Category Archives: Exercise

Train Your Core Without Situps

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How strong is your core? If you’re looking to tighten and tone your mid-section, it’s going to take more than crunches and sit-ups. Read on to learn more about the core and how to properly train it.

The core musculature attaches to the spine and pelvis, including muscles of the abdominal area, mid and low back, and hips. Specifically it includes muscles such as the rectus abdominis, erector spinae, external and internal obliques, transversus abdominis, and glutes.

Your core protects your spine from excessive flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral bending and works to stabilize the spine and hips during specific movements. Your core plays a major role in balanced posture and everyday mobility. If you’ve ever injured a core muscle, you’ll quickly realize how often you use these muscles – you’ll feel the injury every time you move.

Since the core works constantly to keep us functioning at our best, it makes sense to keep it working properly. Is your core weak? Try the plank test to determine if you have adequate core strength. Assume a traditional pushup position. Now drop from your hands down onto your forearms and hold your body rigid. How long can you hold before your hips begin to sag or your low back starts to strain? If you planked less than 60 seconds, your core could use some work.

So what’s the best way to strengthen the core? We like to incorporate functional exercises, so multiple muscles are working together as a unit to stabilize or carry out a specific movement. We recommend the following exercises to build overall core strength.

The Plank. This exercise is great for beginners because its simplicity allows utilization of the core without much complication. Just get in the plank position and hold. Time your sets for the first workout and try to beat that time during the next workout. You can also progress by adding a weight to your hips or raising one leg off the floor.

Plank-Pat

Pushup to Dumbbell Row and Twist. This is a great intermediate core exercise because it involves both movement and stabilization. Assume a pushup position while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Perform a pushup and as your arms straighten at the top of the movement, row one of the dumbbells toward your chest, rotate, and then press the dumbbell towards the ceiling. Return to your starting point and repeat on the other side. Choose a weight that allows for 10-20 reps.

DB_Row_Twist

Walking Overhead Lunge. This is an advanced exercise and should only be attempted once the core is strong enough to perform efficiently. Grab a moderately weighted barbell and press it overhead. Lock your arms out and stabilize the weight in an overhead position. At this point, perform 10 walking lunges in a forward direction. Once complete, turn around and perform 10 more lunges as you return to your starting point. Be sure to keep your arms locked straight and the barbell directly above your head. This will work the core differently than the previous two exercises and requires overall body strength and stability to perform.

Walking_Ohead_Lunge

So find a new way to strengthen your core and teach your body to perform at its best.

Exercises for the Seated Lifestyle

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How do you choose the exercises that make up your workouts? Maybe you base it on exercises you like or exercises you’re familiar with. Or maybe you have certain areas of the body you’d like to see change, so you focus on those muscle groups.

Obviously everyone has different goals, body types, and lifestyles, but one common issue we see with many of our clients is a weakness pattern through the core and posterior chain. If you find yourself sitting most of the day, it makes sense to choose exercises that counter this shortened posture. The following exercises will help strengthen many of the muscles that become weak through a seated lifestyle.

The Deadlift. Step up to a weighted barbell with shins nearly touching the bar and feet hip to shoulder width apart. Squat down toward the bar as you keep your heels firmly planted while maintaining a natural curve through your back. Grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width and tense your body. As you lift the weight, push your feet into the floor while exhaling. Be sure to keep the bar close to the body as you lift. Maintain your posture throughout the lift, keeping tension through your shoulder blades as you rise to the top position. Control the weight back down to the floor and repeat.

deadlift

 

Bent-Over Row. Grab a set of dumbbells and hold them at your sides with palms facing inward. With feet hip width apart, bend the knees slightly as you lean forward to about a 45 degree angle. Be sure to keep your posture while maintaining a tight core. Your body will stay in this position for the duration of the exercise. As you exhale, pull the dumbbells up and back while you bring your shoulder blades together. Your elbows should slide right past the sides of your body as you pull. Inhale as you extend your arms back to the starting position.

db-row

Reverse Cable Woodchop. Slide the handle on a cable resistance machine down to a setting just a few inches off the floor. Position your body perpendicular to the machine and set feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Drop down into a deadlift position, and with abs engaged, rotate your upper body away from the machine while you rise up to a standing position. Keep your arms fully extended and allow your hips and shoulders to rotate with the movement. Once you’re fully rotated and extended, control back down to your starting position.

r-cable-woodchop

So add these exercises to your routine to help strengthen the muscles that most likely need it.

