding a weight in the hands.

Tabletop to Leg Reach/Scissors
8-10 repetitions

1. Start on your back with your legs bent at 90 degrees, knees together stacked over top of hips (tabletop).
2. Making sure your spine stays in neutral (maintain natural curves of the spine) reach the legs away from the body. Legs can reach parallel to the floor (harder) or more toward the ceiling (easier). Check to be sure you haven't created any extra space under the back, that the ribcage is still pulled together and that the shoulders are still wide/ grounded into the mat.
3. As an option, criss-cross the legs in the lengthened position, keeping the pelvis grounded into the mat.
4. Bend the knees back to 90 degrees as you pull the legs back into tabletop and repeat the sequence.

Straight-Arm Side Plank
Hold 30-60 seconds on each side.
Alternate, repeating 2-3 times on each side.

1. Start seated on your side with the legs stacked.
2. Press up into side plank by lifting the hips off of the floor using the shoulder of the bottom arm as well as the underside of the waist (obliques).
3. In the full side plank, your shoulder should be stacked directly on top of your wrist. Your hips and shoulders should be square to the wall in front of you. The opposite arm should be lengthened toward the ceiling (harder) or the hand placed on the top hip (easier). Reach through the crown of your head and keep your head in line with the spine OR look at the top hand.
4. Shown above are three options for leg positioning, progressing from easiest to hardest.
a. Legs staggered--top leg placed in front on the floor
b. Legs stacked--legs in parallel on top of one another
c. Legs in star--top leg reaching up toward the ceiling

Back Extension w/Arm Hover/Reach
6-8 repetitions of each type
1. Start on your stomach with the arms bent alongside the body. Your gaze should be down at the mat, keeping the back of the neck long. Fingertips should be pointing toward the head and the elbows are tucked into the ribcage. Legs can be together (harder) or about the width of your mat (easier).
2. Before starting any movement, engage the front side of the core by drawing the navel into the spine and pressing the pubic bone gently into the mat. Keeping this engagement throughout the exercise is very important to protecting and supporting the back.
3. First practice your back extension with the hands still connected to the mat as you press up.
Aim to just use the hands for balance and not to push into it. Your back (supported by the front side of the core) should be doing the work to lift you.
4. As you lift, keep length through the spine and imagine your head reaching away from the feet. Lift up only as far as you can keep the spine long from tailbone to the top of the head. The goal is not height but alignment of the spine on the lift.
5. Once you feel confident, you can advance the exercise by adding in the hand hover on the lift, as well as an arm reach overhead. 
6. When reaching overhead, keep the shoulder blades down the back as well as shoulders away from ears. Aim to keep the same height with the back as you reach the arms overhead and bring them back to your side.
7. Return to the starting point on each repetition.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Living #FullOn: My 30-day Challenge of Doing More of What Scares Me

By Susie Crossland-Dwyer

For the past 30 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
-Steve Jobs from a commencement speech at Stanford University 

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my car, waiting outside of the local Thai eatery, Wild Ginger, for my take-out mango curry when lululemon's latest blog post "what do you do that's full-on?" popped up on my iPhone. There was something in both the title and the timing that froze the moment, making my stomach do a butterfly dance. 
(link to lululemon blog post)
First, I need to go back. The last three plus years of my life, since starting studio s from scratch, have been both VERY taxing and equally exhilarating. I started my business with the simple strong desire to make a positive, lasting difference in peoples' lives and to create my own playground where any/ all ideas I produced could hypothetically come to fruition. After years in the business and a deep desire to continue my work, I did my research, made a plan, searched for locations, secured the loans and pulled the trigger.
studio s opening night....the party is over and I'm christening the machines in my party dress.
I can distinctly remember the moment I signed the lease. It felt like every Christmas morning I'd ever experienced was put into one giant instant.  Minutes later I walked out of the bank where the notary public had firmly stamped the lease with my signature on it and I thought, "OH SHIT, now I have to make this happen." I didn't have an inheritance or a pile of cash saved up for emergency use. I didn't have a business degree. I didn't have any woman (I hate to say it, but being a woman in business is different) in my life who had traveled this exact path. I didn't have an existing fitness business whose model I wanted to mirror. Some may call this stupid, naive or too risky. But I knew that to succeed it would take more than numbers on a spreadsheet or extra money in the bank. I had passion. I had conviction. I knew I was a hard-worker with decent ideas and a hell of a moral support system. Most important of all, I had belief in myself and my vision.

