Why start a home gym?

Perhaps you don’t like going to the gym, maybe you are tired of paying membership fees. The last time I looked, monthly membership dues range from $10 to $100 after paying the initiation fees. It could be that you can’t find a parking space. It might be that you just want another place to work out. Whatever the reasons, creating a dedicated space to build a home gym and equipping it with the right equipment can be a great step toward a fitter, healthier lifestyle.

Basic elements to consider when building:
Flooring: Carpet is too thick and too unstable. Wooden flooring is ideal for aerobic workouts, gymnastics and dancing, although most home gyms should have some rubber flooring installed. Rubber flooring absorbs impact, is adaptable and installs easily. The cost of installing a rubber floor: about $3 to $4 per square foot.

Mirrors:Depending on your space, mirrors will add light to your gym and make it appear more spacious. Mirrors are also great for checking form and range of motion, and proper exercising means employing proper form! The cost for mirrors:about $10 to $12 per square foot installed.

Fan:Consider putting up a wall fan for better air circulation. Just make sure there are no wires on the floor in your workout space.The cost for a fan: about $20 and up.
Before equipping your home gym, consider:
1. What are your goals?
2. What is your budget?
3. Are you just starting out or have you been exercising for a while?
Whether you have a home gym or not, if exercise is new to you, then I recommend hiring a personal trainer. The trainer will help you understand how and why to perform exercises with the correct form.

Top 5 home gym equipment options for someone starting out:

You. Believe it or not, we do not always need exercise equipment to get in shape. Your body is the best piece of equipment you have. For recommendations on which exercises are appropriate for you, consult with a personal trainer. They are always willing to help. Cost: Priceless!

Jump rope. An awesome piece of cardiovascular exercise equipment that incorporates the entire body. One can buy online or at most sports stores. Cost:You don’t need to pay more than $10.

Exercise bands.These come in various colors, depicting size and strength. They are a great addition to your home gym. They really allow the body to perform most typical resistance exercises without the stresses and risks of lifting heavy weights. You can usually get a better selection online than in the store. Consider getting three different strengths: light, medium and heavy to start. Cost:The prices may vary from $10 for the lightest to $45+ for the strongest.

Body bars or weight lifting bars and plates. The back is the most critical component to good performance and proper posture. Hamstrings, Gluteus, and all large muscles in the back and shoulders can benefit enormously from exercising using these simple pieces of equipment. If you perform exercises that require a body bar, begin with the lightest weight. The body bars vary in size, length and weight, depending on their color. Body bars are usually covered in a pad and are easy to handle. Cost:They may range from $20 for the lightest (4 lbs) to $70 for the heaviest (22 +lbs).

Weight lifting bars(free weight bars) are very useful to add or reduce weight for a specific exercise using plates of varying size and weight. You can pick up a weight lifting bar from most sports stores or go online. Cost:Prepare to spend about $100 on a used one and up to $400 on a new one. The weighted plates will be extra.

Rowing machine. This is a machine for all fitness levels. Those of you who have joint issues or are uncomfortable running that still feel you need to add a slightly more exotic piece of equipment to your home gym should definitely consider getting one of these machines. This is a full body workout. Every joint and every muscle group in the body is at work during this exercise. A smooth motion allows the seat to slide back and forth with no impact in the knees. The displays on these machines are extremely useful, measuring time, distance and power output. Rowing machines also help promote good posture and are ideal for low impact interval training. Best in the market is the Concept 2 Rower. Cost:Depending on the model, the cost is approximately $900 to $1200.

Hank Stratton-Brook and his wife Jill are both certified personal trainers and the owners of STRATTON-BROOK GROUP. As well as being a renowned motivator and personal trainer to some pretty extraordinary and incredible people here in Charlotte, STRATTON-BROOK GROUP also manages the fitness facility for SONIC AUTOMOTIVE headquarters in Charlotte, NC.

If you thought that ropes were only meant for skipping and jumping, then you will be pleasantly surprised. You can lunge, push-up, plank, squat and even hang upside down. Using your own body weight is the key ingredient to this workout that promises to recruit some of your deepest muscles in a variety of movements to develop strength, flexibility, incredible balance and joint stability… all at the same time!

