How to Quit the Gym and Still Have Crop Top-Worthy Abs
We’re not even joking.
We’ll admit it: we have a love-hate relationship with working out. But no matter how many feel-good, ass-kicking workouts we do, there’ll always be a few that just weren’t worth the missed wine time. Surely, there’s an easier way, we think to ourselves as we complete our last set of split lunges, cursing the fitness instructor’s peppy singsong commands (“Smiiiile!!”) and egregious countdown skills (“Oops, lost track, how ‘bout five more?!”). But any notion we might have had of an easier way to get in shape is quickly dispelled after scrolling through every major model or celebrity’s Insta account. (If Karlie Kloss can slum it in the dark, strobe-lit corners of Soul Cycle, than so we can we.)
Everyone, that is, with the exception of Salma. Yes—that Salma (Hayek, duh), who recently brought the #fitspo-crazed echo chamber to a screeching halt after admitting to her gym-free fitness regimen. “I don’t exercise,” the 49 year-old actress confessed. “I just hold my body in a way that activates muscles all day long.” What she meant we didn’t exactly know, but we unclipped from our stationary bikes anyway and reached out to Dr. Mary Ann Wilmarth, CEO of Back2Back Physical Therapy, and Karen Lord of her eponymous TriBeCa Pilates studio, to get schooled on the phenomenon that is posture-driven fitness. In the process, they even gave us a health reason to buy as many shoes as possible—we know, this is, like, the best news day ever.
What is Salma talking about?
“Salma is talking about isometric conditioning, which is a kind of strength training that involves tensing your muscles without contracting them or moving other parts of your body. A plank is an example of an isometric exercise, but a plank can also be performed standing upright by bracing the core. That’s the great thing about isometrics—they can be performed anytime, anywhere. This is different than isotonic training, in which you’re actually moving the muscle through a range of motion, such as lifting weights or doing squats." – Ann Wilmarth
On the role of alignment in isometric training:
“Posture is everything and it’s definitely something that’s missing from the thought process when most people set out to get in shape. Alignment isn’t about balancing a schoolbook on top of your head or anything old school like that. It involves a more active and thoughtful whole-body engagement. I teach my clients to get in the habit of unfurling your spine, holding your core tight, lengthening your neck and feeling that oppositional energy pull throughout the body.” – Karen Lord
Isometrics: a replacement for the gym?
“Isometrics isn’t the optimal way to strengthen, and it can be rather tedious, but it’s certainly one option. You won’t get your best strength by just doing it, but being mindful of your posture and bracing your muscles is a great idea, and something that I recommend to all of my patients.” –Wilmarth
“What Salma is talking about is smart; it’s interesting and it’s definitely sound. The actions that you do repetitively everyday will build the kind of musculature that supports your bones and gives you that slimmer figure. To get the body of your dreams, though, fitness—especially Pilates—is absolutely crucial.” – Lord
On finding your body’s natural alignment:
“Imagine yourself in side view. If I were to drop a plumb line from the top of your head, it should form a straight line down from your ear to your shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. Your knees shouldn’t be locked up or hyper-extended and you should tuck your head to get that double chin that is admittedly, not the best look, but also inevitable if you’re doing it right.” – Wilmarth
And sitting down:
“If you work in an office, invest in a great chair. My favourites are the Design Within Reach chairs. Stability balls are also a really good idea if you’re up for the challenge. Always sit a hands distance from the back of the chair, with feet flat on the floor, legs parallel and thighs pancaked. Most people have their computers either too low or too high—you want to be staring straight ahead, with your neck long and shoulder blades down and back.” – Lord
Common posture problems and fixes:
“Cradling your cell phone between your ear and shoulder creates a lot of strain on the neck, upper back and shoulder. Since people tend to answer the phone on the same side every time, you have muscles on one side repetitively crunching, and on the other side being constantly overstretched. I encourage people to use the speakerphone or headset when they’re able to.” – Lord
“People who sit and stare at a screen all day can develop a forward head posture. With the shoulders rounded forward, and the head extended forward, the pecs become tight and the back muscles grow looser and weak between the shoulder blades. These people usually suffer from headaches, jaw aches, neck pains and breathing issues. I tell my patients to tighten the abdominals, because the moment you do so you’ll open up your upper back and bring your body into a more neutral position.” – Wilmarth
“Always carrying your purse on the same shoulder is a recipe for disaster. Backpacks are your friends, and there are a lot of chic ones out there. If you must wear a handbag, just make sure you’re carrying something of roughly equal weight on the other shoulder to balance things out.” – Lord
On the health benefits of having a big shoe collection:
“Buy as many shoes as your budget allows. I mean it! Our feet are made to walk on different types of terrain and we have so many muscles that go unused because we are always walking on flat surfaces. When you regularly cycle through different pairs of shoes, you build the muscles that are the foundation for good posture. Also, learn to walk properly in heels so that your back isn’t arched and your knees aren’t absorbing all the shock of you step. Listen, I love my 5-inch YSL heels as much as anyone, and here in New York we’re certainly not going to stop wearing our heels. A good place to start is by analyzing your favourite pair of shoes and noticing how they wear. This will give you a good indication of any asymmetries in your body that you’ll need to work on.” – Lord