Tagged: core

Use Your Senses

One of the keys to successfully achieving your fitness goals through resistance training (weight lifting) is to have proper form and tempo. I find that many of my clients have very limited body awareness when it comes to either isolating a muscle/muscle groups, or knowing where their body’s limitations truly are.

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To help someone achieve better body awareness, and thereby better body toning and fat loss (through resistance training), I often coach my clients to exercise using senses other than visual (eyes/sight) or kinetic (touch). The way to do this is simple, you close your eyes, and breathe!

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Okay, it might not be quite that simple, but allow me to clarify. As you perform any exercise – let’s say standing dumbbell biceps curls – you make sure both feet are evenly spaced and that you are balanced in your disbursement of weight to both feet (i.e., not having one foot placed in front of the other, or leaning slightly to bear more weight on one foot).

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Then you close your eyes, and slowly curl the dumbbells up (by bending the elbow) and then slowly back down to starting position – al the while breathing in with the up, and out with the down. Repeat this for the requisite amount of reps (i.e., 10-15 repetitions). As you conduct the exercise in this manner, it is essential that you pay attention to how your body feels, what muscles are contracting, what muscles (if any) are straining, how your spine feels, and when your muscles feel fatigue.

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By keeping your breath to a slow and even pace, there should be less tension within your core and your focus can easily stay on the muscles that are supposed to be utilized in the exercise. Also, by keeping a slow and steady pace, while having your eyes closed so you have to FEEL instead of SEE your form, you’re more likely to have better form which will result in quicker results and less risk of injury.

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I recommend trying this approach with at least one standing exercise, one seated exercise, and one supine exercise (lying on your back) all of which conducted with dumbbells (vs. machines). This way you can fully benefit from better body awareness and control as you move the weights without assistance and without visually watching your form.

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So next time you’re at the gym or at home with your dumbbells, give this a try and note any new understandings you experience about your body and how to use your muscles. Your fitness goals will thank you!

Be A Flamingo

With the second week of January upon us, I thought my readers and dutiful clients would enjoy a challenge that will change up your workouts and keep you from plateauing. I call it the Flamingo workout. No, you don’t parade around in pink feathers preening while you stand in ankle-high water. But you DO stand on one leg!

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The simple beauty of this concept is that while performing almost all of the exact exercises you currently utilize, you can strengthen your core, improve balance, delivery extra tone to your legs, and burn more calories. It works like this: any and all exercises that can be executed standing up (vs. sitting on a bench) should be done so on one leg. Example: standing biceps curls (whether dumbbells, barbell, or cables) can be “flamingo-ed” as you stand on one leg for 10 reps, then 10 more reps while standing on the other leg.

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“But what about exercises where you must to be in a supine (on your back) or seated position” you ask (like flat bench press, or seated lat row)? Then you become a one-winged Flamingo by holding only one weight or one machine arm handle or cable and challenging your core to keep your torso level and balanced (preferably with your legs in the up or out in the air as well). As for leg exercises, there are a myriad of single-leg focused exercises to choose from that will incorporate this concept: i.e., single leg touch downs, super-skaters, step-back lunges, etc.

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The most important aspect of the Flamingo Workout is balance. If your ankles are weak or your core just doesn’t support you, start slowly, and be willing to tap your foot down as a balance check when needed. Some may think it’s easy to stand on one leg when they try it without any weights, but introduce one 15 lb. dumbbell into the equation and many a stable “flamingo” will fall over!

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With practice soon enough you will find improvement in all the areas this benefits (balance, strength, stability, and muscle tone). So the next time you are standing around curling, pressing, pushing some weights around, do so on one leg and you will take your workout to another level.

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Want Results? Switch Things Up

Today I wanted to share with you another trick of the fitness trade that can change up your workout routines in a simple fashion that will yield super results. “Alternating” or “singles” is a resistance training technique where you either alternate which leg or arm is performing the move (back and forth between right and left), or you work one arm or leg at a time through the required repetitions, and then switch to the other (10 reps on one side, 10 reps on the other).

