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Forever Fat Loss for Women Your jeans feel tighter, your doctor’s scoldings are becoming increasingly stern and your self-image has slowly retired to the basement. Your role as a mother, daughter, employee, boss and more has siphoned your time and energy away from your own health. As a result, your imbalances of stress/recovery, eating/exercise and yourself/others has manifested in an unwanted layer of body fat. An analysis of large population medical-assessment data comparing body mass index and percentage of body fat suggests the average American female now has about 40% body fat. Female body-fat percentages over about 30% start to carry with them increased risks for morbidity and mortality. Negative emotions tied to accumulating excess body weight and fat make women easy prey for gurus, gadgets and gimmicks promising “overnight” results with little-to-no effort. While some find short-term success with these diet and exercise fads, most are unable to sustain the novelty of the “hot” new trend in their life. Body fat and frustration repeatedly return with a vengeance. While the recommended interventions for fat loss for both men and women are fairly similar, it’s important to understand a few unique aspects of female physiology and how to overcome the commonly accepted mistruths and misunderstandings associated with fat loss and women. Women and Fat Metabolism While it appears that women rely more on fat for fuel during exercise (compared to men, they have a greater amount of type 1 “slow twitch” muscle fibers), they burn far less fat during rest. This is most likely due to having less lean muscle mass than males. A majority of daily caloric expenditure is due to basal metabolic rate, which is largely determined by the amount of lean muscle mass we each have. Women’s fat metabolism is also greatly impacted by hormone levels. Factors such as age, menstrual cycle, pregnancy and other natural phenomena all have an affect on women’s fat-burning hormone profiles. While men naturally produce relatively large amounts of muscle-building, fat-burning testosterone, women produce larger amounts of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones tend to increase the storage of fat, which has been linked to the essential process of childbearing. While it’s well established that sustained fat loss is a product of sensible nutrition, exercise and lifestyle habits for both men and women, common societal misbeliefs confuse and misdirect many women’s attempted interventions for losing fat. These can prove to be one of the largest obstacles to women experiencing long-term success with losing fat. Here are four “forever fat loss” strategies for women to maximize their physiology, hone their psychology and end frustration forever: 1. Prioritize resistance training. As mentioned, women are at an evolutionary disadvantage for losing fat partly due to lower amounts of lean muscle mass, which results in a lower caloric expenditure during rest. Furthermore, it appears women lose lean muscle mass at a faster rate as they age. Resistance training has consistently been shown to increase amounts of lean muscle mass in both men and women. Given that this is associated with an increase in resting caloric expenditure, it’s clear that resistance training should be paramount in women’s exercise programs. Performing exercises that use large muscle groups at an intensity that allows for eight to 12 repetitions before failure, two or more days per week, can “convince” the body to increase the amount of calorie-burning muscle. Consider progressively cycling weekly from 12 repetitions per exercise, to 10, to eight and then returning to 12, adding more resistance each week. A common myth associated with females and resistance training is that women will accrue “too much” muscle and end up appearing masculine. In reality, however, women lack the necessary amount of anabolic hormones (testosterone, growth hormone, etc.) necessary to build large amounts of lean muscle mass. Even with high training intensities and volumes, it can be difficult for women to substantially increase lean muscle mass. As a general rule for resistance training, prioritize strength vs. elevating the heart rate. While there are various resistance-training protocols that can aid in fat loss, the primary benefits from resistance training and increasing lean muscle mass come from a focus on increasing overall strength. Don’t be afraid to recover between sets. 2. Utilize high-intensity interval training. The low-intensity “fat-burning zone” was touted as an aerobic exercise intensity