| By Wendy Niemi Kremer
Tracie Long is an instructor and exercise physiologist
for the FIRM. She manages the FIRM Fitness Studio in
Charleston, SC, trains the studio's 29 fitness
instructors, and is an active member of the FIRM's
research and development team.
include The Tortoise and The Hare. Tough
Tape, which was compiled from Tortoise and Hare,
is a Video Fitness Favorite. Tracie also
choreographed the FIRM's popular StrongHeart and StrongBody
videos along with her colleague, Heidi Tanner.
WNK: Tracie, why is strength
training so important, and why is lifting heavy weights
so much more effective for fat loss than lifting lighter
weights with more repetitions?
TL: Strength training has numerous benefits --
including raising the metabolism, strengthening the
heart, and preventing osteoporosis -- to name a few.
After age 35, we lose 1 pound of muscle each year and
gain 1½ pounds of fat. In order to prevent this muscle
loss -- as well as experience muscle gains, you must
To maintain a healthy lifestyle and fit body, your
fitness goal should be to gain muscle which will increase
metabolism. Lifting light weights at high repetitions
does not challenge muscles enough to cause significant
gains in muscle. If you are not lifting enough weight to
cause muscles to grow, you will not experience a
permanent increase in metabolism. The more muscle you
have the more calories you burn in everyday activities --
such as sleeping, reading, and walking. Remember: one
pound of muscle burns 40 calories per day; one pound of
fat burns less than 10 calories per day.
WNK: Many women are afraid they'll get that
"female body builder look" if they pick up a
dumbbell. What can you say to reassure these women?
TL: Less than 2% of the female population has
enough testosterone, the "muscle building"
hormone, to cause incredible muscle gains. Even then,
women would have to train several hours a day with very
heavy weights -- much heavier than those recommended by
THE FIRM. Personally, I can squat over 200 pounds and
have never been considered "bulky."
WNK: Why do you think FIRM videos engender such
TL: "FIRM Believers" -- as our fans
call themselves -- are so loyal because we hold true to
our claim: visible results in just 10 workouts. We don't
lie; we promise and deliver beautiful results. Our
primary goal is to educate our clients as to how to
effectively change their lifestyle. A FIRM Believer
myself, I remained in South Carolina after college
because I knew I would never find anything that worked
like THE FIRM and didn't want to teach generic aerobics
I also think the tapes are beautifully produced and
WNK: I really appreciate how The FIRM includes fit
people of all different body types in their videos -- it
gives everyone a goal to strive for within their own
genetic framework. How does the FIRM select the class
participants for new videos?
TL: Auditions -- sometimes open to the general
public -- are usually held to select FIRM video casts.
For the past few videos, our casts have been mostly
comprised of instructors from our two South Carolina
studios. This experience usually makes our instructors
better teachers in the long run.
WNK: Tell me a little about your teaching
background. Do you have specific training in exercise
TL: I have a 4.5 year degree in "exercise
science" from the University of South Carolina. My
course work included anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and
biomechanics. As part of my studies, I worked with
overweight children through a program called
"Goodbodies," and in the cardiac rehabilitation
unit of a local hospital. I began working with THE FIRM
while still in college -- over 10 years ago.
WNK: Will you be choreographing or starring in any
future FIRM videos?
TL: Yes, I will be choreographing future FIRM
videos and hope to have a lead role again --although the
training process is grueling.
WNK: Do you maintain your inspiring physique with
FIRM-style workouts only, or do you do additional aerobic
or weight work?
TL: THE FIRM workout is my main workout -- I
do it year round by teaching five classes a week in our
Charleston, South Carolina studio. In addition, I am a
runner as well -- my father was a sprinter so I have a
natural ability for running. Running serves to burn extra
calories as well as to clear my head.
WNK: Video exercisers don't have the benefit of a
live instructor to correct their form during a workout.
What are the most important for pointers you can give to
those of us who work out with FIRM videos?
TL: Here are some guidelines for THE FIRM's
aerobic weight training:
- Never swing your weights. If you feel out of
control, use lighter weights.
- Always align your knees, hips, and ankles when
performing lower body exercises.
- Never let your knees "wobble" in
squats, dips, lunges, or leg press
- If you are not breathing hard or sweating, you
may need to work harder -- no one said it was
going to be easy!
- Always keep your back flat, never arched. To do
this keep your pelvic area tilted slightly
forward, shoulders back.
WNK: Can FIRM video pairs like Tortoise/Hare or
StrongBody/StrongHeart be used on consecutive days? If I
normally use the heaviest weights I can for both tapes,
shouldn't I give my body 48 hours rest between tapes?
TL: In the studio, I usually teach a slow
class with heavy weights (Tortoise) every other day and
do a non-weight or fast and light (Hare) workout on the
alternate days. Since your body needs to rest in order to
rebuild it's muscles, these tapes are great to do on
alternate days since they work the body in different
ways. Most importantly, you must listen to your body when
making exercise decisions.
WNK: For those of us who like to alternate FIRM
tapes with other aerobic videos, how many FIRM workouts
per week would be optimal for improving fitness?
TL: I would never do less than three FIRM
workouts per week. If you only have time for three, work
hard by using heavy weights and take a day off in between
WNK: What advice can you give to someone who is
ready to increase the weight on a particular exercise,
but can't complete all the reps at that weight?
TL: When increasing weight, only go up 2-3
lbs. If you cannot finish the set with the heavier
weight, have a lighter set of weights ready to switch
over to (pyramiding) to complete the set.
WNK: I personally don't own a barbell, so I use
heavy dumbbells for Strong Body and Tough Tape. Are there
any real advantages to using a barbell rather than
dumbbells with these tapes?
TL: I receive mixed opinions on the barbell
from studio clients. Personally, I like to use dumbbells
for most exercises. However, the barbell seems to provide
balance for some, especially on squats and dips. You do
not need to use barbell for FIRM tapes -- it is optional.
WNK: Many instructors are rejecting traditional
floor work like leg lifts in favor of more functional
standing leg work, like the FIRM's leg presses, lunges,
and squats. Other instructors tell me that they get
complaints from gym members if they don't do old-
fashioned leg lifts and donkey kicks. Do you think that
the more traditional floor work still has a place in our
TL: I love floorwork; however, I would never
leave out my standing compulsory exercises. Floorwork can
hit some muscles hard without engaging the quadriceps
which tend to overdevelop. However, you should use ankle
weights to work the muscles harder -- to eliminate doing
thousands of boring repetitions. THE FIRM's floorwork is
sequenced to be less boring and very effective.
WNK: Several readers have asked me if it's safe to
do FIRM workouts during pregnancy, and I didn't know what
to say except the usual "ask your doctor"
response. Given her doctor's approval, how will a
pregnant woman need to modify her strength training
routines? Can she continue to use very heavy weights?
TL: Since I have never been pregnant, I can
only answer based upon that I have seen other pregnant
FIRM instructors do. Each one tells me something
different. I think you should consult your doctor and
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.
WNK: My readers will bombard me with hostile
e-mail messages if I don't ask when the next new FIRM
video will be released! Can you give your loyal fans some
idea of what's currently in the works? Will the more
recent FIRM videos be available in retail stores any time
TL: Currently, THE FIRM is looking to develop
an exercise video for beginners so more FIRM Believers
can start their "non-exercising" friends off
with tapes that are more basic. These tapes will allow
the novice to progress more easily into the tougher tapes
as muscle builds.
Now available at retail stores nationwide are the six
"Total Body" videos and the six "FIRM
Parts" videos. In April of 1997, "The
Tortoise" and "The Hare" series (my tapes)
and "The Variety" series will be available at