Pilates targets the core abdominal and back muscles

Fitness Q & A

Health & Fitness

February 01, 2004|By Gailor Large | Gailor Large,Special to the Sun

I hear about Pilates all the time, but don't know the first thing about it. Can you fill me in?

Believe it or not, Pilates was founded almost a century ago. While it took awhile to catch on, today it's practically as mainstream as jogging or yoga. Like yoga, Pilates is a mix of strength and flexibility training. It incorporates more motion than yoga does, is more physically strenuous and isn't as intensely meditative as yoga (though proper breathing is essential).

While it works the entire body, Pilates especially targets the core abdominal and back muscles. The practice does wonders for your posture. It can be done on a mat or using equipment specifically designed for the purpose. The most popular of these machines, "the Reformer," is designed to accommodate dozens of different Pilates exercises.

For more information on Pilates, visit the Web site, www.pilatesmethodalliance.org.

I've been trying to stick to a low-carbohydrate diet but I just can't seem to keep it up. I have friends who have been successful, which makes me wonder if I'm predisposed to crave carbs. Is it simply a willpower thing?

No. Those who are able to stick religiously to carbohydrate-restricted diets like Atkins and the Zone are almost always those who inherently prefer a side of bacon to a cinnamon roll in the morning or a steak dinner to a bowl of fettuccine at night. Each of us has our own favorite foods, and just as you may find it easy to cut out fats, someone else may have no problem eliminating carbs.

Rather than ignoring your body, drop the low-carb plan. Particularly if you are exercising regularly, your body needs carbohydrates for energy.

Instead of adopting the weight-loss strategy du jour, work on improving your overall eating habits by replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains, cutting fat and upping your intake of lean protein, vegetables and fresh fruit.

My supermarket has nearly an entire aisle devoted to Power Bars, Balance Bars, Zone Perfect Bars, Luna Bars, Edge Bars -- the list is endless. I think they're overpriced and taste dry. What is all the fuss about, and are they healthy or not?

It's clear that these bars are selling like hotcakes, not surprising considering Americans' eat-and-run lifestyle. They're sweet, quick and easy, and are marketed as a fix-all for daily protein and vitamin intake. Overall, there's nothing wrong with energy and protein bars, as long as you know what you're eating. Bar-eaters need to be label readers, too.

A good rule of thumb: Your bar should have more grams of protein than sugar. I rarely go a day without my favorite bar, but it's important to get your nutrients from fresh foods as much as possible. If you can leave a piece of food on the table and come back the next day to eat it (and it still tastes the same), should you really be putting it into your body in the first place?

What can I do to prevent chafing when I run?

Chafing is a problem that many distance athletes, particularly runners and bikers, face. Here some friction-busting tips:

* Replace cotton workout gear with smoother, quick-drying synthetic fabrics.

* Choose underwear (including sports bras) that won't rub. Seamless and flat-seamed styles are best.

* On susceptible areas, use a non-staining skin lubricator like Body Glide (www.bodyglide.com).

* Spinners and bikers, invest in spandex biker shorts.

* For chest chafing, try nip guards (www.nipguards.com).

Do you have a fitness question? Write to Fitness, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278. You can also fax questions to 410-783-2519 or e-mail fitness@baltsun.com.

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