Created by Joseph Pilates as a method of exercise to strengthen the body AND mind, Pilates has been growing rapidly in popularity since the early 20th century. Now practiced by fitness enthusiasts, those looking to overcome chronic pain and ailments and professional athletes like the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta and the Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews alike, there’s no reason not to give it a shot.

Want to take it a step further? While there are endless benefits to be reaped from practicing Pilates, there is no parallel for the level of knowledge you’ll receive from going through a Pilates teacher training program. Check out the testimonials from some of our Pilates Chicago grads below!

Related: how Pilates makes you mentally stronger and why you should try it.

Karen Ljungmann

I knew I wanted to take my fitness career in a new direction by attending Pilates school, however, I was undecided about which program to attend. I could not be happier about the choice I made! I knew from the beginning FFC’s program was going to be different from any other trainings I’d attended. I was very impressed by the organization and layout of the program, and I felt very supported – from the beginning to the end. There were times I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, but now looking back, it was part of the learning process (like letting go of the training wheels). I was learning new things, new ways to move the body and new ways to teach.

We were able to learn from THE best Chicago Pilates instructors, not just one. But what was really unique was all the hands-on training we had. We constantly practiced with each other – I was able to use the instructors as a resource on a constant basis. The classes were intense, but I looked forward to every weekend. We all grew together. I’m still friends with several of my peers from the program. I felt we were immersed and committed. I am excited and am getting ready to take the PMA, which I am fully prepared for thanks to the FFC Pilates Teacher Training program. I’ve been in the fitness industry for 10+ years and have gone through several different formats, trainings and certifications. Hands down, this is one of the best decisions I have made. My only regret? That I’d done this sooner! – Karen (kljungmann@ffc.com)

Alyssa Bell

Pilates helped me get back on my feet. Literally. In mid August of 2016, I had a nasty fall and injured my right ankle. I was devastated because I was 3.5 weeks away from beginning my Pilates teacher training program. The healing process for a periosteum tear takes a while – I couldn’t walk and I needed a boot to get around. However, I wasn’t going to let that keep me down; I started the program and began learning Pilates Mat work (which was perfect during that first month, it allowed me to work free of direct weight on my ankle).

I couldn’t believe it but I was actually getting stronger, without having to stand on my feet. I knew as a massage therapist, this was speeding up my healing process. As time went on, the black and blue swelling faded and I was learning exercises on various Pilates apparatuses.

Thinking back to the first day of the program, we had gone around to introduce ourselves and say why we wanted to be Pilates instructors. I told the group that to me, it’s a form of therapy, and something additional I want to give my clients. It empowers them to discover their own bodies and learn things they can take with them for the rest of their lives. The strength I was able to get back because of Pilates is something magical that I want everyone, especially dealing with an injury, to discover. It’s a form of medicine! – Alyssa (abell@ffc.com)

Related: read about this instructor’s life-changing pre and post-surgery Pilates experience!

Jennifer Dahl

As a long-time lover of fitness, I’ve always appreciated Pilates, but no more than working one-on-one with a trainer. I decided to take the plunge into the Pilates Teacher Training Program in August 2018 and have been thrilled to work through the program so far – the content is extremely well put together, the trainers are highly knowledgeable, approachable and willing to help me grow. As a fitness director at FFC, I have seen two of my personal trainers successfully complete the program which has set them up to be incredible hybrid trainers.

As a powerlifter, I was intrigued by Pilates as a means to improve my posture, stabilize muscles and increase my core strength – all as a means to life heavier! So far, Pilates has done exactly that. I’m sitting taller behind the desk I’m at for hours on end, feeling less pain in my hips, shoulders and knees, both in and outside of training sessions. Additionally, I can see my posture is improving – I look taller, my shoulders are more relaxed and the rest of my mind/body connection has increased dramatically.

The Pilates training program is perfect for anyone who wants to learn for their personal practice to enhance their skill set as a trainer, or even as someone craving education. – Jen (jdahl@ffc.com)

Paula Ziols

I came to FFC a year ago with a modern Pilates certification, and enrolled in the classical Pilates teacher training program to learn more. I loved what the training did for my body, in strength, and found all three instructors to be very supportive. The training was exceptional and I would recommend it to any personal trainer to bring their training level to a new place. I have been incorporating the classical method I learned with clients and have had great success. – Paula (pziols@ffc.com)

Joanna Tomczynska

Many years ago, while I was living in Connecticut, I decided to try a Pilates Mat class because of my aches, pains, lower back issues, shoulder impingement and straight neck. I wasn’t aware of all the good that Pilates was going to bring to my life – but kept doing it and getting better.

I then moved to Chicago, joined FFC and started going to mat classes. That is where I met Kristin (very pregnant then) who would give the classes with such ease, knowledge and energy that I started to love it even more and would look forward to her classes. I’ve always been athletic, but Pilates gave me the inner core strength I needed to gain better posture and flexibility, AND get rid of my back pain. I didn’t want to continue going to the chiropractor, so I kept going to Pilates classes. That’s when a friend told me about becoming an instructor.

I joined the training program and I have to say, it is not only the knowledge of the teacher that is important (and surely is what the instructors with the FFC Pilates teacher training program have) but also the good energy they put into it, the beautiful facility, flexibility to allow students to train and practice and the work opportunities! Kristin pushed me to my current level of confidence and without her I would not be where I am today, loving what I do, and seeing my clients progress. – Joanna

Take a Pilates Class or Sign Up for the Program!

Want to learn more about this part of the Pilates Chicago community, the program, or simply try out a Pilates class at FFC? Email kstrom@ffc.com!

Tucker Dupree is a professional swimmer. Not only that, he has been swimming professionally for 12 years, has swum for Team USA at the Paralympics, has won medals and World Championships, and is also one of FFC’s newest endurance coaches.

FFC marketing manager Megan Zink had the opportunity to talk to Tucker about his background, the challenges he’s overcome and advice learned along the way… and the best way to get into a cold pool.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Megan Zink: So Tucker, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, and also your background with FFC.

