I’m the Worst Dancer, but I’ll Never Quit Taking Dance Fitness Classes—Here’s Why

I’m the Worst Dancer, but I’ll Never Quit Taking Dance Fitness Classes—Here’s Why

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I’ve never been good at dancing, but for some reason I’ve always felt drawn to it. In elementary school, I would make up mini dance routines and perform them for myself in my bedroom mirror. In middle school, in an attempt to gain some semblance of rhythm, I asked my dance-adept cheerleader friend to teach me how to body roll. During college, I would beg my friends to go out with me—yes, drinking would be involved, but mainly, I just wanted to dance the night away.

RELATED: Try the Dance Cardio Workout That Inspired Zumba

Now, at 23 and with a full-time job, spending late nights dancing at a club isn’t always doable. But I’ve discovered something else that’s kept my passion for the dance floor alive: dance fitness classes.

It started with Zumba, which I discovered during a summer internship. I remember hitting the studio after work and being surrounded by all types of women—young, old, thin, thick—but still feeling self-conscious. I’d never danced in a space that wasn’t secluded or where the lights were in full effect, where everyone could see me and my flailing body.

Still, when the music started, I followed the instructors as best as I could—which, for the record, wasn’t very well. The music was upbeat and so were the teachers and students, and even though I missed so many beats, I felt happier after that class than I had all summer. By then, I didn’t care if I messed up and the entire class saw my misstep because the joy the movements brought me was so much greater than any feelings of embarrassment or reservation.

RELATED: How to Be More Confident in the Weight Room, Dance Class, and More

While I’ve always been drawn to these workouts and how positive they make me feel, I could never understand why I walked out of the studio or gym feeling so radiant. So I reached out to exercise physiologist Tom Holland, who had a more scientific understanding of the allure of dancing. “The full-body movement and neuromuscular connection is so unique,” he told me. “You don’t get that from CrossFit or strength training, where the movements are static.” 

Dancing can also build self-esteem. “You add in music that is fun and you’re learning and you go, ‘Wow I can do this!’ when you get it right,” says Holland. “It’s not super complicated but complicated enough to feel rewarding.” It’s true: My first couple of Zumba classes felt awkward at best. But as time went by, I started to nail certain movements, and it felt so much more empowering than setting a personal record in the weight room. It’s hard to compare the mind-body connection of a high-powered dance class with any other workout out there.

I’ll never forget the recent Monday night hip-hop dance class I took with my similarly dance-challenged friend Nora. We felt like fish out of water, surrounded by some amazing dancers. But the instructor was kind and enthusiastic, breaking down the moves and trying his best to teach us how to Milly Rock (emphasis on trying).

RELATED: 6 Dance Cardio Workout Videos That Will Get You Out of Your Exercise Rut

When our 60-minute class was over, Nora and I were dripping with sweat and out of breath. Our instructor wrapped things up by thanking us for coming out and left us with this: “Dance is always there for you. If you have a good day, you want to come dance to celebrate. If you have a bad day, you want to dance to forget about it and move forward.”

That’s why I’ll keep taking dance classes, even though I’m so horrible sometimes, I stumble over my own feet. Dance can ground you in your own experiences, but it can also inspire you to take the next steps in life and live more joyfully—and you don’t have to be a famous choreographer or ballerina to feel that effect.

 5 Signs You’re Getting Fitter—Even If the Scale Hasn’t Budged

 5 Signs You’re Getting Fitter—Even If the Scale Hasn’t Budged

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You’ve been doing everything right: loading up on greens, lifting weights, and going easy on the wine and late-night snacks. But whenever you step on the scale, the same digits stare back at you—or worse, the number is higher than it was last time. WTF?

Before you get too worked up, the scale doesn’t tell the whole story—and you know this! Fortunately there are other ways to gauge your progress: As you get healthier, a few subtle mind-body clues begin to surface. Read on to learn what to look for. If you can check any of the boxes below, it’s a safe bet you’re on the right track (even if the scale claims otherwise).

Your junk food cravings have mellowed out

Once you’ve adapted to a cleaner diet, your hankerings for sugar and processed foods should get less intense (and may even go away completely), says Mark Hyman, MD, director of the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. “You can absolutely train your body to crave healthy foods instead,” he says. In other words, jonesing for edamame is an excellent sign you’ve made headway.

Test your taste buds: Make a list of five foods you once craved; then after two weeks, note whether you crave them anymore. The shift can happen very quickly, says Dr. Hyman, who wrote The Blood Sugar Solution: 10-Day Detox Diet. “If you load up on plant foods, healthy fats, and protein with every meal, you will find that eventually you won’t want the junk.”

