Strength isn’t always measured by muscle mass or how much weight you can lift. Instead, to be strong comprises a number of factors: think flexibility, endurance and inner stability. Strength can even come in the form of being free of pain and the ability to stand up, sit down and everything in between without losing a beat. Four fitness professionals chat about using different modalities to build strength in both body and mind.

SRQ: Here we have a yoga instructor, a Pilates instructor and two CrossFit coaches. What is the philosophy behind each mode of training? Morgan Thomas (Yoga Instructor, WildCore Yoga, The Yoga Shack): I have been practicing for about 20 years. I became an instructor because I feel like a lot of yoga students—even yoga instructors—are missing a strength component. I grew up as an athlete, so I wanted to figure out how to grow more athletes into a yoga practice, even if it is a recovery day. I integrate a lot of the strength training in my classes for a well-rounded workout. Stretching out the muscles is great, but if they aren’t strong, that’s not going to help either. It sets a foundation to facilitate other activities when you strengthen the stabilizers, such as stretching out the hamstrings. Dead lifts are so much easier and more effective if you stretch out the hamstrings a little bit more. I have a lot of athletes in the class that just need to fine-tune this and that anatomically, or take it to the next level. I also have people who are new to being athletic, and with strong yoga, they can feel successful in terms of strength-based training. Nina Desloge-Day (Pilates Instructor/Owner, Pilates Works of Sarasota): Pilates is strength training, but strength training in a way where you are stretching the muscle. You are elongating the muscle instead of tearing muscle fiber to build strength. It is more about stabilizing the body and stabilizing the joints. I teach equipment-based Pilates. There is also mat Pilates, which is a derivative of yoga essentially—there is more stretching and more dynamic movements. With equipment-based Pilates, you are using machines (called a Reformer), and I guide people through the different exercises. It is really about stabilizing joints. The principles of Pilates are breathing, pelvic placement, shoulder stabilization, ribcage placement and cervical spine placement. I teach a contemporary version of Pilates called Stott Pilates, and the idea behind it is to stabilize the body. Of course, you develop long lean muscles but it is functional fitness. You are never going to get a big bulky muscle, which is why a lot of dancers and boxers and people who are already athletes like it because they can get the strength without building bulk.

What is the difference between doing mat Pilates or yoga and reformer Pilates? Desloge-Day: With mat Pilates, you are using your body as resistance, whereas with reformer Pilates you are using the spring tension as resistance. Reformer Pilates is actually easier because you are lying down, standing or kneeling on a piece of equipment, and you have feedback from the machine the whole time—you are more aware of where you are in space. On a mat you are just lying there just balancing against your own body—it’s much easier to become out of alignment or to be doing the movements wrong unless you have an instructor that is following along with every movement you do. Pilates is actually very precise with a lot small movements that, if not done correctly, are a waste of time. If you are not doing the exercises correctly, you’re not getting the full benefit—once you do, the results are amazing. Charles Bennington (Head Coach, Seaward CrossFit): The intention of CrossFit is to make someone fitter. How do you define “fitness”? That is something that, prior to CrossFit, hadn’t really been quantified. Who is fitter—a marathon runner or a triathlete? A weightlifter or gymnast? The reality is, if you don’t break down all the components that feed into fitness, you have no way to make progress or make an objective. So CrossFit’s overall aim is to improve cardiorespiratory endurance, strength, stamina, flexibility, power, speed, agility, accuracy, balance and coordination. If we can bring those 10 components up, we have undoubtedly brought someone’s fitness level up. And it has to be tailored to each person: a dancer or gymnast could have an incredible amount of flexibility, but ends up being hyper-mobile and they go too far. Someone who runs ultra marathons could have stellar cardiorespiratory endurance, but they have no strength, power or speed. We try to objectively create balance across anything that would comprise what makes an athlete. We combine the best of track and field, weightlifting, power lifting, kettle bells and gymnastics—this lets us build a really well-rounded athlete. Matt Wilmoth (Head Coach, CrossFit Sarasota): And there is actually a ton of yoga in CrossFit—I hear that all the time when we are warming up. It is really important to point out that everybody has their own brand of CrossFit. You will find everybody has a different theory on different things. We take a lot of athletes so we try to balance it across the board. CrossFit in general is trying to create broad fitness for normal people in everyday life. Bennington: A lot of people assume CrossFit gyms are all the same. But we are all independently owned and privately operated and everyone has their own interpretation of the methodology. My wife Vanessa did the Baptiste Yoga training up in New York, so we have yoga legitimately integrated into our gym. She is also a medical practitioner so we can pull labs and integrate that into people’s nutrition.