Tucker Dupree: I had a lot of great opportunities to wear the Team USA uniform for 12 years as an athlete, and swim for all the best coaches in the world. I had the ability to represent our country at 3 different Paralympic games; 2008, 2012, 2016. And to take the sport of swimming and travel the world and represent our country was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever dreamed of doing as a kid.

I retired last year after the World Championships. When I won the 50 freestyle, I was like, ‘alright, I’m done, I’m going out on top. I need nothing more from this sport, I’ve won all the medals.’ After that, I had the opportunity to really sit there and say, ‘what’s next? I’m not getting any younger.’ So I retired from swimming, and I now work for the marketing team at BP down here in the loop.

MZ: I read that you started losing your eyesight when you were 17, and then in a short number of months, it progressed. But I also read that your take was, ‘I love this so much, I have to make it work. I have to figure out how to make it work.’ So do you have any advice for people who feel like they have come up against obstacles in their lives that seem indomitable? Like, ‘I don’t even know how I’m going to get around this’ type obstacles?

TD: A couple of things. I was going through the transition of okay, ‘I didn’t lose all of my vision’, so I’m not going to sit around and think about ‘what if’ – the condition I have is so rare, that when I was diagnosed, everyone was like, ‘well you could wake up tomorrow and be completely blind, so, good luck.’ There was no, ‘this is exactly what’s going to happen to you.’

When that all happened [when I was 17], I was swimming. And I had all these aspirations to swim in college, I had different scholarships on the table, and I was like, ‘okay, what am I going to do, because I’ve worked so hard to get to this stage in my career, but also I’m losing my sight.’

So I sat down and talked to one of my swim coaches at the time, who had been coaching me since I was a teenager – 12 all the way through 18 – and who actually became the travel coach with me throughout my Olympic journey. She said, ‘you have a choice. You can pick between what’s right, and what’s easy.’ And I think that was the biggest crossroads for me, because losing my vision was something everyone was telling me was going to give me depression – there wasn’t a cure for what was going on with me. And that’s something that I really had to pick between. Because it was so easy to give up, it was so easy to have this become something that was depressing or something to feel bad about. Or, I could say, ‘hey, you know what? I’m going to do something great with this. I’m gonna show people that yes, I am technically ‘disabled’ but also that it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.’

Because I’m still a person, right? And I say this all the time – yes, I’m part of the disabled community, but at the same time, people with disabilities are people with disabilities. The word people is before that. And I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve been an advocate for – we’re not less. Yes, I have something that’s different. But at the same time, any time someone meets me or I talk to them, they’ll say something like, ‘I didn’t even know you are blind.’

I lived 17 years of my life fully-sighted and I have a visual impairment now, and a little bit of my vision in the middle is gone. But at the same time, I had the opportunity to take a sport and represent our country in the Paralympics, which is the second largest sporting event in the world (it’s bigger than the World Cup) and a lot of people in the US don’t know that. So I was like, ‘I have to get out, I have to tell my story.’ For me, the only things that really impaired me in the pool were that I couldn’t really read a clock, or the practice on the board. But other than that, I was doing everything that everyone else was doing. I tell a lot of people that swim with me, ‘you’ll never even notice that I can’t see most of what’s going on around me because I’m very high-functioning.’

‘Because it was so easy to give up, it was so easy to have this become something that was depressing or something to feel bad about. Or, I could say, ‘hey, you know what? I’m going to do something great with this. I’m gonna show people that yes, I am technically ‘disabled’ but also that it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.’

With this swim workshop I’m doing at FFC, I’m going to be in the water with everyone, I’m going to be demonstrating what I’m talking about and it’s very athlete-specific; it’s not going to be a workout that I write up on the board and then I yell at you. I think that’s something unique – a ‘walk the walk, talk the talk’ sort of thing. Giving everyone a wealth of knowledge is really my philosophy, because there isn’t just one way to fix swimming. Because that’s not what worked for me. I had coaches all around the world teach me different things, and what I want to bring to the table with this class is that this is not just a workout, this is an opportunity to really tweak the things that you want to get better at, to improve your ironman, or just to have the ability to come in and swim consecutively. Whatever your goals are, that’s what this class is about.

Tucker Dupree FFC endurance

Photo courtesy of TriMonster

MZ: That was actually going to be my next question – has this sort of changed the way that you coach people? Because I know when you were working with coaches [when you were losing your eyesight] they had to get way more descriptive with you.

TD: The thing about this sport is – I tell people all the time – it is not easy, at all. To do this at an elite level, it takes a LOT of work. And it’s tweaking little things. Moving your hand 4 inches to the left over the course of 45 strokes goes a long way, because it’s improving every single stroke. If you can tweak something that you’re already doing, it just goes so much better. This sport has a TON of moving parts – your hands, your legs, your feet, your head, your core, everything is moving – and you’re horizontal. The only time you’re horizontal during your day is when you sleep. And not only that; you’re floating… so body awareness – out the door. So I’m telling you to lay down, float, and work hard. So yeah – your brain is gonna explode. That’s normal. That’s something I tell people – this sport is not easy, but when you make it simplistic – I’ve had coaches sit down and describe everything to me, and then I got to go do it – that has really helps me as a coach now, to describe different ways to get from A to B.

MZ: So really quickly, because I don’t want to forget the other question I have; for me, the ‘getting in the pool’ thing – the cold water is terrible. Do you have any tips for getting over that?

TD: Just jump. You just gotta go. You can’t – the only way to do it is to not dip your toe it. That’s the worst idea.

MZ: Have you been able to – can you pinpoint anything you’ve taken from swimming or coaching and apply it to the bigger scale of life? Do you have any tips?