that would prioritize the burning of fat. While there is some truth to low-intensity exercises preferentially burning fat, the “bigger picture” tells a different story. During high-intensity exercise (exercise that brings the hear rate above 70% of one’s maximum heart rate), glycogen is used at a much higher rate than fat to fuel movement. However, after the exercise bout is over, the body continues to use oxygen at a higher rate, which means the body is continuing to burn more calories, even while at rest. Furthermore, hormones released during the high-intensity bout stick around in the blood stream for up to 48 hours after exercise is done. Many of these hormones are those that increase metabolism and rates of fat utilization. To sustain an intensity of exercise that would have this physiological effect, “intervals” of high intensity and rest are recommended. For example, perform a high-intensity sprint on a treadmill for 30 seconds, walk for 60 seconds and then repeat 10-12 times. As with anything, there can be “too much” of a good thing. Relentless daily exercise intensity can increase the likelihood of injury and actually suppress fat-burning, muscle-building hormones. High-intensity interval training performed one to three days a week, in addition to lower-intensity exercise, allows for the proper rest/recovery ratios necessary to prolong the fat burning effect long term. 3. Don’t starve yourself. Diet trends are a billion dollar industry, so there is always one right around the corner promising a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Many of these diets focus on severely restricting calories. When calories intake is reduced, body weight decreases. However, the body also thinks it’s going into a time of starvation. When caloric restriction is prolonged, lean muscle mass is decreased. The body believes there will now be limited calories, so it gets rid of its biggest calorie burner: muscle. Under starvation conditions, additional calories are stored as fat very quickly. It appears that women are even more sensitive to fluctuations in caloric intake, storing fat quicker after meals. When food was scarce and physical activity was frequent, this storage process kept us alive. In this time of abundance, we have a physiological system designed for scarcity. Without opening Pandora’s box of inconsistent research on which diet is the “best” for women, the most effective nutritional approach for long-term fat loss is to reestablish a connection between the foods and the amounts of these foods we need to optimize health and performance. Consider the following tips to fuel your body with the right amounts of healthy foods to promote forever fat loss. Consider the size of your hands (hand size is often associated with overall body size). For most grains and starches, one to two handfuls is most likely an appropriate serving size. For proteins, match the size and thickness of your palm. For added fat, look at the size of your thumb. Make green, leafy vegetables a feature of as many meals as possible. To ensure lean muscle maintenance, include protein in every meal. Whole, unprocessed food doesn’t have the added flavor and texture enhancers that tend to make us eat more. Sticking to whole, unprocessed food can help decrease the likelihood of overeating. Limit alcohol and be aware of how much sugar is in the foods you eat. Both sugar and alcohol can add substantial calories to a diet without nutritional benefits. 4. Smash your scale. Scale weight can tell you very little about the amount of body fat you have. Because muscle gives your body its form, function and metabolic drive, focusing on your ratio of fat to muscle is far more important than scale weight, for both health and aesthetic reasons. For women in particular, scale weight can fluctuate significantly due to water retention during the menstrual cycle. Furthermore, muscle tissue is much more dense than fat tissue and weighs more for the amount of space it occupies. Improvements in lean muscle mass and, consequently, body composition, often renders no change or a slight increase in scale weight. Find an accessible way to monitor your body fat. Hand-held body-fat assessment tools and other devices have small margins of error, but are generally effective for highlighting trends. And even simpler approach is to monitor how your clothes fit—looser around the mid-section means you’re making progress. Knowledge is power. By understanding the unique elements of women’s physiology and applying specific exercise strategies to overcome obstacles, women can get off the roller coaster of frustration and lose fat forever.
I specialize in training the older adult population. One of the most satisfying groups to train actually. Nationally certified and I extremely experienced with them. 5 CHAIR EXERCISES FOR OLDER ADULTS The aging process can be challenging, particularly for those dealing with health and medical issues such as loss of (or deteriorating) hearing and vision, osteoporosis, lack of mobility and heart disease. These issues can negatively effect the quality of one’s daily life and result in pain, falls, depression and more. While basic exercise programs can help (and even alleviate) some of the health issues faced by older adults, many people are simply unable to perform traditional workouts. However, chair workouts can be a highly effective alternative, allowing individuals to train for strength, flexibility and balance. Here are a few sample exercises for each of these components of fitness. STRENGTH bicep-curls SEATED BICEPS CURLS Sit with back straight, feet on the floor and knees bent at 90 degrees. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and allow the arms to hang at your sides. Bend the arms at the elbow and raise the weight toward the shoulder. Slowly lower and repeat. HIP ABDUCTION Sit with back straight, feet on the floor and knees bent at 90 degrees. Wrap an exercise band around legs, just above the knees. Slowly move the knees away from each other. Slowly bring the knees back to the starting position and repeat. Dumbbell curls, lateral shoulder raises and triceps pushbacks can also examples of exercises that can be performed from a seated position. Extra Tips: Avoid overhead presses, static isometric exercises and challenging or confusing moves. Using a light resistance is acceptable. FLEXIBILITY Most older adults tend to have overly tight muscles, which can lead to poor mobility and, in some cases, pain. Increased flexibility can help improve range of motion and possibly help individuals avoid injuries and experience less pain. SEATED HAMSTRINGS STRETCH Sit with legs extend and heels touching the floor. Slowly lean forward and slide the hands down the legs. Stop when tension is felt in the lower back or the back of legs. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat. Extra Tips: Many older adults can easily become lighted-headed, so it may be necessary to have them keep their heads above their hearts as they stretch. Avoid prolonged stretches unless individuals have prior experience with flexibility training. BALANCE Poor balance can lead to falls and, potentially, broken bones. Some simple balance training using a chair as a stabilizer can help quickly improve balance. STANDING LEG RAISE Stand behind a chair and grasp the back of the chair with both hands. Slowly lift one leg off the floor and toward the chest by bending the knee. Hold for 5 seconds. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite leg. STANDING HIP CIRCLES Stand behind a chair and grasp the back of the chair with both hands. Slowly lift one leg off the floor and rotate the hip counterclockwise and then clockwise. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite leg. Extra Tips: Be sure to use a stable chair and always look straight ahead when performing balance exercises. Modifying exercises for older adults can be challenging, but well worth the extra effort.
TO DEBRA !!!
The Myth of Complementary Protein
FORKS OVER KNIVES
WHY THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS “THE BEST” EXERCISE From the classes I teach and clients I train, over the years I have routinely been the following question: “What is the best exercise I should be doing?” Whether this question is asked in context to a particular goal or a specific body part, my answer is always the same: There is no such thing as “the best” exercise. Clearly, this bold statement doesn’t lend itself well to catchy, clickable article titles, such as “The Only Exercise You Need to Do,” or “The Best Exercise for Better Abs.” But as a health and fitness professional, it’s essential that i help my clients, participants and the public at large to understand the truth about exercise that is rooted in factual and practical science-based information, as opposed to extremes and absolutes. When it comes to exercise (and most things in life), it’s not quite so black and white. As a fitness educator, it is rare that I use words like “always” or “never,” especially with regards to exercise, as there are many variables that influence exercise and fitness. Here are three important factors to keep in mind that shed some light on why there’s no such thing as “the best” exercise. 1. THE ENJOYMENT FACTOR From a behavioral perspective, it’s important that movement, in whatever form it is explored, be enjoyable. The more people enjoy the exercise experience, the more likely they are to make physical activity an integral component of their lives, which is ultimately what has the greatest impact on their health and well-being. As such, I would argue that one of the most important, yet sometimes overlooked, aspects that I as a health and fitness professional must consider when exploring exercise options is to choose forms of movement that resonate with the clients I serve, and that truly support their overall enjoyment and success in the exercise experience. 