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Harriet and Rachelle are co-directors of Great Shape Studio at the Jerusalem International YMCA. For more information, see bottom of article.
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Q: I am a 35-year-old, slightly overweight woman with cellulite on my legs. I've heard that there are creams that help with this unsightly appearance. Will the creams get rid of cellulite or are there any specific exercises that would be more effective in dealing with this?
A: Cellulite is characterized by a dimpled, orange-peel look, but is technically plain fat. We all have connective tissue that separates fat cells into compartments. In men, these compartments have horizontal patterns, while women's compartments have a honeycomb appearance which gives fat a greater chance to protrude or bulge, causing the dimpled look of cellulite. Women are therefore more likely to develop cellulite than men. In addition, as we age, the skin becomes thinner, which leads to the appearance of cellulite after the age of 30.
Genetics are a key factor in determining where we store fat cells and how many fat cells we have. Another crucial factor is exercise. Regular exercise will decrease the chance of developing cellulite and, if it does develop, the dimpled look will be less pronounced.
Many people still like the appeal of a quick fix, like a cream or a wrap. But, physiologically, they can't work. A cream applied to the skin cannot penetrate the skin to rearrange the fat cells beneath the surface. Fat is compressed with a body wrap so the skin will appear smooth, but the next day the skin will be back to normal.
Many people also look to diets for a quick fix. While diets may result in weight loss, at least one quarter of the weight lost is muscle, which will lead to a lower metabolism. When we return to eating normally our slow metabolism will cause us to gain even more weight than we lost.
So what does work to combat cellulite? Daily aerobic exercise together with two to three strength-training sessions a week targeting both the upper and lower body, together with a healthy diet have the most effect in improving the situation. Dr. Wayne Westcott of the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass. and author of "No More Cellulite" (Perigee, 2003) has proven that the combination of a 20 minute strength training program with specific exercises together with 20 minutes of treadmill walking or jogging three times per week and good eating habits resulted in a substantial reduction in fat and an increase in muscle. This positive change in body composition will result in increased metabolism, which means that fat is being burned at a faster rate, even at rest.
If you're not sure what exercises to do, it's a good idea to hire a personal trainer for a couple of sessions to get you started so that you can continue the exercises on your own. The exercise and healthy eating plan will not only improve your appearance, but your health as well.
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Q: I have a very good physique from compulsive martial arts exercises over the past 40 years. I am 55, but from the neck down, look like I am much younger and look much like the reconnaissance Marines I work out with weekly.
I have good empirical knowledge about exercise, but wanted to get a formal certification so I can work at or open a gym.
Is there a good web-based study program that you could recommend?
NESTA and ACE come to mind.
A: Dear Bob,
It's wonderful that you want to share your passion for fitness with others. Both the organizations you mentioned (NESTA and ACE) are excellent. ACE is probably the most widely recognized certifying organization. You might also want to look into NASM - it, too, is excellent. Many fitness professionals have more than one certification. The more qualified you are, the more marketable you will be. I don't know where you live, but in Israel, according the Sports Law passed in the Knesset, anyone who works in a weight room needs to be certified by the Wingate Institute unless their foreign certification is approved by the Ministry of Education.
In addition to formal certification, I strongly encourage you to get some practical experience. Find out if anyone in your city offers a mentoring program. If not, contact a trainer you respect and ask if you can observe him/her working with clients. People skills are an essential part of this profession and you cannot develop them through an online certification organization.
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Q: How do I tighten my thighs? I am losing weight and they are getting wobbly.
A: There could be many answers to your question, depending on how you have lost the weight, whether you have loose skin that is wobbling, or out of shape muscles that need strengthening. You must also consider your genetic makeup.
If your weight loss has been through exercise, you have chosen the best way to do it and the one that has been proven to be the most lasting way to keep off weight. Be sure to include strength training along with an aerobic component.
If you have not been exercising, start now - with your doctor's ok. Be sure to have as part of the program exercises targeting the large muscles in the thighs, the quadriceps and the hamstrings. Strong muscles require more calories just to exist.
When you lose weight you cannot target the areas where you want the fat to disappear; it gets burned from the whole body. So you cannot target the thighs for the weight loss, just for the strengthening.
Check out the shape of your ancestors too. The genetic makeup you have inherited also influences your shape.
If you have loose skin that is wobbling then you may want to consult a plastic surgeon - when you are at the weight with which you are happy.
