The Benefits of Better Breathing

....  and How You’ll Survive the Fall of Civilization  

Recently, as I was about to begin teaching a class, I thought I’d get started by telling everyone to get on the floor. But before I could even begin speaking, all of my students moved onto their stomachs to start an exercise we call “croc breathing.” I wanted to start with a tabletop position, but alas, it turns out they knew what was best. And they were right. Here’s the thing, “croc breathing” isn’t the most exciting exercise, but I quickly realized what was happening-- my students had found the value in breathing exercises.  

Now, I want you to discover these benefits as well. That’s why I want to focus on the importance of proper breathing techniques.    

 
    
Gain Better Posture
By breathing properly, you ensure proper posture, which allows for bone to balance lightly on bone. This means there are as few muscles as possible involved in supporting and maintaining your balance. When proper posture and respiratory muscles are restricted, the body begins to process less and less oxygen. As a result, you start slumping. And that’s no good.  Not only does this send out an image of poor self-confidence, but it also has a negative impact on your respiratory and musculoskeletal system over time.

Feel More Relaxed  
From a Western perspective, when we unconsciously hold our breath, we “short circuit” our body’s ability to take in the appropriate amount of oxygen to function properly. When you hold your breath, your body interprets this as a sign of distress, which not only engages the fight or flight mode of the sympathetic nervous system, but also triggers a cascade of stress hormones. Eventually, this may lead to digestive issues as well as increase tension in the neck and upper- to mid-back due to poor muscular oxygenation.

Increase Your Awesomeness
If you’re generally stressed, you won’t perform at your best.  Improper breathing leads to a lot of other issues that cause even more stress such as a lack of sleep and consuming extreme levels of caffeine. Quite simply, proper breathing will help you perform better.

Survive a Zombie Apocalypse
As mentioned above, proper breathing is going to help you perform at your best. And you’ll want to be at your best if you want to survive the zombie apocalypse. So, when you actually need to tap into additional resources to kick some zombie butt, you’ll need your fight or flight response to turn your performance up a notch.  

What You Can Do
Now that you know what you can gain from proper breathing, it’s time to get started. Here are some additional techniques that you can try at home:

Who is Anne Stevens? Our New Guru, That’s Who.

We’re going to mix it up a little this month. Typically, we like to focus on one of our Paramount members, but this time around, we want to bring in some outside expertise. That’s why we’re introducing you all to someone who’s not only a friend of the gym but also a lover of good health and a provider of good vibes--Anne Stevens

Anne is our go-to source on holistic healing, and we’re going to look to her from now on to show us the benefits of things we might otherwise overlook such as breathing, acupuncture, yoga, and even Eastern medicine.  

First, let’s get to know her a bit better, shall we? 

Where did you grow up? 
The great poet Nelly once said, “I’m from the Lou and I’m proud.” But, he might’ve been wrong. I was born in St. Louis, but if someone on the street asks me where I’m from, I’m saying Chicago.  

What do you do for a living? Tell me about your typical day.
Right now, I’m in graduate school pursuing a doctorate in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, so my days are mostly filled with classes. Then, I usually make a point to get to a yoga class, come home, and cook a wholesome dinner. I’ll also watch something easy and funny like How I Met Your Mother. For work, I babysit when I can to make some money while I’m in school (so, if anyone reading this has kids and ever needs a very qualified, CPR-certified adult to watch their children, pick me!). 

What are some of your favorite things to do?
I love to listen to podcasts, peruse stores like Whole Foods (especially when their sample game is strong), cook plant-based meals, check out new cocktail bars in the neighborhood, and watch mostly okay movies with my boyfriend. I also love to talk about my beloved cat, Bob, any chance I can get! 

What’s something that people should know about you? 
If you’re unfamiliar with what acupuncture and Chinese medicine school entails, think less “hokey pokey” (pun intended) sorcery, and more integrated learning of both Western and Eastern sciences. The schooling also requires four years of full-time study and over 1,000 hours of hands-on clinical practice, so you can rest assured you won’t have to experience this.   

Deserted Island Q&A. If you were stuck on an island alone, what 1-5 things would you bring of the following:
Movies and/or TV shows?

  • Movies: Interstellar, Wayne’s World,  10 Things I Hate About You, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, About Time
  • TV shows: Lost (because I’ve never seen it, and it’s really long. I might learn a thing or two about living on a deserted island), Stranger Things, Breaking Bad, Gilmore Girls, Chef’s Table

Books? 

  • All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, all of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts 

Food?

  • Sushi, sautéed kale with hemp seeds, tacos, BBQ salmon, Whole Foods’ guacamole

Music? 

  • Moon Safari by Air, Kid A by Radiohead, Back to Black by Amy Winehouse, Cosmogramma by Flying Lotus, Greatest Hits by Notorious B.I.G.