Do you Deadlift?

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Deadlift_1

When it comes to getting the most value from a particular exercise, there aren’t too many movements that can beat the deadlift. This total body exercise demands strength, power, cardiovascular efficiency, and postural control. When performed correctly, the deadlift works the entire posterior chain – including the hamstrings, glutes, low, mid and upper back, as well as muscles of the quads, core, shoulders, and arms.

The deadlift is great for total body strength and conditioning as well as improving your muscular and cardiovascular endurance. A set of deadlifts may leave you more winded than a 100 yard sprint and the muscle overload and fatigue will elicit gains in strength and muscle density.

To Perform

Step up to a weighted barbell with shins nearly touching the bar and feet hip-width apart. Squat down and lean toward the bar as you keep your heels firmly planted while maintaining a natural posture through the back. Grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width and tense your body. As you lift the weight, push your feet into the floor while exhaling. Be sure to keep the bar close to the body as you lift. Maintain your posture throughout the lift, keeping tension through your shoulder blades as you rise to the top position. Control the weight back down to the floor and repeat.

Mistakes to Avoid

The most common mistake with the dead lift is not getting the hips fully involved. If you are rounding forward over the top of the bar rather than squatting down to the bar, you are compromising your low back as well as missing out on all the benefits of efficient biomechanics. A forward rounded posture further accentuates common muscle imbalances, but proper form will help to improve these imbalances and minimize your chance for injury.

How to Incorporate

Include the deadlift in your weekly workouts by treating it as a total body exercise. If you’re doing a split routine, include it as either a leg or a back exercise. By sticking with light to moderate weights and high reps you will greatly improve your muscular endurance and cardiovascular efficiency, while heavier weights will help build muscle density and overall strength. Try light to moderate weights one week and perform higher reps (10-20), then follow it up the next week with a heavier load and less reps (3-8).

Once you realize all the benefits of the deadlift, you’ll be ready to include it in your weekly workouts.

 

Resistance Training for Weight Loss

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DB Thruster

Although many people realize the importance of diet and exercise, few fully understand the value of resistance training and how it may be one of the most important types of exercise for long-term weight loss. Adding just 2-3 workouts per week can have a dramatic effect on your metabolism and your body’s ability to burn fat.

Don’t be one of the many who spend hours on the treadmill every week but see minimal results. Instead, implement the following workout designed for overall muscle toning and fat loss. Perform each exercise for 30 seconds using a moderate weight. Your goal is to get through all five exercises with minimal rest time – then recovering for 1-2 minutes before starting back at the first exercise. Repeat this series for a total of 3-5 rounds.

Dumbbell Thrusters – Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with feet placed shoulder width apart. Squat down slowly until upper leg is near parallel to the floor then rise up out of the squat forcefully as you press the dumbbells overhead. Repeat.

Pushup – Assume a pushup position with hands placed shoulder width and feet placed hip width. Your body should be in a straight line from shoulder to ankle, making sure to keep your abs engaged. Bend your arms and drop down to a challenging depth before pushing back up to the starting position. Note: Pushups can be performed from the knees to decrease the resistance if needed.

Plank – From a pushup position, bend your elbows to 90 degrees and rest your weight on the underside of your forearms. Focus on holding your body in a straight line from shoulder to ankle, while tightening your abs and maintaining a neutral posture. Hold for 30 seconds.

Kettle Bell Swing – Grip a kettle bell with both hands while standing with feet shoulder width apart. Drop into a partial squat while folding forward at the waist and let the kettle bell swing down and back between your legs. As soon as the kettle bell reaches its lowest point, stand up forcefully as you push your hips forward and swing the kettle bell upward to shoulder height. Drop back to the starting position by moving with the momentum and repeat.

Mt. Climber – Assume a pushup position with more of your bodyweight shifted forward onto your arms. Now, bring your right knee forward and rest your right food on the floor while the left leg is still straight. With a light hop, quickly switch your foot position. Continue switching back and forth as you focus on driving your knee forward and engaging your abs.

So make resistance training an integral part of your workouts and start seeing results.

How to Finish Strong in 2015

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Helping-Hand-Small

As the weather turns colder, you may feel your energy levels dropping with the temperature. This causes many people to abandon their workout routines until New Year’s Resolutions come around in January. Don’t be one to let things slip at the end of the year. Practice the following tips to keep your health on track through the remainder of 2015.