2. THE UNIQUE NEEDS OF INDIVIDUALS In addition to enjoyment, I must also ensure that the exercises and movements I incorporate into my classes and training sessions are both safe and effective for my clients and participants. As such, I as a health and fitness professional must have a thorough understanding of the body and how it’s designed to move, from the foundational aspects of joint stability and mobility and an understanding of the interconnectedness of the body as a kinetic chain; to the primary movement patterns we explore both inside and outside of the gym, and the ways in which we add load and variability to movements using an assortment of tools and techniques to improve the health- and skill-related components of fitness. While my exploration through in-depth areas of study such as anatomy, physiology and kinesiology gives me a greater understanding of the complexity of the human body, along with key training principles and general best practices, it also enables me to recognize that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to exercise selection and programming. Although we as humans may be of a similar structural design, we each have unique considerations and factors that affect our physical abilities. These, in turn, influence the selection, sequencing and progression of exercises that ultimately will safely and effectively best serve my clients. This may include, but is certainly not limited to: postural deviations, muscular imbalances, limited joint range of motion, chronic conditions, past injuries and varying degrees of experience with exercise. As such, I can see why it would be problematic to assume that there is one “best” exercise across the board for all individuals, when there are so many variables that must be thoughtfully taken into consideration. With an understanding that each person has unique needs and goals for his or her exercise experience, it is my role and responsibility as a health and fitness professional to appropriately select and tailor movements accordingly. This requires an understanding of program design and progression principles as well knowledge of variables that can be manipulated (i.e., base of support, lever length, points of contact, positioning of the body against gravity, etc.) to meet individuals where they are presently and help them move toward their personal goals and improved health and fitness in a safe, smart and successful way. 3. THE CONTEXT OF RESEARCH STUDIES While staying up-to-date on current research, it is just as important that I properly evaluate and understand the context of the findings presented, especially as that information influences our exercise selection and program/class design for my clients and participants. Too often, we point to the conclusion of a research study as the basis for justifying our decision to always include a certain exercise in all of the classes we teach or training sessions we lead. For example, over the years ACE has commissioned a number of independent, third-party research studies that have examined the effectiveness of common exercises for various areas of the body and muscle groups (e.g., biceps, deltoids, triceps, glutes). Specifically, these studies have used electromyography (EMG) to test and analyze the level of muscle activation during each exercise examined. As such, the findings of these studies indicate which exercises elicited the most muscle activation. However, the exercises with the highest level of muscle activation is not, by default, necessarily “the best” ones to choose. Rather, this is simply one lens through which to evaluate an exercise. In fact, care must be taken to ensure it is not the only lens through which I evaluate exercises and make recommendations to my clients. As discussed earlier, we must keep in mind our understanding of the human body and human movement as well as the unique needs, goals, interests and limitations of the individuals I serve to effectively evaluate the pros and cons of the movement itself, and to ultimately determine how the findings of the research apply to my unique clients and participants. For example, body-weight dips may be an effective exercise for eliciting muscle activity in the triceps, but for a client with instability in the scapulothoracic thoracic region, the potential for injury might outweigh the potential pros of the exercise. Conversely, the traditional push-up may not elicit as much muscle activity in the pectoralis major as the bench press, but given the functional nature of the exercise, its ability to work multiple areas of the body together in an integrated and time-efficient manner, and the accessibility and scalability of the movement, it might be the preferred choice to incorporate in a 30-minute group fitness class where the objective is to create an inclusive experience that helps individuals improve both their fitness and their overall function. While there are many great exercises and movements out there (and also some not so great ones), and certainly ones that may be more effective than others, at the end of the day there is no single “best” exercise that is perfect for everyone in the same exact form. The more I can leverage my knowledge and expertise to effectively view exercise and other aspects of health and fitness on an extensive spectrum, the more effectively I can educate and empower my clients, participants and the public (including popular media) to do the same.
