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Exercise Does Not Have to be Painful

Yoga, Pilates & Tai Chi
  -- By Julie Isphording, former Olympian

For a long time I thought that being in pain was part of the plan, a sign of progress. I was so used to hobbling around on achy feet, with leg muscles so sore that I couldn’t walk up and down stairs without holding on to the banister for dear life.

Pain was a persistent part of my life. Getting out of the car took at least 5 minutes. I couldn’t keep up with my 62-year-old mother on a little walk. I would push myself through races and run at least 100 miles a week training for the Olympics and the New York City marathon... even the Thanksgiving Day 10K. I ran well. I ran fast. But THE PAIN was always there. I learned to live with it.

But I have finally learned after 23 years of running that you just can’t conquer pain. You only delay the inevitable. Once the pain takes over – once you wave the white flag – all your courage, determinations, talent and tenacity will not carry you one more step.

When you drive yourself too hard, you actually drive yourself into hell. You have to pause and give yourself enough time to rest and rejuvenate, replenish and relax.

Now you can and should find some time for calmer, gentler workouts. A dynamic group of alternative fitness workouts like yoga, Pilates, and Tai chi-are now in health clubs, gyms and on home videos. Their approach to fitness emphasizes flexibility, balance and breathing. The idea is to "think" through your moves – slowly, effectively and gracefully – not just to get a better butt, but to integrate a balanced approach to fitness that helps you to relieve stress and bring more calmness to your life.

That’s great – I am all for less stress. But where is the "workout" part? I’m a runner – I’m used to intensity. Can you get an effective, enhancing body workout too? Absolutely. Here are some answers for you:

Endurance: YES
The movements involve lots of reps and holding one position for a long time. This prolonged practice will train your muscles to keep working for an extended period of time. That’s good news, but remember, those same movements will give you the same results. Consequently, it is essential that you try to vary the routine every 4-6 weeks and work on other muscles. This way you "jumpstart" or awaken other muscles and build even better results. Change is good both physically and mentally.

Strength: MAYBE
If the resistance is progressive – either with bands, weights, or body-weight resistance – than yes, you will build strength. However, most of these type routines do not involve weights that challenge your muscles to the point where they are strengthened.

Flexibility: YES
Consistent stretching of various muscles will improve your flexibility. Most of these type workouts involve very focused stretching routines with lots of breathing exercises to enhance the movements. However, the key to flexibility is consistency. Muscles need to be properly warmed up and stretched regularly to maintain and enhance a joint’s range of motion.

Weight-loss: QUESTIONABLE
Most of these workouts do not provide enough exertion to get your heart rate up and therefore burn a lot of calories. So they are not the best fat burners out there. However, with any focused movement you are burning calories.

Cardio: WHAT DO YOU THINK?
If your level of exertion is maximized, than your heart rate is up to the point where you’re building cardiovascular strength. However, let’s be honest: for the most part these type exercises do not – and in many cases should not – stress your heart to that point.

Reduce stress: ABSOLUTELY
Learning how to breathe correctly, meditating and focusing on your inner-self are all great ways to finding peace with yourself and your world.

I believe that most mind-body routines are great ways to improve overall fitness and to help you in many other areas of your life. You will notice all kinds of results. But always ask yourself the two most important questions of all: 1) Is it what you want? And most importantly: 2) Are you having fun?