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Q: How long does it take to tighten the muscles in the lower back so that certain exercises are no longer painful and how does one do that?
A: I think there is confusion here between tight muscles and strong muscles. No exercise should ever be painful if it is done correctly. The muscle may fatigue from overload, but that's different from pain. However, if an exercise is done incorrectly, the lower back muscles could be strained and incorrect movements could cause injury to the back. What needs to be strengthened is the "core" of the body, i.e. the muscles of the abdomen, the pelvic floor muscles and the multifidus muscle which is a deep layer of muscle attached to the spine. Strengthening these muscles and using them correctly will prevent injury and will lead to a "healthy back". Pilates exercises are particularly effective in targeting these muscles and strengthening them. To ensure safety, strengthening exercises should be done with a qualified instructor, particularly if someone is a newcomer to exercise. After 2 months of regular exercise (at least twice a week) targeting the core, you should not only feel stronger with better posture, but you will also be aware of correct movements in your everyday life that will prevent a lower back injury.
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Q: What is Pilates? How does it differ from regular, Western exercise, say aerobics or working out on machines? How does it differ from yoga?
A: Thank you for your inquiry about Pilates. Pilates is a form of movement that, after time, becomes a way of thinking. Unlike aerobic exercise which increases cardiovascular fitness and strength training machines which strengthen muscles, Pilates is a form of muscle conditioning that targets primarily the core of the body, i.e. the abdomen, back and pelvic floor. By strengthening these muscles deep in the torso and around the spine, Pilates can help prevent injuries and alleviate chronic back pain. The exercises improve flexibility and joint mobility, build muscle endurance and strength while improving co-ordination, balance, mental focus and postural alignment. All this is accomplished through specific, efficient and effective exercises which are non-jarring to the joints. Yoga, while also helping to improve flexibility, strength, balance, focus and relaxation, does not focus on the core of the body as Pilates does.
Pilates exercises are named after Joseph H. Pilates who was born in Germany in 1880. He designed a series of more than 500 mind-body movements or exercises to develop strong, flexible muscles. His emphasis on breathing and torso strength, gleaned from a background in yoga, Zen meditation and rigorous exercise regimens of ancient Greeks and Romans, ensured improved posture and reduced stress and risk of injury. His approach was to combine the Eastern emphasis on controlled breathing, controlled movements and highly-focused attention with the more Western approach that relies heavily on resistance.
Pilates is extremely popular because of today's sedentary lifestyle and the accompanying high incidence of back pain. Pilates exercises can be performed on special Pilates machines or can be done on a mat. Many studios that offer Pilates also offer occasional sessions in "Introduction to Pilates". I suggest you look for an introductory class so that you would be able to understand the need to stabilize the core of the body before doing specific exercises.
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Q: What are the benefits of yoga?
A: The American Council on Exercise recently concluded a study at the University of Wisconsin to find out just how effective yoga really is. It has been practiced for thousands of years and its popularity in the west has increased but very little research had been done to assess its benefits.
Now the researchers recruited 34 healthy women, who had not exercised in the past six months, for the study. The yoga group participated in a 55 minute Hatha yoga class three times a week for an eight-week period. The control group was prohibited from participating in any other form of exercise.
After analyzing the before and after measurements the researchers found that the regular practice of Hatha yoga significantly improved the subjects' flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, and balance. However there was no improvement in aerobic capacity.
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Q: I am fit, but somehow my abdomen keeps growing steadily, in spite of exercises and this really bothers me. What can be done about it?
A: You say that everything is OK, but before you begin exercising you should check with a physician to be sure that all is well. After that it is important to know the type of exercises you do. It is not possible to target any particular muscle group for weight loss, but you can strengthen them with a proper workout. If the abdomen is growing because of fat, then aerobic exercise is important to aid in losing body fat.
Sit-ups use the hip flex and momentum and do not target the abdominal muscle groups. Pilates type exercise focuses on the abs and the back and would be more appropriate. Many fitness professionals, even if they do not teach Pilates per se, are familiar with the techniques and can guide you in building a program to help with those abs!
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Q: My son's bar mitzva will be in just over four months. I am five kilos overweight and need to get toned. Will this give me enough time? I am in "reasonable" shape, but am always on a semi - diet so as soon as I eat something, like bread, I feel I have blown up and spend three days trying to get it off. What can I do to get in shape and stay in shape?
A: Active living and sensible eating are the main things you can do to get in shape and to stay in shape.
Active living requires moving your body. You would need cardiovascular exercise (walking quickly, jogging, aerobic dancing, swimming, cycling, etc.). The key to losing excess body fat and keeping it off is burning more calories through activity than you take in from your healthy diet.
Strength training is important to make stronger muscles. There are a number of studies that clearly suggest that doing both strength and aerobic exercises, and eating a sensible diet is probably the best way to get to a healthier weight. Just 20-30 minutes twice a week will help strengthen those muscles. Stretching rounds out any fitness program by improving your performance, decreasing muscle tension and by keeping you from injuring yourself. It is a great stress reducer and feels good!
A certified fitness professional can help you plan your workout program in order to reach your goals in an enjoyable and safe way. You can join a group fitness class that includes all the components mentioned or opt for a personal trainer to help you reach your goals.
Sensible eating requires that you stop thinking of diets and instead focus on healthy eating. Fad diets do not work and people tend to gain back all they have lost from them and more. A nutritionist can assess your health needs and goals and plan with you how to change your eating patterns so that there will no longer be that "forbidden slice of bread."
The four months you have until the bar mitzva should give you time to get started on a shaping and toning program that can continue for a lifetime.
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Q: I would like to lose fat from my thighs, how can I target them?
A: It has been scientifically proven that you cannot spot reduce. When you exercise and eat right you will burn fat from the entire body with the thighs enjoying the benefit too.
A study conducted in the mid-1980s had groups participating in vigorous abdominal exercies for 27 days (5,000 sit-ups over the course of the project). Fat biopsies were obtained from the subjects' abdomens, buttocks and upper backs before and after the exercise program. The results revealed that the fat decreased similarly at all three sites-not just in the abdominal region. So fat was lost but not in one area.
Fat is gained or lost throughout the entire body with the last areas to become leaner being the one where an individual tends to gain fat first. Do some sort of aerobic exercise as well as strength training and your whole body will benefit.
Q: I've heard that 30-minute circuit workouts are really popular, but do they meet the basic fitness requirements and are they really effective for weight loss?
A: Thirty-minute circuit workouts have become extremely popular in the US, thanks to the success of Curves for Women. Since its inception in 1992, more than 4 million women have joined the 30-minute circuit-training gyms and it is now the fastest-growing franchise in US history. To test whether the workout actually meets the recommended guidelines for health and fitness, ACE (the American Council on Exercise) conducted a study together with 2 researchers from the University of Wisconsin. The subjects were between 26 and 55 years old, with an average age of 42. The subjects participated in a typical 30-minute Curves workout and switched stations every 30 seconds.
The researchers found that the intensity of the workout was similar to walking four miles an hour (for 30 minutes) on a flat treadmill, which classifies it as a moderate-intensity workout. Although it is comparable to a brisk walk, the Curves workout is likely to be more of a total-body exercise because it incorporates resistance training for the upper body and core, as well as the legs. The researchers found that the typical Curves workout is not only within the recommended guidelines, but the participants also get the benefits of strength training, which they don't get from walking.
In a 30-minute circuit workout, women who participate in the workout an average of three times a week lose weight steadily because of the combined aerobic exercise (which burns calories and fat) and strength training (which builds muscle). Strength training is essential to weight loss as it increases the body's metabolism, meaning that calories are burned at a faster rate. Doctors are also referring their patients with mild osteoporosis to the program because of the weight-bearing and resistance nature of the exercise.
The 30-minute circuit workout targets the inactive segment of the population or the women who have been scared away by traditional gyms. Its additional advantage is that it's fast (30 minutes) and women can schedule it for a time that's convenient to them as it is not related to any time-based program.
Rachelle Oseran has 21 years experience as a fitness professional. She is certified by ACE (the American Council on Exercise). She is also a certified prenatal/postnatal exercise instructor. She has presented at international fitness conventions in the U.S., Europe, Africa and the Far East.
Harriet Scher has 30 years experience as a fitness professional in the US and Israel. She is certified by ACE ( The American Council on Exercise) and Schwinn as an indoor cycling instructor, and is trained in Pilates.
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Cafe Oleh experts have been chosen for their knowledge and reputation. Cafe Oleh does not take responsibility for any advice they offer.
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