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Archive for April, 2009

What to do With a BOSU?

April 29th, 2009 No comments

What is a BOSU, you ask? Well it looks like half a stability ball attached to a hard platform and the name stands for BOth Sides Up. It can make your workout both harder and easier, and at the very least, a lot more interesting.

Balance on it – When you get your feet off solid ground, by standing on either the ball side or platform side of a BOSU you’ll be improving your balance and strengthening stability muscles in your feet, ankles, legs and core. When you add weights to one or both hands and perform upper body exercises, you get two for the price of one.

Make push-ups easier/harder – Grip the handles on the BOSU’s hard side and it’ll take pressure off weak wrists for more comfortable push-ups. Make the move harder by tilting to each side as you perform the push-ups. Place your hands on the ball side and it creates more instability. Place your feet on either side and you’ve got two entirely new and challenging push-up exercises.

Modify squats and lunges – Placing one or both feet on a BOSU for squats and lunges also challenges new muscles and adds variety to a strength training routine. If you’re really steady you can even step on the hard side for added unsteadiness.

Use it as a step – Step aerobics can really scorch calories. Use your BOSU in place of a step to follow along to a step-aerobics video or make up your own, adding cardio intervals to any workout.

Work your core – Almost everything you do with a BOSU involves working core stabilizer muscles, but you can also use it to directly target the front, sides and innermost muscles of your abdomen. Regular or reverse crunches while balancing on the ball side, planks with arms or legs elevated, wood chops with extra instability - the options are endless.

Keep in mind BOSU’s don’t come cheap. If you’re just starting out or have never worked with the equipment before make sure to try it out before you buy. But if you’re looking for a tool that will help you in the strength, balance and cardiovascular departments look no further.

Don’t Buy Into the Long and Lean Muscle Myth

April 11th, 2009 No comments

If you have any interest in fitness there’s almost no chance you’ve missed hearing about “long and lean” muscles. Every woman wants them and it seems none of us but dancers and non-skeltonized models have them. We’re often told the secret to long and lean muscles has nothing to do with our body makeup or genetics. The key, say various sources, is certain workouts like Pilates that will actually lengthen your muscles as they strengthen them. Other experts tell us the secret to long and lean muscles is lifting light weights and doing high numbers of repetitions, so the muscles we build aren’t too bulky.

So that must mean a routine consisting of Pilates and light weights is the answer? Not even close.

There is one main reason certain women appear to have long, lean muscles – they have less body fat than the rest of us. Take the same body and add or subtract 50 pounds. I guarantee you the lighter version will appear a lot longer and leaner. It’s more about what is overlying the muscle than the muscle itself. Any exercises that causes your body to shed fat will help you achieve the long, lean look.

Of course this is not always true you’re probably thinking. Just look at female bodybuilders. Well if you haven’t read our page on female muscle myths I won’t fault you for that belief. The truth is women need a lot of help to gain a significant amount of muscle. This can come in the form of a diet high in protein and muscle building supplements, coupled with frequent high volume strength training involving plenty of isolation exercises. Sometimes it also involves steroids. Without all that there’s no way the rest of us will ever come close.

The way your muscle will look has a lot more to do with genetics. Muscles can only be as long as the distance between their attachments. Your biceps femoris isn’t going to grow any longer than your upper arm, no matter how many reps you complete with a three pound dumbbell. Even worse, if you’re strictly using light weights the muscle not only won’t lengthen, it won’t grow in size or strength either.

A better plan of attack would be to fix your posture. If your shoulders are rounded forward and your back is hunched of course you’re going to look shorter. Work on strengthening the muscles that pull your shoulders back and improve posture (such as the rhomboids) and stretching the muscles that are tight and pulling you into that forward position (pectorals). And put down the baby weights. You should be pumping enough iron to hit momentary muscle fatigue after 8 – 15 repetitions (that means you’d have to cheat on your form to complete another one).

What Motivates You To Stay in Shape?

April 8th, 2009 No comments

Men and women pick up fitness habits for a variety of reasons. Some, the lucky ones, do it because they love it and feel a natural high after completing a gruelling workout. They don’t procrastinate and put off workouts until another day or make excuses about why they don’t have time. Working out comes first, which is why a lot of them get up before dawn and are finished their body maintenance before the rest of us have even hit snooze on the alarm clock.

