March 24, 2013

Dead Bug Variations

Not only is the dead bug a great exercise for your abs and back (see post, but there are multiple variations to keep you progressing.
Before you progress make sure you can maintain neutral spine (again, see previous post) while your arms and legs are moving.  This can be extremely difficult at first, as you really need to tune in to what your body is doing.  Do not be discouraged if you do not “feel it” in the beginning, it may take a great deal of practice until you connect your mind and body. 
Once you can feel and maintain neutral spine with your feet on the ground, add just arm movement. Once you are successful with this, try lifting and lowering one (bent leg).  Next you can try lifting the opposite arm and leg at the same time.  After you are successful with this (keeping a neutral spine, moving the opposite arm and leg AND breathing) you can add some progressions:

1. Start with legs bent in the air and arms straight; then move the opposite arm and leg towards the ground.

2. Start with legs straight in the air, and again, move the opposite arm and leg.

3.  Move the same arm and leg (this is actually harder to stabilize).

Make sure you can keep perfect form before you add any variations,

March 17, 2013

Abs The Right Way

In fitness (as in life) it seems what we first learn stays with us as the correct or only way to do something.  {Thus my continued frustration at those who insist on stretching before a workout (see post}This is particularly true when it comes to abdominal exercises.  High-risk exercises such as full sit-ups remain common, and even the current darlings of the fitness world, stabilization exercises, are often done with incorrect form.
Stabilization exercises are meant to strengthen the abs in the way we use them.  They can be done standing (see post or lying down.  A common version that is great for the lower back is the dead bug. 
 You perform this by lying on your back and bringing your arms and legs in the air.  Keep your spine neutral, and move one arm overhead towards the floor, and the opposite leg towards the ground.  The key to this is maintaining a neutral spine, yet many persist in believing that the lower back should be pressed into the ground.  Flattening, or pressing the back into the ground involves spinal flexion, which causes stress on the spine, making the exercise less effective.  The best way to find your neutral spine is to lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.  Arch your lower back off the ground, and then press it into the ground.  Do this a few times, and then find the middle of these two positions.  This is your neutral spine.
 It is still common to hear instructors tell people to press their backs into the floor, but most fitness experts now believe that to be more harmful than helpful. We want to counteract the effects of too much spinal flexion (all that sitting and leaning forward), not to add to it.  Train your abs with a neutral spine, and you will see and feel the difference.

March 10, 2013

Work Your Abs As They Are Meant To Be Used

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not a big fan of abdominal crunches/sit-ups/curls (see post  Briefly, it is for two reasons:
  1. Most of us spend too much time in forward flexion (the rounding of the spine achieved by crunches); in fact, many back specialists believe that performing multiple crunches will eventually lead to back problems.
  2. Unless you have a job working for royalty (doing a lot of bowing), the main function of your abdominals is to support your spine, not to move it.  Therefore, it makes more sense to strengthen your abs in the way we need to use them. 

These two exercises will work your abs in just this way. (And yes, they will help them look good as well).  They work best with a stability ball, but you can use any type of ball, a pillow will work as well, but to advance you will need to progress to a ball.  Do not try to "suck your stomach in", but do keep it "braced" (as though preparing for a punch), and make sure to breathe.

1. Place the ball shoulder height against a wall and stand sideways to the ball.  Place your palms together and the back of one hand in the center of the ball with your arms straight.  Try to relax your shoulders, but use your arms to place pressure into the ball.  Hold the ball still and alternate tapping your feet back.  You will feel the muscles of your core (especially the waist area) work as you fight to keep the ball in place.  Start with 15 seconds each side, gradually increase the length of time to one minute.

2. Place the ball shoulder height against a wall and place your forearms and elbows against the middle of the ball.  Keep your shoulders relaxed, knees slightly bent and angle your body into a plank.  Once you can hold this easily for 15 seconds add leg movements by alternately tapping the feet back. 

March 3, 2013

Can You Be Addicted To Junk Food?

You may joke about being addicted to junk food, but the food industry has engineered it to be true.  Read this fascinating article ( and see how chemists have been working hard to make sure to get you hooked on unhealthy food.  They do this mostly by manipulating sugar, salt and sometimes fat, until the food reaches the proper “bliss point”.  This creates the greatest amount of crave; in other words “bet you can’t eat just one”.  What I found particularly disturbing is the emphasis on marketing to kids and parents.
So what can we do?  First of all, take responsibility. No one is forcing you to buy those chips.  Read labels, check out ingredients (look for the many different versions of sugar, just a few include; corn syrup, fructose, honey, molasses, maple syrup, organic dehydrated fruit juice, agave nectar, lactose, maltodextrin….). Make sure to check serving size, a food may not seem so bad until you read that two chips equals one serving.   If you cannot resist the junk, measure and portion it out yourself.  Leave the box behind and eat only what you prepared.  Most importantly; eat real food. Until they start injecting apples with sugar and carrots with salt, you can be pretty sure that it is healthy.