6 easy exercises for a strong core

Much of the buzz in fitness these days centers around your “core” and having a strong one. Many people I come across think “core strength” means just ab strength or having a 6 pack. But the truth of the matter is having a strong core is more than just abs or having a 6 pack. In fact, many people with the strongest core don’t have 6 packs.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR CORE AND WHAT IT IS

When fitness professionals talk about core strength, it includes more than just your stomach muscles. It includes everything from your hips to your shoulder blades, and everything in between. This encompasses the front, back, and sides of your torso. You may hear some fitness experts refer to it as your “pillar.” So the next time you think of core strength, remember that a balanced routine should include exercises for your shoulder blades, lower back, obliques, stomach, and hips; much much more than just doing crunches.

6 EASY EXERCISES FOR A STRONG CORE

  1. Plank: Perhaps the best core stability exercise, the plank. This exercise encompasses all the muscles of the front of your torso, shoulder stabilizers, and hip flexors. To set up, lay flat on your stomach with elbows bent underneath your shoulders and toes pulled up towards your shins as far as you can. Maintaining a neutral curve in your spine, push your hips up off of the ground, leaving your elbows down, and hold. Your body should maintain a straight line as your hips come up. Think of balancing a tennis ball between your shoulder blades. If this is too hard, leave your knees on the ground as you push up. The main focus for this exercise is to maintain a neutral spine and straight body lines. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

2. Side Plank: Similar to the plank, the side plank helps to build stability through the olbiques, hips, and shoulder. Start lying on your side, with the feet stacked on top of each other. Place your elbow underneath your shoulder with your hand flat on the ground in front of you. From here, raise your hips into the air, forming a straight line with your body and hold for 30 seconds each side.

3. Glute Bridge or Hip Bridge: This exercise focuses on the muscles of the posterior chain, or back. In this exercise, you will work the hamstrings, glutes, and some lower back. Start lying flat on your back, and place your feet flat on the ground with your heels as close to your butt as you can. From there, keeping a neutral curve in the spine, push your hips into the air by driving through your heels. The key to this exercise is to maintain a natural curve in the spine, and not push your stomach too far towards the ceiling, causing stress on your lower back. Hold the up position for 1 minute.

4. BirdDog: The goal for this exercise is to work the stabilizers of the stomach, obliques, hips, and shoulders. Starting on your hands and knees, line up your hands underneath your shoulders, and knees underneath your hips. Trying to think of that tennis ball balancing between your shoulder blades, extend one arm and the opposite leg as far as you can and pause. Return to start and repeat with the opposite side, always moving opposite arm and leg together. For example, your right arm and left leg would move, then repeat with your leg arm and right leg. Repeat the exercise for 15 repetitions each side

5. Russian Twist: This exercise is great for the obliques, lower back, and hip flexors. Start in a seated position, with your knees bent in front of you and heels on the ground. Staying as tall through the spine as possible, lean your torso back slightly. While maintaining a slight lean back, rotate the shoulders one way and then the other. Continue to rotate back and forth at a controlled pace for 15 reps each side, maintaining the lean back and straight spine the entire time.

6. Seated Leg Lift: This exercise targets the muscles of the hip and lower abs. It may look easy, but it is far from it if done correctly. Start in a seated position with your legs straight in front of you. Hands will be on the ground just outside your pockets, while sitting up as straight as possible. Leaving one leg down and both legs as straight as possible, lift the other leg as high as you can, maintaining an upright posture. Return the leg to the ground, and repeat with the other leg. Repeat this exercise 15 times with each leg.

These 6 exercises are sure to give you a strong core and better stability throughout the torso. Start to work them into your workout routine, performing them on every other day to allow yourself to recover. Feel free to adjust the repetitions as needed to make it harder or easier. Happy stabilizing!

 

Patrick Scott, MS, CSCS

Sports and Fitness Director

Conjugated Linoleic Acid…Wait, What?

In the world of weight loss, there are tons of supplements, diets, workout tools, and tricks to help you lose weight fast. Unfortunately for most of them, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. But one supplement that is becoming more and more popular in weight loss, specifically from your thoracic (stomach) region, is Conjugated Linoleic Acid, or CLA for short.

CLA is a collection of chemicals that can be in the fatty acid linoleic acid. The bulk of CLA’s in a human diet can be found in meat and dairy products, however plant sources are available as well. One of biggest sources of CLA’s is in supplement form, and this is where more and more people are turning to increase their intake. It is quick, easy, convenient, and virtually calorie free.

CLA plays a major role in lipid metabolism, which helps explain its potential beneficial effects on fat loss. Other benefits of CLA may include anticarcinogenic, improved insulin resistance, reduced blood glucose, and others (Lehnen, 2015). However, as stated, the benefit that most people want is the reduction of fat deposits around the mid section. This is why more and more people are turning to CLA’s to help aid their weight loss journey. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition performed a meta-analysis of 18 weight loss studies using CLA’s. Some studies were performed on rats and mice, while others were in humans. Because of this, there were some mixed results, however they concluded that a daily dose of 3.2 grams produced a modest loss in body fat in humans (Whigham, 2007).

As with all supplements and pills, there were some potential adverse effects reported as well. A second study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition cited several potential adverse effects. Many of these adverse affects were seen in rats, but they included increased probability of developing insulin resistance, increased levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and alterations in glucose metabolism (Lehnen, 2015). As with anything, always talk to your doctor before starting a supplement routine.

For someone looking to increase their intake of CLA’s there are several areas you can turn. Many supplements you find will have CLA’s derived from Safflower oil. Look to get 2000-3000 mg/day. Other natural sources include grass fed meats and poultry, dairy, butter and eggs. It is very important to ensure your meat is grass-fed to ensure the highest density of CLA’s.

So if you think CLA’s may beneficial for you, proceed with caution, and always talk to your doctor first. And remember, a supplement is just that. A supplement to an already healthy and well balanced diet and exercise plan.

 

Lehnen, T. E., da Silva, M. R., Camacho, A., Marcadenti, A., & Lehnen, A. M. (2015). A review on effects of conjugated linoleic fatty acid (CLA) upon body composition and energetic metabolism. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 1.

Whigham, L. D., Watras, A. C., & Schoeller, D. A. (2007). Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans.The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(5), 1203-1211.

 

Over-training is real, and here’s how you avoid it.

Many people have probably heard the term “over-training” but don’t really know what it means or what it looks like. Over-training is typically defined as a state where a person is repeatedly stressed from exercise and the rest periods are not adequate to allow for full recovery. Basically, someone has been working out too hard for too long without the proper rest. Over-training can be a very serious problem, and should be identified as early as possible.

The most common symptom of over-training is fatigue. Overall, exhaustive fatigue. This may limit workouts, effect your work day, and alter your sleep patterns. Due to this, people may also become moody, easily irritated, depressed, lose their desire to workout, decreased appetite, and weight loss. People may also experience increased persistent muscle soreness, increased frequency of viral infections, and increased likelihood of injury. Other symptoms include increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels, decreased testosterone, and increased muscle breakdown.

The combination of all of these symptoms can lead to a significant downturn in a person’s quality of life. The good news is over-training is an easily corrected and avoided syndrome. The treatment for over-training is simple rest. However, the longer the over-training has been present, the longer rest period is needed. For some people, a week or two will be sufficient, for others, a month or more may be needed. During this recovery, it is important to try and identify the factors that led to over-training, or else it is extremely likely to happen again.

Unfortunately there is no one “test” that gives a specific diagnosis of over-training. However, there are some things to look for. If you are feeling fatigued all the time, or if your performance has been steadily decreasing of plateauing, it may be because of over-training. In some people, brittle fingernails and hair can be a sign as well. If you have a feeling of being “burnt out” or no desire to exercise (assuming that’s a change from the norm), you may be experiencing over-training syndrome. If you feel like you may be in a state of over-training, don’t be afraid to take some time off. The sooner you can identify over-training, the sooner you will be back to normal! The most important thing here is to make sure you are giving your body enough rest in your exercise routine so you never fall into the over-training cycle.

Rice, Mark (1998) Overtraining Syndrome.            http://www.rice.edu/~jenky/sports/overtraining.html

 

The health benefits of a high fiber diet

For many years, people have know that fiber is good for you and you should eat it. But what a lot of people didn’t know is just how good it is, and just how much you should consume. A diet high in both soluble and insoluble fiber has numerous health benefits.

By definition, soluble fiber is a type of fiber that attracts water and turns to a gel upon combination, which slows digestion. This type of fiber is commonly found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and veggies. The common fiber supplement Metamucil is also a soluble fiber.

Insoluble fiber is therefore just the opposite. This type of fiber is able to make it through the digestive tract relatively undigested. It adds bulk to the stool, and helps foods pass through more quickly. Insoluble fiber can be found in wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. Both types of fiber are important to maintain good health.