Teammate of the Month | Ronnie & Michael

The couple that works out together…well, I can’t think of anything cute to complete this statement. But that doesn’t matter because when they’re hitting the weights, there’s nothing cute about it. They’re fierce. They’re intense. And they get at it. They’re Ronnie Craig and Mike Manley, Paramount’s resident power couple (pun intended?). 

I sat down with Ronnie and Mike recently to get to know them a little better. And let me tell you, when they’re not in the gym, they’re actually pretty cute. 


Where did you grow up? 
Ronnie Craig: Western North Carolina. I’ve lived in Chicago for 16 years but still have the Southern accent.

Mike Manley: Middle-of-Nowhere, Indiana.


What do you do for a living? Tell me about your typical day.
RC: I’m a Senior Copywriter at a digital experience agency, so I’m always at my laptop. I mostly work from home so I use a sit/stand desk and work on mobility here and there during the day. But still, writing’s a sedentary practice.

MM: I’m a software engineer for Public Good. Most days I am either head down in code or sketching boxes and arrows and such on one of our whiteboard walls. 


When do you workout? 
RC: I’m usually at Paramount five days a week now: small group classes, two mornings and two evenings, as well as the Saturday rowing class.

MM: Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 6am.


What are some of your favorite things to do (besides working out obviously)? 
RC: I love to travel with Manley, try new restaurants, hang out with our two mutts, and read anything I can get my hands on. I’m also a sci-fi/horror movie fiend and a wannabe bartender. 

MM: Hang out with Ronnie. Read, write, bike, cook, watch movies, travel, and play with our dogs.

 


What’s something that people at the gym might not know about you? 
RC: Since I’m such a tomboy now, I bet nobody would guess that I was in beauty pageants—sequins, giant hair and all—in high school.

MM: I have no sense of smell and never did. If I ever come into the gym already stinky, someone needs to tell me, because that means I screwed something up.


Why did you first start coming to Paramount? 
RC: I’d never done sports or anything athletic except running a few days every week; once I hit 40, my usual running workouts became too high impact, so I needed a new way to get and stay fit. After hearing a reco from a friend and reading stellar reviews, I came to Paramount for a consult a year ago and never looked back.

MM: Ronnie had been going for about six months and loved it, as had our friend Ken Steele. I wasn’t getting anything out of my existing workouts, so I started going to Fundamentals and got hooked.


As a result of your workouts, what’s something you can do now that you couldn’t do before? 
RC: ALL THE THINGS! But lifting heavy still surprises me—I love that I can move as much or more than my body weight. And it’s worth noting that my confidence, both in and out of the gym, is also the strongest it’s ever been. Paramount’s thoughtful programming, wonderful trainers, and fun teammates are a big part of that.

MM: Jump rope! The first few times I tried that, I nearly simultaneously strangled and tripped myself. Now I only do one or the other, usually.


So what’s your favorite workout? 
RC: Rowing! Peggy, another friend, and I did the Reckless Rowathon (14K for each of us) in January. So much fun! Turkish Get-Ups are also a favorite, and I think I’m the only person at Paramount who likes Joffrey the Sled.

MM: It might be weird, and I still do them ugly as sin, but Turkish Get Ups. I demonstrated those to my officemates and they all wondered why anyone would ever do such a thing on purpose. 


Is there anything you like or dislike about working out with your significant other? 
RC: We focus on the workout when we’re in the same class, but we stay accountable as a team of two outside Paramount—we talk about what’s working and how to improve, plus we work out or hike together when we’re on vacation. I really like that. I dislike laundry duty with all our sweaty workout clothes. Blargh.

MM: Honestly, we are both pretty focused when we’re there, so we largely ignore each other during workouts. It is nice when Ronnie fireman-carries me home afterwards, though.


Deserted Island Q&A. If you were stuck on a deserted island, what 1-5 things would you bring of the following:

Movies and/or TV shows? 
RC: Jaws is my favorite movie. I can recite all the dialogue by heart. I think Breaking Bad was the best show ever made, but I refuse to watch the last season because I heard how it ends and I can’t accept it. I still love you, Walter White!

MM: Am I on the island with Ronnie? If so, we have to have all the Jaws movies on hand. Otherwise, I’d make do with all 9+ seasons of the X-Files.


Books? 
RC: Too many to narrow down, but I’ll go with the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and Ray Bradbury, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and Watership Down by Richard Adams. Manley said he’d bring Stephen King’s entire collection, so I think we’d be covered for books.

MM: I’d hope to have been smart enough to have the SAS Survival Guide on hand, but likely I won’t be, so then the complete works of Stephen King. In addition to the entertainment, one could build a small but sturdy hut with all of those volumes.


Food? 
RC: I could eat M’s baked salmon, rosemary sweet potatoes, and chia pudding just about every day. And I’d probably sneak in some bourbon.

