Client Spotlight: Meet Gene

Gene performing a yoga Crow Pose.

Written by: Intern Callie Parry and Gene Purdum

Maria has a vast group of past and current clients. They range in age, location and life experiences. To give you a better sense of the people Maria is helping through her business and expertise, we will be doing regular client spotlights.

To start, we would like you all to meet Gene age 66 years young.

Gene was born in the Maryland countryside and attended Michigan Tech receiving a Bachelor’s degree in applied physics and a Master’s in nuclear physics. While in college, he put his classical music background and radio experience to use by working for NPR’s music department. Upon graduating, Gene moved over to Michigan State University and worked as Music Director/Operations Manager/Classical Announcer for NPR radio for 38 years until retiring in 2013.

Gene has lived a full life. He loves cycling, running, and hiking and has completed several amazing feats such as solo bike rides and endurance road races. Other hobbies of his include stamp collecting, ham radio and taking care of his immense garden.

Gene is an ambitious soul and although he has completed a lot of the things on his bucket list he is still hoping to hike the Grand Canyon again from rim-to-base-to-rim, travel to India to study with yoga gurus, finish all the remodeling on his home, ride a 300-mile 24-hr bike race and bike from Fairbanks, Alaska to the Arctic Circle.

Gene does not ever want to be slowed down so when he developed a severe case of sciatica in 2013 and had to undergo back surgery he knew he needed help. He went through physical therapy post-surgery and began working with a personal trainer. However, he did not connect well with his trainer and wanted a second opinion. That is how he came across Maria Faires. He was drawn to her because of her extensive experience in exercise and nutrition, her background in Medical Exercise as well as her experience working with older clients.

Gene has always been dedicated to living a healthy life, so he was not seeking help in weight loss or major lifestyle changes. He began working with Maria remotely via email and phone. He sent her the workouts he had received from his former personal trainer and Maria altered them to be better for strength preservation, rehabilitation and avoidance of injury. That is something that few people are better at than Maria – she is always up to date on the best exercises to avoid injury and provides post-rehabilitation exercise programs or for the healthy individual, designs effective programs that will help prevent injury in the future. She does not follow fitness trends just because something looks cool and hard, but is more concerned with protecting the body and building strength and endurance in a safe way.

Maria gave Gene three basic workouts that he could alter to avoid boredom. Since they worked remotely they began by calling weekly and then gradually tapered off to only calling every three months. They have built a great relationship where Gene feels comfortable asking whatever questions to help him with his health, nutrition and fitness needs.

A big thing that sets Gene apart from Maria’s other clients is his work as a yoga instructor. Gene has always been one who wants to expand his knowledge and delve in to unknown territory. That is how he came across yoga. Gene discovered yoga later in life after his back surgery. He was taking a Gentle Yoga class at his gym and realized they were doing the same thing every class. One day he thought to himself, “I can teach this,” and so he did. He got his 200-hr teacher certification and immediately began teaching his own version of Gentle Yoga at his local high school’s adult education program. Currently he teaches that class four times a week and has an average of 10 students per class. The average age of his students is 70. Since his 200-hr training, he completed Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga teacher training. He does not know if he will ever teach it because Power yoga is a vigorous and challenging style that is not suitable for seniors, but he has incorporated Bryan’s philosophy in to his classes. This philosophy takes the perspective that yoga is more of a mental practice than a physical workout. Gene also has become certified as a Chair Yoga instructor, but has yet to find employment in that area, let alone time to teach it.

Maria also supports Gene in his passion for yoga and is always offering advice for how he can best reach his senior students. Gene appreciates Maria’s genuine concern for him. She always is reminding him to eat more quinoa and whole grain, for example, and advising him on what yoga poses he should or should not be doing for safety for himself and his older students.

Gene encourages everyone to seek Maria’s help no matter their current health status. She is very well qualified to guide you in whatever direction you desire to go. If you need to lose weight, Maria can review your diet and recommend safe substitutions. If you need a review of your present weight-training routine, Maria can help tie them into your overall goals. Maria can give you the Big Picture about how to obtain wellness, unlike other “fitness” people who are more narrowly focused.

If, after reading Gene’s story, you would like to get additional details on his journey and experience working with Maria, you may contact him at


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Best Glute Exercise for Pain and Injury Prevention

The glute muscles are the most important muscles in sports and every day life.The stronger the glutes become, the more strongly they contract and safeguard against pain and injuries.

Most people have weak glutes. Even people who think they have strong glutes almost always have very weak glutes in comparison to how strong they can get through proper training.

