by Diane Buccheri

Do you like your fitness workout hard or soft? If you like it hard, then you are most likely in for long term trouble. If you like it soft, you are not a wimp but a smart self-do-gooder.

There are two main schools of thought and practice in the general field of fitness exercise. One works your body hard from the outside and one works your body intensely from the inside. The outside hard method is most commonly practiced in fitness gyms while the inside soft method is more often practiced elsewhere (such as in my living room).

Exercise Background Qualifications
I began my “exercising” career as a ballet dancer during my teens in New York City. During that time I learned the ancient Greek method of aligning the body for strength and flexibility at the Pilates Studio in New York City. I was first introduced to aerobics classes at UCLA and began working in the field of fitness at the Cardio Fitness Center in New York City. Over the last fifteen years, I have taught classes of all sorts at various fitness facilities in Connecticut, Oregon, California, and The Reebok Sports Club NY. I also enjoy personal training, working one-on-one to fit individual needs.

Hard Method – Not What It Seems
The hard method is immediately satisfying. The workout causes a great deal of hard breathing, possibly soaking sweat, and a body that feels both invigorated and tired. Strained but in a euphoric way. Exercise causes the body to produce happy endorphins. The harder you run, though your legs, for instance, may be stressed, your head tells you that you feel terrific! Which is terrific, you’ve increased your heart rate to its maximum threshold, you’ve gotten the blood to course through your entire circulatory and muscular systems, and your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments, have moved. You’ve increased your metabolism and calories will be burned. The thin, fit-looking you is on its way or if you already look thin and fit, then you’ll stay that way. Terrific . . . but . . .

Soft Method – Smart Approach
The soft method of exercising your body is done with less stress, less fanfare, in a more quiet almost-looking-like-nothing way. Its intensity is only noticed by the person performing the exercise. Breathing is increased but not to the point of achieving maximum heart beats. Sweat is produced but not usually to the point of dripping on the floor. Endorphins seep happily into your brain and you feel good in a quietly refreshed way. Your whole body is cleansed with air and blood inside. Your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments have been used to high capacity but not strained. No damage has been done; you walk away a healthier person for the efforts just made. Your brain, body, and emotions are revitalized and you are ready to continue with the day’s tasks!

Differences of Hard or Soft Method
The difference between the two exercise techniques could be compared to hearing heavy metal music in a stuffy room versus a running, tinkling stream in the forest. Which do you prefer? Or it can be compared to eating a big plate of tasty and filling fried food as opposed to a light and crisp chef salad made from a medley of fresh produce. Both are delicious. Both feel good. But which one will keep you feeling good for a long time? Hmmm . . .

Key Points
The very popular way of exercising is easily and quickly learned or mimicked with very little instruction. Jane or Joe do this, you copy the motions. It may be tough and you may not keep up at first but with regular repetition on a three to five day per week schedule, you’ll get it. Your body will be made stronger, more flexible, and you’ll live a longer, healthier life, right? Well, maybe.

The aerobics classes given to the general masses of working out Americans is followed step by step as is the usual weight lifting or training routines followed in gyms. The proper breathing is not done. And that’s the key point. The breath of life is a very important thing. Oxygen carries blood through the whole body, including the organs and brain. The proper carriage of oxygen thoroughly cleanses and nourishes the body.

Exercise that causes stressed breathing, that is, fully maximizing to your heart beat level, does not allow the oxygen to flow fully through your body. The flow is stunted and shallow because you are only taking in a minimal amount of fresh oxygen and your muscles are tight and restrained. If you suddenly stop your physical motions, then you get what is called “blood pooling.” The blood pools below the heart because the body is so stressed it cannot pull the blood higher. Heart attacks can occur. So in an aerobics class you are instructed (by a proper instructor) to “cool down” or slow down your body before ending aerobic exercise. Why take such a chance? Why not exercise your heart so that your heart rate is increased but not to the point of doing harm to your heart?