MM: I’ll be OK as long as I have a big enough bottle of good hot sauce.


Music? 
RC: For reading & writing, I need music without lyrics like classical, techno, or movie soundtracks. Everyone in class knows I love old-school hard rock like AC/DC for workouts. And for sweet, gorgeous music by an adorable married couple, I highly recommend The Weepies.

MM: Any Greatest Hits of the Year from, oh, 1980 through 1997 would do just fine

Teammate of the Month | Peggy M

The regular—every gym has one. Paramount certainly does. And this one we’re more than happy to have around, all the time. She’s Peggy Mitchell. Chances are you’ve seen her, most likely kicking your ass in the workout of the day. She might move quickly, but we managed to catch up with her to get to know her a little better. So take a minute, catch your breath, and get to know Peggy— our early morning rising, long distance rowing, Dave Matthews loving Teammate of the Month.

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Where did you grow up?

Chicago. Southside Irish!

You’ve been a member from the beginning, starting in April 2012. What keeps you coming back week after week?  

The results. I feel I am in the best overall condition of my life.

At work, what do you do on a typical day?

I’m the director for clinical research support services at Northwestern University. A typical day is composed of being in meetings as well as planning and implementing ways to increase our research enterprise. Interpretation: I sit a lot.

When do you typically workout?

I do the really fun Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 6:00 am workouts. I also do the Saturday Rowing class and Sunday Mobility class.

What are some of your favorite things to do (besides working out obviously)?

Favorite things are hanging out with my awesome kids and friends.

What’s something about you that people at the gym might not know?

I competed in swimming, synchronized swimming, and water polo for 18 years.

Why did you first start coming to Paramount?

Megan invited me to a workout to try it out, and I got hooked. I’ve been coming ever since.

What can you do now in workouts that you couldn’t do before?  

Too many things to list, but I was pretty excited when I completed the Reckless Rowathon last year.

What’s your favorite exercise / workout?  

I have a love/hate relationship with the Saturday rowing workouts. It’s my favorite but it’s also the hardest.

 

Okay, desert island time. If you were stuck on one, what would you bring of the following?

  • Movies / TV shows?

DVDs of the West Wing series

  • Books?

Anything James Carroll

  • Food?

Popcorn

  • Music?

Dave Matthews

What we measure and why it’s important.

We love data. To us, it’s actionable metrics. It provides the hard truth. There’s no arguing with it. And better yet, it helps you (yes, you dear fitness buff) stay accountable to your goals. Quite simply, it provides vital information on how we (yes, we your beloved trainers) can improve our programming and deliver better resources to help you succeed.  This week we’re going to be completing our Fitness Test and adding in a new measurement called the Functional Movement Screen.  That’s why we want to spend a minute to explain how we use data with our Strength Program, the Fitness Test, Body Composition Measurements, and, now, the Functional Movement Screen. 

 

Strength Program

Overview

One of our main focuses in the small group classes is to build “pure” strength.  We follow Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program because it’s incredibly simple to follow, especially in a group setting. More importantly, it works. In it, there are four main lifts: deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press.  When you join our classes, you’ll spend anywhere from four to eight weeks improving your technique before doing a four-rep max test.  This will determine your weights moving forward. The table below outlines how it works. 

  Reps / Percent of 4 rep max
Week One 5 reps at 65% 5 reps at 75% 5+ reps at 85%
Week Two 4 reps at 70% 3 reps at 80% 3+ reps at 90%
Week Three 5 reps at 75% 3 reps at 85% 1+ reps at 95%
Week Four 5 reps at 40% 5 reps at 50% 5 reps at 60%

 

Benefit

Helps you gain strength through consistent, methodical movements.

 

Fitness Test

Overview 

Every two to three months we spend a few days completing a fitness test. In two minutes, you give it your all to max out on push-ups, sit-ups, and squats. And let’s not forget finding your best time in the 2,000 meter row.

 

Test Time
Max # of Push-ups 2 Minutes
Max # of Sit-ups 2 Minutes
Max # of Squats 2 Minutes

2,000 Meter row

Benefit

Measures and tests your cardiovascular endurance.

 

Body Composition

Overview

We take about nine circumference measurements every six to eight weeks from those of you looking to change your body composition.  This is a free service that we offer every other week on Sundays.  In addition to the circumference measurements, we do a three-pinch skin fold test to calculate body fat percentage. We’ll also measure your current weight and take a few pictures.

Benefit 

Helps you stay accountable to your goals related to weight loss and toning up.

 

 

Functional Movement Screen

Overview

The Functional Movement System (FMS) is a ranking and grading system that documents movement patterns key to basic human movement. Adding the FMS screen to our training will give us more information on what corrective exercises we need to implement and if there are any exercises or movement patterns that you’ll need to avoid.

Benefit

Improves the quality of your movement. After all, here at Paramount we care about quality more than quantity.