RELATED: 9 Before-and-After Photos That Show Weight Is Just a Number

You’re reaching for heftier dumbbells

So you finally started lifting—or doing body-weight workouts—to build fat-burning muscle. Here’s some encouraging news: You may notice progress stat. For some people, it takes just a few weeks to see improvements in strength. “This is often referred to as beginner’s gains,” says Kourtney Thomas, a certified strength and conditioning specialist based in St. Louis. (After that, progress may slow, but it should still happen over time.)

Track your gains: As a general rule, if your regimen includes progressive overload (meaning you gradually make your muscles work harder over time, by adding weight or tension) you should be able to lift weight that is 7 to 10 percent heavier—or do endurance strength moves (such as planks) for longer—after every 14 days or so. Try using specific exercises (think bicep curls and a squat hold) as “benchmarks,” and testing yourself every two weeks or so. But keep in mind that fitness progress isn’t always linear, Thomas notes. “Other general clues like having more energy for workouts, and better balance and coordination are valuable indicators too,” she says.

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You’ve never felt more rested

“Exercise has been proven to not only boost your daytime energy, but your sleep quality, too,” says Marci Goolsby, MD, a physician in the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Researchers have found that when people with insomnia get on a long-term exercise program, they tend to doze off quicker, snooze longer, and sleep more deeply than before they started working out. (Just don’t bang out a HITT routine right before bed, Dr. Goolsby warns, because that might actually keep you up.)

Collect some data: Use a sleep tracker device for a few weeks. “It can give you some general feedback,” says Dr. Goolsby, such as how long it takes you to drift off, and how long (roughly) you spend in REM sleep (the deepest stage). Once you start noticing positive changes, you may be motivated to hit the hay earlier, she adds.

RELATED: 6 Weird Things That May Help You Sleep Better

Your appetite has changed

If your get-fit plan has you turned you into a gym rat, you may not be as hungry as usual—or, you may be famished. Exercise can actually have both effects: Some people experience a drop in appetite, while others crave more food.

If your end goal is a slimmer waist, feeling ravenous can be frustrating. But you may actually need more food to keep burning calories, says Thomas: “You might have to increase what you are eating to fuel your body through your exercise routine.”

Assess your eating habits: In a notebook or with voice recordings in your smartphone, keep tabs on your hunger levels and rough calorie intake. If you do notice you’re eating more since you’ve started crushing your workouts in full-on beast mode, that okay, says Dr. Hyman. “Just make sure you’re adding real, whole foods,” he says. “Eight hundred calories from an avocado is going to do dramatically different things to your body than 800 calories coming from gummy bears.”

RELATED: How to Control Your Hunger Hormones to Lose Weight and Keep It Off

Your jeans fit differently

“Focusing on how your clothing feels is a good gauge for most people,” says Thomas, “as long as you recognize that sizing is a messed up mind game and are able to not worry about that.” But don’t expect your pants to get looser necessarily; you may actually fill them out a bit better. This is what happens to Dr. Goolsby (who describes herself as not naturally muscular) when she starts a new workout. “If I start doing Spin, for example, all of a sudden I’m starting to notice my pants feel a bit tighter as I’m building my quads. It’s not because I’m gaining weight, I’m putting on muscle.”

Do a mirror check: If you want visual evidence of how your body is changing, consider snapping pics of yourself wearing the same outfit (and at the same time of day) every so often. (Note: If this habit becomes obsessive or makes you feel discouraged, it’s not worth doing.) Even just taking a mental note of how you feel physically in your clothes when you get dressed in the morning is fine.

Should you toss your scale?

The number on the scale is not worth fixating on—but that doesn’t mean weighing yourself is a complete waste, says May Tom, RD, an in-house dietitian at Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in Vista, California. “Having objective data to look at can help move people toward change,” she says. Research backs her up: Two recent studies have reaffirmed that people who step on the scale regularly tend to lose more weight than those who weigh themselves less frequently or not at all.

So how often should you weigh in? Once a week at most, says Tom. “That’s my usual recommendation if people feel like [the scale] keeps them on track and accountable,” she explains. “Any more than that and you can become frustrated if you don’t see progress.”

Kim Kardashian’s Trainer Shares the Star’s ‘Bodybuilding’ Diet and Exercise Routine: ‘She’s a Workhorse!’