The suspension-training technique was developed by a former Navy Seal in 2002 who experimented by hanging a couple of large straps over a free-standing pole held together with a metal clasp; it became a prototype for the TRX® System. The Navy Seal realized how it promoted synergistic strength that left him exhausted but content with his workout in a very short amount of time.

Suspension units have evolved over the years and so has the teacher training, and group classes have sprung up nationwide. The method balances the body but also offers a decompressive component, aligning the joints. It strengthens the weaker links such as the neck, spine, low back, elbows, wrists, knees and ankles. The ropes themselves barely weigh 3 pounds but deliver a workout that requires 80 percent of your core muscles and 20 percent of your willpower. Because of the unstable ropes, you have no choice but to activate your deepest muscles to make the ropes stable and still—putting a lot of effort into making it look effortless!

It’s all about controlling yourself with the ropes on various angles—making it harder or easier depending on your skill and intensity level. You are the one in control. Suspension training makes you concentrate on the present. It is an excellent exercise for people with ADHD or those who get bored with a traditional lifting or cardio class.

I particularly love this system for clients who have forgotten to recruit those very important intrinsic muscles and rely solely on the superficial ones to do all the work. The delayed firing of the appropriate muscles typically causes most injuries. The deep stabilizers are the ones that should initiate every movement. I often put a mind-body skeptic on the Core Suspend first so clients can feel how they can’t depend on just a few, powerful, big muscles. It’s a great tool to discover the power that comes from the inside first and allows one to move not just forward and back, but sideways and at various angles, which so many traditional exercises neglect. For instance, a push-up can be done many ways that progress from simple to more challenging: standing, facing the floor and all those angles in-between.

Skilled teachers can also utilize the therapeutic aspects of suspension training, primarily the off-loading principle. ‘Hanging’ has been an all-time favorite for creating spaces in the body. When there is space around all the joints, the body has the ability to achieve its maximum reach, its freedom of movement. Just the sensation of openness in the rib cage allows for better oxygenation in the lungs. Modifications can also be made for injuries and special conditions such as multiple sclerosis, frozen shoulder or even stroke. These particular conditions need to constantly have the nervous system stimulated. The instability of the ropes can actually aid in prompting the brain to tell the muscles to activate.

Stretching is also a huge component of any good movement system. The Core Suspend makes the stretching intelligent because the aid of the ropes prevents the body from collapsing and allows for elongation and connective tissue hydration. Whether you choose to hang upside-down or not, suspension training is effective and smart movement that can unleash your body’s potential—it’s your personal playground!

Monica Hoekstra is the founder and creator of CORE BARRE, a system that promotes the ART of SMART MOVEMENT. Core Barre is taught at ABsolute Pilates in Charlotte and in many other locations around the country. For more information visit

In our high-tech society of typing and texting and sitting for hours, 80 percent of Americans experience pain as a result of poor postural habits. This pain and tension can be felt in the neck, the shoulders, the low back, the hips, the knees and the ankles. So how can we better manage this?

By working to attain good posture as well as good postural habits, one can significantly improve quality of life at work, rest and play, and minimize pain. Not to mention that one can significantly reduce health care professional bills.

There is no substitute for having good posture! The more you use it, the better it gets and the less you have to think about it. Good posture energizes, exudes confidence and is aesthetically appealing. The new “skinny” should focus more on “proper posture” and less on weight loss, as the way you carry yourself has more of an impact on how people see you.

Ideal alignment has its origins in good movement: a balance between strength and stretch. Let’s review some key principles in the primary positions we’re in on a daily basis.