Some of the injuries that may result from inactive, weak glutes are pulled hamstrings, patello-femoral syndrome (knee pain), piriformis syndrome, ACL tears, low back injuries, hamstring, groin, and even shoulder injuries.

I have my clients do multiple glute exercises in a workout so that the three gluteal muscles are strengthened. I like the Front Plank with Hip Extension because it was ranked as one of the top exercises for muscle activation of both gluteus medius and gluteus maximus in a study that compared top exercises as well as several other commonly performed clinical exercises to determine which exercises recruit the gluteal muscles, specifically the gluteus medius and maximus, most effectively.   front plank hip extension starting position 1hip2

Front Plank with Hip Extension

Lie on your stomach on the floor in a plank position with arms bent, palms and forearms on the ground, fingers pointed forward, legs straight, and on toes.  Engage your abdominal/trunk muscles. It should feel like you are tightening a corset around your ribs, waist and lower torso. Contract your thigh muscles to straighten your legs and lift your body off the floor.

Next, while in this plank position, lift one leg off of the ground, bend the knee, and bring the heel toward the ceiling for one beat, hold for one or two seconds and then return to parallel for one beat. Repeat 12 times each leg. Contract the glutes and keep them contracted the entire 12 reps.

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Is Lack of Glute Strength Causing Your Low Back Pain?

One cause of back pain is “gluteal amnesia”. The gluteus maximus doesn’t remember how to work correctly so the body ends up not using the glutes correctly in coordination with the rest of the muscles of the body. This can happen to people who have a job in which they sit for prolonged periods.

Glutes are part of the chain of muscles in the back of your body that help with posture, strength, daily activities and injury prevention of the back. On a daily basis the glutes help push you up and out of a chair.

As a person sits for extended periods of time, the hip flexors (think front of hip) become tight and the gluteus maximus becomes weak. When that happens other muscles must compensate. Typically it’s the low back lumbar extensor muscles and/or the hamstrings. As a result there is a compensation pattern that occurs during every day activities or in exercise training as the glutes aren’t working and then the low back and/or hamstrings try to do the glutes’ job. Normally, the glutes should be activating BEFORE the hamstrings and low back lumbar extensor muscles. The inability to activate the gluteus maximus in a normal pattern can lead to numerous injuries.

The treatment for ‘gluteal amnesia’ is re-education of the neuromuscular system to “teach” your body to fire the glutes. To begin, you need to learn how to activate the glutes, then how to stimulate and integrate them, and finally you can train them with weight lifting exercises.

One of the main problems exercisers find, is not being able to tell the difference between lumbar extension and hip extension, meaning are they using their back or glutes? So, when they try to target the glutes and hamstrings, say with a regular glute bridge, they are not able to fire the glute or stabilize the hips and core. This then uses a lot of lumbar extension (back) rather than hip extension (glutes).

Trainers and physical therapists typically recommend clients perform the Glute Bridge or Supine Hip Extension for glute training.But there is a better choice. One of the best exercises to isolate the glutes is the Cook Hip Lift. The Cook Hip Lift solves this problem by maintaining the lumbar spine in a neutral position so that the glutes are isolated more effectively than a Bridge oe Hip Extension for the person who hasn’t learned to recruit the glutes.

So it is best to begin to re-educate your neuromuscular system to recruit the glutes by first performing the Cook Hip Lift, an excellent gluteal activator, for several weeks. Once you have mastered the Cook Hip Lift you can then move on to the Regular Glute Bridge, Supine Hip Extension and then the One Leg Glute Bridge.

Perform glute activation at the beginning of every workout to develop better awareness of the glutes and to “wake them up” so that they can contribute better to our workouts.  

If you are doing the Cook Hip Lift as part of your mobility and dynamic warm up then perform one set of 8 to 12 on each leg. If you have back pain you can do more sets as part of a low back rehabilitation program.

How to Perform a Cook Hip Lift
1. Lie on your back with knees bent upward and feet planted on the floor.

2. Pull one knee tightly to the chest. So that the knee stays tightly against the chest place a tennis ball just under the bottom rib so that the thigh must pin the tennis ball in place. The tennis ball limits lumbar extension so that the back isn’t being used to do this motion.

3. The opposite knee stays bent at 90 degrees and the foot stays planted on the floor.

4. Push that foot into the floor at the heel and lift the hips upward and hold for 5-8 seconds. At the top position you should feel all the tension on the glute. If you feel it in your hamstring, then chances are you’re having problems activating your glutes. If you feel a cramp in your hamstring, push your foot a bit farther away from you. If you have been doing Glute Bridge or Supine Hip Extension you might notice you can’t get the hip as high as you normally would. This should improve with practice.

 Cook Hip Lift

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