Kim Kardashian’s Trainer Shares the Star’s ‘Bodybuilding’ Diet and Exercise Routine: ‘She’s a Workhorse!’

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Melissa Alcantara remembers the May phone call from the production team of Keeping up with the Kardashians.

“They were like, ‘Are you available to train Kim on Monday?’” the former bodybuilder tells PEOPLE. “I was like, ‘Of course I’m available!’ And it went from there.”

Within days, Alcantara met Kardashian and the pair hit it off. Soon Alcantara was relocating to Los Angeles where she began training Kardashian full time, putting the reality star on a weight training program and a diet of healthy whole foods.

“Kim told me, ‘I love my body. I love the way it looks and I love my hips,’” says Alcantara. “She just wanted more muscle. She wanted bigger hamstrings, which accentuates the entire leg. And she wants those cut arms and abs!”

These days Alcantara heads to Kim’s home six days a week at 6 a.m. for workouts focusing on specific body parts: shoulders, biceps/triceps, and chest/back, as well as three days devoted to legs. They also do cardio — either short bursts of high intensity, or longer, low-intensity walks.

“She loves and hates leg days,” says Alcantara. “But she’s committed! She knows what it takes, but it’s also really grueling. It’s heavy, it’s killer, but she’ll be like, ‘Alright, let’s do it!’ She’s a workhorse.”

Adds the trainer: “Kim has been getting some really nice results, like with her triceps! She can’t believe how much has changed over the last few months. And when you’re in this deep, it’s hard to go back. She just keeps it up. She’s focused and she has a goal in mind.”

Kardashian and Alcantara also bonded over the challenge of post-baby bodies.

“When we met, Kim told me she’s tired of doing little diets,” says Alcantara, who reveals that she gained 70 lbs. when pregnant with her daughter Isabella, now 6. The trainer was inspired by Insanity, created by powerhouse fitness instructor Shaun T. — she even starred in his videos — and became committed to a balanced meal plan to get herself healthy. “I lost 40 lbs. after 60 days,” she says. “That program set something off for me.”

Says Alcantara of Kardashian, mom to 2-year-old Saint and 4-year-old North: “She didn’t want to be skinny. She wanted to have muscle and feel strong. And she wanted to find something she can do for the rest of her life. I totally understood where she was coming from.”

When it comes to nutrition, Alcantara works with Kardashian’s team of chefs, sending recipes and meal plans to ensure that the star is eating a balanced amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

A typical day might feature Alcantara’s blueberry oatmeal pancakes for breakfast (“Kim loves them!”); chicken, sweet potatoes and veggies for lunch; and fish and veggies for dinner. “Kim told me the other day, ‘This is the most vegetables I’ve ever eaten!’ ”

Processed foods are off-limits, so no crackers or cookies. Says Alcantara: “I want her to eat real food that’s cooked every day. Most likely if it comes out of a box, it’s not going to be good for you. She’s eating well and she feels good.”

And even though she indulges in the occasional piece of banana bread for a treat, Kardashian is mostly sticking to her healthy regimen. Says Alcantara: “Recently she told me she had some fries that were really greasy and it made her stomach feel bad because she wasn’t used to it. Which is great because after that, you’re less likely to go for those foods!”

And when it comes to getting — and staying — healthy, Kardashian is showing off more than her fit body. “Her kids watch her work out a lot of the time,” says Alcantara. “They see her struggle and they watch her work. I’m sure that will pass down to them. And that’s a really cool thing.”

5 Best Moves For Strong Shoulders

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Chances are, you don’t even realize how often you use your shoulder muscles. Think about it: Every time you lift a grocery bag, place an object on a tall shelf, or pick up your toddler, you’re putting your shoulders to work. That’s why it’s super-important to ensure that your shoulders remain strong and healthy. Even if you work out regularly, it’s common for women as young as 30 to face issues such as tendinitis, bursitis, and even simple aches and kinks. Prevent injury—and develop a strong and sexy upper body—with this shoulder exercise circuit.

Loosen Up! Arm Stretches for Tight Shoulders

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To prevent or alleviate tight shoulders, try these three key stretches, courtesy of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Passive stretch
Stand in a doorway, facing the frame, and bend left arm 90 degrees to touch the frame. Rotate torso to right without moving legs. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on other side.

Crossover arm stretch
Gently pull right arm across chest, just below chin, as far as possible without causing pain. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on other side.

Forward Flex
Lie on back with legs straight. Use left arm to lift right arm overhead until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 15 seconds and slowly lower to start position. Relax and repeat on other side.