My #1 supporter taken during the studio build-out. 
The process of building a business is forever life-changing. No one wants to hear the story of woes. If you've started your own business, you know what it involves. If you haven't, then you probably don't care about the details. To say that studio s has dramatically changed my life for the better is to drastically understate how much I love my "job" and my community. But, there are difficulties--late night, early morning, around-the-clock, use every physical-mental-emotional-spiritual-resource difficulties. I recently read in a blog post by Stephanie St. Claire that "entrepreneurship is the most life changing relationship (like marriage or parenthood) that a person can have." I can vouch for that.

Business involves risk. Risk is scary. I don't care who you are or what you've endured, it's damn scary. Luckily, I didn't realize how scary until I was already knee deep in the process. But, thank goodness. I couldn't be happier. Every day I get up, I'm terrified ... and I'm fulfilled. For me, the two go hand-in-hand. To get out of my comfort zone and see what awaits is to be truly alive. Despite the many, many hard days I can go forward without regret, without wondering what could've been.

You can measure opportunity with the same yardstick that measures the 
risk involved. They go together.
– Earl Nightingale

So, when I saw lululemon's challenge to live full-on, I thought, "Sure, I know what that feels like and it's produced a lot of good in my life, but could I expose myself in new ways?" November 2013 was to be a trial of literally doing one thing a day that scared me. The month was incredibly memorable. I succeeded. I failed. I started out the month strong, invested myself in the process, and then life reminded me that sometimes things aren't as neat and tidy as checking items off of a list. Sometimes life itself is uncomfortable and requires growth.

November 1st was a bittersweet and very scary day. I had taken more than six months to make the difficult decision to let go of personal training one-on-one. I did this in order to focus more on the business end of studio s as well as regain some personal balance after working 80-90 hours a week for the last four years. (I know this sounds like an exaggeration and I wish it were, but it's not.) My personal training clients are not just my clients but my friends. I spent upwards of two hours per week with most of these people, some of them for the last five years. We would work out, sweat hard, weigh in, talk about life difficulties, insecurities, hopes, dreams and experience the ups and downs of time together. It was sacred, it was special and something I know I was born to do. But, it slowly became clear that letting go of something I love dearly was the only way to continue to grow, as a business and as a person. I needed more time to not only practice what I preach in life/fitness, but to be able to live full-on in more and different ways. November was the start of a whole new chapter, one I had not seen in quite some time--a 40-hour work week.
Diana, one of my long-time clients and friends at the 2nd studio s anniversary party.
On November 2nd, I was in bed reading as evening began to fall. I realized I was reaching the end of day number two without having risen to the challenge. And that's when it hit me. Day two was the time to cross off one of the crazier items: running naked through the woods. I quickly recruited Chris--like that was hard--and we got busy undressing and then redressing with just winter coats, sweatpants and headlamps. 

We pulled up on a back street near Ault Park and hiked with purpose towards the woods. I couldn't believe how my heart raced as we approached the entrance. I was really nervous! We quickly clicked off our headlamps and as we ducked down one of our favorite trails, our eyes began to recalibrate, making the pitch black a fuzzy shade of gray. At first, all we could hear was the cracking of branches and the rustling of leaves. But then the outlines of the familiar trail began to take shape, including a bench just on the edge. One layer of clothes became no layers and we were, as they say, off and running.
Yes, I have real proof of the deed but it's not internet-friendly.
It was more than fun. It was freedom in it's rawest form. I could've tromped through the forest darkness all night. I had let go and the cold air against my bare body felt like the true meaning of happiness.

As the days passed, I grew in my ability to pull the scare trigger faster and faster. What before would've been a major pause in my action became a quick curiosity to see how I felt each time I tried something new. And something else happened. I began to notice my general hesitation in life; my tendency to yield to what I'm used to, to do what feels comfortable and familiar. I realized I didn't only need an item on a list that I thought scared me. I needed a new approach, a willingness to be a little bit uncomfortable in many moments versus a lot uncomfortable in a few big moments.

Speaking with one of my heroes--NY Times best-selling author and powerful, passionate human--Anne Lammot. At various time in life, I've been transformed by her writing and inspired by her boldness. 

Yup, I registered to run in my undies for charity. Cupid Undie Run

Mid-run just after signing up for North Face 50-miler #2. Can you see the apprehension on my face?