• Your head should feel like it is balanced on top of the shoulders, like a balloon on a string, light and tension-free. Visualize this and feel tension release from the neck and the shoulders.
• Stand sideways and see your alignment in the mirror. Align your ears with the top of the shoulders, with the back of the neck long and holding its natural curvature. The shoulders should align over the hips.
• The lower back should hold its natural curve. If you tuck your seat underneath, you will flatten the lower back. This is a major cause of lower-back pain.
• Feel the weight of the feet, without shoes, resting firmly on the ground. You should feel as though you are leaning slightly forward.
• Walking is one of the best exercises when training for posture dynamically. Assume the standing posture that allow your arms and hips to freely move. The biggest mistake people make is pushing their heads forward when they walk or trying to overly engage their gluteal muscles, which limits the legs from achieving their full movement.
• Walking should be the most freeing of movements and one of the most effective ways to exercise our joints and muscles.
• Use a good chair so you can adjust the height and allow your feet to connect with the ground and keep the position of your head in good alignment. If you have to look up to see the computer screen, then adjust the screen itself to immediately reduce neck tension.
• Keep the front of the shoulders open, just like in the standing posture.
• Think of pressing your sitting bones into the chair and then come slightly forward on them so the top of the pelvis gently rolls forward, for normal curvature of the lower back.
• You can use a small, rolled-up towel under your lower back to keep that curve. Do not allow your lower back to sink into the back of the chair. If your musculature starts to get tired then it’s better to get up and walk around rather than let your body collapse into a sloppy position.

Adopting these principles for your daily routine can drastically improve your alignment and allow your body to move efficiently. Some good forms of movement that promote good posture with an equal amount of stretch and strength are Pilates, yoga, Gyrotonic and Gyrokineses. A skilled trainer of these modalities can pick up changes in posture and make appropriate adjustments in a client’s session. There is no reason why you cannot transform your body and mind to create alignment that empowers, inspires and transforms the way you see yourself.

Remember, the new “skinny” is all about being “posture perfect!”

Monica Hoekstra is the creator and founder of CORE BARRE™ and studio owner of ABsolute Pilates in Charlotte. Hoekstra is a Lead Instructor Trainer of STOTT PILATES®, a PMA® Certified Pilates Instructor, an ACE® Certified Instructor and an ACE® Educational Provider.

The only “good” thing about low back pain is that it gets our attention: Something isn’t quite right. And the pain can be a great motivator to inspire positive change with long-term benefits.Nearly 80 percent of Americans suffer from low back pain at some point in their lives. As a health and wellness professional, it is my job to keep up with the latest research on pain management for low back pain. There are no quick fixes and there is no one-type plan that suits everyone, but many people are open to trying a mindful-movement approach and are willing to change the way they view traditional exercise.

First, always have a medical professional evaluate the cause of chronic pain because there could be an underlying issue that is beyond the scope of our practice. Pain management through medication and physical therapy is typically the norm for initial treatment. But pain medications are a temporary solution and mask the underlying cause of the pain.

My clients’ No. 1 priority is to discover alternative methods for pain management and the ability to regain a freedom of movement. To start, I firmly believe that evaluating a person’s posture will give a true picture of the health and structure of the joints. Muscular imbalances such as tightness and weakness are usually the culprit of postural deviations, which can put extra stress on the joints and the discs.

The most common disturbance in posture is the tucked-in glutes. The pelvis is pulled forward and the glute muscles (buttocks) are in a constant state of contraction. Visually, you can see that the low back has a flattened appearance, which is not healthy. The low back (lumbar spine) needs to have a normal curve to maintain adequate space between the vertebrae. When that space is compressed, pain and discomfort is usually felt in the lower back.

Because of the loss of that natural curve and the muscular forces pulling the glutes underneath, a trained eye can see that the body also tends to lean back in a somewhat passive position. This also puts strain on the low back. People with this kind of posture tend to walk stiffly and with limited movement in their hips. By merely pointing out the deviation, the individual can start to make some conscious and simple changes to align posture and eliminate pain.

Try this exercise:
Sit in a straight back chair. Then curl up the spine up by tightening up the glutes and bringing it forward. You can feel the pressure in the low back and abdomen. You will feel the pressure release as soon as you bring the seat back behind you and sit up tall.

Try the same thing while laying flat on a mat with knees bent and arms by your side. Push the low back into the mat by curling your tail upward. You will feel how you are overworking the seat, which has now caused the hip flexors to shorten and the abdominals to “pooch” forward.

Now release it by feeling the sacrum lying heavy on the mat and keeping the hip flexors and glute muscles relaxed. You should feel as if there is no muscular effort but a sense of length to the low back, without the pelvis tilting forward or backward. Not only does it give a more flattened appearance to the abdominals but it is also a pelvic position that allows one to activate the deepest layer of muscles in the abdominals that will in turn aid in stabilizing the whole lumbar pelvic region.