Diets high in fiber have been shown to help lower the risk of developing coronary heart disease as well as cardiovascular disease. This is due to fiber’s ability to significantly lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. High fiber diets have also been shown to lower the risk of developing diabetes.

Other benefits of a high fiber diet include better appetite control, improved body weight control, and improved regularity and laxation.

Some fibers can also be classified as a prebiotic. Prebiotic’s are a relatively new term in the health world. Many people have heard of probiotics, the bacteria that lives in your large and small intestines? Well prebiotics are the food for those probiotics. It is suggested that high prebiotic diets can reduce the duration and frequency of antibiotic associated diarrhea, reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, promote weight loss and prevent obesity, and enhance the bio availability and absorption of some vitamins and minerals.

The American Dietetic Association recommends that men between the ages of 18-50 consume 38 grams of fiber per every 1000 calories of food. For women, they recommend 25-26 grams per 1000 calories of food. Now that’s a lot of fiber….

Slavin, J. (2008) Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108: 1716-1731.

Slavin, J. (2013). Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits.Nutrients, 5(4), 1417-1435.

Are multivitamins worth the chew?

It seems more and more these days, people are turning to multivitamins and multi-minerals to help them feel better, sleep better, have more energy….The list goes on and on. But are they really working? And is it worth shelling out your hard earned cash for them? Well that depends on who you ask.

In a recent WebMD article, author Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, states that while a multivitamin can help to fill in the gaps, it is no supplement for what’s on your plate. “Vitamins and other dietary supplements are not intended to be food substitute. They cannot replace all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods,” says Zelman. That is why they are referred to as a supplement. Multivitamins are intended to “supplement” what you are already doing. Taking a multivitamin/mineral cannot replace or be instead of healthy eating habits.

But Zelman also goes on to cite numerous studies that show the benefits of certain vitamins. One such study was performed by the National Institute of Health. It found that supplementing with Calcium and Vitamin D in postmenopausal women can help to reduce bone fractures. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggests people over 50 get a majority of their Vitamin B12 from synthetic sources.

So back to the original question, are they worth it or not? The short answer is maybe. For certain populations, such as postmenopausal women, or older individuals, supplementing with a specific vitamin or mineral can have benefits. But it should not replace or be instead of healthy eating. Supplements should always be in addition to what you are already doing. For the everyday average individual who does not fall into one of these special populations? Focus on the healthy eating first, and if your doctor suggests something, then try it.

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrition-vitamins-11/help-vitamin-supplement?page=1

Got 15 minutes? Then you have time to workout!

With today’s fast paced, high intensity atmosphere, the most common reason people tell me why they can’t work out is they don’t have enough time. I’ve got news for you; everyone has enough time to workout, they just have to make it. There are 168 hours in a week. Take out 56 of those for sleep, and your still left 112 hours per week of time to exercise. In as little as one hour per week, broken up over 4 days, you can start to see results. That’s 15 minutes a day, 4 days a week! Anyone can fit that into their schedule, and here’s the workout to do it with. Perform this circuit every other day during the week, for a total of 4 days per week. Remember to always perform the exercises at your own pace and at your own ability. Take rests when you need to, and push it when you can.

How to perform: After the warm-up exercise, perform each strength exercise in a circuit going from exercise 1 to exercise 4, then repeating. The goal is to get through as many reps as you can on each exercise in 1 minute. Perform the exercises as fast as you can, back to back. That being said, take rest breaks when needed, you’ll start to need fewer and fewer as you get better. For the Tabata finisher, perform the exercise listed for 20 seconds all out, then rest 10 seconds, then repeat 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds, etc….Perform this for 4 rounds or 2 minutes straight.

Total Time: About 15 minutes

What you’ll need: Just your body weight!

Warm-up: Prisoner Squat

Start with feet slightly wider than shoulder width, hands behind head, and elbows wide. Push your hips back, shifting weight onto your heels as you bend the knees into a squat. Pretend you are sitting down to a rocking chair. When you are as deep as you feel comfortable, return to standing.

Prisoner-Squat

Exercise #1: Walking Lunges

Sets:1

Reps: 1 minute

Starting from an upright position, take one big step forward. As the foot lands, bend the knees like you are trying to kneel down. Keeping the back flat and knee behind the front toe, come down until the back knee almost touches the ground. Driving off the front leg, return to a standing position. Continue alternating legs, as if you were walking.

walking-lunge

Exercise #2: Pushups

Sets: 2

Reps: 1 minute

Starting face down on the ground, position hands underneath your shoulders with elbows rotated in so the front of your elbow faces forward, and hips off the ground so your body makes a straight line from shoulder to ankle. Keeping that straight body line, lower yourself towards the ground until the chest touches, and return to start. If that is too difficult, start with your knees on the ground instead of your toes.