Life Time Gyms Ban Cable News from Their Televisions After ‘Many Member Requests’

Life Time Gyms Ban Cable News from Their Televisions After ‘Many Member Requests’

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Life Time, a national gym chain, has removed cable news channels from the televisions in all of their 130 locations.

The company announced on Jan. 4 that they would no longer have CNN, FOX or MSNBC available on the large televisions in the cardio and fitness areas, as part of their “desire to uphold a positive, healthy way of life environment,” a spokesperson tells PEOPLE.

Life Time says the change came after “many member requests over time.”

“We made the decision to remove cable news channels from the large TV screens in the cardio and fitness floor areas at the start of 2018,” they explained in a statement. “This was based on many member requests received over time across the country, and in keeping with our overall healthy way of life philosophy and commitment to provide family oriented environments free of polarizing or politically charged content.”

However, Life Time adds, gym patrons can still watch cable news channels on the small screens attached to individual cardio machines, available at most of their gyms, or on personal devices using the gym’s Wi-Fi.

The announcement came with mixed feelings from gym-goers, with some supporting the decision to reduce the “constant barrage of negativity” from cable news, and others calling it “censorship.”

 

 

 

Six days after the announcement, the Life Time representative emphasized that they “certainly are not against news delivered accurately and respectfully, and we intend to continue to have appropriate news channels on some of our large screens.”

This Is the Best Time to Go to the Gym to Beat the New Year Crowd

This Is the Best Time to Go to the Gym to Beat the New Year Crowd

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If you’re an avid gym-goer, you already know the January influx of resolution-ers can put a major cramp in your exercise schedule. Overcrowding, long waits for equipment, and poor gym etiquette from other visitors can make even the most driven fitness fan want to skip a workout. 

Luckily, there’s a way to dodge new member rush hour and rediscover your gym zen. We reached out to personal trainers and fitness center staffers to find out the best time to go to the gym, plus their other tips for keeping your exercise game strong despite the crowds.

RELATED: 6 Fitness Stars Share Their Hardest Workouts

Get an early start

It’s painful to hear, but hitting the gym in the early morning is the most foolproof way to miss hoards of new members. “As much as folks want to start the New Year off right and work out early, most people still come after work and hit the snooze button,” says Marc Santa Maria, national group fitness director at Crunch.

So tuck yourself into bed early the night before and be one of the few who actually gets in that morning workout. If you have no choice but to work out at night, Santa Maria suggests going on Thursdays and Fridays, which are generally lower volume days for gyms.

Consider weekends or lunchtime

If you can’t swing mornings, try fitting in your workouts on weekends or during a weekday lunch hour when your local gym is less crowded. Even if you can only sacrifice 20 minutes mid-afternoon, you’ll get a sweat in and see results, says Ben Lauder-Dykes, a Barry’s Bootcamp instructor and personal trainer. “It’s not how much time you spend in the gym, it’s how you spend your time,” he says. A 20-minute circuit workout, he says, “could be all you need to meet your goals.”

RELATED: 8 Secrets of People Who Never Miss a Workout

Try a new location

“Gym traffic varies from club to club within one gym chain–so talk to general managers of each club to get a sense of the heavy foot traffic,” suggests Santa Maria. Hit up a branch that’s not in a central location; you might bypass commuters making a stop at the gym on their way home from work.

Conquer unknown territory

If you’re stuck at the gym during peak hours, explore the location’s nooks and crannies. “There are often lesser-used areas–like a stretch area or a functional training area that folks don’t know they can use,” says Santa Maria. You may find a low- to no-traffic spot where you can set up your private workout session away from the crowd.

Give group fitness a chance

Working out in a group can be intimidating, but fitness classes are your friend when the gym gets busy. Instructors set a maximum capacity for each class, so it’s not a free-for-all like it might be by the free weights or machines. You should be able to find a wide variety of classes available no matter your experience. “Instructors are trained to cater workouts for all fitness levels, so this is a great way to hold yourself accountable and get out what you put in to your workout,” says Rhys Athayde, a trainer at the Dogpound.

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Hire a personal trainer

If your budget allows, enlisting a personal trainer can insure you show up for those early morning workouts and provide more access when the gym is packed. “Since trainers and their clients take priority in any fitness studio,” says Athayde, “you will have access to any equipment and space you need without the wait and crowd.”