Others have trouble with the pre-workout enthusiasm but become inspired once they enter the gym or get through the first 10 minutes. I know this category well. For me it involves wearing my workout gear around the house for a good hour before I finally drag my butt out the door. Suddenly all the housework I usually avoid demands my urgent attention. On the bright side I get a lot more cleaning and laundry done on those days. And thankfully once I get moving I can spend upwards of an hour at the gym.

There are also those who aren’t motivated to work out, don’t get into it once they start and don’t feel satisfied or healthier when they’re done. For these people it’s only the thought of the end result that can get them moving. They’ll run because they know it’s good for their heart and waistline, but they won’t be getting any enjoyment out of it.

Obviously a one size solution for motivation won’t fit all. Tell us why you work out and what motivates you to do so.

Can You Really Get a Flat Belly with Diet Alone?

April 7th, 2009 No comments

I’ve been getting a lot of emails recently from a certain healthy lifestyle magazine, promising me something I don’t know whether or not to believe. Before I explain, it should be noted that I am leaning slightly more towards disbelief at this point.

Prevention magazine have come up with the “Flat Belly Diet”, on which you can lose up to 15 pounds in a month and flatten out the worst of all trouble spots - your tummy.

Sounds amazing doesn’t it? It seemingly answers the prayers of workout-resistant women everywhere who just want a toned midsection, no sweat involved. But does the headline tell the whole story. Can anyone really achieve a flat stomach without so much as one crunch, plank or twist?

Don’t get me wrong, Prevention offers some solid advice, such as the fact that quality food is better than quantity. Whole grains, healthy fats (known to Flat Belly Dieters as MUFAs which stands for monounsaturated fatty acids) legumes and vegetables are encouraged, while premade meals and junk food aren’t. Sounds good so far. They also suggest dieters to eat every four hours, which is a great way to stay satisfied and avoid starvation-induced cravings. It doesn’t seem at all unreasonable that eating like this really could raise your metabolism. However, the jury is still out on whether this could help someone lose fat from a specific part of his or her body.

The problem I have with the diet actually has nothing to do with food. It’s the fact that the headline of the email I get several times a month practically screams that all this is possible with “No Exercise Required”. Is it just me or does that suggest you can be just as healthy without ever challenging your cardiovascular system or strengthening a single muscle. Obviously that’s not what they mean, but why do they feel they need to use that kind of hype to sell the diet?

Sure you can lose weight if you follow this diet. Like every other diet on the market it involves restricting calories. But there are other things to consider. Building muscle and maintaining what you already have for instance. What do you guys think of the Flat Belly Diet? Would you consider buying the book?

Categories: dieting and fitness Tags: ,

My Oh Myofascial Release

April 7th, 2009 No comments

I’ve only had a few professional massages in my lifetime and I can say with certainty that there’s nothing better than having a sore, achy body manipulated by an expert. And after discovering self-myofascial release I haven’t changed my mind. What can I say, I love being pampered. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the benefits of this type of self-massage or that I don’t employ it.

Basically self-myofascial release involves the use of a pretty inconspicuous piece of equipment known as a foam roller. Just think of yourself as the dough. With the foam roller in an open space on the floor you position your body so that the target muscle lays directly on top of it. As you roll back and forth your body weight presses muscle and fascia into the roller. Going back to the dough analogy it can be pretty uncomfortable when you roll over a knot, especially when instructions dictate that you focus the roller in these places for up to 45 seconds. Then it can be downright painful. A word of advice for beginners – just do as much as you can stand and work up to the recommended length of time. And you might not want to put all of your body weight into it right away.

A few of the reasons you should use self-myofascial release:

  • It can help fix muscle imbalances
  • You’ll increase range of motion in joints
  • Muscles won’t be as sore in the days following a workout
  • It can protect your body from injury
  • Scar tissue that is already present can be broken down

Truthfully, the best part of self- myofascial release is when it’s over. But whatever you have to go through to get there, there’s no denying that a little TLC on a tight IT band or hamstring can have a beneficial effect on your comfort level. Sometimes when my muscles have been through a hard day, a few minutes of rolling is the best way I know to settle them down and get some sleep.

I won’t go into all the specifics, mostly because I'm not completely familiar with all of them myself, but I will encourage you to do something good for your body beyond resistance training, cardio and simple static stretching. Many sites offer complete descriptions of how it works and the best way to employ it so it's easy to find instructions.

I guess this is one case where gains really do come from a least a little pain.

Categories: working out Tags: