A dynamo of energy who preaches the value of "non-impact" aerobics. Though it may seem a contradiction in terms, Judy Cirullo's exercise philosophy might paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt's statement on foreign policy - walk softly but carry a big stick.
"Non-impact" means that you don't jump up and down in this type of aerobics. You keep constant foot contact with the floor, and the feet are bare. "What does `aerobics' really mean? Only that you are using oxygen," Cirullo explained. "The term doesn't especially denote violent activity."Cirullo demonstrated her non-impact class in a workshop sponsored by the Utah Fitness Instructors Association.
She believes that using slower, larger and completely controlled movements creates more strength, flexibility and cardiovascular challenges over a period of time. "In conventional aerobics you move up and down and linearly," she explained. "In non-impact you use diagonal and circular movement as well, involving the whole body."
Her extensive experience in medical and therapeutic exercise has convinced her of the body's ability to keep in shape and, if injured, to heal itself through slow, effective move-ments.
She believes in bare feet because the foot is such a strong sensory organ for the rest of the body. "Wearing shoes is like wearing a girdle for weak abdominals," she said. "Shoes prevent you from using your lower leg, all the way up to the pelvis and spine."
She encourages the exerciser to use large, fluid movements, not short, choppy movements. "Lengthen, extend, lift, push, rise," she said, "instead of beating, rounding, curling down. Uplifting, extending motion gets the heart beating faster. And the completeness of this kind of class doesn't just tone but builds muscular stamina, through many repetitions.
"I like the non-impact technique because it forces you to constantly pay heed to what your body's doing, to control every move from one end of your range to the other. By consciously concentrating, not going through mindless motions, you can retrain your muscles and nervous system to do what you want."
She also believes in interval training - first a hard routine, then easier, then hard again - always fluid, interconnected, so you are never breathless, to effectively build stamina, prevent injury and improve oxygen intake.
"Several people who had surgery for some kind of injury have come in off the street and taken this class, and they can't believe that they have no more pain," she said. "Actually, I haven't had an injury in my class in eight or nine years."
Cirullo graduated from the University of Illinois Medical Center with a degree in physical therapy in 1979. "Then I did postgraduate work on biomechanical problems of the muscular-skeletal system, specifically the spine and pelvic girdle," she said. "I am an orthopedic manual therapist, which means I use my hands in treatment, not equipment.
"But I love teaching exercise, motivating people to work harder, to take care of themselves. And 80 percent of fitness is in the psychology."
She owned and operated her own private practice in California until 1986 and is a frequent lecturer and consultant on fitness and prevention of injury. The author of papers and articles on osteoporosis, she is currently writing a book on the back and pelvis, "Back in Action," dealing with exercise, both aerobic and stationary, for safety, prevention and healing of low back problems. She has presented scientific papers on rehabilitation and safe exercise all over the country.
Name most any official pie in the world of exercise, and Cirullo has her finger in it. She is certified by the International Dance Exercise Association and the Aquatic Exercise Association, whose advisory board she serves on, and she's a trainer for Maternal Fitness Inc. She's a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Physical Therapy Association.
With her endocrinologist husband she moved three years ago to Duke University in Durham, N.C., where their homelife centers around their two preschool-age sons. She now spends two days a week in private therapy practice and teaches both land and water aerobics.
"My goal is to teach people to teach themselves, to take responsibility for themselves," she explained. "People need to be much more aware of their bodies in a positive way, to learn more about maintaining proper posture and body mechanics throughout the day, so I emphasize postural exercises for the muscles that keep us upright and work very little on the flexing muscles that bend joints.
"When I evaluate a patient's posture, I look not just for a head held forward or humped-over body, but at subtle imbalances. People need ideal postural alignment, to maintain the skeletal system in proper position; they must train the muscles that can put it in or out of balance," she said.
"If people would strengthen their spine muscles, take pressure off the shoulders with postural alignment and train the muscles that pull up the rib cage, they could alleviate many problems.
"Proper posture is a major part of physical fitness. Poor posture is widespread - not necessarily glaring posture faults, but alignment that needs improving. Even tiny problems of holding the head, spine and neck slightly askew can lead to such poor muscular support that people are fatigued at the end of the day. They need to improve the whole complex, keep the spine, shoulders and pelvic girdle in proper alignment."
Cirullo's answer to disc problems is seldom surgery, but rather extension (stretching) of the spine, so the disc tends to push back where it needs to be. "Sometimes surgeries are indicated, but far too many are done," she said, "and can be avoided through proper, conservative treatment.
"Most spinal injuries result from the accumulation of poor habits over 10, 15, 20 years. A postural problem can lead to shortened muscle tissues or disc bulge, until one day a person sneezes or bends down and triggers off a sharp pain. But it's not really that incident, it's an accumulation. Eighty-five percent of spine and pelvic problems that I see in practice result from muscular and skeletal imbalances that could have been prevented."
Cirullo learned her techniques of postural and back correction unconventionally, from a dynamic woman named Zahava in Los Angeles.
"She was from South Africa, danced with the Royal Ballet of London, went into jazz dance and choreography, and evolved her own style of exercise," said Cirullo. "She worked her classes barefoot, she asked, `Why are you wearing shoes, they inhibit the action of the toes, ankles, arches.' And she never told clients to take bed rest.
"When I went to her class in 1980, I was a big jogger, 50 miles a week. I kept going back and became addicted because my body felt better than it had ever felt before. I keep in contact still, I go back once a year to retrain and consult. She is incredible. When I left California in 1987 she said, go teach this technique."
Cirullo believes common sense, even more than scientific knowledge, should govern both teaching and doing exercise. "Common sense is not common," she said. "People need to be taught to listen to their own bodies, and when they are tired, to stop. It's better to do five moves right than 25 wrong, and you should compete against yourself, not others."