The sport is very repetitious; you go up and down the same lane expecting different results – which unless you’re changing things, is the definition of insanity. So I think having different perspectives is something that we all are always seeking – we’re always looking, especially in the fitness world – for that silver bullet, that ‘I want to be the best tomorrow’… but understanding that this sport teaches tenacity is something that I have really taken and put into my day to day life. There are days I show up to the pool feeling like crap and not really wanting to be there, but some of those days are my best training days. The fact that I came in and set a small goal for myself that day, of something like ‘every time I push off the wall, I’m going to have the best streamline I’ve ever had’ – that’s something that, over 5000 yards, is a lot. That’s 5000 yards of perfect streamlines. And when I’m swimming a race that takes 21 seconds, that’s a great training day.

I learned a lot from the sport, just being kind of aware of what I’m doing. And my sport was all about time, so being aware of time and time efficiency and being punctual – all that translates to day to day life. The sport gave so much to me – I did more without vision than I ever would have dreamed about doing sighted. Now it’s one of those things where I’m like, ‘alright, what do I do next?’

Just jump. You just gotta go. You can’t – the only way to do it is to not dip your toe it. That’s the worst idea.

Sign Up for a Swim Workshop with Tucker Dupree!

Want to take your technique to the next level? Sign up for a swim workshop with Tucker Dupree! Each class is strategically designed to provide members with drills to improve technique and efficiency, as well as interval workouts to improve speed and endurance. Email tdupree@ffc.com for more information!

 

I was never a healthy and active kid growing up. Instead of being outside running around or participating in sports, I’d rather sit myself in front of the TV for hours. My parents (my mom, in particular) noticed the bad eating and exercise habits our family had established. When I was in elementary school she took the initiative to sign our family up for an activity program.

The program allowed parents the opportunity to learn about how to implement a healthy lifestyle for their families. Once this kicked off, my mom’s awareness for what our family was eating and our exercise regime grew immensely. We started cooking more meals as a family at home, going on family walks, and decreasing our fast food intake.

(Side note: my mom is my role model; she challenged herself to make this change, not only for our family, but for herself. She lost close to 30 lbs while turning our family’s habits from bad to good.)

As for me, I became more aware of my body throughout middle school. I was not overweight; I was heavier than most kids though. I struggled with how I looked, being called names, and not having the confidence to do things that others around me were doing. By high school, as most teens do, I grew. Luckily taller. I felt better about myself; I started to become more aware of the changes my mom had made. This allowed me to notice what I was eating, how often, and how often I exercised.

It wasn’t until my senior year that I felt my best I had in high school. I overheard a classmate tell someone she ran a half marathon, and then it hit me – ‘I want to do that’.

Running into Trouble

I put together a running plan for myself, bought some new running shoes, and started eating better than I ever have. I fell in love with running; I was able to accomplish something that I never thought possible for myself. This training plan led me into my freshman year of college.

I was running and working out everyday. When it came to nutrition, though, I was eating the bare minimum. I finally felt happy with my body and I was afraid I would gain weight with the slightest indulgence. I thought I looked good. While I did loose the “freshman 15”, I was too thin. Family and friends were worried about me. Looking back, I was worried about myself.

I let this fitness ‘high’, so to speak, take over my mind and body. Yes, I looked good, I was eating healthy, and I felt good. I didn’t realize that this goal of losing weight was still implanted in my mind.

Related: a registered dietitian shares tips on how to realistically have a better relationship with food. Check out the post here.

Managing Moderation

Three years have passed since my freshman 15 ‘drop’; I work out everyday, eat incredibly healthy, and feel more confident in how I look and who I am. Being happy with how you look and who you are is challenging. There are times I struggle – allowing myself a rest day, or when I want to count macros.

Someone once told me to ask myself “Is this a helpful thought?”

So I continue to do so, I talk to my brain when it tells me not to eat the pizza or cupcake. I think, ‘is this helpful?’ Or ‘will it affect me to have one slice of pizza?’ Generally, the answer is no, and doing so allows me to be self-aware of my thoughts and the impact they have on my choices.

I challenge you to do the same on your own journey.

Post written by FFC Park Ridge Kids’ Club Supervisor Carolyn Perry; photos provided by Carolyn Perry.

Follow along with Carolyn on her Instagram here!

Life with toddlers is always fun and exciting. And full of managing expectations. One of our biggest joys as parents is experiencing some of our own favorite childhood traditions with them. Recently, my toddlers and I carved up our pumpkins to make festively scary Halloween jack-o’-lanterns. Here’s how it went!

Managing Expectations

As with any project, it’s important to set realistic expectations both for yourself as well as for your children.

The process, according to your expectation:

Really tap deeply into your nostalgia to conjure up all the memories of fun you had with your parents carving pumpkins (at likely a much older age than those of your children). This will help to develop imagery of the activity in advance so that you can appropriately set high expectations both for their level of involvement as well as the final product.

Bonus points: another helpful activity is to monitor your social media feed for a week, enjoying the happy, smiling faces of all your friends and their kids with their jack-o’-lantern masterpieces. This also helps to set your expectations for the process and finished product.

The process, according to their expectations:

Your aforementioned nostalgia and social media feed will have led you to visit a pumpkin patch weeks in advance. Your children’s carefully selected pumpkins will have been on display since the visit so that you can continually remind them how fun it will be to carve them up closer to Halloween. ‘No, not today. Closer to Halloween.’ ‘Nope, still not today.’ Etcetera.

By the time you sit down to carve the pumpkins, they will have been lustily gazing at the pumpkins and imagining themselves clutching sharp objects and hacking away at their darling gourds for as long as you have, so that they too will have high expectations of both their level of involvement as well as the final product.

Other Really, Really, Really Helpful Tips for Pumpkin Carving Success:

  • Choosing a pumpkin: choose a really big, thick pumpkin. They’re more challenging, so you and your kids will get the most of the experience.
  • Timing: try to choose a time that works for everyone, like if they have a fever or have thrown up recently. Maybe they were even up several times the night before.

Related: it’s not you, Fitbit, it’s me. A hilarious breakup letter to a Fitbit – because sometimes your goals are bigger than the number of steps you take.

