New Abs Exercise!

Here’s a quick hit post about a simple but tough exercise you can use to train your abs. Okay, I admit it’s not new for everyone, but there’s a good chance it’s new to you.

Shoulder Taps are harder than they look. You’ll work your entire core, including your obliques. It’s similar to a plank but more dynamic.

You start at the top part of a push-up position. Your arms are fully extended. Keep your back nice and flat and your core braced. Your feet should be slightly more than shoulder’s width apart.

From this stable position, just take your left hand and tap your right shoulder. Then return to the start position. Now take your right hand and tap your left shoulder. Don’t rush it, move smoothly and under control.

It’s harder than it looks, isn’t it?

It’s more dynamic than a plank because you’re balancing on three points of contact with the ground instead of four. You want to avoid twisting your torso during the reps. And of course, you definitely don’t want to end up kissing the floor, so be careful.

To start out, a couple sets of 5 is plenty. Remember, the idea is to work your abs so focus on that, not slapping your shoulder.

Try ’em out and let me know what you think!

 

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How to Spot Fitness Scams!

There are countless ads bombarding us with the latest product, workout regimen, or supplement that’s going to solve all our problems and give us a body all will envy or desire.

How can you tell when they’re full of it?

Is this offer realistic? Meaning, does it make sense to you that the product or service can deliver as promised? “So I just take this pill and that’s it?”

“I wear this metal-infused ornament and that’s all I have to do?”

It’s tempting to want to believe that getting a great body only requires one simple action, but it’s just not true. It’s never been true. It will never be true. You don’t have to do a million things to get in great shape, but you will definitely have to do more than one.

 Is the price reasonable for what is being offered? “I can look like the people in the ads for just 3 easy payments of $29.99?!” There isn’t a direct market where you can exchange x-dollars for y-body (yet). But I don’t want to see you throw your money at someone who’s only giving you empty promises in return. You can spend as little or as much as you want for your fitness. Whether that’s value or not is something only you can decide.

 Are the people in the ads super heroes? The vast majority of us will never look like super heroes. Frankly, most of us won’t really want to. I’m not knocking the models/actors in the ads. They work very hard to achieve that look. Do you really want every rippling muscle and throbbing vein visible on your body? If you do, that’s great. Understand it will take a ton of focus, dedication, and time.

Most of us want to look better, feel better, and be healthier.

Does the time frame make sense? It’s a staple of marketing to lead you to believe that “yes, you too, can look like this in only 30 days”. Maybe it’s 21 days or 90, you get the point. If you look closely, you’ll note there’s always a disclaimer along the lines “results not typical”. Basically, you can be a millionaire if you play the lottery and win like these people in this ad; it’s possible but you probably won’t win. Further, it’s one thing to get into amazing shape for one day or one week, but can you sustain the results over time. Quick fixes don’t last.

Essentially, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. It’s a lot easier to feed into your hopes and vanity than it is to tell you the fundamentals of health and fitness. They’re extremely good at crafting the message to play to your emotions. The fundamentals are rarely sexy. Chances are, you already have a pretty good idea what the answer is. If you eat mostly whole foods and include at least some daily activity in your life, you’re setting yourself up for long-term results.

 

 

We’re already at the halfway point of 2018. It’s a natural time to evaluate and adjust. Are you still on track for your goals? Maybe you’ve already accomplished some and you can move on to the next ones.

If you haven’t, you’re probably frustrated. Perhaps you’re about ready to quit. Here’s your pep talk. It can be summed up in two little words: Keep Going.

You’re looking to make big changes? It’s going to be a challenge. There are countless excuses you can use to give up on yourself. Your reason why has to be loud enough and powerful enough to drown them out.

I repeat the “don’t give up” message often precisely for that reason.

If you’re not where you want to be yet, you definitely won’t get there by quitting. You wanted to drop 20 lbs. by the start of summer, but you’ve “only” lost 12? That’s still progress. You’re moving in the right direction. We can’t always control the pace of achievement, so try not to worry too much about it. We want to reach our goals as fast as possible but if takes you the rest of 2018 to hit that 20 lb. mark are you going to look back in disappointment? Of course not.

Keep Going.