Set a new goal. The ‘lose 10 lbs to look good in my swimsuit this summer’ goal is now expired, so it’s time to get creative again. Maybe you’d like to run a 5K with a co-worker or you’ve always wanted to try kickboxing. Now is a great time to set a goal that forces you to try something different – something that challenges you mentally as well as physically. Forget about the pressure of trying to reach a certain weight or pant size and instead, take up a new activity.

Re-evaluate your diet. Just as fresh food options change with the seasons, your diet should never be the same year round. Getting tired of the same old foods day after day? Now is a great time to introduce some new foods into your diet. Get creative and find ways to make the meals of the holiday season fun and healthy.

Keep a journal. Numerous studies show that keeping a food or exercise journal supports positive changes. Sometimes we don’t realize what we eat until we write it down or we’re just too embarrassed to write down some of the things we do eat. As far as exercise, how can you progress if you can’t remember your workouts from last week? Keeping track of all this keeps you moving in the right direction.

Get a friend involved. It feels great to inspire someone to lead a healthier lifestyle, but the unexpected outcome is that while you’re inspiring others, they are inspiring you as well. Support and accountability from those closest to you is a great way to build your relationship while keeping each other on track. Getting a friend involved in that 5K or new exercise routine will be helping you as much as it helps them.

Have fun with it. If exercise seems like a chore, it won’t take long for you to make excuses on why you don’t have time for it. If you hate doing traditional cardio on the treadmill, get into a sports league or join a martial arts class. Exercise should be an enjoyable part of our lives, not something we feel like we have to do. Active people understand that exercise is just part of their lifestyle and they make it as enjoyable as possible.

So while others are making excuses on why they can’t exercise as the year winds down, don’t lose sight of how important a consistent routine is for your body and mind.

Tips For Healthy Travel

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traveling-woman

We hear it all the time – My traveling work schedule is destroying my diet. How can I eat healthy when I’m on the road?

Being out of your element can definitely hinder your attempts at eating healthy. But, with a sensible game plan, you’ll find that you can do a pretty good job of eating healthy even when you’re away from home for days or even weeks at a time.

Try the following tips to stay on track on your next trip.

Do your homework. Once you know where you’ll be traveling, go online and check out restaurants and grocery stores in that area. Many restaurants have healthy options if you know what to look for. Ask your waiter how your food is prepared and request modifications if necessary. Stay away from sauces, breading, and heavy dressings. A chicken thigh and a side of vegetables with water or iced tea is obviously a better choice than a combo meal at the fast food drive thru. Many grocery stores also have a salad bar or hot bar for grab and go lunch and dinner options.

Be prepared. If you want to eat healthy you must have food options available so you don’t skip meals. Poor planning and skipped meals during the day will increase your chances of eating too much or the wrong kinds of foods at night. Once you get settled into your hotel, do some grocery shopping and pick up some breakfast and snack options. Oatmeal, nuts, fruit, and protein powders require no refrigeration and can be taken along in your bag or purse. If you have a small fridge in your hotel room, you can pick up some Greek yogurt or sliced deli meat to have around for breakfast or snacking. You could even pack a cooler and take options like this or a salad with you during the day if you know you’ll only have a small window for lunch. If you just go through your day without a food plan, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Hydrate. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times. Staying hydrated will keep you performing at your best and will make you less likely to reach for a coffee in the middle of the afternoon or a cola as you walk by the vending machine. Drinking a bottle of water and having a balanced snack will help control your blood sugar and allow you to make rational food choices throughout the day.

Avoid temptations. Many traveling clients find options like bagels, doughnuts, and other pastries available when they walk into their early morning meetings or someone may have ordered pizza for a lunch meeting. If you go into these situations on an empty stomach, it’s hard to resist these unhealthy foods, especially when everyone else is eating right in front of you. If you stick to your plan and eat healthy foods every 2-3 hours, you’ll be less affected by these unhealthy temptations.

Don’t skip the workouts while traveling. Studies show that people who exercise consistently also eat healthier. An early morning workout puts you in the right frame of mind which will keep you focused throughout the day on what’s best for your body. If your hotel doesn’t have an exercise room, get outside for a 30 minute walk or jog. A healthy body craves healthy foods.

So don’t let traveling sabotage your diet. Plan accordingly and have a great trip.

Avoid That Afternoon Slump

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Tired young businessman in office

Have you ever felt like taking a nap mid-afternoon? Maybe you lose focus and can’t seem to concentrate on your job or task at hand. If you find yourself in a daze or just feeling lazy during those afternoon hours, your body and mind need a reset.

