The Best (and Worst) Moves For Awesome Abs

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Everyone pines for a six-pack.  People love to work their abs, and that’s good.  Your core is the foundation from where all your power originates.  Keep in mind that the core includes not only the abdominal muscles, but those of the back, glutes, spine, and hips (pelvic floor).  Keeping all of your core muscles strong also helps to prevent injury in athletes.

Before I continue, let me first say that you cannot spot reduce body fat on your waist, or anywhere else, for that matter.  You can strengthen your ab muscles with all of the exercises in the world, but without getting your heart-rate up through cardiovascular exercise, you won’t be able burn off the fat needed to see those strong abs you worked for.  So do your cardio!

People who want that flat tummy often gravitate toward crunches, because that’s the most well-known ab move.  However, research has shown that crunches are one of the worst ab moves in terms of how hard the obliques and rectus abdominus are worked.  The crunch only works a small part of the core, repeatedly bends the spine, and burns few calories.

The plank, a stabilizing move, works your whole core, as well as the transverse abdominus and your upper body.  It’s one of the best ab moves you can do.  What’s more, the possibilities with plank variations are endless!  Let’s first start with how to do a simple plank, because form is key:

With your forearms and toes on the floor:

plank1

  • Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending.
  • Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds to start.
  • Over time work up to 30, 45 or 60 seconds.  Don’t forget to breathe!

You can also do a plank with your arms fully extended, which works more of the upper body:

ICP

 

If you are a planking pro and can hold the pose for more than a couple of minutes, the simple plank is really no longer very effective for you.  It’s time to ramp it up a little!  Aside from the regular push-up, which is a great move, try one of these other variations below.  Happy planking!

Dolphin

dolphins

Plank Reach

plank reach

 

Single-Legged

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Reach & Raise

plank reach and raise

 

Lateral Walking Plank

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  • Simultaneously cross your right hand toward the left as you step your left foot out to the left. Then simultaneously step your left hand and right foot to the left, returning to the plank position. Your hands move together as your feet step apart. Take two more steps in this direction, keeping your abs pulled toward your spine and your pelvis level. This completes one rep.
  • Reverse directions, taking three steps the right.

 

Plank Up-Downs

plank up downs

 

Plank on Bosu Ball

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Side Plank

side plank

 

Plank Rows

plank rows

Sliding Plank

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Plank Walk-Out

 plank walkout

 

Oblique Crunch Plank

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Bonus: Jack Knife on Stability Ball

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Trainer’s Tip #9: Use Short, Effective Workouts Through the Holidays

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Trainer’s Tip #9: The holidays…so much to do, so little time.  However, if you have 10 to 20 minutes you can still fit a good workout in–But don’t do just any workout.  Do interval training and compound moves for the best results.

Remember: Every minute adds up.  A 20 minute workout, if done correctly, will help you maintain through the holiday hustle and bustle.  Don’t even have 20 minutes?  Break it into two 10 minute workouts.

Here are two examples of effective, but quick, workouts:

6 Moves, One Full-Body, Fat-Torching Workout

20 Minute Get-You-Through-The Holidays Workout

Bonus:  Most of these moves are travel-friendly!

Trainer’s Tip #7: Try the Assisted Pull-Up

assisted pull up

Trainer’s Tip of the Day #7:  Try the Assisted Pull-Up

If you like machines, but are pressed for time, don’t think you have to fit in every single one to get a full-body workout.  Focus on the machines that target large muscle groups of the upper and lower body.  These machines work the most muscles at once, giving you the most bang for your buck.  The assisted pull-up is of my favorite gym machines because it does just that.

This machine allows people who can’t lift their body weight (ie, most people) to recieve the benefits of the pull-up, which actively engages roughly 20 muscles.  Stabilizing muscles, such as those in your core, are also engaged.  I like to do a wide-grip pull-up on this machine, but you can also reverse your grip, with your palms facing toward you.

Trainer’s Tip of the Day #5: Stand Up!

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Trainer’s Tip #5: Stand up! (as opposed to sitting)

This one may seem a little obvious, but hear me out.  Sitting for long periods over the course of a day is hazardous to your health, even if you exercise regularly.  According to research, too much sitting likely increases your risk for metabolic syndrome and your risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

If you have a desk job, take frequent walk breaks.  Sit on a stability ball or push for a standing desk.  When you’re on the phone or eating lunch, stand up.  Pick the farthest parking spot on purpose.  Walk wherever you can.  Be more active in general.  Every little minute counts, and this cumulative effect can make a profound difference in your health and well-being.

 

Trainer’s Tip of the Day #3: Give HIIT a Shot

HIIT

Tip #3:  Try HIIT (high intensity interval training)

I’m not necessarily recommending that you kill yourself every day with Shaun T. and his Insanity workouts.  Those definitely aren’t for everyone.  But try adding intervals to your runs or strength workouts a couple of times a week.  It could be just the jolt you need to get better results.