5 PLANK VARIATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE YOUR CORE Front, side, reverse, hands or forearms, knees or toes—whichever way you choose to plank, this simple, stationary position is an essential exercise in your weekly fitness routine. When performed correctly, planking strengthens all the muscles that run up and down your spine, which helps you to stand, rotate, bend and lift with ease. And let’s not forget the bonus benefits of strengthening your arms, shoulders, glutes and legs. There’s no better way to multitask than to perform plank exercises. Planks have endless variations. Subtle changes such as lifting an arm or adding movement can change the degree of difficulty of the exercise, keeping your body challenged and your workouts fun. Ready to fire up your core? These five plank variations focus on lifting the legs and adding rotation to intensify the work. PLANK SET-UP All exercises, except for the last one, should begin in one of the positions described below. Setting the foundation ensures that your alignment is correct and your entire body is connected and engaged so you’ll be ready to tackle these fun and highly effective plank exercises. HIGH PLANK Position the body face down with hands underneath the shoulders and inner arms close to the body. Tuck the toes and contract the quadriceps and glutes so the knees come slightly off the floor. Engage the abdominals, inhale, and on the exhale press the body up in one unit to high-plank position. You should be in a straight line from head to heels. FOREARM PLANK Position the body face down with the elbows bent underneath the shoulders and the forearms and palms firmly planted into the ground. Tuck the toes and contract the quadriceps and glutes so the knees come slightly off the floor. Engage the abdominals, inhale, and on the exhale press the body up onto the forearms. You should be in a straight line from head to heels. FOREARM PLANK WITH REPEATER 3 TAPS Begin with forearm plank set-up (see above). Raise the right leg off the ground and tap the right toes onto the left ankle. Raise the right leg again and tap the floor to the outside of the left foot. Raise the right leg again and tap the left ankle. Return back to center and repeat the sequence with the left leg. Repeat this repeater 3-tap pattern for eight to 10 reps. Perform two sets. SIDE RISER PLANK This plank variation is a hybrid of a side forearm plank and a high plank. Begin with the high-plank set-up (see above). Lower down onto the right forearm and spin the legs so they are stacked with weight on the outer edge of the right foot. Reach the left arm up toward the ceiling. Place the left hand down and push the body back up to high-plank position. Lower down onto the left forearm and spin the legs so they are stacked with weight on the outer edge of the left foot. Reach the right arm up toward the ceiling. Place the right hand down and push the body back up to high-plank position. Repeat this alternating pattern for 10 reps. Perform two sets. MARCHING SIDE PLANK Keeping a rhythmic marching pattern is the challenge in this side-plank variation. Begin with the high-plank set-up (see above). Roll to the right arm and position the legs in a scissors stance, with the left leg to the front with weight on the bottom of the foot, and the right leg to the back with weight on the outer edge of the foot. Lift the right knee toward the chest and release back down. Lift the left knee toward the chest and release back down. Repeat this pattern in a rhythmic fashion for 10 reps. Roll back to high plank and then release to the ground to rest. Repeat on the other side, rolling to the left arm, with the right leg to the front with weight on the bottom of the foot, and the left leg to the back with weight on the outer edge of the foot. Performing 10 reps on each side is one set. Perform one to two sets. FALLEN TRIANGLE SWITCH Inspired by yoga, this plank variation challenges stability and engages the abdominals, arms, and inner and outer legs. Begin with the high-plank set-up (see above). Roll to the right arm and stack the legs with weight on the outer edge of the right foot. Reach the left arm up toward the ceiling. Kick the left leg forward and hold. Draw the left knee in toward the chest and spin the knee underneath the body, rolling to the left side plank, kicking the left leg forward. Reach the right arm up toward the ceiling. Draw the left knee in toward the chest and spin the knee underneath the body, rolling back to the right side plank and kicking the left leg forward. Reach the left arm up toward the ceiling. Return back to side plank and repeat the sequence. Perform one to three reps on the right side and then one to three reps on the left. QUADRUPED HOVER WITH LEG KICKBACKS This quadruped plank variation looks easy, but it is very intense for the core. Begin in quadruped position, aligning the hips over the knees and shoulders over the wrists. Tuck the toes under, engage the core and lift both knees about 2 inches off the floor. Extend the right leg back, pointing the toes and hips toward the ground. Return to center and repeat with the left leg. Repeat this alternating pattern for 10 reps. Perform two sets.