When you feel that afternoon slump coming on or want to avoid it altogether, give the following tips a try.

Get outside. If you work indoors, just getting out in the fresh air can awaken your senses. Studies show that getting closer to nature has a positive impact on health. So, if you work near a park or trail, go for it. Even if you work in a highly urban area, a simple 5-10 minute walk around the block that exposes you to the elements has been shown to be more beneficial for mental health than the same walk indoors. So, if the weather permits, get outside and soak in Mother Nature.

Grab a healthy snack. One reason you might be feeling sluggish in the afternoon has to do with declining blood sugar levels. If you ate lunch around noon, by 3pm, your blood sugar may be getting low enough to affect your productivity. This would be a great time to recharge with a snack that will hold you over until dinner. A great option would be a Greek yogurt with a few blueberries and crushed walnuts or even a small salad with chicken and avocado. Whatever you choose, make sure it includes a combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

Breathe. Sitting in a car or slouched in an office chair can hinder deep diaphragmatic breathing. Shallow chest breathing can limit the amount of oxygen you take in and carbon dioxide you expel. To improve your breathing, try this: Stand up, place your hands on your abdomen, and take a deep breath through your nose as you feel your hands and your abdomen pushing outward. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth for 7 breaths. You should feel an instant improvement in energy.

Stretch. While you’re standing up and breathing, you may as well go ahead and stretch. Extend your arms toward the ceiling and reach your fingertips as high as you can. Continue reaching upwards for ten seconds and slightly tilt to either side. Next, fold your body forward and reach your fingertips towards the floor as you push your hips back until you feel a stretch along the backside of your body. These two simple stretches will improve blood flow and release tension from tight muscles, both of which will give you a refreshing boost of energy.

Laugh. It’s amazing how a sincere laugh can instantly make you feel better. Laughter releases endorphins which improve your sense of well-being and just make you feel good. Everyone’s sense of humor is different so find things to do that make you laugh. It could be a conversation with a co-worker, a quick phone call to a spouse or friend, or even watching a funny video clip. Learn to laugh more and you’ll be better off.

So get out of that slump and get back to doing what you do best.

Digestive Health

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Healthy Gut

Digestion is something we usually take for granted until it gives us issues. Cramping, upset stomach, bloating, etc. can cause quite a bit of discomfort and annoyance. Rather than taking a tablet to cover up the symptoms, listen to your body and try to prevent these issues from occurring in the first place.

The following tips will keep your digestion working efficiently and your health in check.

Stay hydrated. Dehydration causes numerous problems, one being impaired digestion. Drinking more water could be the simplest way to improve digestion! To maximize the water you are drinking, add a pinch of sea salt and a wedge of lemon to your water bottle. This will help pull more water into your cells and hydrate you at the cellular level.

Eat the right foods. Yes, this may seem obvious on the surface, but the perfect food for one person may be a bad choice for someone else. Some common food intolerances include gluten, dairy, and eggs. If you think you might have a food intolerance, there are many tests out there that can identify your body’s response to common foods. In addition to cutting out any disruptive foods, you’ll also want to increase your intake of fibrous foods. These include plenty of organic fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts such as apples, berries, broccoli, and walnuts. Consuming clean organic foods and staying away from chemical additives will also put less stress on your system.

Exercise and lose weight. Even if you’re not overweight, the simple act of exercise can improve and aid in digestion. A strong abdominal wall will support a healthy GI tract and contraction of those muscles can help stimulate the GI tract. If you’re carrying extra weight around your midsection, it could be causing extra pressure on your abdominal wall and causing issues that would otherwise not be present.

Supplement with probiotics. Introducing healthy bacteria into your digestive system can have a positive impact on the ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut. Studies have shown a decrease in digestive related issues in those who consumed probiotic-rich foods. A decrease in healthy gut flora could happen after a round of antibiotic medication, anti-inflammatories, and acid blockers. Consider eating real yogurt, kombucha, kefir, or taking a reputable probiotic supplement.

Chew and enjoy. Digestion begins in the mouth so chewing your food properly can really help initiate healthy digestion. Too many people eat on the run – while driving or working on the computer for example. Multi-tasking is great, but when it’s time to eat, slow down and enjoy your meal. Your brain needs to relax so it can better facilitate digestion.

So take a proactive approach to improving your digestion rather than trying to cover up the symptoms once they occur.

