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Keep Calm

Staying Healthy and Fit: An Actor Exercises

Keep CalmWelcome back for our second part on health and fitness on the job.  In the last installment, I gave a very general overview of two of the three aspects I wanted to discuss, eating and sleeping. I did that on purpose, saving exercise for last, because if you get those first two concepts right, everything else becomes so much easier! But not giving them their due could result in wasted hours in the gym, poor results, and frustration.  And now without further ado…

Exercise on the Road

Or ship, or dinner theatre in the mountains of Alaska…

Many of you know that I’m a certified personal trainer as well as being an actor. So, here’s a chance for me to combine those two passions. I’ll start with a couple of caveats.

Number one, I don’t know anything about dance. My dance training ended…a long time ago. If you are a dancer, then you probably know what your body needs and when. Any advice or methodology I recommend going forward should be measured against what you know your body, and your job, requires.

Number two, I’m not a doctor nor a physical therapist. If you have an injury, you need the guidance of qualified professionals before considering anything I may suggest.

And number three, “fit” doesn’t mean “skinny.” Fitness truly comes in all shapes and sizes. The word fit means “able to do a task.” That’s it. Nothing more.

When I design an exercise program, it’s always tailored to the individual I am designing for. What I am offering now is a basic template, that I feel all exercise programs should include, and I will provide examples. You can use the template to create your own fitness map that can be followed in a gym, a park, or a hotel room.

Basic Human Movement

If there’s one thing you can count on it’s this: that the fitness industry doesn’t always agree with itself. There’s lots of “this is the right/only way to exercise,” coupled with “if you’re not following the grass, berries and bear meat diet then why are you bothering?” What I’m about to present however, is almost universally agreed upon in the industry.

The basic human movements are the push, pull, squat, and hinge movements. Some coaches offer a few others, like the loaded carry (where you carry something heavy for a predetermined distance), rotation/anti-rotation (what you probably know as core work), and ground work (like crawling, rolling, tumbling). Good workout programs are built around these movements done in different planes of motion (horizontal, vertical, sagittal, transverse…eh, did I lose anyone?). I’ll break it down.

1. THE PUSH. Easy enough, a push is when you exert force on an object in an attempt to get it away from you. Any pressing movement (bench press, leg press, overhead press) is a push. Pushes can be done in different planes, a horizontal push can be a push-up or a bench press (your body is horizontal), while a vertical push would be an overhead shoulder press. Pushing is one of the first things we learn to do as infants, as we push ourselves up from the ground to learn to crawl.

earthdowns

2. THE PULL. A pull is when you exert force on an object in an attempt to bring the object closer to you. Examples include the pull-up (bringing your body close to a high bar), the machine let pull-down (bringing the bar down to your chest) and the row (which is a horizontal pull). After we have learned to push, we learn to pull as infants, it’s part of learning to stand and walk.

3. THE SQUAT. A squat involves two major components, a maximal hip flexion and a maximal knee flexion, so that your pelvis and torso are closer to the ground. There are many arguments for the correct depth, but some basic guidelines I always give are: have the angle of your shins match the angle of your torso (see picture), don’t allow your knees to cave in toward each other (called a valgus knee), and in general, don’t allow your knees to pass beyond your toes. I say in general for many reasons, the most prominent is that everyone’s body, limb length and flexibility are different. Squats are easy to learn but may take a lifetime to master. Squats can be weighted with a weight in front of you or resting across the back of your shoulders, or unweighted, using only your body weight as resistance.

squats4. THE HINGE. Like the squat, the hinge has maximal hip flexion, but has minimal knee flexion. If you bend over to pick something up off the floor, you are most likely in a hinge position. The hinge is an extraordinarily powerful movement, as there is great untapped strength in the pelvic girdle (don’t giggle). Most professional athletes know that true power is generated in the hips, and the hinge is an excellent way of training overall strength. The most popular form of hinging is the deadlift, which involves pushing your hips behind you, picking up a weight (barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell) from the floor and raising it waist high, while maintaining a tight core and a neutral spine. Like the squat, it is easy to learn but may take a while to master.

bend snd snap meme

5. THE OTHER STUFF. With all due respect to the importance of these moves, for the sake of space, I must move quickly through them. From the beginning of mankind, we have carried heavy things. There are many variations of carries: the farmer walk, the suitcase carry, the waiter walk. These are excellent choices to increase your own work capacity. Rotation/anti-rotation exercises include wood choppers, moving planks, body rows. Groundwork can be tumbling, rolling, bear crawling.