What It’s Really Like to Be a Plus-Size Woman at the Gym—and Why Losing Weight Isn’t My Goal

What It’s Really Like to Be a Plus-Size Woman at the Gym—and Why Losing Weight Isn’t My Goal

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Before the confetti is even swept up and as hangovers are still being nursed, many of us solemnly resolve to do things differently in the new year—which often means spending more time at the gym. Trying anything new is intimidating, but when you walk through the world in a larger body, stepping out of your comfort zone can make you feel especially self-conscious.

That’s even more true at the gym, where plus-size people often face self-imposed shame about working out. The reality of gym culture is rarely one of self-acceptance; going to the gym implies a need to change.

RELATED: The 6 Biggest Mistakes Trainers See You Making at the Gym

Over the years, I’ve made what feels like a million promises to myself to get off the couch. When I do finally get in the groove of working up a sweat on a regular basis, it’s always great for me and I get easily addicted. But as I’ve gained weight and gotten older, I’ve found myself in a familiar shame spiral that prevents me from starting something new.

Like so many plus-size women, I convince myself that it somehow makes sense to lose weight and get in shape before I start working out. It’s like cleaning for the housekeeper (which for the record, I do not do). But I know I’m not alone in getting a familiar sinking feeling of entering a new exercise space, then feeling judged, or worse, pitied.

What ‘fit-shaming’ sounds like

When it first became trendy in New York, I did a lot of Bikram yoga. I fell in love with it. As with most of my obsessive phases, I eventually moved on. Years later—and considerably heavier—I dropped into a class. I hadn’t done any exercise in years and the heat really got to me, so I sat down during a standing pose to catch my breath.

RELATED: The 15 Best Body Positive Moments of 2017

The teacher asked if me if I was okay, but it was clear he was annoyed. At the end of class in front of everyone he said, “If you’re not able to stand for even one full class you should really see a doctor.” Ouch. The irony is that when I had been thinner I also had to sit down—and even left the room when I first started—but no one ever commented that there might be something wrong with me. Needless to say I was mortified and felt too ashamed to return.

During one particularly sedentary phase of my life, I talked to my therapist about how I really needed to start working out again. About a year before, I had done a series of cross-training sessions. Of all the workouts I’ve tried, it was the most effective for losing weight quickly. I told her how I was thinking of going back to it, how I knew I “should.”

She questioned why I ever left. I knew exactly why—I hated it! So she pushed me, asking why I would pay money (so much money) for something I hated and couldn’t sustain the last time in the hopes that I would lose weight. What kind of success model is that? Her words sunk in. I stopped thinking about working out in terms of weight loss and more about self-care.

Now one of my biggest frustrations is the immediate assumption that gym-goers are working out just to lose weight. People have a myriad of reasons for getting fit and strong, and it’s demeaning that the main way we measure success is by losing inches. Recently when discussing a workout, I actually had someone put her hand on my hip and say “you’ll get there.” The message I wanted to send was that I’m already there—that working out at all and participating in self care is an accomplishment.

RELATED: Challenge Yourself to Do 1 Killer Workout a Day in Our ‘5 Minutes to Fit’ Series

People often see me in workout clothes and tell me that they are so “proud of me,” and one woman cheerfully remarked, “You’re disappearing!” I understand that being thinner is the assumed goal. We congratulate each other on body alterations all the time, wanted or not. While we profess that women’s bodies are off limits to judgment (ha!), all any woman has to do is lose 10 pounds to know that her body is fair game to be discussed openly at cocktail parties and in conference rooms. 

Until recently, losing weight had always been my primary motivation for exercise, but my objective has shifted to trying to make peace with my body. Ironically, exercise has helped me achieve that more than it ever helped me to lose weight. Feeling stronger and setting physical goals—and then crushing them—has given me a new found confidence and respect for myself. 

The workout that helped me find body peace

When I was at my highest weight ever I discovered SoulCycle. I know people have their criticisms of this expensive workout, during which instructors shout out spiritual encouragement. But I connect to it in the most major way. I feel stronger and more fit than ever. People are so welcoming, and there is a real plus-size community of support. Never does an instructor spout encouragement that has anything to do with getting smaller. Most of the talk is pushing yourself to make goals happen off the bike. 

RELATED: 10 Fitness Influencers You Need to Follow on Snapchat

When I work out, I want people to look at me at my weight and think that if I can do it, they can too. One of the advantages to being older is that I can more easily check my ego at the door than I could 15 years ago. When I started spinning, it was back row only, and I sat down for most of the class. I don’t think I would have kept up with it if I hadn’t allowed myself to start so slowly. But pushing myself in class and ultimately sticking with it has brought success to my life off the bike.