HIIT is really hot right now in the fitness world.  And it’s one trend I actually do recommend trying.  Why?  There’s positive research to back it up.  Alternating heartrate-elevating intervals with recovery intervals burns fat faster, and helps you keep burning fat even after your workout.  You can add intervals to most types of exercise to fit your taste.

Learn more about it here.  Happy HIITing!

Trainer’s Tip of the Day #1

Young woman lifting weights, side view

Tip #1:

Lift heavy.

There’s your very first tip.  Try lifting heavy instead of light weights.  It doesn’t have to be part of every single workout.  But if you are a mostly cardio or light-weights kind of person, you need to try this.  You could see major results….a) because it will increase your metabolism and burn more fat, even after your workout…b) because it will increase your strength and improve your muscle composition, giving you a firm, lean look.  It will improve your overall health and well-being.  Go as heavy as you can for 8-12 reps.  If, after 12 reps, you feel you can go longer, try increasing the weight a bit more.  And ladies, you won’t bulk up.  You just won’t.  Bonus:  With less reps, your workouts will be shorter!

Today I hereby commit to posting extremely brief tidbits of useful wisdom, termed “Trainers Tips,” on a regular basis.  You may ponder, ignore, or do as you wish with them as you go about your day.

Info about what?  Well…fitness.  Exercise tips, motivational tips, nutrition tips, health and well-being tips.  Maybe mind-blowing, maybe obvious but perhaps overlooked.  Tips to help you in your quest to become the happiest, healthiest you ever, one day at a time.

How often?  Most days.  Okay, I may get super busy or lazy one day.  Or two.  Don’t hold it against me.

Where?  Here.  On this site.  And my Facebook page and google+ page.

Why?  Because they’re short and sweet and force me to post to my blog regularly.  And because I love helping my readers in any small way I can, of course.

Two Common Strength-Training Mistakes

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A buddy tells you that during her last workout, she performed 100 crunches and 75 bent over dumbbell rows, in record time.  Impressive?  Well yes, you have to admire this person’s mental and physical stamina.

At the gym, you notice a guy going 100 miles an hour on the leg extension machine.  But is this the best way to train?

There’s good reason to say that the answer is no.

Performing 100 crunches may add strength to your abs, but I can think of many other core moves that are way more effective with way fewer reps, and target your total core, including your back.  And here’s a bonus:  Less reps mean less time working out.

If your goal is to burn fat and increase cardiovascular fitness, it’s very important to get the heart rate up, and there are plenty of good workouts that achieve this.  However, performing quick, excessive repetitions  greatly increases the likelihood that you’re sacrificing form and relying too much on momentum.  And if your form isn’t correct, not only isn’t the exercise very effective, it also isn’t real safe.  There must be good form, above all else.

Should you never lift to failure?  Well, I didn’t say that….Instead, try incorporating heavier resistance for fewer reps.  For instance, lift as much as you can for 8 to 10 reps with good form.   And perform those reps at a pace where you can focus on the muscles you’re working, making a mind-body connection. (Ladies, you won’t bulk up!)  If you’re a beginner at strength training, you may want to begin with a more moderate weight load for 15 reps, to start.

To sum up:  It’s great to want to ramp up the effectiveness and intensity of your workouts, but excessive reps aren’t necessary.  In fact, they are less effective and less safe.  Also, make sure your speed isn’t compromising good form.

Why Cardio Just Isn’t Enough!

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So, you run?  Or maybe you walk, swim, bike, use the elliptical machine, or go to fitness classes every chance you get?  That’s awesome!  You make exercise a priority in your life.  Cardiovascular activity is a great foundation for helping you stay healthy and attaining/maintaining your optimal weight.  And, when it’s an activity you enjoy, it can truly feed your soul!

But if you think it’s enough, think again.  I’m not talking just in terms of your overall health, but also in terms of weight loss.  Yep, strength training, paired with cardio, will get you where you really want to be.  If you want to look better, feel better, do more, live longer, and live independently into old age, strength training is where it’s at.

Adults lose between five and seven pounds of muscle every decade after age 20.  Strength training helps prevent this muscle loss, and rebuilds what you may have lost.  So by the time you’re 60, 70, or 80, still having this muscle can help you maintain your quality of life, keep you active, and ward off disease.  In other words, you’ll feel years younger than you are.  It improves your balance and coordination, and can reduce your risk of falling by as much as 40 percent, which is huge as you get older.

In my experience, the most typical negative responses to the idea of strength training are:

A.  I’m not the “weight-lifting” type.  I’ve never lifted weights and I’ve done just fine.  Why start now?

B.  I don’t want to bulk up.  When I lift weights I bulk up. (What were you eating during the time you lifted these weights?)

C.  I don’t care about muscles.  I just want to be thinner.

Okay, I get it.  In fact, I used to be one of these people.  The idea of strength training immediately brought to mind visions of mammoth, grunting meat-heads bench pressing a gazillion pounds.  Just the idea is enough to send someone new away screaming.  The good news:  This is not what I’m recommending for you!