Speaking of summer, you’re no doubt dealing with all kinds of distractions. Things like social gatherings and vacations will tempt you to stray from the path. If people like you enough to invite you places, you should go and have fun. Having fun means enjoying the company and yes, the food and drink. You can indulge in moderation without undermining your progress. That should be the goal! If you feel like being fit is about never eating or drinking certain things, I disagree. You should be able to go to a barbecue, have some ballpark food, or try something new on your vacation. That doesn’t mean you have to go all out and shovel everything in sight down your gullet.

You want a burger or a slice of cake? Awesome. Do you really need 3 though? Okay, on some rare occasions, you just might.

Living a fit life is about making good decisions about food and exercise most of the time. You don’t have to strive to be perfect.

Now, for a little tough love. If you want to maintain your progress, you’re still going to have to eat well and workout. A few days or even a week off from training because you’re on vacation is great. Relax, rest and recover. And when it’s time to get back to working out, get back to training.

But “it’s too hot to workout” is almost always you just being soft. Don’t give in to that excuse. Get up, go workout. Dress appropriately for the weather and drink plenty of water. And most of all, remember:

Keep Going.

 

Is Failure Good?

Should you train to failure during your workouts? Some people will tell you the answer is never. Others will say it’s the only way to get the most from your sessions.

First, let’s define failure in this context. There’s absolute failure where you literally cannot lift the weight off you. There’s a good chance you may have experienced this in your training. It’s not particularly pleasant, and it’s a good way to get injured.

There’s also technical failure. This is when you can no longer complete repetitions with proper form. To keep the weight moving you have to use a little body English. It’s not as dangerous as going to absolute failure but it’s still inviting injury.

So why do it? Pushing yourself this way lets you know your limits.

I don’t think it’s a good approach for a few reasons. Obviously, there’s the risk of being stuck under the weight. If you’re going to go to failure, make sure to take the precautions of having a spotter or set up the rack so you won’t be crushed. A quick YouTube search will provide plenty examples of what people getting folded by weights looks like.

Another reason is you want to train the right muscles. If you’re doing bench press and you have to contort and wriggle to get the bar up, that means your chest and triceps aren’t able to push the load and other muscles are pitching in to save your ego.

A subtler point is to keep in mind what is the point of training.

Are you there to see just how many repetitions you can do today, or are you there to improve your strength over time? Hopefully it’s the latter. If so, your goal isn’t about just one workout. You can push yourself hard without going to failure.

A big part of training is gaining experience. Part of gaining experience is learning your limits. It takes time to  figure out what’s too little and what’s too much. It’s true in many things, not just fitness. For those of you who drink alcohol, remember how you learned how much is too much?

When you were first learning to drive it probably took a while to figure out just how far to turn the steering wheel to get the car moving in the desired direction. You turn too far, now you have to spin it back the other way. (You don’t have to turn it as aggressively and dramatically as they do in the movies.)

Training to failure is part of the learning process. Early on in your training you do it because you don’t know any better. It’s okay as long as you take the lesson and apply it. You don’t have to crush yourself in order to stimulate your muscles to grow stronger.

Great Home Workout!

I love working out at the gym (except when it’s totally packed). But you don’t have to go to the gym to have a great workout. You may not like the gym. It might not be cost effective for you. Whatever your reasons for not training at the gym, here’s how you can build strength and totally transform your body at home.

The key to improving your physique is adding muscle and subtracting body fat. Eating the right amount of food to support this goal is the driver of fat loss. Resistance training will help you pack on muscle. In the gym that resistance is usually the barbells, dumbbells and various implements. If you have that equipment in your home, That works, too.

If you don’t have that stuff, don’t worry, you can build a great body using just your bodyweight for resistance. You can adjust exercises so you’re sufficiently challenged. You have to keep pushing yourself in order to keep seeing results.

I like to structure bodyweight training for my clients to hit the total body 2-3 times a week. After a quick warm up to get them ready to go, they do 1-2 lower body exercises, 1-2 upper body exercises, and finish with 1-2 ab exercises. You don’t have to spend hours at a time in order to make progress.

  Lower Body Exercises

 Air Squats These work all the muscles in your lower body. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. You can go a little wider or narrow until you find a groove that’s most comfortable. Breathe in. Lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Push through your heels to drive yourself back up. Exhale. You can fold your arms across like in the video. You can also have them at your sides as you start and descend, then raise them as you come back up. If you want a less advanced version of the squat, try Box Squats (you can use a chair). If you want to step up the challenge, try Split squats

You can’t go wrong including some sort of lunges in your training. Like split squats, you train each leg independently. You build strength and balance simultaneously. To do Reverse Lunges (you can do them without using weights) start with your feet about shoulder width apart. It’s basically a squat but working one leg at a time. Keep most of your weight on the leg you’re working. The other leg will slide back as your working leg bends. The thigh of your working leg should reach about parallel to the floor before you push through that heel to drive yourself back to the starting position. The knee of the back leg should come close to just touching the floor. You can alternate legs on each repetition or you can do all the reps for one leg, then all the reps for the other. Again, breathe in just before your go down, breathe out as you come up.
 Lunges are a variation where you step forward with your working leg, rather than just descending. This lead leg will support most of your weight. Breathe in on the way down, out on the way up. Another option for you are Lateral Lunges which work your legs a little differently. There’s more emphasis on the inner thigh muscles than in other types of lunges. You step to the side and bend the knee of the working leg while trying to keep the lagging leg mostly straight. You may need to point your toes out a little bit. Breathe in on the descent, out on the ascent.

Want a nice backside? Include Glute Bridges and you’ll definitely notice a change for the better. You can scale these to make them easier or more difficult. Using both legs is easier than the single-leg versions.  Lie on your back with your knees bent and your heels on the ground. Push through your heels to drive your hips towards the ceiling. Keep your your core nice and tight (as if you were bracing for a punch to the stomach). Squeeze your cheeks hard at the top of the movement for a second or two and lower your hips back down. Breathe in on the way down, out on the way up. As you develop your strength you can scale up to the more advanced versions.

An awesome way to train your balance and hamstrings is doing Single-leg Romanian Deadlifts. I warn you, these are definitely not easy. You can use a wall for balance until you get the hang of it. The key to this exercise is to think of it as shifting your hips back, not as you bending at the waist. If you’re just starting out you can try sliding your off leg back rather than raising it in the air. You’ll feel a good stretch in the hamstrings of your working leg. 

 Upper Body Exercises

 Push Ups  work all your upper body muscles involved in pushing (arms, shoulders, and chest). If you can do them regular, cool. If not, you can work on the bent-knee version. Keep your core tight the whole time. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Lower yourself by bending your elbows, push yourself back up. Try to keep your back in a straight line the whole time. Breathe in on the way down, out as you drive back up. You don’t need to keep your elbows tucked tightly against your sides, but you don’t want them totally flared out wide like you’re doing a chicken dance either. Find a comfortable elbow position somewhere in between. You can make them harder by doing them with your feet elevated. You can also adjust the width of your hand placement.

It’s tough to work on upper body pulling exercises without a pull-up bar. You can find a pretty inexpensive version that wedges in a door frame. Pull-ups and Chin-ups are a tremendous way to build a strong back and powerful arms. Grab the bar and use your back muscles to raise your body towards the bar. Visualizing yourself pulling with your elbows rather than with your hands helps ensure you’re targeting your back. If you can’t do a pull-up/chin-up yet, that’s okay. Jump up to the bar so you’re at the top position of a pull-up. Then lower yourself down by extending your arms as slowly as you can. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions. Training the lowering part of the exercise will build the strength you’ll need to do the pulling part over time.

Abs Exercises 

 To do crunches start by lying on your back. You can have your knees bent and your heels on the floor or you you can bend your knees and keep your feet elevated, it’s up to you. You can have your hands behind your head or crossed in front of you (again, your choice). You want to flex with your abs to raise your upper body, not use your hands to pull your neck.

Bicycle Crunches work your abs as well as the obliques, which run along your sides. Similar starting position as crunches. You raise your upper body and twist at the top. Instead of trying to bring your right elbow to your left knee, think about bringing your right shoulder towards it. This will help prevent you from pulling on your neck with your hands.

Planks You get into a push up position, only you rest on your forearms. Keep your upper arm perpendicular to the ground. You want to try to keep your body in a straight line (no shooting your butt in the air or letting your hips sag down). It’s a core exercise, but you should think of basically your whole body flexing. These are really challenging and they develop amazing core strength. Rather than do these for repetitions, do them for time. Hold yourself in the plank position as long as you can, with good form. When your form starts to go, you’re done. You’ll build up over time.
Side Planks This time you rest on one forearm. Keep your upper arm perpendicular to the ground. Make sure you keep your body in a straight line. Again, flex your entire body. Do this for time also.

