February 26, 2012

Another Worthless Machine?

The abdominal crunch machine is one of the most misused (and probably unnecessary) pieces of the equipment in the gym.  You sit on this machine and push against a pad as you crunch forward against resistance.   It is inadequate because there are more effective ways to work the abs, and the value of crunches, is questionable (see posts from Dec. 11, 2011 and Nov. 7, 2010).
This machine is misused in a variety of ways:   Many people do not adjust it correctly. This can put stress on your back.  If you insist on using this machine, make sure you center the axis at your waist. Adjust the weight correctly: it should be heavy enough that you can do 12-16 reps without momentum, but not so light that you can do 100.  Make sure to move from your torso, not your head, neck or arms.  I see people working their arms and neck more than their abs. Better yet, do crunches on a stability ball, or chops with a medicine ball.  
 (Hold a weighted medicine ball at your side, pivot from the hip and reach the ball above the opposite shoulder).  You will get better results, and with the chops, an exercise that can have carry over in your day to day life. 

February 19, 2012

A Worthless Machine?

One of the most popular but practically worthless pieces of gym equipment is the adductor/abductor (inner/outer thigh) machine. It is popular because people still believe that you can spot reduce (get rid of body fat in one specific area). It is ineffective because these muscles do not need strengthening in a seated position.  It can also put stress on the lower back and hips, especially if you load up the weights.
Squats and lunges are a much better alternative for working the legs and hips.  If you want to isolate the inner/outer thigh muscles, attach a cable strap or resistance band to your ankle. 
To work the inner thigh, stand with your working leg close to the attachment, keep the standing leg slightly bent, and move the working leg across your body. 
To target the outer thigh turn the other way and move your working leg away from your body.  Always keep the standing leg slightly bent, and move the working leg smoothly.

If you are unable to give up the machine keep the range of motion comfortable, select only enough weight that allows you to move the pads smoothly, and keep your back against the pads of the machine.

February 11, 2012

Are Your Friends Making You Fat?

Multiple studies confirm that obesity is socially contagious.  In fact, if even one of your friends becomes obese, your risk of obesity increases by 57%. This is true even if your friend lives across the country.  Researchers are unsure about the exact cause of this phenomenon, but many blame it on “social modeling”.  This is our tendency to imitate the actions of those in our social network.
Short of ditching your friends, what can you do to prevent this sympathetic weight gain?  Well, the reverse is also true; people with friends who have lost weight, have become healthier as well.  Try some positive peer pressure:

  • Invite your friends to the gym with you.
  • Schedule a walk date instead of lunch.
  • Join a tennis league or sports team.
  • Announce your weight loss/health goals and ask your friends for support.
  • Start a healthy recipe dinner club.
  • Join a group weight loss program such as Weight Watchers or Overeaters  Anonymous
  • Use the internet to find a support group.

Obesity 19, 1157-1162 (June 2011) | doi:10.1038/oby.2010.301

February 5, 2012

Has Your Muscle Turned To Fat?

“I don’t exercise because if I stop my muscles will turn to fat.”  Yes, people have said this to me, and it is one of most persistent exercise myths around. We have all seen the former high school athlete who now sports layers of fat instead of muscle, but the muscle has not changed into fat.  Fat and muscle are two different types of cell.  One cannot be converted to the other.  If you stop exercising you will loose muscle mass.  If you continue to consume the same amount of calories you will add fat.  (The reverse is also true; when you lift weights and trim your body, you have not turned your fat into muscle, you have lost fat and added muscle).  So if this is your excuse not to exercise, you need a new excuse, it is simply not true.