The Main Event: Actually Carving the Pumpkins

Finally, the day has come. Here’s a list of easy steps for tapping into that nostalgia, managing expectations and carving that pumpkin into a beautiful, shiny smiling holiday gourd with your children.

1. Cut lid off of pumpkin.

2. Give everyone a fair chance to refuse to touch the pumpkin guts. This will provide you with an excellent opportunity to do all that work by yourself.

3. Give everyone spoons to develop a false sense of participation.

4. While you diligently take out the pumpkin guts and separate the seeds, be sure to repeat the following phrases as often as possible:

  • “No thank you, honey. We are taking the guts out of the pumpkin.”
  • “We want the seeds in the separate bowl. No thank you!”
  • “Will you please open the pumpkin back up? Take the lid back off, please.”
  • “Please get off the counter!”
  • “That’s sharp! Don’t touch, please!”

5. Allow your children to pick a carving pattern from the book without limiting the complicated nature of their choice.

6. Rely on their inherent flexibility to change the plan once you realize the pattern is way too difficult, even for you.

7. Time for a show and snack! Everyone gets their favorites. Not you, though. You can now focus on the business end of the pumpkin carving kit while the kids are otherwise distracted. Don’t panic when the single carving knife snaps in half midway through your project.

8. By this stage, you will be obsessively invested in the project. Any requests from your children will seem like interruptions, so be sure to respond to them unnecessarily harshly.

9. Urgently change the laundry so that the vomit-covered blankie of your youngest will be dry by nap time.

Ok, I’m back. Where was I? 8?

9. Allow your older child to participate in wildly concerning ways. This will make your younger child jealous and fussy, providing your children with an excellent opportunity to argue.

10. After you worked so hard to make the perfect ghost jack-o’-lantern, (resulting in a mutilated pumpkin that appears to have a jagged hole in the front), watch as your son gazes with pride at the final product.

11. Realize he would have liked anything you had done for him, no matter how terrible it turned out. You easily reach this conclusion since this really couldn’t look much worse than it does.

Post written by FFC Oak Park personal trainer Marylou Tawney.

FFC Oak Park Marylou TawnyMarylou “Mama Lou” Tawney is a personal trainer focusing on prenatal and postnatal exercise at FFC Oak Park. She is a mother of two rowdy boys, and specializes in wrestling, tackling, and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You can find her on Instagram at @mamalou_fitness – or shoot her an email at mtawney@ffc.com to set up a complimentary consultation!

I walked into my first spin class a very depressed woman. I’m not exaggerating—just a week before accepting my new position at FFC’s Oak Park location, I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. My battles for mental health are the result of genetic pre-dispositions and having grown up under the spell of a hyper-controlling and abusive father who is currently serving a prison sentence for a felony domestic assault.

I came to FFC during a major depressive episode—I almost didn’t even accept the job when Larry offered it because I didn’t believe I could thrive in a new atmosphere, especially one in the fitness industry. I, like many of my fellow depression survivors, fall into ruts of inactivity. Couple that with some bad body images, and you’ve got one very anxious couch potato in a gym full of people who are actively living their lives. Obviously, I accepted the job—with the encouragement from my husband—and I’ve loved working in Oak Park’s Local ’84, making connections, and catching that active energy from my coworkers that I couldn’t quite find within myself.

FFC Oak Park employee spotlight ChicagoIt has been about four months since I sent Larry the email to accept the open position, and I’ve experienced a change in my GAD, depression, and PTSD symptoms. I give a lot of credit to the positive working environment that FFC provides, but I also have to give credit to the first spin class I attended with Amy O’Dea. (Full disclosure: some credit must also go to my therapist and psychiatrist and their diligence in getting me on the correct mix and dose of medications.)

On a Wednesday morning in April, I walked into Studio 1 (very tired after losing many hours of sleep to anxiety over my first spin class) to fulfill my New Employee Orientation requirement to take a group fitness class, and was greeted by a highly energetic instructor, Amy. She was genuinely happy to be there and equally excited to help me set up my spin bike.

Related: how exercise helped save FFC Lincoln Park employee Nicole Achille’s life.

As members trickled in, my heart raced—I’d like to think it was because I was pedaling and I was working up a sweat, but I was also experiencing a rush of cortisol from neuron to neuron… and I was feeling quite anxious. I wish I could remember every little detail of that first 45-minute class, but the only thing I’m sure of is that my legs kept moving.

For years, every time my sister was visiting from DC, she would try to get me into a spin class with her. Every time, I turned down her offer—largely due to the anxiety triggered by trying something new. Now, I can’t go a week without fighting with that red resistance lever.

How spinning helped me overcome anxiety, depression and PTSD.In that first class, I was convinced I would fail. I truly did not have faith in my body; I didn’t believe my legs could carry me through the class. “Focus on the beat, and trust your legs,” I hear Amy repeat that affirmation several times as she leads us through various drills in the subsequent classes I’ve taken, and it’s still much easier said than done. But that day, when I finally listened and allowed a little trust of my legs, a few tears crept from my eyes. I wasn’t in pain, and my chest didn’t hurt. Yet there I was, pedaling hard against the heavy resistance and fighting even harder against the urge to cry.

“You woke up today. You made it here,” Amy likes to remind us at the beginning of most classes. To some, it might sound like cheesy “fitspo,” but for me, it’s a reminder that I’m alive, that I made an active choice to participate in life, that I can move my body, and I can trust myself.

I cried in that first class, not because the drills were too hard, but because my body had proven my brain wrong — it had proven my GAD, depression, and PTSD wrong. Every day I get to test my limits – whether it’s spinning or returning to strength training – in combination with correct medication, my heart heals a little bit more. I’ve regained a trust in myself that lessens the power that anxiety, depression, and PTSD have over me.

“Your mind will give up before your body does,” so I choose not to believe my struggling mind when she tries to convince me I can’t keep going. Instead, I keep pedaling, keep breathing, keep living.

