Welcome 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.
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.
4. 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.
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.
I’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…