Once that posture is correct, a proper strengthening program can be introduced. Properly stretching tight muscles is also key. It will allow for adequate flexibility at each joint.

Freedom of movement is a beautiful thing and allows us to enjoy health and wellness. As our population ages, exercise is no longer a luxury but a necessity to maintain optimal well-being. Continue to move well!

Monica Hoekstra is the creator and founder of CORE BARRE™ and studio owner of ABsolute Pilates in Charlotte. Hoekstra is a Lead Instructor Trainer of STOTT PILATES®, a PMA® Certified Pilates Instructor, an ACE® Certified Instructor and an ACE® Educational Provider.

Here’s the picture. You walk into the weight lifting room of the gym and see a guy working hard with heavy dumbbells in both hands. Biceps, triceps and pecs are nicely developed and appealing to the eye. Now scan down to his legs. Quads are good (maybe) but then come the lower legs, the calves, which resemble that of a child’s. Better said: “chicken legs” (or skinny calves)! This is not always the case but I am sure you are smiling because you have seen it before.

You see this more in men than in women because men build upper body muscle mass faster than a woman. But people with skinny calves can be men or women, and can come from all athletic backgrounds.

The key is to bring awareness to all quadrants of the body in terms of strengthening, stretching and conditioning. The four quadrants of the body are composed of head-to-heart center, the ribs to pelvis, hips (pelvis) to knees and finally knees to the feet. To build a balanced body each of these quadrants needs to be worked in three dimensions: front, back and side. If you want to promote good posture, the muscles in the back of the body have to work just as effectively as the front. When the front of the chest is overworked it pulls the shoulders forward. When over corrected, the ribs tend to “pop” forward and cause too much rounding in the lower back. The same is true for legs: work the inside of the leg, the outside, the front and back as well as the sides. That in itself will make a difference in balancing out the muscles.

So here is my best advice gleaned from more than a decade of teaching mindful movement: When you work out, address all parts of the legs, starting from the hip to the knee, then the knees to the feet. The hips are always the center of the movement and the powerhouse for strength, power and flexibility. Work the glutes, hamstrings and hip flexor muscles in standing and side lying and prone positions. The same is true for the hamstrings. Think of working like that on all of your muscles so you always hit the angles – the belly of the muscle and both sides of it, lateral and medial.

Now you are ready to address the almighty lower half of the leg – from the knee down to the foot. The Gastrocnemius (a two-joint calf muscle) is not only important to defining the calves but also important when conditioning the knee. Most people have more development on one side of the knee, particularly on the outside, therefore, both the quadriceps and calf muscles need to be in very good shape. Your gastroc also points the foot. You can always tell when it’s tight because the toes are typically curled and the hamstrings are also tight. It shortens the achilles tendons. Work the calf muscles on all sides.

Now, as a former ballet dancer, here is my best advice to get the lower half of the leg working properly: Take off your shoes and work your feet and ankles. Allow your foot to find its maximum planter flexion (point) and dorsi flexion (flex) at the ankle joint.

When teaching people how to properly point their feet, I tell them to reach away through the toes and feel the whole line of the leg engage, not just the ankle. The same is true for dorsi flexing: reach the heel away from the body so you feel the energy in the whole leg. Try to work out often without shoes and pay attention to your gait and placement of your feet so you feel grounded and stable. When exercising, focus on what the lower extremities are doing at all times.

If you pay attention to working out intelligently, not only will you improve your athletic performance but you will also prevent injuries that are so common in the ankle and foot.The key to moving well is to always pay attention to how you move.

Monica Hoekstra is the creator and founder of CORE BARRE™ and studio owner of ABsolute Pilates in Charlotte. Hoekstra is a Lead Instructor Trainer of STOTT PILATES®, a PMA® Certified Pilates Instructor, an ACE® Certified Instructor and an ACE® Educational Provider.

With the popularity of hot yoga, hot pilates and hot barre, so many “hot” fitness options have made their mark on today’s exercise trends.