Safety Factors
Exercising safely is an integral part of the soft method. Moderate increase in heart rate, that is, breathing harder than normal but not so hard that you can’t talk rather comfortably, allows fresh oxygen to flow smoothly through your entire body and all its parts carrying the necessary and proper amounts of blood with it and rinsing out the toxins. The muscles are not constricted so that blood may flow through and allow them to work to their maximum capability.

And for those who are not worried about their heart but want to “be in shape” increasing your breathing to the point of not being able to talk does not burn more calories than more moderate exercise with less hard breathing. It just strains your body and allows toxins to stay in such places as your organs, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These toxins often cause cramping, which is immediately noticeable. Or, they may cause damage not immediately detectable but with time, noticeable with sore joints or bulky inflexible muscles or stiff tendons and ligaments which snap easily. Therefore, your body won’t move very comfortably or well with time. You may even need surgery eventually or have to stop exercising or suffer from arthritis. And you’ll definitely feel like you are getting older.

That’s not what we want!

We want to move like Youth. We want to be free and easy. We want to be strong and elastic and slender. We want to have stamina. These are the reasons we exercise. It is pointless to defeat the purpose after all that sweat and toil.

Deep Breathing
It is true that many fitness instructors are dedicated to exercising and are well practiced. They are most likely certified by a well-recognized fitness establishment. However, most have not been taught deep breathing. Most have not taken the time to feel how their body parts are aligned in conjunction with one another and none of them have the time to teach all the proper techniques of exercising whether it’s aerobic, strength training, or stretching. They teach on a schedule and meet the schedule. How much can they pass on to their students? Probably enough to call it exercise but not enough to call it true fitness.

Inside/Outside Strength
Most instructors of the soft method practice the soft method because it is their way of exercising. They have been fully immersed with the training of breathing, alignment, strength with flexibility, and cardiovascular stamina. It takes time to assimilate and become the body and mind’s integral way of moving. These instructors most likely have had thorough training in yoga or dance or martial arts, all of which are done from the inside strength of the body to the outside. It is the inside, after all, that holds you up! If the inside is made healthy to move the body efficiently and effectively, then the outside will follow suit.

It is the intention that matters. If you intend to fully, completely exercise your body, your whole self will need to be involved with full attention. It is intense but lacking commotion which scatters attention. Scattered attention causes scattered and incomplete motion causing damage. The outside is distraction. Attention comes from the inside.

Inside Results of Soft Method
The soft method considers the inside of the body before it even thinks about the outside – unlike Hollywood America. It concentrates on deep breathing which is not strained but natural. This primarily relaxes the body and allows clean oxygen to flow through everywhere inside. It aims to strengthen the body and heart as well as make it flexible. Movement for aerobic activity is done to the point of efficiency, not stress. Calories are burned, the heart’s ability to function is increased and strengthened, not strained. Muscles, tendons, ligaments are attached to move bones so everything needs to be moved with alignment that is natural and strengthens everything in its natural and right position. Movement must be done with careful thought and attention. It is done intensely and solidly, not necessarily fast and hurriedly with the mind inattentively racing with the blood, frantic to keep up. Blood and oxygen have a chance to reinvigorate the organs as well as the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and heart.

You may not cause a fanfare but you can walk out of your exercise routine feeling well-placed and whole, with no toxins in your joints or organs, no pulled hamstrings or torqued knees, no aching back where the vertebras were jammed together with overly vigorous pounding. You’ll have a well-found sense of wellness.

Here’s a hypothetical situation: You are at the pool and see a group of exercisers following their instructor and you hear loud splashing and see everyone’s face red and sweating, hectic people trying to keep going. The commotion may fool you. But look to the other side of the pool and you’ll see ripples in the water, people smiling with glowing faces, calmly concentrating on moving their bodies to long lasting good health. That’s the side to choose.

So whether it’s in the aerobics room, the weight room, or the pool, go for the soft!