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This switching up of how you perform an exercises engages more secondary muscles, while gaining all the benefit of an isolation onto the primary muscles. It also requires more use of your core (and therefore more toning of same), increases balance and strength, and will re-exhaust muscles that have become plateaued from traditional simultaneous lifting.

They key is to know when to use which technique. For example, using alternating reps during a flat bench dumbbell press calls upon your abs and obliques to stabilize your core as one arm progresses through flexion and extension. At the same time, it allows you to lift a little heavier as neither arm is getting as exhausted during your reps, because they are taking turns.

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On the other hand, performing singles in this same exercise (holding a weight in one hand only – the other placed passively on your hip or ribs) not only engages the same core muscles to keep you from falling off the side of the bench, but exhausts the arm which will break down the muscle faster.

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The first approach is better for over-all toning. The second is more geared towards muscle size gain and strength, while still toning the mid-section.

Now let’s look at an example of these two styles with the legs. When performing step back lunges with alternating legs you will work on ankle, knee, and hip stability, engage your cardio system a bit more than stationary single leg lunges, and gain toning from hip to calf.

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Performing a stationary single leg lunge, requires the same overall leg stability, and although taxes your cardio system less than the other option, you can impose heavier resistance (holding dumbbells at your side or over your head) which more  seriously exhausts the glutes, quads and hamstrings.

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As to which to employ and when, well again that’s a matter of your goals and your current fitness level. At some point or another, all my clients receive workout routines employing one or both of these techniques. So I recommend you give both a try and see what kind of results you achieve from both. As always, if you would like a customized workout routine that quickly and effectively helps you achieve your fitness goals, you know who to call! (Me, in case you weren’t sure.)

The Burpee – Torture or Treasure

With the fitness industry focusing more and more on fast total body exercises that utilize and strengthen your core, it’s no wonder the Burpee has become the go-to exercise. The burpee consists of a series of exercises performed in rapid succession, ideally as a quick way to measure agility, coordination and strength. Yet, the burpee is one of the most dreaded exercise by many of my clients.

Most people hadn’t even heard of a burpee 15 years ago, unless they had military experience. The exercise was created in the 1930’s by American physiologist Royal H. Burpee as a quick and simple way to assess fitness. During World War II, the United States Armed Services adopted it as a way to assess the fitness level of recruits.

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The benefits of this exercise are obvious: it’s a quick total body workout which engages your cardio-vascular system and core (the transverse abdominous muscles that circle around from your lower belly to your delicate lower back) thereby enhancing endurance and strength. All large muscle groups are engaged (arms, chest, back, legs, glutes and abs), balance and stamina are created, and you need no equipment and very little space.

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The negative issues of this exercise are the same as the positive – IF you are out of shape. If your core is weak and/or you have a significant amount of belly fat, and if your cardio system taxes easily this exercise will be torture.  The biggest risk to a beginner is that they will not engage their core muscles and could spasm their lower back, irritate their sciatic nerve, or just simply face plant into the floor.

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So let’s review the proper form and execution of a burpee:

1.  Start in a standing position. Quickly squat down placing your palms on the floor directly under your shoulders.

2.  Pull your abs in tight and with a bit of a hop, throw your legs out behind you so that they land, feet together, on your toes as if you are about to perform a push up. Elbows are locked in place.

3.  Now perform a slow and precise push up, keeping in mind that it’s not about how low you go, but that what’s important is that you don’t sag your body downward while barely bending your arms.  This is where many clients hurt their back and/or shoulder blades.

4.  In one smooth motion, bring your legs back into the squat position, and then explode upwards reaching for the ceiling.

5.  Upon landing from your huge hop up, move right back into step 1 by squatting down. Repeat for the requisite amount of burpees or use a time limit to work by (i.e., as many as you can do in 1 minute).

For even more advance version, use a bozu ball. Lift the bozu ball overhead to start, then place it on the ground (inflated side down), as you perform steps 2 through 4.

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Once again, burpees are a great way to get in a quick total body energizing work out with limited space and time. If you can change your mind set to see these as a welcome challenge and not a dreaded torture created by us personal trainers, you will reap huge benefits while moving on with your day! Please feel free to let me know how it goes for you.

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