How do you prevent people from doing exercises incorrectly and not reaping the full benefits or, worse, hurting themselves? Thomas: There are actually high incidents of injury in yoga because people push themselves too far. Especially people with hypermobility because their joints will pop out. I definitely teach quality over quantity. I will make a physical adjustment when I see someone out of alignment. I will practice next to my students so they can always look at me. Desloge-Day: With Pilates, you teach the first lesson that is based on the five basic principles. You tell them, you show them and teach them exercises—you are continually drilling in that information. If they do something where they need to lift an arm—they need to have neutral shoulders, widening through the collarbone while holding in their abdominals. The instructor is continuously watching each person’s body to make sure they move in the correct plane. Someone can be at home and try to exercise with a video and just be all over the place. Pilates doesn’t need a lot of weight or resistance, but you have to have the proper form—even your mind needs to be focused on what you are doing—so that the result is quicker and more profound. Wilmoth: There is a group of physical therapists that I work with at Washington University in St. Louis; they will tell you that how you do something is way more important than what you do. We put people through three to six beginner sessions, usually one-on-one with a coach before they touch anything. Once they are inside the class, there are five different levels of progression for each workout we do, each movement we do. This way, they are kind of working with a pattern they then understand how to do. The majority of people slowly go through it. If you don’t have those progressions you could end up in stressful situations. Thomas: You need to build up that muscle memory and the neurological pathways in order to make progress. Bennington: We run new clients through a minimum of four one-on-one sessions to refurbish foundations, meaning establishing what their end goal is going to be for any movement, recurrent progression and what their next two to three steps should be. There should be an idea as to what their path is. Wilmoth: No one walks in with perfect range of motion and stability in their joints. Bennington: It doesn’t exist, it’s a unicorn. Wilmoth: Everybody has some deficiency somewhere that can be improved. Everybody has a gap somewhere. Bennington: We cap classes at 12 people on a regular basis so that we can get a high degree of coaching to build on a coach/athlete relationship. There are a lot of misconceptions that CrossFit carries. Same thing with yoga—I know that I had a lot of pre-conceived notions that ended up being totally off-base once my wife went down that road. Yoga doesn’t just help with range, flexibility and stability, but also the mindfulness component—setting an intention—has been tremendous when integrated with CrossFit. Your mental side has a huge impact on the endgame, just as much as the physical aspect.

How do you help people who don’t think of themselves as athletes get motivated to try a fitness program? Bennington: That is what we have built much of our CrossFit practice and business around—the majority of the CrossFit world isn’t athletes. I coach for CrossFit headquarters and have traveled across the world to CrossFit gyms. The misnomer is that they are populated with a ton of guys and girls in their late-teens and early-20s that are all phenomenal athletes and really fit. The reality is: what keeps the entire CrossFit industry moving is predominantly female athletes between 35 and 55, quite often with no athletic background. Outside of that, being sedentary will absolutely kill you. Obesity will absolutely kill you, type 2 diabetes can be the most detrimental thing that someone can go through. Any amount of fitness is better than no fitness at all. Desloge-Day: It is a sedentary lifestyle that will kill you. I get a lot of people who sit all day—when they come to me, they have super tight hip flexors and psoas muscle, their pelvis is tucked under too far so they have lower back pain. Exercise is the fountain of youth. Getting blood running through your body and oxygen to your blood—that’s the key. All of our workouts do that. Getting people to move is the most important thing. A lot of people love Pilates because it is the only thing that their body will allow them to do. If they have herniated discs, for example, they can’t lift heavy weights because it puts too much pressure on the spine, but they can do Pilates. If they have too much hyperextension in their joints and can’t do yoga because it will push them too far, Pilates often works and can get them out of pain. I came to Pilates for pain issues—it is what keeps my spine healthy. You have to keep moving.