It seems as if most of our clients want to get the best bang for their buck when it comes to a workout, and it seems the more they sweat, the more “bang” they get. The popular temperature for many of these classes is about 110 degrees, which is hotter than a heat wave during a Charlotte summer. It’s also hot enough to cook an egg!

Yes, many individuals can handle this and can even find a purifying, detoxifying effect with the extreme heat, with more pliable muscles. Yes, heat allows for a relaxation of fascia as well. But exposure to extreme heat over a long period of time can be downright dangerous.

While I was training as a classical dancer, heat was my friend and I was accustomed to taking class in a room that was much warmer than a traditional gym. In the summer months, we dancers never made much use of the air conditioner. I’d say we even made leg warmers and shoulder shrugs popular.

We would slowly peel them off once we felt the heat in our muscles, but we’d quickly put them back on again if we felt the slightest chill. The most drastic attire I ever wore was a pair of oversized, plastic shorts that created a sauna-like effect on my hips and thighs. Looking back, I’m pretty sure it didn’t help me — I just looked ridiculous.

Although a certain amount of heat, like the temperature in those classrooms, allows for a more vigorous workout, there comes a point at which more heat is truly not better. Any temperature above 90 degrees with a 65-percent humidity level should be seen as dangerous…not detoxifying.

In order to understand this, one must understand the fascia better than the muscle. Fascia affects the whole body, including our internal systems, not just the muscle. Fascia is the new trend in fitness and wellness and is getting more attention now than ever — for good reason.
The superficial fascia is a soft, connective tissue located just below the skin. It wraps and links the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body. Together, muscle and fascia make up what is called the myofascia system. Your fascia actually has memory and often responds to past injuries and trauma by letting you know where the pain or discomfort is. It needs to be treated with respect and requires a balance to keep it healthy and to promote its overall well-being.

It relies on adequate nutrition, blood supply, oxygen and hydration. The nutrition comes from the foods we eat, the oxygen from effective breathing, and the blood supply from freeing up blockages and adhesions by gently opening up tissues. The adhesions lead to restricted movement as well as pain and soreness. When we aggressively open up tissue, it responds just as aggressively by contracting to protect itself from further abuse, limiting blood supply. The same can be said about exercising in excessive and extreme heat. The temperature shocks the fascia and it has to respond by hydrating more quickly than ever while one simultaneously imposes movement on it.

If you can imagine a sponge that is dried up, you can imagine a dehydrated fascia. It produces an imbalance and a blockage in the body’s system, which eventually leads to less blood supply and nutrition, and can even produce a homeostatic imbalance. In other words, if affects the body’s biochemical makeup and its lymphatic and vascular systems in a negative way. The fascia network in the body perpetuates toxin removal. When there is trauma to the fascia matrix, inflammation is very likely to occur.

So an extreme temperature is traumatic to the body — it makes the body work too hard and too fast to equalize the fascia. No matter how much water you drink while you are exercising, the body simply can’t keep up. There is a reason people who live in very hot climates move slowly — it’s unnecessary for the body to be put through that kind of trauma to produce positive results in joint flexibility and well-being.

Therapists know that a well-hydrated individual responds better to manual therapy (massage) when one is hydrated properly. Meanwhile, an overheated room does not allow the body, especially the fascia, to be restored to an optimal state. Furthermore, subsequent changes in blood pressure is dangerous, hence the reason behind disclaimers people must sign before such classes. Pregnant women are discouraged from any type of participation.

If you are looking for optimal fascia fitness, techniques such as Active Isolated Strengthening (invented by a well-respected kinesiologist, Aaron Mattes, who has helped countless athletes and celebrities), Gyrotonic, Stott Pilates and Core Barre are available options. Overall, the principles are simple but sensible. Be kind to your body and, in turn, it will work well for you. Be smart about exercise. Know what your limitations are.

Monica Hoekstra is the creator and founder of CORE BARRE™ and studio owner of ABsolute Pilates in Charlotte. Hoekstra is a Lead Instructor Trainer of STOTT PILATES®, a PMA® Certified Pilates Instructor, an ACE® Certified Instructor and an ACE® Educational Provider.

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