Squat to Improve your Health

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Bodyweight_Squat

The squat is often called the king of all exercises. When performed correctly, it’s one of the best all-around movements for total body strength and conditioning. When using resistance as described below, the squat uses muscles of the legs, hips, core, back, shoulders, and arms.

We’ll use bodyweight and a barbell to perform this exercise, but you can also use dumbbells, kettlebells, or even a rubber band for resistance.

To Perform: Begin with your feet between hip and shoulder width apart while holding your arms straight out in front of you. Slowly squat down as you inhale, ensuring that your heels stay heavy, while pushing your hips back and maintaining the natural curve in your low back. Drop down to a depth where you still feel stable in your stance. Exhale as you stand back to the top, but don’t lock your knees all the way out. Repeat for 10-15 controlled repetitions. Squatting with just your bodyweight is a great way to become comfortable with the actual squat mechanics. It’s also an effective warm-up exercise to prepare you for your workout.

Try to Avoid: If you have limited flexibility or stability, it’s very easy to lose your form as you squat down. Ensure that your heels stay planted on the floor and don’t push your knees forward past your toes or allow the knees to cave inward. Also be aware of your overall posture – at no time should your back become rounded. It’s important to keep adequate tension built in your abdominal wall to protect your spine. Always hold your chin at a fairly neutral position – not too high or too low. Also avoid bouncing back up from the bottom position.

Barbell-Squat

How to Progress: A simple way to progress the squat is by adding resistance. Step under a racked barbell and place it on your upper back (not so high that it rests against your neck). Perform the squat as described above, but keep the barbell held firmly in place throughout the exercise. Choose a weight that allows you to perform between 7 and 15 reps and repeat for at least 3 sets. With added weight on your back, it’s crucial to keep your body in good form.

So get back to the basics and take advantage of the squat and all it has to offer. Add this variation to your workouts 1-2 times per week for an effective strength and conditioning tool.

Break Through That Plateau

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mountain_top

If you’ve ever attempted to lose weight or get healthy, you know how challenging things can be when you hit a plateau. You feel like you’re working harder and harder but nothing seems to happen.

The great thing about the human body is that it will adapt to the environment you put it in. For example, if you increase your activity levels and decrease your caloric intake, chances are, you’ll lose weight as your body sheds stored fat.

But, there are many things to take into consideration besides calories in/calories out when it comes to weight loss. If your body is able to meet your demands, it no longer has a reason to change or adapt. This is generally what happens when you hit a plateau. But rather than giving in to the frustration, try the following tips to keep your body moving in the right direction.

Think progression. If you aren’t pushing your body to do a little more each week, your results will fizzle out over time. Get in the habit of keeping a workout journal and recording your workouts from week to week. You can progress by lifting more weight, shortening your rest periods, increasing the volume of your workouts, or adding intervals to your cardio routine just to name a few. Plan out your workouts for the next eight weeks and be sure to incorporate some form of progression from week to week.

Exercise properly. Too many people get in the habit of focusing mainly on cardiovascular exercise to help them lose weight. Cardio is a great form of exercise, but too much of it without a balance of strength training could be setting you up for minimal results. In addition to burning more calories than you take in you must maintain or increase your metabolism by building more muscle density while keeping your hormones in check. Too much monotonous cardio could actually tear down muscle tissue and increase stress hormones, therefore wreaking havoc on your metabolism and your results. Focus on a balance of strength training and cardio – so if you’re working out 5 days per week, focus 3 of them on strength training and 2 of them on cardio, with each workout lasting around 30-45 minutes.

Feed your body. Don’t make the mistake of starving your body and thinking you’ll lose weight faster. Your caloric intake will depend on your activity level and the amount of muscle mass you have on your body. If you eat too few calories you will lose precious muscle mass, so you may lose weight, but the wrong kind. As you lose muscle your metabolism will weaken along with your ability to burn fat. In addition, make sure you’re getting a balance of macronutrients. Too many carbohydrates and too little protein or healthy fats will impede your ability to burn fat. Get your body fat measured and determine you daily caloric needs and percentages based on your goals.

Rest hard. If you’re working hard, you need to allow for proper rest. Most of the positive changes to your body occur when you’re resting or sleeping, so missing this recovery window will slow your results. Focus on getting a good night’s sleep every night and learn simple ways to relax or de-stress throughout the week. Take care of your body and you will see positive changes.

So try these tips to bust through a plateau or to avoid one altogether. You’ll be seeing results in no time.

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