How to love the gym no matter your size

If your resolution is to get more exercise, I applaud you, but consider doing it for reasons other than losing a few dress sizes. Try not to be intimidated at the gym and offer the same compassion to yourself as you would to a friend starting something new. Don’t be afraid to make modifications, and while you should give every new venture a chance, if you don’t love it, seek out an activity you do love. Find a place where you are supported and encouraged, and once you become a regular, pass that support onto someone else.

How to Keep Up with Kim Kardashian in the Gym: Her Trainer Reveals Best Motivational Tips

How to Keep Up with Kim Kardashian in the Gym: Her Trainer Reveals Best Motivational Tips

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Fans recently learned about Kim Kardashian West‘s diet on Keeping Up with the Kardashian, and now the reality star is sharing her trainer’s tips to stick with a consistent workout regimen.

Thanks to her trainer, Melissa Alcantara, the soon-to-be mother of three, 37, stays motivated in the gym and staying fit. “With the start of a new year, it’s great how many people (myself included!) want to step up their workout game,” Kardashian West said on her app and website Monday.

“Sometimes it can be hard to stick to a routine – especially if you indulged over the holidays. For staying motivated, my trainer Melissa is so helpful. She keeps me focused and feeling good about the progress that I’ve made,” the KKW Beauty mogul said.

Alcantara shared her four tips she recommends to Kim that anyone can follow: Set a goal, plan ahead, stay disciplined and recite your routine.

“When I work with Kim, we like to set goals that we can feel good about reaching. Once we have a goal set, we write it down,” Alcantara shared. “I’ve found that helps hold you accountable. And, it feels amazing when you finally do reach your goal!”

KUWTK viewers and fans will remember that Kardashian West found Alcantara on Instagram while filming season 14.

“I was looking on Instagram and this bodybuilder popped up on my page and she had gained 70 pounds in her pregnancy. Her kid’s like 6 now. She is like ripped,” Kim said during an episode.

“Melissa is a trainer I found. She’s super inspiring to me and I really want to meet up with her and see if she could train me. She could help direct my food and really get me on an amazing path,” she continued. “If I was 10 percent like her it would be life-changing. Like my whole arms and back. It’s mostly food. I gotta have this lifestyle. I gotta try.”

Alcantara also reminded Kardashian West’s fans and subscribers that “while it’s easy to fall off track” from working out, “it’s tougher to get back on!”

“Kim trains hard and has great work ethic and it’s a pleasure to train her. Let’s keep making these muscles girl,” Alcantara applauded her celebrity client on Instagram in October.

Before the new year, Kardashian West told fans that she has a specific fitness goal she hopes to accomplish with Alcantara’s help.

“My 2018 fitness goal is I plan to train really hard and be more consistent — 5-6 days a week weight training with Melissa [Alcantara]!” Kardashian West said about one of her resolutions for this year.

This One Exercise Helps You Become a Better Runner

This One Exercise Helps You Become a Better Runner

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As good as running is for your health, it can come with some unpleasant side effects, from shin splints to chronic low back pain.

But for back pain, at least, researchers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center may have a one-step solution: Strengthen your deep core.

In a new study published in the Journal of Biomechanics, the researchers examined the way athletes’ bones and muscles interact when they run. They scaled a generic computer model of the human body to match a person’s height and weight measurements, then used motion detection technology and force-measuring floor plates to monitor every element of the person’s stride as they ran.

Then, working under the assumption that the body tries to minimize how much energy it uses while running, they used computer simulation to virtually tweak the movement of different body parts and “estimate what muscle forces would cause everything to be in balance,” explains Ajit Chaudhari, an associate professor of physical therapy, biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and orthopedic surgery at Ohio State and the study’s lead author.

They found that if the deep core muscles — those that run along the length of the spine and sit beneath the muscles that make for a visible six-pack — were slacking, superficial muscles, such as the abdominals, were forced to take on more of the work. “That would suggest that they are going to get fatigued faster, because they’re just doing more work,” Chaudhari says. “In theory, if you had the deep core muscles contributing, you’re sharing the load among more muscles, which theoretically could allow you to have better performance or better endurance.” Engaging the deep core may also reduce strain on the spine and the possible resulting low back pain, he says.

Most people have weak deep core muscles, but sit-ups and crunches won’t cut it if you’re trying to strengthen this area, Chaudhari says. Instead, practice static core-stabilizing moves, ideally on an uneven surface. The best exercise to build a stronger deep core, therefore, is the plank, he says.