Post written by Rebekah Frese, FFC Oak Park local ’84 Cafe attendant.

About Rebekah

Rebekah is an Iowa native who has found a home in Chicagoland. Her hobbies include swinging kettlebells, trying to take her pet bunny on walks, and playing logic games. While on breaks at FFC, she’s preparing for the LSAT in hopes of starting law school next fall. You can find her on Instagram: @freser_.

 

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FFC employee spotlight: how spinning helped Rebekah overcome anxiety, depression and PTSD

I love data. Being in marketing, I love being able to make smart decisions based on numbers and know that the route I’m taking my work has a good likelihood of succeeding. I also am a big fan of nerdy stuff when it comes to fitness and wellness – so naturally I use BOTH my Apple watch and Myzone belt when I work out, use MyFitnessPal to track meals (though, with varying levels of consistency), and mostly stay up-to-date on new trends. So when I learned about the V02 Max test and its ability to measure aerobic ability and also calorie burn related to heart rate, etc., I was pretty excited. I created a list of V02 Max test FAQs based on what was going through my brain during my own test – check them out!

What is a V02 Max test?

According to Korr Medical Technologies, which is an industry-leading company that creates equipment for these tests, VO2 Max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption that can be attained during the most intense exercise possible. Basically it’s how efficiently your body uses oxygen during exercise.

Who is the VO2 Max test for?

While the VO2 Max test is especially ideal for endurance athletes, marathoners or anyone training for a fitness event, the VO2 Max test is also ideal for anyone who wants to improve their fitness on any level.

Why should I get a V02 Max test?

Not seeing results despite all the work you’re putting in at the gym? This piece of the puzzle can help – for example, I learned that in order to burn fat while exercising, I have to keep my heart rate in a very specific zone and actually was over-exercising for my goals! Do less? … If you say so, data.

 

Related: another similarly surprising truth regarding fitness things you thought you knew a lot about – like your Fitbit. Check out this trainer’s hilarious breakup letter to her Fitbit.

How long does the test take and where can I get a V02 Max test done?

The whole process, from changing into workout clothes, the explanation of the process, short workout, data capture and analysis took about 45 minutes, give or take. Depending on how long you take to get ready, this could easily be done over a lunch hour (however, due to the fasting/ caffeine restrictions listed below, I recommend trying to get it done as early in the morning as possible so you can so you don’t turn into a hangry zombie).

You can get them done many places – Fitness Formula Clubs has a number of metabolic carts (which have the special machine) plus a traveling one that makes its way around to the clubs! The test is $149, and there are other kinds of add-ons and tests (like resting metabolic rate, blood lactate, etc.) you can opt into for additional cost.

Are there special dietary restrictions/fasting for the V02 Max test?

Yes – if you’re getting the basic V02 Max test done, you’ll need to plan to fast for 4 hours before, abstain from caffeine for 6 hours before and rest from any exercise or activity for 24-12 hours before. You can drink room-temperature water up until the test but nothing super cold! And there are different requirements for the other add-ons, so make sure to check with a team member well before your test.

Do I need to shower after the test?

I did, because I got up to a pretty high level of activity… I am essentially a human waterfall. Put frankly, I sweat profusely. So you may want to bring a change of clothes and plan to shower after your test.

What do you wear for the V02 Max test?

Comfortable athletic clothes should do the trick – something you’re not afraid to possibly sweat in, and shoes you can easily run on a treadmill or cycle on a stationary bike in.

Tell me about the weird, Bane-like mask.

The mask is where all the VO2 magic happens and is how the machine is able to measure your oxygen intake and usage. These are just a few questions I had about the mask.

Can I do the test without the mask on?

Nope – the mask is how you obtain the data. It’s actually super cool – it isolates both the oxygen you take in and your carbon dioxide output and then uses a machine to measure the oxygen content.

Does the mask make you feel claustrophobic?

Being honest here, as someone who doesn’t like anything on my face at all, just a little bit. But only when you first put it on – I couldn’t even notice it (aside from being able to see it occasionally when I looked down my cheeks) after the initial set up. And the staff (FFC endurance Coach Chris Navin, in my case) does an amazing job of explaining everything to you and walking you through putting it on.

Can you breathe normally?

Yep! I thought it was going to feel restricted from the looks of it, but you can breathe totally normally when you put it on and when you’re doing the treadmill or cycling portion.

What does the mask smell like?

Basically like a big ‘ole snorkeling mask. It’s fun – I started daydreaming about my next beach vacation.

Does it pinch?

Nope! It took a second to adjust the straps for my face but once we had that done, it was fine!

Do they clean it first?

For all my fellow slightly germaphobic homies out there – they definitely clean it first. Coach Chris has special disinfecting wipes and wipes down the mask/straps/etc. before you put it on.

Running on the treadmill for the VO2 Max test

So you have to run on a treadmill or cycle for how long?

In order to get your oxygen consumption measurements, you have to exercise with the mask on for a certain amount of time, at a graduated scale of intensity, while wearing a heart rate monitor, like a Myzone belt.

Do I have to run on a treadmill?

No! It’s definitely recommended, but for people with injuries or issues related to running/walking, you can also do the test on a stationary bicycle. If you don’t want to run, just let the staff member know – the point is to get you up to your max exercising ability, which may mean different things for different people.

How long do I have to exercise for?

You will be working for about 10-15 minutes, which is about the time it takes to cycle through the warm-up and increasing speeds, up to your max level of ability (by the end of my test, I was running at about 8-9 miles an hour, give or take, for a minute or two.) Like I said, this is different for everyone!

Do I have to wear a heart rate monitor? What if I don’t have one?

Yes, in order to get the right data, you’ll need to wear a heart rate monitor, like a Myzone belt. Don’t have one? Don’t worry! The team will have a belt for you and will help you put it on.

What kind of data do I get from the test?

After your test is completed, you’ll get a handy dandy readout of your data, plus some cool charts, graphs and summaries of what it all means. I got an outline for a workout plan – basically I have to keep my heart rate under 150 to ensure I burn fat during my workouts. I also got more information about how I could apply this to running races, marathons and other endurance events, if I chose to pursue one in the future.

Overall Takeaways From the VO2 Max Test

It doesn’t take a whole lot to impress me…. but holy data! This was a really cool test – and definitely changed what I thought I knew about my workout habits. You’d think running faster would be better for your fitness, right? Not necessarily – especially related to your goals. I found out through this test that I actually have to pull back on my exercise a little bit – and that I can definitely lift weights and do other types of exercise that will keep my heart rate in that specific zone and that I will still see results from it. I haven’t done a resting metabolic rate test (RMR – the one that tells you how many calories you burn at rest) yet, but I will! That, coupled with these results of the VO2 Max test, will help me work smarter, not harder. And I’m all about that!

Have more questions about the V02 Max or RMR test, or want to schedule one for yourself? Email metabolictesting@ffc.com!

Post written by FFC marketing manager, Megan Zink.

 

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Several years ago, after ruining my knees from a lifetime of running and martial arts, I took up spinning to keep my cardio up while I rehabbed.  I hated it…  but not for long.  After a while, I started putting together playlists and decided to become a certified instructor.

At that point, I committed to donating everything I made from teaching to charity and to donate my time whenever possible. Eight years later, I’ve done dozens of charity rides (both indoor and outdoor), mostly for children’s causes, and have been lucky enough to donate several thousand dollars to various charities. I’ve been blessed with the support of so many people who join me on my rides or donate in support of these wonderful causes.

Two years ago, FFC paired up with World Bicycle Relief and asked if I would participate in their “One Day – 100 Bikes” Event. WBR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing greater access to education, sustainable business and healthcare in developing areas of the world through the power of bicycles. The goal of the event was to raise enough money to provide 100 Buffalo Bikes. These special heavy duty bicycles would provide needed modes of transportation to allow children (particularly young women) to get to and from school safely, entrepreneurs to maintain sustainable businesses and clinicians to see more patients. I was hooked. Since that time, WBR has become one of my main charitable causes and is part of both my personal and professional life.

This year, WBR is again hosting the “One Day 100 Bikes” event and I am proud to say that Northwestern Medicine and Northwestern’s Global Health Initiative are part of the team, graciously providing needed sponsorship and support to this wonderful organization and event.

I love being able to give back and to promote fitness.  As long as I’m healthy, I’ll keep going.

Post written by FFC group fitness instructor Bill Bower.

About One Day 100 Bikes

The mission of One Day 100 Bikes is to create fun and active events to support the World Bicycle Relief organization. Funds raised at these events will provide hundreds of bikes for students, healthcare workers and entrepreneurs in need in Africa.

Easy Ways to Get Involved

Sign up to participate in one of the 3 fitness events listed below happening through the month of September! Register here to save your spot! https://www.eventbrite.com/e/one-day-100-bikes-tickets-48719972750

  • Friday, September 7 – “Silent Spin” Outdoor glow in the dark cycling class on the pool deck at night at FFC West Loop
  • Sunday, September 9 – Dance for 100 Bikes cardio dance mashup on the sun deck at FFC Lincoln Park
  • Saturday, September 15 – Outdoor Cycling spin class outside on the sun deck at FFC Lincoln Park

There will also be a Filmed By Bike film festival on Friday, September 14, in addition to a morning group ride on Saturday, September 15. Learn more by clicking here.

 

Fitness is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. I have read this mantra many times in different forums and articles. While I don’t know if the ratio is 100% accurate, what I do know is that nutrition is an extremely vital part of a good fitness plan. The only problem is, I never truly internalized this fact until I started seeing Alicia Huggler, registered dietitian at FFC Park Ridge, who helped me change my perspective on nutrition.

Time for a Change

I began my journey a bit over 2 years ago at the age of 26. I finally decided it was time for a change after years of laziness and poor diet had done its damage to my body. I felt awful most of the time and I hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror. In December of 2015, I signed up for a membership at one of the budget gyms in the area, looked up a workout program, and started hitting the weights hard. After about 4 months of going consistently, I definitely felt much better. However, I wasn’t seeing much progress on the scale or in the way I looked. This is when I started doing more research and discovered the 80/20 guideline.

I started a meal-prep regimen based on (as I look back on it now) a lot of “bro-science”. Breakfast was always eggs and oatmeal. Every lunch and dinner consisted of either chicken or frozen fish, a vegetable (peppers, broccoli, asparagus), and either brown rice or quinoa. I avoided snacks like the plague and ate 3 massive meals per day. The meals were bland, boring, and repetitive, but the new diet was effective. My weight plummeted from 215 to 195 in a little over 2 months.

Related: food prep sound overwhelming? Here are some tips that will make the process as easy as possible so you can stick to it!

From Progress to Plateau

However, my body fat percentage wasn’t changing as drastically (I went from around 25% BF to 20% during this time). This sudden change wasn’t without issues. I had very little energy throughout the day, leading me to skip many gym sessions (until I stopped going altogether). I lost a lot of progress on my lifts. Cheat meals became a regular occurrence. The meal plan wasn’t sustainable, and I slipped back into my old habits. My weight rebounded past where it was originally, and just like that I was back to square one.

Despite all of this, I wasn’t ready to give up. In December of 2016, I recommitted to my fitness plan. Thinking I would be more inclined to go if I paid more for the membership, I canceled at the budget gym and looked for pricier alternatives. I decided FFC had all the equipment and amenities I was seeking, in addition to being in a convenient spot. I looked up a new workout program and restarted my meal-prep regimen. Progress was going great for a while, but over time I began slipping into the same patterns. Cheat meals, skipped meal prep, and missed workouts due to the lack of energy became the constant. I was frustrated and almost quit again.

Changing My Perspective on Nutrition

On a whim in May of 2017, I decided to see Alicia. It was a game-changer and she completely changed my perspective on nutrition. During our first session, she asked me what my current diet consisted of and what foods I enjoyed/didn’t like. She gave me some basic nutrition advice to get me started while she developed my full meal plan. The second session was where I learned that I was on a good path before, but I wasn’t doing the little things that would have made my diet consistent. My proportions were off: I was eating too much protein and not enough carbs or fats. I love the taste of red meat, but I had cut it out before in favor of lean white meats. To compensate, I wound up overeating red meat (pound or two of steak per meal) when I cheated.

This time around, Alicia built lean red meats into my meal plan. She informed me that snacks weren’t the enemy and in fact necessary to avoid overindulging during meal time. Variety keeps the meal plan interesting and staves off the propensity to cheat. Cheating was even OK as long as it was responsible and limited. “Have a burger every once in a while,” she said, “just don’t get the triple stack with bacon.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. She even opened my eyes to delicious healthy whole foods and substitutes that I had never heard of before: chicken sausage, chickpea pasta, farro, nutritional yeast, and Halo Top ice cream to name a few. Additionally, she was a great resource for tasty recipes that fit my meal plan.

Alicia is a very warm and open person; always upbeat and energetic. She won’t just take measurements and talk about nutrition in the sessions but will also take a genuine interest in you. She never chastises you for falling off the rails one week and instead encourages you to do better the following week. She’ll even let you know what sweets she indulged in that week, so you won’t feel as bad. Her attitude was a key factor in helping me stay the course.

How I changed my perspective of nutrition and lost 11% body fat

Seeing Sustainable Results

I could continue about my experience and how awesome Alicia is, but what’s really important is results. My initial measurements when I first started seeing Alicia were 218 lbs and 25% body fat. I can happily report that I’m now down to 196 lbs and 14% BF. Pants I purchased a year ago no longer fit and I’m down 2 belt loops. I feel a great sense of pride in my new physique when I look in the mirror. My lifts are steadily improving. More crucially, I feel much better. I have consistent energy throughout the day and will have maybe 1 caffeinated beverage a week if I really need it. I’ve only been sick once in the past year and I fought off the illness swiftly. Looking and feeling great has been an incredible confidence booster. Proper perspective on nutrition really has changed me for the better.

Even though I’m in the best shape of my life at 28, I’m still not satisfied and hopefully never will be. Fitness is a lifelong journey and I have a long way to go. I can now embark upon this journey armed with proper knowledge about nutrition. If you have been going the gym consistently like I was and aren’t seeing the results you want, proper diet may be the missing piece – you may need to change your perspective on nutrition. If you have any questions about nutrition or are curious about what a registered dietitian can do for you, I encourage you to seek one out and talk to (or email if you’re shy). And if you decide to start a nutrition program with her and stick with it, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Good luck on your own fitness journey and I will see you in the weight room!

Post written by FFC Park Ridge local’84 Cafe attendant Andrew Wrobel.

 

We’ve all been there. Searched good ol’ WebMD, typed in a few common symptoms, and get the news we’re knocking on death’s door. This is the one time I took it seriously, and boy, am I glad I did.

I first realized something was off when, two weeks away from that time of the month, I was experiencing extreme cramping and other symptoms. Deciding that I’d rather not risk a possible cyst on an ovary rupturing, I went to the ER. Two scans and one pelvic exam later, I had my diagnosis: uterine fibroids. Not the best news, but it also gave me a much better understanding of the constant, worsening symptoms I was experiencing leading up to my diagnosis.

Fast forward two weeks later – my symptoms were worse than ever, and I needed help. I went to the doctor, where they did a blood count check, prescribed me medicine, and sent me on my way home to sleep.

Not Just a Scare

The following morning, I went to work, trained a client, then fell ill. Hoping I could sleep off the pain, I took a three-hour nap. I got a call from my gynecologist’s office, highly recommending I get to the ER, ASAP. My hemoglobin level was a 3, and it should have been an 11. A blood transfusion was needed to get my levels up. Although I was terrified to receive someone else’s blood, I realized the medical team knew best, and headed over to the hospital. As I was being admitted and they saw my hemoglobin level, they asked me if I had been brought in an ambulance. I looked at them like they were crazy, seeing as I had easily driven myself to the hospital.

I found out my oxygen levels were extremely low (65%), which ultimately led to me losing a tooth and worsening eyesight. Amazing how the body works, and knows what areas of the body need oxygen the most. Two days, FOUR blood transfusions, and two IVs of iron later, I was cleared to go home. My hemoglobin level was still so low that I required five weeks of iron infusions as a follow-up.

All of my health issues FINALLY made sense. When I started to develop daily headaches that brought me to tears, I knew something was off. The need for a two hour nap every day, the pain in my legs and back going up a short flight of stairs made me more aware of an underlying issue. The spells of dizziness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations were the red flags that made me wake up, and get the help I desperately needed.

Related: how fitness and wellness helped FFC member Avnit make a doctor-recommended lifestyle change.

Exercise Saved My Life

So many of the doctors and nurses I met during my stay were baffled at my situation, and how I was able to function on a somewhat normal level. All they were able to attribute to me still being alive was the fact that I took care of my physical health. I was told that due to continual exercise and a healthy lifestyle, my body was able to adjust to the little blood and oxygen it had, and was able to sustain it for some time. People in my situation have dropped dead, passed out and gone into a coma, or into cardiac arrest. Overall, this is a testament to the fact that you should trust your instincts and get the help you need – but also never underestimate the power of a healthy lifestyle.

I am grateful to God and fitness for my existence!

Post written by FFC Lincoln Park Childcare Supervisor Nicole Achille.

 

 

 

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My name is Erin Sneed and I have been in the fitness industry for almost 10 years. I played sports all through high school and went on to play college soccer. While in college, I grew to love group fitness and began teaching classes at my college campus. I was extremely active and played pickup basketball, ran, taught workout classes, and trained on my own. In 2011, I was in the midst of my senior year of college and I began experiencing extreme hip pain. I shrugged it off and continued to workout daily, thinking I just needed to add more stretching to my routine. Little did I know I was running with a hip impingement and several labral tears which was putting the joint bone on bone and hip surgery recovery would be in my future.

About 6 months later, I couldn’t tolerate the pain anymore. I was 21 years old (at the time) and was waking up in the middle of night from the pain, unable to walk for more than 10 minutes without dragging my leg. I had acquired an extreme limp which caused every person to ask if I was ok.

Getting to the Bottom of the Issue

When I finally sought medical advice, I discovered that I had a congenital abnormality that causes a mismatch between the parts of the joint (the ball and socket) in the hip, and that, with my active lifestyle, had led to damage that could only be remedied with surgery. A total hip replacement was necessary, but not recommended due to my age.

I learned that hip replacements don’t last forever and the more replacements a patient receives, the more difficult the recovery is. In 2012 I underwent my first hip surgery – an arthroscopic clean up of my joint to help relieve my pain and buy me some time before I had to have a total hip replacement.

With any surgery, the recovery took a toll on my mind and body. I adjusted my workouts to more swimming, rollerblading, and cycling and removed running/impact training out of my routine. I became a cycling instructor and was back teaching in approximately 9 months. The arthroscopic surgery did relieve some pain; however, my range of motion did not recover. I only had 8 degrees of internal rotation in my surgical hip and retained a slight limp. Five years went by and and not only did my limp continue to become more and more pronounced, but the pain crept back into my life.

By this time, I had started a career in federal law enforcement and was gaining more popularity as a fitness professional in the city of Chicago. Going in for more hip issues was the last thing I wanted to do. I reluctantly went to the doctor who showed me my x-rays of an extremely arthritic hip and was surprised that I was even able to walk. A total hip replacement was strongly encouraged.

In my mind, the term “hip replacement” conjures up an image of a Baby Boomer keeping up with the grandkids, not a 26 year old just beginning her professional careers. I had now suffered from chronic hip pain for nearly 7 years and agreed to undergo the surgery with hopes of finally being pain free and without a limp.

As you can see from my video, I worked hard on my recovery and saw great results at first. I was finally living pain free and only had limitations of endurance walking, lateral movements, and running. I continued to attend physical therapy, which was recommended for 12 weeks.

Back to the Hip Surgery Recovery Drawing Board

About 4 months after my hip replacement, I began experiencing anterior hip pain (which was the same type of pain I had suffered from for years). I worked with my physical therapist to investigate what the issue could be and did some trial and error with exercises. I was beginning to limp again. I took a significant amount of time off from all physical activity which impacted my mind and body.

My physical therapist alluded that the pain and limp may have been from a weak gluteus medius and I began to train only that muscle (side steps, lateral leg raises, clam shells, hip abduction, etc.) for over a month. Despite my efforts, the pain persisted.

I scheduled an emergency appointment to see my surgeon who gave me a cortisone injection to relieve the pain. I had zero pain relief. I didn’t know what to do and began questioning if this limp and pain was something I was going to have forever. With a wedding around the corner in August 2018, my stress levels had risen. I had now not worked out in over 2 months and seemed to be out of options.

I doctor shopped, got a leg length discrepancy test done, and went to a different physical therapist to take a second look on what was going on and why I was feeling pain nearly 6 months post hip replacement. I had been doing my PT exercises and resting when needed. Fast-forward to over 32 weeks of physical therapy — which I was still continuing to attend several times weekly… the recommended amount for my surgery was 12 weeks.

Related: check out this story about how Pilates helped an FFC South Loop Pilates instructor recover from hip surgery!

A Second Set of Eyes

I went to see Jamie at NovaCare and she assessed my pain and checked my gluteus medius strength. I could hardly lift my leg it was so weak. How could this be?! I’d been doing gluteus medius exercises for over a month! Jamie watched and felt how I did my movements and informed me that YES, I was doing the exercises, BUT I was doing them with my hip flexor.

She explained that I have probably been moving incorrectly ever since my hip issues started and especially post hip surgery recovery – my body’s natural response to try to protect the hip joint was refusing to activate my gluteus medius and thus creating an over-activated hip flexor. She explained that I had no gluteus medius strength because my hip flexor had become the prime mover for ALL of my exercises, hence the anterior pain around my joint.

Jamie required me to take my physical therapy “back to basics” and only allowed me to do 2 exercises until I saw her next. In order to relieve the pain I needed to turn off my hip flexor and fire my side body. How do you turn off your hip flexor? You use it to walk, sit, lunge, etc. She assisted in turning off my hip flexor by doing some muscle relaxation techniques as well as dry needling.

For those of you who haven’t experienced dry needling, I’m not going to lie. Dry needling is unbelievably painful. However, it is also unbelievably effective. It’s a technique that is used to directly impact the muscle by moving the needle up and down that muscle or muscle group – allowing it go back to its relaxed state. In layman’s terms, it is a very intense version of foam rolling. Jamie said that by manually turning the hip flexor off I would have a better chance of firing the gluteus medius and over time strengthening it so it does the work it’s supposed to (stabilize the hip).

My Aha Moment

As someone who has been in the fitness industry this was such a powerful moment for me (and a total wakeup call). For many of us who enjoy working out, the easiest part about working out (believe it or not) is just grinding through your routine and getting the job done. However, I have learned the hard way that that’s not what fitness is about.

Yes working hard is great, but it’s about using the correct muscles to do the work you intend to do. If you’re doing a squat and you feel pain in your knees you may not be using the right muscles to do the work. My advice to anyone is to get a second set of eyes. Even if you think you’re doing an exercise correctly. If you are unsure about your form or have any doubts, get a second set of eyes to assist you! The power of a trainer, or in my case physical therapist, was life changing.

Post written by FFC Group Fitness Instructor Erin Sneed.

 

 

 

 

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