Volume 74, Number 40 | February 9 - 15, 2005


Get on your butt and exercise! The chair workout

Participants grab a seat in the Sit and Be Fit class at the Sol Goldman 14th St. Y

By Judith Stiles

An aerobics program that touts the promise that you can “sit and be fit” seems like an oxymoron. Most people sign up for an aerobics class because they have been sitting around too much and are out of shape, so how can there be an aerobics class that entails more sitting? At the Sol Goldman Y on E. 14th Street off of First Ave. there is a full-body exercise class designed to strengthen and tone muscles and improve circulation, and the workout is done almost entirely sitting in a chair.

Chair dancing or chair aerobics is a no-impact form of exercise that requires no special equipment, no special clothing or shoes, and can be done almost any time and any place as long as you have a chair with a straight back. Exercising while standing on your feet is a weight-bearing activity, and for those suffering bad knees or other physical limitations, chair exercise is the perfect way to be involved in a beneficial exercise program.

For over an hour, Sheila Kaminsky leads the Sit and Be Fit group at the Y giving out clear instructions that keep the senior citizens moving nonstop the whole time. Kaminsky has a way of finding the little muscles in the neck that get tight from tension and giving them a good workout. In any other aerobics class with loud music and rigorous dance-type movements, the instructor does not have the time to see if the student is actually stretching the muscles in the neck and back properly.

“This class is great because Ms. Kaminsky takes the time to check what each of us is doing and she gives us individual instruction,” says a very trim Thelma Kaufman, who has been taking the class for four years.

After at least 20 minutes of continuous arm circling and finger and wrist stretching, as well as specific attention paid to upper back and shoulder work, without a water break, the class slithers down on the chairs with their backs almost flat on the seat of the chair. This position is for strengthening abdominal muscles, while alternating with knee lifts. It would be difficult for almost anyone, but Kaminsky has a serene and very clear way of leading the class where the students have no trouble following directions. Having taught dance at Lehman College for 12 years, Kaminsky is committed to providing a full exercise program to seniors (some who are former dancers themselves), where the body can still get a good workout off the dance floor. Nobody has to ask her to repeat the instructions, and even the octogenarians can keep up. Kaminsky sprinkles the class with reminders to “breathe in and out — don’t hold your breath,” and she adds with a smile, “If you heart is beating faster, you want that!”

Chair aerobics is recommended for pregnant women, mothers in post-natal weeks, people with chronic fatigue syndrome, those recovering from surgery and the millions of office workers who sit at a computer all day and can’t make it to the gym.

During the coffee break in the office, for example, one can skip the coffee, push back his or her chair, and try the rapid leg crossing, in which one swings one foot out before crossing the legs. The idea is to keep switching legs, 20 times fast and building up to doing more. Even this simple exercise can get the heart beating faster. Other easy exercises for at the office include rotating one’s neck, shoulders, arms, even jaw, following a chair-dancing aerobics routine.

Just a half hour working out in a chair can leave an office worker feeling rejuvenated and ready to return to work. Doing this for an hour, Kaminsky says, can make one feel like he or she just had a massage, without having left the office. It sure beats jogging through the slush in the winter!

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