Thinking about getting in shape? If you’re interested in working one on one with a personal trainer the small niche fitness boutiques located in and around Santa Barbara provide an abundance of choices both in the environment and training approaches featured in the different facilities. Recently I visited a number of these studios, looking for a new place to train my clients, and was amazed at what Santa Barbara has to offer.
Instead of the muscle isolation machines, typical of the traditional gym setting, most studios are filled with stability balls, medicine balls, bands, cables, foam rollers and all sorts of other tools designed for a more functional approach to fitness. These facilities don’t only cater to strength building athletes; they’re filled with everyone from youthful competitors looking to improve in sports, to seniors working to build stronger bones. After visiting a few of the local hot spots and exploring some of their diverse training approaches, I zeroed in on a few of the highlights.
The Fitness Studio on Middle Road
Platinum Fitness, located on Middle Road in Montecito, is a small, bustling studio where you’ll find individuals of all shapes and sizes, including plenty of ultra fit, highly competitive endurance athletes. Peter Park, owner, competes at the elite level in running, cycling and triathlon, so it’s no surprise that his studio attracts many of the local endurance athletes, including Lance Armstrong when he’s in town. Platinum’s an upbeat facility; walk through the doors on any given day and you’re surrounded by a profusion of natural light, inspiring hip music and a variety of energetic trainers helping clients realize their goals through “functional training.”
Functional training, the latest trend in fitness training, prepares you for the specific activities you perform in your daily life. Maybe your job requires you to do a lot of reaching, lifting, bending over or standing and your back, your knees or your shoulders suffer. Or maybe you find yourself parked in front of a computer all day and your posture needs a little work. And then again you might be rehabbing an injury and find that you need a little help in returning to work and life successfully. Whatever you do in your daily life, functional training can make it easier.
Unlike the traditional approach of working one muscle at a time, functional training involves combining exercises to get all your muscles – from your calves to your shoulders – in on the action. Stepping up on a bench with dumbbells in hands and then pressing the dumbbells overhead, for example, will prepare you to step up on a chair to put a box on a shelf.
The idea is to work against the resistance in such a way that the strength gained from the exercise “transfers” to the specific movement in your life.
If you’d like to improve your ability to get up from a chair you might choose leg extensions to build leg strength. But the squat would be a much better exercise choice because it’s more like the actual movement of getting up from the chair. So the squat develops more functional leg strength.
Functional training also improves your performance in sports. If you’re a distance runner and you’d like to improve your time in the 10K, Peter Park advocates “strengthening the prime movers so that you don’t get as fatigued in the long races.” He puts his endurance athletes through a grueling workout specifically designed to improve strength and endurance, or muscular endurance, for competition.
Peter’s lower body program consists of a series of exercises done back to back: a set of 25 repetitions of squats, with bands (for constant tension); followed by a set of 25 repetitions of leg press, with bands; followed by a set of 15 repetitions of step ups; followed by three different 12-15 repetition plyometric (jump) drills. And that’s just one round. He’ll have his athletes do that three times! As you can see, Peter’s program mirrors both the movements and volume of the endurance competition… the functional approach to fitness.
The Fitness Studio on lower State
Perhaps the idea of training for the activities of daily life isn’t enough to get you motivated to start an exercise program. And you’re more interested in sculpting your body to look great in your bathing suit or bikini for the beaches of Santa Barbara. Then the “bodybuilding” approach to fitness may be more for you.
Specifically designed to increase lean muscle and reduce body fat, this method has additional rewards… like increased confidence, greater sex appeal, reduced stress and more energy for everyday activities.
Key 2 Fitness, one of the newer fitness studios in town, located on lower State, features the bodybuilding approach. Owned and operated by bodybuilders, Jeff Harrison and Leif Tiahrt, Key 2 Fitness is loaded with muscle isolation machines and free weights and is ideal for the strength athlete looking for a place to “pack on some serious muscle” according to Jeff Harrison. They also offer membership keys for individuals looking for a little camaraderie with other strength athletes in the community.
While the goal of bodybuilding is to develop a symmetrical physique, keep in mind that not everyone responds in the same way. Mother Nature, or your genetic make-up, determines, to a large extent, how you react to any training program. Factors such as muscle fiber type (strength or endurance), the ratio of testosterone to estrogen, and where your body fat is stored, all influence your capabilities. And in considering your vision of the ideal physique, remember that you can’t hide from your body type. Are you a slim and small boned ectomorph, a muscular and lean mesomorph, a heavy and big boned endomorph, or a combination of all three?
Although these genetic factors affect both men and women, there are still a significant number of women who won’t consider the bodybuilding approach for fear of getting too big. The truth is: most women put on a relatively small amount of muscle, even with hard work and dedication because of the estrogen to testosterone ratio. Unfortunately, this fear of being too muscular keeps a lot of women from reaping the benefits.
Many factors are involved in bodybuilding, but the one thing that really matters is that you progressively overload your muscles. Leif Tiahrt suggests using the “individual body part approach” and “maximizing the exercises for each body part.” He advocates a three day split in which the individual does “push” exercises (chest, shoulders and triceps), on Monday, “pull” exercises (back and biceps) and legs, on Wednesday, and a full body circuit, on Friday. He uses three to ten repetitions per set and finishes each exercise with a drop set to failure.
By using moderate to heavy loads and moderate to high volume, Leif’s program effectively increases the size of the muscles to create a more aesthetically pleasing physique… the ultimate goal of bodybuilding.
The Fitness Studio by the Arlington
Maybe you’ve put on some muscle through bodybuilding. And now you’re ready for a more refined approach to your training… one that considers the specific demands of your sport and your goals… like achieving peak performance. Following a well-designed “sport specific” training program can help you reach those goals and attain the success you desire.
To perform at your best in tennis, for example, you need enough aerobic endurance to maintain your stamina for a game that may last several hours; anaerobic endurance (energy is produced without oxygen) for a high intensity rally that may last 6-10 seconds; speed and agility to be able to get into position to make the majority of your shots; power for serves, forehands, backhands, and volleys; and an element of prevention to avoid injury and overtraining.
Conditioning Specialists, located in a historic building a few doors up from the Arlington, features the sport specific training approach. Doug Holt, owner of Conditioning Specialists and SB Fitness Magazine, gained his experience at competitive sport through soccer, which he played at the collegiate level. His studio has the look of an upscale New York loft and features a personal training studio downstairs, and, private rooms for a MAT (Muscle Activation Techniques) and massage therapist upstairs, in addition to an office for the magazine.
When asked about sport specific training Doug says “it’s training for a particular goal… not only mimicking the actual demands of the sport – like hip abduction, knee flexion – but also the energy demands.”
To prepare for the sport specific demands of tennis, the strength training program is broken down into three phases, or mini training programs, each designed to develop a specific type of strength with the ultimate goal of developing the sport specific strength that tennis demands, power and muscular endurance.
In the first phase, “foundational strength,” the goal is to build a solid well-rounded base of strength, and, prepare the ligaments and tendons for the more demanding activity that will follow. The second phase is for building “maximal strength,” a measure of how much weight you can lift for one repetition. If you can squat 225 lbs for one repetition and your friend can only squat 205 lbs, then you have more maximal strength, in the squat. The goal of third phase is to convert the strength you developed, previously, into sport specific “power” (a combination of strength and speed) and “muscular endurance.”
Just as the preparation for the competitive season is broken down into phases, so too the overall training program is split into periods to promote long term improvements in strength and avoid overtraining. This program, which is usually an annual plan, consists of the preparation period (pre-season), discussed previously; the competitive period (in-season); and the transition period, when the season is closed.
By coordinating the phases of the training program with the different periods of the competitive season, you can maximize your strength and reach peak performance right on time for competition.
So if you think you might be interested in working one on one with a personal trainer, explore the abundance of training studios around Santa Barbara to find the one that’s right for you. Be sure to keep in mind that while each facility may feature a particular training method, most studios contract to a variety of personal trainers, each with his or her own unique training style and approach.