Thanks for That, but What Do I Do With It?

Right. A theatre job can actually be a great time to “get in shape,” whatever that means to you. If you’re already strong and fit, maybe your goal is to be stronger. Or maybe you’d like to lose a few pounds. Or maybe you’ve never seriously exercised and want to start. I say this is a great time for two reasons: the first, you are likely away from home and away from the distractions of your day-to-day life (like friends, a day job, your favorite TV show on the DVR); the second, once your show is running, you have an insane amount of free time. Seriously, we work about 30 hours a week in theatre. What else are you going to do with all that time?

Whether or not you are an experienced gym-goer, take a look at the chart below. I’ve listed examples of the basic movements, pick one or two from each category, decide on a set and rep range (if you’re a beginner, start with one set of ten repetitions, and build from there as you feel you can), and go to work. When you’re finished with your session, take notes. How do you feel? What was hard/easy/confusing? Are you hungry or did the session suppress your appetite? Repeat the plan 3-4 times a week, resting after every two workouts.

Exercise chartI’m sure some of that will seem like Greek to some of you. Do a thorough Google search on terms you don’t understand, yes, the internet can be a wasteland of misinformation, but there’s good stuff there too. Find the good stuff.

Aren’t I Supposed to Be Running or Something?

I’m not a fan of traditional “cardio,” at least, not as a means to lose weight. I believe the best modality for weight loss is through diet and strength training. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to exercise your cardiovascular system. Pick your jam (running, elliptical, cycling, walking, swimming) and get that heart rate up.

Admittedly, that’s about as general as it gets. I offer it as an idea, a map if you will, for the person who doesn’t know where to begin or maybe isn’t sure what’s missing from their own regime. As always, approach this work with respect, injury comes when we disrespect our own intuition.

I mean, you could always hire a trainer…

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Pillow

STAYING HEALTHY AND FIT, NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE

Performers of any kind rely on their bodies. Whether they are dancing, singing, or acting the most dramatic roles, a performer needs access to their abilities and their emotional life. And if I’m being wholly honest, there is an aesthetic need as well. Actors come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want to play Superman, you must look the part. But no matter your physical type, there is one need that should be addressed before all others: your health.

As performing artists, we’ve chosen a difficult path, one often laden with long hours, little rest, constant practice and training, for what at times can be little reward. To survive in this environment, and hopefully thrive, you must have your health, and today we’re going to talk about maintaining your health when you’re away from home. Like the song says, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

Casino gigs = buffets!
Casino gigs = buffets!

BEFORE YOU GO

Let’s start with the notion that you’ve booked a job—congratulations! You are about to be paid for that thing your parents always said would never pay. Some things to think about, regarding your health:

WHERE ARE YOU GOING? Perhaps obvious, but what’s the climate like: cold, hot, humid, rife with allergens, rainy? You’ll need to be prepared not only with the right clothing but perhaps the right medications. When it comes to health, I think breathing is pretty important.

WHAT’S YOUR HOUSING LIKE? A lot of the same stuff, is it air conditioned/heated well, newer/older (old houses hold allergens and mold like it was their job), do you have your own room? That could matter when it comes to rest and sleep.

WHAT HEALTH AND FITNESS OPTIONS ARE IN THE AREA? Is there a gym nearby (and is membership complimentary to company members)? Or maybe there’s a school with access to a track, or a park. If you have space, you can exercise, even if there’s not a gym for miles.

ONCE YOU’RE THERE

You’ve arrived at the job and been shown to your housing. Could be a hotel, a shared apartment, a private room in a house, or a cabin on board a cruise ship. Leaving the last option for later, we’ll start with shared spaces.