These obviously aren’t all the exercises you can do for a home workout, but they’re more than enough to get you started on the road to an impressive body.

You can start with 1-3 sets of each exercise. When it comes to repetitions, start with a few and build your way up. If you’ve never trained before even 5 reps can be a challenge. If you’re consistent you will quickly improve the number of reps you can do. Remember you want to use good form for each repetition. The point isn’t to do x-number of repetitions, it’s to get stronger. Poor quality reps don’t get you stronger.

You can train bodyweight pretty frequently if you want to. I suggest starting with 2-3 times per week. If you’re untrained it won’t take much to start seeing improvements. As you gain strength and familiarity, you can increase the number of workouts per week if you want.

One Thing

What’s one thing you can do today to make yourself better?

(It doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to fitness, but obviously it could be.)

Of course, I’m going to say go work out. Lift, run, swim, walk, dance, etc. We were built to move. It doesn’t have to be marathon session. If you haven’t been active recently, it doesn’t make sense to try to go all out. Even ten minutes of an activity you enjoy can have positive benefits.

Read. Fiction, non-fiction, professional development, or entertainment, it doesn’t matter.

Relax. Meditate. Daydream. Think.

Big things are usually the result of small efforts to improve, done consistently over time. These are just a few ideas. What’s yours?

The Upside of a Fitness Plateau

You’ve been making gains and then all of a sudden they stop and you’re stuck. What happens now?

 You made a decision to get in better shape. You began a mission to shed some flab and build some muscle. Sure, you’ve started this path other times but this time it’s different.

 You diligently stuck to your plan. Your workouts and nutrition were on point and you hit them consistently.

 It took a little while but then you started seeing results. Your sweat and discipline were paying off.

 Your clothes are getting a little looser. You notice some more definition in your arms. The scale is moving in the right direction. You spend just a little more time in front of your bathroom mirror. Even people around you compliment your transformation.

 And then the progress just stops.

 What you’ve been doing isn’t working any more. Everything was going so well and now, for weeks, nothing’s changing. You’re stuck. You must work harder right? Less food! Longer training! That has to be the answer, right?

 No, not quite. First, take a deep breath. Relax. It’s not time to run yourself into the ground by adding hours more at the gym and dropping your food intake by half.

 Plateauing is normal. It’s part of the process of transforming your body.

In fact, it’s kind of a good thing. Seriously. Don’t roll your eyes.

 Reaching a plateau is a sign you’ve already made some progress. It means your body has reached a new normal state that’s an improvement over your old normal state when you started. Sure, it’s not where you want to be. That’s okay, you’re not done.

 Ask yourself this about this new plateau:

Do you feel better than when you started?

Are you happier with your appearance now than before?

Can you do more things?

Are you stronger, faster, fitter, more flexible?

Are daily tasks easier?

Do you sleep better?

Has your confidence improved?

  Even though we all want progress to be linear and straightforward, it’s not. It’s a jagged graph with some periods where you’ll feel you’re just running in place.

 A plateau gives you the chance to reflect and adjust. Often you may be in one for a few weeks and you’ll have a breakthrough if you just keep doing what you’ve been doing. I wish I understood exactly how that works. Sometimes it just takes a little more time sticking with your plan to start seeing results again.

 Maybe it’s like driving on one of those straight roads out West. There’s a giant mountain ahead of you and hour after hour it doesn’t seem to get any closer, until suddenly you’re there.

 If you need to adjust, just tweak things a little. What you’ve been doing was working for a reason. Making a 90-degree change is more drastic than needed. Pick one thing and change it just a little. When you change several things, you may see some improvement, but you’ll have no idea why. Take one thing, tweak it maybe 5-10% and when it works, you’ll know there’s a high probability that’s the reason.

A few tweaks that can help: Try to manage your stress. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Drink more water. Focus on your form in the gym. When you’re lifting weights, change up your reps and sets.

 I won’t lie and tell you plateaus are awesome. They can definitely be frustrating. They’re also a sign you’ve reset yourself in a better place and there are more gains to come. Stick with it!