The other good news:  Ladies, you don’t have enough testosterone in your body to become one of these people, no matter how much you bench!  In fact, don’t bench at all if that’s not your thing.  Two or three times a week, do some push-ups, chair dips, squats, lunges…whatever suits you.  Tailor your routine to your taste.  Just make sure you’re working every major muscle group, and give each muscle group at least a day to rest in between workouts.

Here’s another biggie:  Adding a simple strength routine a few times a week increases your basal metabolic rate, or the amount of calories your body burns at rest.  It can boost your metabolism by as much as 15 percent.  The more muscle you have, the easier your body is able to burn the fat off on top of that muscle because you’re burning more calories, all the time.  Having an engine composed of more muscle as opposed to more fat requires more calories per day to just live.

Cardio exercise is great for burning calories, but won’t give you the body composition needed to make you a fat-burning machine.  Cardio doesn’t do much to build lean muscle at all, and too much cardio can sometimes cause muscle break down.  In addition, strength training helps keep the weight off for good, according to studies.

Don’t assume that just because someone is thin, he or she is healthy.  Thin people who have bodies composed of less muscle and more fat can be at increased risk for disease.  Studies have proven the many wellness benefits of strength training.  It can help with arthritis pain, increase bone density, improve glucose control among those with type 2 diabetes (in addition to a balanced diet), and so much more.  Besides, wouldn’t you rather be tight, toned and slim, rather than thin and floppy?

It’s win-win, all around.  Just 2-3 sets, 8-15 repetitions, 3 times per week, can reap major rewards for your well-being and physique, for the rest of your life.  So the question should be, perhaps, Why not start now?

Feel Like Skipping Your Workout? Five Things To Tell Yourself.

motivation8I woke up to sub-zero temps this morning.  On days like this, sometimes the last thing I want to do is throw on my sports bra, jump into my freezing car and drive to the gym.  Or jump off my comfy couch and do burpees, for that matter.

We’ve all had that inner battle about working out, right?  Between being lazy or sticking to our schedule?  Well, instead of talking yourself out of your next workout, how about doing the opposite?  Next time you want to bail, tell yourself these 5 things…

1.  “I am going to feel AMAZING afterward, and for the rest of the day.”  Don’t focus how you feel now…Think about how you’ll feel AFTER your workout, and how it will affect the rest of your day.  That quote at the top of this article is soooo true.  When we miss scheduled workouts, we do regret it.  But when we exercise, it benefits us both physically and emotionally.  We have more energy, more optimism, we can think more clearly, and we’re all-around happier, more productive and more confident.

2.  “This is MY time to better myself, and I deserve it.”  Your workout time is a chance for you to be selfish, and to focus purely on YOU.  Schedule these precious moments into your calendar, keep them, and when you exercise, live completely in the moment.  Don’t focus on work, family obligations, future errands or what you’ll make for dinner–just you.  You can’t take care of others until you give yourself the attention you deserve.  Grow to crave and look forward to your regular “ME” time.  Make it an important part of your life.  It will reward you handsomely in the end!

3.  “Each time I do this, I inch closer and closer to my goal.”  We know that in health and fitness, consistency is key.  Day after day, each workout adds up.  The more you keep to your weekly workout schedule, the faster you’re going to lose weight, feel better, and fit better into your skinny jeans.  Take small steps each day, but think in terms of the big picture.  Keep your eye on the prize, and your mind on the reasons why you want to do this.  The real reasons.  Visualize yourself becoming stronger, more confident, and leaner with each new workout.

4. “I’ll just do a short, ___ minute workout.”  Two points here.  First, every minute counts.  So if you only muster up 10 minutes of workout time one day, it’s better then zero minutes.  And with all of the short, high-intensity workouts out there, you can find some pretty effective 10 minute workouts.  Secondly, it’s often the “getting there” that’s the biggest struggle.  Once we get to the gym and jump that mental hurdle, we may find that we are feeling pretty good, and end up going for 20, 30 or 40 minutes.  So tell yourself you’ll just do 10 or 20 minutes, and then see how you feel afterwards.  If you go longer, great.  If not, well, like I said…It’s better than nothing.

5.  “If I do this today, I’m going to reward myself by______.”  Yep.  Bribe yourself.   The only caveat: don’t do it with food.  Have that hot bubble bath.  Give yourself a manicure.  Read that novel that’s been collecting dust on your nightstand or watch that trashy reality show you secretly love.  Indulge yourself with a little more “me” time.  Set up a rewards system to get you off your butt.   You know yourself best.  Pick rewards that you’ll really love, and stick to the rules.  One of my favorites:  A “piggy” bank–Every time you don’t want to work out, but do anyway, put a set amount of money in a jar.  When when you’ve hit a fitness goal or filled the jar, spend the money on something you’ve pined for.  Works like a charm!