11 Things We Learned in 2011

Nobody messes with a Fit reader. Or, well, nobody should, considering that if you’ve been paying attention to this section over the past year, you know how to break an opponent’s ankle (step on his foot and then shove him back), train like a UFC fighter (constantly repeat techniques until they’re automatic) and say “punch” in Bahasa Indonesia (pukulan). But hopefully you managed to pick up a few other things, too. Here’s a refresher course.

You are a machine master.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve never seen that new piece of cardio equipment in your gym. You’re ready to make it work if you follow the advice of Mitch Batkin, senior vice president of fitness for Sport & Health. He recommends starting with an easy pace, then finding ways to challenge yourself for short intervals by increasing speed or resistance. When it’s too much, back off so you can recover while moving. “That teaches the body to push harder and burn more fat,” he says. And remember to cool down, or risk fainting.

 

 

Dinner’s Ready.

Celeb chef Ming Tsai has changed his approach to family dinners. “I used to be more excessive with fats, and did three to four proteins for a big meal. You don’t need to do that. It’s all about the sides anyway,” says Tsai, who’s boosted the nutritional value of some standard dishes. His stuffing is made with whole-grain bread, and the rice is a 50/50 brown and white combo. “No one notices. You just have to soak the brown rice for an hour after you wash it,” he adds.

Babies are hard on the thumbs.

Especially if you always lift them by sliding your hands with your thumbs pointed up under the child’s armpits. That can cause “Mommy Thumb” (aka De Quervain’s tendinitis). Treating the painful condition, which most often strikes mothers older than 30, usually involves heat or ice packs, a brace and/or cortisone shots. In extreme cases, it calls for surgery. You might be able to avoid the same fate with this technique tweak: Scoop one hand under the baby’s butt, place the other hand on the baby’s back and lift.

 

 

 

Tutus aren’t required.

But you can still have the body of a dancer by pulsing in a plie. That’s what the barre studios that keep popping up all over the Washington area promise students. The Bar Method (750 9th St. NW, 202-347-7999), which opened its first location in the region this summer, is just one of the nationally known brands of barre fitness that’s eyeing D.C. as a new market. Expect more to storm the city in 2012.

Plank can be no problem.

Rather than make exercises more challenging, Robert Sherman, area group fitness director for Equinox, set out to make them easier. By activating forgotten muscles and correcting imbalances through a sequence of moves, you’ll realize the hard stuff isn’t really so bad. Try his pre-plank plan:

1. Start by performing oblique twists. Get on your back, bend your knees, and bring them over to one side of your body (without letting them separate or lifting your head). Repeat 10 times on each side.

2. Move onto a hip rotation and lift. Lie on your side with your hips stacked, bend the bottom knee, and reach away with the extended leg. Then roll your thigh upward. Finally, lift up (using your glutes) and hold for three seconds. Repeat 10 times on each side.

3. After you’ve activated your core and your rear end, you’ll be able to hold plank more efficiently.

Adults are allowed to jump rope, too.

Haven’t picked up a jump rope since your playground days? Shaun Hamilton, organizer of the World Jump Rope Championship, suggests starting with the beaded kind. To determine proper length, stand in the middle of the rope, holding the ends in each hand as high as you can pull. They should come up to your armpits. As you get better, you’ll find it’s not necessary to have something so long. Hamilton says you should eventually graduate to a “licorice” style rope more geared toward speed and tricks.

Bikes don’t need seats.

Take a stand with the ElliptiGo, an elliptical like the ones at the gym — except this kind is on a roll. We tested the 8C version of the low-impact cycle ($2,399) and discovered a whole new perspective on what a ride could be. Not only are you higher up, but you’re striding instead of pedaling. You’ll get used to it quickly, but it may take longer to get comfortable with all the people staring and pointing.

Good skaters lean forward.

Or they lean in another direction, says Kurt Browning, the former four-time world champion skater, who offered up coaching tips when he came to the Verizon Center for Smucker’s “Stars on Ice.” “A good skater is hardly ever standing straight up,” he notes. Browning also advises keeping your body loose when you (inevitably) fall to minimize injuries.

What’s in your meal could surprise you.

When your stomach is grumbling, there’s no time to mess with math. So let Nutritionix.com, a free site developed by two George Washington University grads, do it for you. It knows the nutritional info for the entire menus of several dozen restaurants. Pick what you want to order and it’ll spit out a label (like on the back of products at a grocery store). It’s particularly helpful for fast casual restaurants that let you customize your meal, so you know whether you really want to add that sour cream to your burrito.

A pumpkin can carve you.

Those orange gourds are fine for decoration, but they’re also scary good for strength training, according to Washington Sports Clubs instructor Libby Linden Rubin. One of her favorite moves is the “spooky squat”: Holding a pumpkin at chest level, push your hips back and squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Then stand up while simultaneously pressing the pumpkin over your head.

It might be time for a friend breakup.

Trust “Baggage Check” advice columnist Dr. Andrea Bonior. These five warning signs come from her book, “The Friendship Fix”:

1. You do not like the person you become when you’re around that friend.

2. Your friend does not seem to appreciate the person you are.

3. The words you would use to describe that friend are not flattering.

4. The friendship feels totally unbalanced.

5. Your friend is bringing out bad behaviors in you.

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