My beautiful best friend.
But the big moments weren't over either. Mid-November late one Friday night as I was preparing my classes for the following morning, I got an unusual phone call from my step-dad Ben. He seemed alarmed. My mom, who had just returned from presenting at an event, told him she couldn't remember anything that had happened there, how she got home, nor a few events from earlier in the day, including her workout with me hours prior. First you must know, my mom is one of the sharpest, best thinkers I've ever met. She is also the picture of health and has taken care of herself, as we all should. This was REALLY out of character. We decided to meet at the ER and rule out the worst imaginable scenarios--stroke, brain tumors, etc.

The hours that followed felt like a nightmare coming true. Seeing her first-hand in such an unusual state was a shock I hadn't prepared for. This was my super fit, healthy mother after-all. This just wasn't what I had ever pictured. During this strange window of time, she ceased creating new short-term memories and, as a result, we had the same conversation 40 times. Literally, the same three sentences. If you've ever watched the movie 50 First Dates then you know exactly the phenomenon I'm speaking of. As it started to sink in, I became physically sick. The room started spinning and I felt a wave of nausea come over me. As the nurse entered the room, I quietly excused myself and found the closest empty bed to catch myself on. I didn't care if it was dirty or clean--I was getting ready to pass out.

Four hours later, after pulling myself together as she underwent a litany of tests, we left the ER with very few answers. We knew that her brain wasn't bleeding and there had been no stroke. She was still very mentally fuzzy but seemingly starting to come out of it--repeating less and less.

By the next morning, she was completely back to normal.

Days later, she was diagnosed as having experienced a very rare amnesia event that can happen to perfectly healthy people with little chance of recurrence. But for a few hours that night in the hospital, I thought my life as I knew it was over. As we waited for answers in the days that followed, I was anxious, worn down and unsure. I couldn't mentally escape the traumatic night in the ER. It's been said many times that our reality can change in an instant. I didn't know precisely what that meant until November 15th.

In the weeks that followed, I needed a break from my list. I didn't need to add scarey to my days, I was already terrified of the doctors finding something more and by the possibility of what could've happened that night. I put the challenge on hold. But as I began to process what had happened at the hospital and the days following, the need to live full-on became more apparent. Making my list, undertaking the challenge and then being surprised with life events were directly connected.

I don't know how many more moments I get with my mom. I pray and hope thousands upon thousands more. But, none of us are guaranteed a single one of those moments. Life's fragile and fleeting nature is precisely why we MUST live full-on. The challenge does not end with November. It will be an ever-evolving list as well as small interactions where I step out of what I'm comfortable with in order to experience more of what this spin around the sun has to offer.

The List (for now)
Let's be honest here, this isn't my full list. Some of these items that are personal in nature I'm willing to share and others are for just me ... and ... well ... me and Chris. Here are some items I crossed off and others I'm working on completing. The criteria of items on the list was that they had to carry some significance. Of course watching a horror movie would scare me but, most likely, not yield change or growth within. Other items, I'm not necessarily afraid of, but I know once I did them they would force me out of my comfort zone. This is what full-on means to me. Heck, half of the battle is admitting these things scare me. Does that count as an item (or two)?

1. master a headstand
2. buy a stranger a drink, make a friend 
3. blog about my own imperfections/general body image (in progress)
4. do a race I haven’t trained extensively for
5. change my schedule to make ME, FAMILY and BIZ a priority
6. run through the woods naked
7. juice cleanse
8. rock climbing
9. be radically honest with loved ones (in progress)
10. cook a 5-course meal
11. private 
12. speak up for animal rights
13. re-invent my schedule
14. practice being super direct 
15. private 
16. workout in my sports bra more often
17. ride my bike on the road more frequently post-crash (in progress)
18. Cornell's program in plant-based nutrition (research/registration done)
19. sign up for Landmark in Seattle with lululemon
20. sign up for undies run
21. private
22. private
23. meet a few of my heroes and make a confession
24. register for next epic race=NFEC 50-miler 
25. write a book (in progress)
26. admit to some of my BIG goals
27. snowboarding
28. private

"30,000 mornings, give or take, is all we're given. If you're 26, you still have 20,000 left. If you're 54, you still have 10,000. An accident or illness could change all that, of course. But let's count on you to remain safe and healthy all your allotted life--in which case you still have plenty of time. Sort of. 'We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well,' wrote author Paul Bowles, who lived to ripe old age of 32,442 mornings. 'Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.' 30,000 mornings. We'll spend some of them on the treadmill, or fighting traffic, or standing in line at the bagel shop. Just be sure to spend some of yours seeking and savoring the real beauty, mystery, and adventure of your days. This is your life; don't miss a day of it." -Excerpt from 7: How many days of the week can be extraordinary?