1. IF YOU ARE SHARING A KITCHEN:

This is the most likely scenario. You’ll have limited space for your own groceries, perhaps even marked out clearly in your cabinets and refrigerators. Shop wisely, perhaps share certain staples (oils, condiments, kitchen supplies, etc.). And while we’re in the kitchen, let’s spend a moment on food shopping in general: The healthiest food options are located on the outside aisles of supermarkets, produce, dairy, meats (including fish and chicken), and usually whole grain breads. I won’t veer off into “this diet vs. that diet,” but most likely, no matter what dietary philosophy you choose, the food you want is located here. You might want to adopt an “80/20” rule, meaning you do 80% of your shopping on the outer aisles and 20% from the aisles within. It’s a good way to eat healthy yet not feel wholly deprived when you can’t enjoy the occasional bag of Oreos.

I don’t…I’m not sure…what this means…
I don’t…I’m not sure…what this means…

2. IF YOUR MEALS ARE PROVIDED FOR YOU:

This likely means you are working on a cruise ship, or perhaps a dinner theatre (where certain meals could be provided). On a ship, the food may be repetitive but at least there will be nutritious options (remember it’s in your employer’s best interest to have you healthy), as well as the standard high-caloric fare. Crew members on ships often work incredibly long hours, so the provided meals can be high in calories, and a calorie is just a unit of energy, so the workers can make it through their shifts. See my recent posts on Cruise Ship Life for more information. Dinner theatres can often provide one meal per performance day, and that meal is usually…uh, dinner.

3. IF YOU HAVE NO KITCHEN, BUT ARE GIVEN A PER DIEM:

Well, this gets tricky. If you don’t know, per diem (“per day”) is money given to you to cover costs of meals and/or housing (if you are on a National Tour). This can seem like a large sum of money, but you’ll find quickly that single housing in A-list markets (think Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles) can often be more than your per diem for the week, leaving nothing for meals. That’s a conversation for another post, however. Some tours pick up the housing and give you a smaller per diem for food, let’s say that number is $350.00 per week, $50.00 a day. You can certainly do it, but you’ve got to be smart about it. Yes, fast food is more affordable. Yes, you can choose healthy (healthier) options from the menu. But trust my experience on this, it gets old FAST. Per Diem is often built around a formula of (using a $50 per day format) of a “10-dollar breakfast, 15-dollar lunch, and 25-dollar dinner.” My suggestion to you, for lifestyle and weight management, reverse these numbers, or at least the caloric values. There’s an old gym adage that goes, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” This way you are consuming more calories earlier in the day and gradually tapering off as the day ends. This is good for keeping you energized but not over full before a show, and gives you more opportunities to burn calories as the day goes on. Plus, dinner menus are always more expensive than breakfast or lunch options, so your money will go farther. Oh yeah, and don’t eat garbage after a show. It’s so tempting! But if you must eat, make it reasonable—a protein shake or bar, a small sandwich—stay away from burgers and fries at 11pm, they are not your friends. Consuming 1,000 empty calories within an hour of going to sleep is a surefire way to gain unwanted weight.

“Rob, isn’t this post about staying healthy while working a theatre job? Why all that space on food?” Ah, you’ve seen right through me. While there are two more elements to cover, let me say this very simply: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. Get that right, everything becomes easier. Keep doing it wrong, and you might be wasting all your hard work in the gym.

SLEEP!!

Of equal importance to nutrition is sleep, or rest. The body’s natural processes operate at maximum efficiency during periods of rest, not exertion. You don’t build muscle while you exercise, exercise creates the condition that asks the body to build the muscle, which happens while you are asleep. Ever notice that the prescription for any illness or injury almost always involves rest? The body wants to “right” itself, sometimes the best thing we can do to help, is simply get out of the way.

PillowSleep recommendations are very simple: aim for 8 hours a day, and try to have those hours be the same hours every day. I know many of us are night owls, we finish a performance sometimes exhausted, but sometimes energized and needing time to wind down, or even go out and celebrate. That’s all fine, just allow for recovery. I’m not as young as I once was (I was 23, uh…23 years ago), so I can’t stay out all hours eating and drinking and expect to be a normal functioning adult the next day. Maybe you can, but I promise you, that bill will eventually come due. SLEEP. Protect yourself. Your body and your voice will thank you.

There are 168 hours in a week. You might spend five of them exercising.  But the other 163 hours are actually much more important. Eat right, and sleep right.

Next time I’ll finish up this article with suggestions for exercise in whatever environment you’re in, because I’m helpful like that. And MODEST!

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