Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ATR--An Awesome Workout

I started hearing rumblings of a "new workout in town" a year or so ago.  A friend invited me to go but I was on the road traveling too much at the time to make it to anything with any regularity.  When school was starting up last fall, I heard that this "workout" was going to be held at the high school a couple mornings a week before school (in addition to their full schedule at the the old Helly Hansen building on Ocean Drive) and I decided it was time to jump in on it and join ATR, or Alaska Training Room.

This is a Saturday "boot camp":  1 1/2 hours of intense exercise on the circuit (with a run to Beluga Lake thrown in!)

What is this workout?  Different words come to mind:  weight lifting, strength training, circuit training.  We hear so much about the "core" these days, but this goes beyond the core.  It is a series of stations designed to strengthen key muscle groups, including the back, legs and arms.  There are also exercises to improve coordination and balance.  In between the circuit exercises are what I call plyometrics or other strength builders:  stair running, stair hopping (bunny hops!), bridges, and a bunch of exercises done with medicine balls (weighted balls, 2-10 pounds) and a partner.  Each exercise is done for 30 seconds, with the tempo fast-paced.  After stairs we actually get to let our heart rate come down.  MJ changes up the exercises regularly to reach different muscle groups (or to torture us, we sometimes think!) and to keep things fresh.

Working hard--working out at the Alaska Training Room!  (Thanks, MJ, for these pictures from your Facebook page.)

Now I must let it be known that I am not a joiner.  In my whole life I don't think I've ever been part of a group exercise routine (besides yoga--kind of different!).  I've been part of sports teams, but mostly that's being told what to do and then going off and running or skiing, mostly on my own.  Even 5 years of attending the Bay Club and the plethora of classes they offered, I could not make myself go to a class since I detest exercising in rooms with mirrors.  So what is the difference between all those classes and ATR?  One key difference is the owner/trainer:  Mary Jo (MJ to me) Cambridge. 

I first heard of MJ when my husband came home raving about this new JV softball coach they'd hired a few years ago--she'd coached college softball, was an athletic trainer, and had trained Olympic tennis players (including Sloane Stephens).  Sometimes one has to wonder why people end up in Homer--of all places.  But then you look around and realize that if you're going to be somewhere on earth, it is a beautiful place, even if it is a loooong ways from anywhere.

It is a delicate balance to be tough and push people to improve their physical fitness and yet encourage them that they're making progress and to keep at it.  These aren't highly trained and fit Olympic athletes who join ATR in Homer:  they are teens through senior citizens, they are newbies who have done nothing athletic to your serious recreational athletes, they are somewhat motivated to very motivated.  So what this sounds like in real life is:  "Way to go 'shell!" (that's my ATR nickname), "Come on Doug!  Push it!" and "That's the way to do it, Ro!" (Aurora's ATR nickname.  It cracks me up how some of us get our names shortened.  Sounds better--or wastes less breath on talking?!).  MJ is enthusiastic, has high standards, wants everyone to do better and improve, but also knows that this isn't everyone's top priority.  ATR without MJ wouldn't be ATR.

With just a month of ATR twice a week, I discovered I could sit up straight and didn't slouch as much as I spent hours a day at my desk in front of my computer.  A few more months of ATR gave me some muscle definition and as MJ put it to me one day, "You've shrunk!"  The biggest problem I've had with ATR is that it is such a good workout that I don't feel a need to do other workouts.  My body feels strong and I feel good, so I just go for walks or mellow skis. Sometimes it is a bummer that the workouts are only at scheduled times and not drop-in-when-you-want, but that is also part of what makes it beneficial.  When you're at a session, it is intense and really a work-out.

Bottom line is, I, and a number of other Homerites, are very grateful for having the skills and expertise of MJ in our little town.  She adds so much to the fitness of our high school athletes, runs the concussion testing program for the high school as well, and contributes to some really strong, fit people that in turn leads to fewer injuries and better quality of life.  So three cheers for ATR!

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