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Tracie Long Interview

Photo of Tracie Long

 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.

Tracie's videos 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 1 pounds of fat. In order to prevent this muscle loss -- as well as experience muscle gains, you must strength train.

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 extraordinary loyalty?

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 classes.

I also think the tapes are beautifully produced and ultra classy.

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 physiology?

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 other workouts.

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 workout regimes?

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 soon?

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 retail.

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