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Exercise #3: Superman’s

Sets: 2

Reps: 1 minute

Starting face down, with your hands behind your head and elbows wide, try and lift your chest off of the ground by arching your back up. Squeeze from the glutes and lower back, keeping the elbows as wide as you can. Hold for a 1 sec count at the top, and return to start.

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Exercise #4: Squat Jumps

Sets: 2

Reps: 1 minute

Starting with the feet slightly wider than shoulder width, arms at your sides, lower yourself into a squat. Push the hips back, shifting the weight to your heels, and keeping the back flat. When you are as deep as you feel comfortable, throw your arms up as you jump as high as you can. Land with soft knees, right back into your next rep. As best as you can, do not pause in-between reps.

squat-jump-cartoon-test

Tabata Finisher #1: Sprint in Place

Sets: 4

Reps: 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds rest

Staying in place, alternate driving the knees up, as if you were running down the road. Continue to alternate as fast as you can.

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Tabata Finisher #2: Squat Thrust

Sets: 4

Reps: 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest

Start from a standing positon. Drop yourself into a pushup position by brining the hands to the ground and hopping your feet backwards. Keeping the body straight, jump your feet back in and return to standing.

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When you are done with the workout, be sure to rehydrate and get some protein in! Water and protein will ensure a quick recovery. Perform this circuit every other day, and start to see results in no time!

Why Interval Training Really is That Good.

One of the biggest crazes to hit the exercise industry in the recent push towards interval and high intensity training, or HIT training. From Crossfit, to group exercise classes, more and more clubs are starting to offer interval training and HIT training classes. But can everyone benefit from this type of training? The answer is yes, and here’s why.

There continues to be a growing number of research studies supporting HIT training and it’s effectiveness over traditional endurance training. One such study, published in 2012 in the Journal of Physiology, proves this point (Gibala et al). This study used two groups of participants. One group performed four to six all out 30 second bike sprints, with a rest of about 4 minutes in between each sprint. They did this 3 times per week for a total training time of about 1.5 hours including the rest intervals. What they found is that this group of individuals made bigger improvements in cardiovascular conditioning over a traditional endurance training group that trained 40-60 minutes 5 times per week. This study does point out, however, that 30 second sprints may not be for everyone. They then studied a group of individuals who would perform ten 60 second sprints at 90% of maximal heart rate, followed by 60 seconds of rest. This training protocol, which is only 20 minutes in total session length, still had similar improvements in cardiovascular conditioning, compared to the traditional endurance group.

A literature review, published in 2014, looked at the benefits of interval training for the elderly (Romero-Arenas, S, 2014). What this review found is that interval resistance training performed in a fashion with minimal rest between exercises, is more effective than traditional weight training when it comes to improvements in oxygen consumption, strength, and functional capacity. This review recommends performing 6-10 exercises twice per week. Each exercise should be performed 1-3 times, at a load of 20 repetition maximum, progressing to a 6 repetition maximum. So basically start lighter and work heavier. Rest between sets should be no longer than 30 seconds (Romero-Arenas, S, 2014).

So what does an interval training program look like? As the first study pointed out, it can be as simple as performing high intensity bouts of cardiovascular training. Or it can involve weight training by performing many different exercise in a circuit fashion and taking little to no rest in between. Interval training has many different forms, and can take many different shapes. The main principle of HIT training is to work really hard for a short period, and rest for a short period, then work really hard again and again and again. Anyone can incorporate this training type into their routine! So start seeing more results in less time and try out some interval training!

  • Patrick Scott, MS, CSCS, Sports and Fitness Director at the JCC of Syracuse.

Gibala, M. J., Little, J. P., MacDonald, M. J., & Hawley, J. A. (2012). Physiological adaptations to low‐volume, high‐intensity interval training in health and disease. The Journal of physiology, 590(5), 1077-1084.

Romero-Arenas, S., Martínez-Pascual, M., & Alcaraz, P. E. (2014). Impact of resistance circuit training on neuromuscular, cardiorespiratory and body composition adaptations in the elderly. Aging and disease, 4(5), 256-263.