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Stay Fit All Holiday Season with Alycea Ungaro

Written on November 18, 2011 at 10:27 am , by

We are so lucky to have a team of experts on our team at FITNESS who share their wisdom with our readers. Whether they are fitness researchers, doctors, dietitians or psychologists, our advisory board members frequently consult with our staff and sound off on the latest wellness research and trends in our issues.

We often approach them with questions from our readers for our Q&A pages in the magazine, but this month, you’ll be able to communicate directly with one of our advisory board members—she’s hosting a live Q&A on our Facebook page! Join us on Monday from 12 to 1 p.m. EST to chat with Alycea Ungaro, owner of Real Pilates NYC and author of Pilates Practice Companion, and ask any burning questions you have about staying fit with the holiday season approaching.

Join Alycea for a Facebook chat on Monday! (Photo by Tanzie Johnson)

Before the Facebook chat, we wanted to fill you in about Ungaro’s personal and professional background and her game plan for Thanksgiving!

How did you first get involved in the fitness world? 

I grew up in the ballet studio so I had access to Pilates at a very early age. But it wasn’t until my early 20s that I began to experiment with more traditional fitness and I was probably 25 before I laced up my first pair of sneakers for a run. I was always more interested in body weight exercise, toning and sculpting. In 1993 I completed the Pilates teacher training program and taught citywide before opening my own place in 1995.

What drew you to Pilates?

It was impossibly hard. Seriously. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do certain things. I was a young fit dancer and these springs and mat moves were incredibly challenging. The beauty appealed to my performance side and the pure strength appealed to my competitive side.

For tips for Pilates newbies and Ungaro’s Thanksgiving meal strategy,  Read more

4 Ways Pilates Makes Everything Better

Written on October 25, 2011 at 7:00 am , by

Perfect your posture with Pilates, your back will thank you! (Photo courtesy of Karen Pearson)

Pilates has a rep as a girly exercise form that attracts ladies who lunch. Private sessions can be pricey, but mat classes will work your entire body. Originally called Contrology, the practice was actually developed to rehab injured soldiers after WW I — talk about functional fitness! After teaching the method for years (and rehabbing a chronic back injury with it), FitSugar editor Susi May concluded that Pilates makes everything better, from life’s basics like sitting to things more extreme like CrossFit. Here, four Pilates fundamentals that everyone can benefit from learning.

The most basic human function, breathing supports life and a fit life, too. A proper inhale fuels your muscles with oxygen, and a powerful exhale helps you engage your deep abs to protect your spine and support your torso. The conscious and studied breathing in Pilates might feel tedious at first, but learning how to breathe into your lower lungs, rather than just your chest, helps makes you a more efficient cardio machine. The Pilates method of inhaling wide through the ribs and exhaling by contracting the deep abs to push the diaphragm into the lungs also means you can keep your upper body and neck relaxed as you take in air.

In May’s experience, bad posture makes everything hurt, from your knees to your neck. Proper alignment of the spine is an essential element of the Pilates practice whether you’re lying on your back, sitting, or standing in an exercise. The emphasis on working with a neutral spine, maintaining the natural curves of your back, helps strengthen the supportive muscles around the spine and reinforces the sensation of how the pelvis, spine, and skull stack on top of each other. Drilling good posture in mat classes and private sessions allows you to take your understanding of a lengthened and supported spine into all aspects of your life from sitting behind a steering wheel or lunging into Warrior 3.

While Pilates seems like it’s all about the abs, it’s really core-centric — training the abs and the back to work in conjunction to protect and align the spine. In Pilates, the concept of the core extends to other important though often neglected muscle groups like the inner thighs and pelvic floor (learn how to find and work your pelvic floor here). Think of a Pilates session, be it a mat class or a private one, like a movement laboratory for learning how to stabilize the torso against a wide variety of forces, namely your limbs. Engaging the core to support the torso and spine is central to almost every Pilates exercise, and repeating this action ingrains the concept into your body. When out on a run or the gym floor, you can start to access this connection.

Read on for more reasons why you should do Pilates.

More from FitSugar:

Sound Off: Your Toughest Workout!

Written on June 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm , by

I consider myself a pretty fit person and given that working out is part of my job requirement, it’s no surprise for me to have seen it all and done it all. However, last week I was literally gasping for air during a boxing class with Delon Nelson of D&I Fitness here in New York City. It’s not that I couldn’t keep up (I actually have 10 years of experience with marital arts and fighting—what can I say, I was a bit of a tomboy as a kid!), but Delon’s warm up—yes his warm up—was intense! I felt like an NFL player preparing for a big game when going through drill after drill. We did jump rope for what seemed like 15-minutes straight (most likely it was just 5-minutes!), tire flips, sprints, pushup crawls, jumping jack sprints, squat jumps, training ropes…are you getting the picture?

2XU compression tights saved my legs from being totally sore!

2XU compression tights saved my legs from being totally sore!

Basically everything we did was a pylometric move to make my heart race and keep me moving the entire time. These moves weren’t just done in place either. I had to continually move from one end of the gym to the other along an imaginary line—and of course there were multiple reps. At the end of the warm up, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we put our boxing gloves on. Needless to say, the old fighter in me resurfaced and I think I kicked some good butt. Delon say’s I’ve got a nice kick!

I’m constantly doing different workouts and mixing things up, so it was a pleasant surprise to have a really tough one thrown in there. I know I’ll definitely be back to Delon because I kind of enjoyed the torture—it was that much more satisfying in the end when our session was over. So I wanted to know what other editors considered to be their toughest workout.

Here’s what my co-workers said: Read more

March DVD Review: Xtend Barre Lean & Chiseled

Written on March 8, 2011 at 10:10 am , by

Tone like a dancer with Xtend Barre. (Image from Acacia)

Tone like a dancer with Pilates and dance. (Image from Acacia)

March’s Top Workout DVD: Xtend Barre Lean & Chiseled

Best for: Those who enjoy dancing; at-home fitness fiends who don’t have a room full of free weights.

Why it’s a star: The 55-minute routine, designed and instructed by Xtend Barre founder Andrea Rogers, hits all of the major “trouble zones.” You only need light dumbbells for the upper body segment and a chair for the barre workout. But don’t think this DVD is a breeze because it doesn’t require much equipment—the quick pace and challenging moves kept us from getting bored and made the time fly by.

Where to get it: acacialifestyle.com, $16.99

Now tell us: Do you prefer to tone up with heavy weights or body weight exercises (such as push-ups, planks or attitudes—like the one Andrea is performing on the cover)?