For each one of these modalities, is there anyone who shouldn’t be doing them? Bennington: CrossFit is open to absolutely anybody and everybody. A lot of people with degenerative birth defects do CrossFit. Former military personnel that have gone through terrible things overseas—guys that are missing arms and legs—do CrossFit because it is infinitely scalable. Our needs as humans don’t change, but how we can approach creating fitness for somebody can absolutely be individualized. Desloge-Day: That is why a lot of people come to a CrossFit gym or yoga studio or Pilates studio in general—they need modifications and help doing those modifications. Each of us can tailor a workout for them based on their specific needs, because everybody’s bodies are different. Thomas: There are a lot of different traditions in yoga. Vinyasa (power yoga) certainly isn’t for everybody. If you are brand new to something, it completely depends on your activity level or if you have any injuries. Some people should not be doing vinyasa—people with herniated discs, for example—that need to work with straps and stretch and open up their back and hamstrings. I have a lot of ballet dancers that come into my class—they are strong, hypermobile and a great candidate for what I am teaching. It depends on where you are in your fitness. We talk about this a lot in yoga—meeting your body exactly where it is. We really make sure you check your ego at the door. Wilmoth: We had a 78-year-old walk in with rheumatoid arthritis who crushed it. She wasn’t doing anything that may have looked like what the rest of the class was doing, but she did just fine. She was working on getting up off the floor; she was at the opera and saw an older guy fall who couldn’t get up and she decided that this was embarrassing and would never happen to her. She spent most of the class getting up and going down—burpies—and she loved it. I have not run into to anybody that can’t do something yet. And one of the great things about CrossFit is that you get a lot of other things beyond just strength training or conditioning. You get the nutritional support and the community, which are just as important, especially the nutrition component, if not more important, than what type of movement we do. There are all kinds of things coming out right now about how low back pain is related to inflammatory factors, T-cell imbalances for example—which can be helped with exercise, but also nutrition. That’s an important piece if we are going to solve the chronic disease problem.

About Our Participants

Nina Desloge-Day, BS is a STOTT Pilates certified instructor and founder of Pilates Works of Sarasota. Desloge holds a Bachelor’s of Science in marketing from Fontbonne University. She is a fully certified Stott Pilates instructor with additional training in Injury and Special Populations (ISP). She is Level 1 Yogafit trained and has specialized training in the Lagree Fitness Method.

Charles Bennington owns and operates Seaward CrossFit with his wife Vanessa. He has been intimately involved in the CrossFit community since his CrossFit Level 1 Certification in 2009. He has been a part of bringing to life events and competitions such as the 2010 CrossFit South Central Regional, 2011 Reebok Global Marketing Meeting, 2011 Life AsRx Tour, 2012 Life AsRx Signature Series, 2013 Xtreme Top Box Throwdown and currently the Monster Series.

Matt Wilmoth owns and is the head coach at CrossFit Sarasota. He has been sought out by CrossFit owners nationwide for instruction in biomechanics, Olympic lifting, technical coaching and nutrition, and has developed custom programming used by athletes around the country, including ABC’s The Biggest Loser.

Morgan Thomas is a certified yoga instructor. She majored in health science and will continue her education here in Florida. She is an instructor at The Yoga Shack, owns a yoga events business and is developing online classes, courses and tutorials for all things yoga, cross training, health and food.