ERGOGENIC AIDS: FOODS THAT BOOST PERFORMANCE It is said that abs are made in the kitchen. This same axiom applies to performance. Whether performing high-intensity intervals, strength training or endurance activities, the following six foods have been shown to enhance performance by improving time to exhaustion, decreasing perceived exertion, increasing speed, decreasing lactic acid production or decreasing levels of fatigue. CAFFEINE Caffeine has long been studied and used as a performance enhancer because it stimulates the central nervous system, increases alertness and decreases perceived exertion. While caffeine does promote the release of fatty acids, fat burning doesn’t increase during physical activity and carbohydrate stores are not protected. The strongest evidence for using of caffeine is in endurance activities. In trained cyclists, for example, a dose of 5 mg/kg body weight resulted in improved speed, peak power and mean power. For most exercisers, however, it is advisable to start at a lower dose as side effects can include rapid heart rate, dizziness, hypoglycemia, anxiety and jitters. A 154-pound (70 kg) person might start with 140 mg of caffeine about 30 to 60 minutes before exercise to attain maximal benefits. As a reference, a 16-ounce cup of regular coffee contains about 330 mg of caffeine. WHEY PROTEIN A long-time performance enhancer for strength-training enthusiasts, whey protein is best known for its ability to help increase muscle mass. Whey is derived from dairy, so it’s best to choose grass-fed, hormone-free whey protein powders. Keep in mind that an intake of greater than 2.5g/kg of body weight can lead to increased dehydration, low-carbohydrate intake and excessive calorie intake, as well as increased excretion of urinary calcium. Ten to 20 grams of whey protein are recommended prior to weigh training to enhance muscle strength, increase endurance and decrease muscle breakdown. After a workout, 20-30 grams of whey taken within 30 minutes can enhance muscle recovery and improve muscle protein synthesis. Whey protein is safe to take daily if there is no known kidney or liver disease. BEETROOT JUICE AND GREENS Beetroot juice and beet greens are good sources of nitrate, which can decrease VO2 during submaximal exercise and increase tolerance of high-intensity work rates. Nitrate is converted first to nitrite and then to nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and decreases oxygen consumption, which increases performance. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that ratings of perceived exertion was lower in the group that supplemented with beetroot juice instead of a placebo. Another study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that the group that supplemented with beetroot juice had decreased oxygen consumption and increased time to exhaustion. Supplementing with beetroot juice before exercise can increase workout time by 16 percent. WATERMELON JUICE Watermelon juice is considered the new beetroot juice in its effect on performance. Watermelon juice is rich in the nonessential amino acid citrulline, which gets converted to arginine and then to nitric oxide. So why not just take arginine? One study found that more than 80% of oral citrulline is converted to arginine in the blood vessels, while another study found that less than 1% of oral arginine consumed was used for nitric oxide production. Intake of 1-3 grams of l-citrulline or 6 grams of citrulline malalte can lead to more intense training and decrease muscle fatigue. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that l-citrulline supplementation could improve oxygen uptake and high intensity exercise performance in recreational athletes. Citrulline is good for both aerobic and anaerobic performance, with reduced fatigue, quicker recovery and improved performance. In terms of watermelon juice, one liter contains 2.5 grams of l-citrulline, which may be impractical for many to consume. GREEN TEA Studies of green tea extract (GTE) show that it can increase endurance and exercise performance by 8 to 24 percent with a 0.5% green tea extract supplement. It also lowers respiratory quotient and increases fat oxidation. Results of a study published in the American Journal of Physiology indicate that GTE is beneficial for improving endurance capacity and support the hypothesis that the stimulation of fatty-acid utilization is a promising strategy for improving endurance capacity. This amount of green tea extract can be realistically achieved in four cups of green tea per day. MEDIUM CHAIN TRIGLYCERIDES (MCT) Most people associate MCTs with coconut oil, which contains more than 50% MCT. Now you can buy pure MCT oil, which, as its name implies, is made only of MCTs (C6, C8, C10, and C12 fatty acids). The body metabolizes MCTs differently than it does long-chain triglycerides found in olive oil and other vegetable and seed oils. They are taken directly to the liver where they are converted to energy. A study published in the journal Cell Metabolism used a special ketone drink in trained cyclists and found improved distance of their workouts. Ketones work by temporarily switching the primary source of cellular energy from glucose or fat to ketones. The ketone drink helped the cyclists preserve glycogen and produce less lactic acid, which improved their endurance. This drink is not currently available, it is possible to increase ketone production by increasing intake of MCTs, either through organic coconut oil or MCT oil. Start with one teaspoon, three times a day to prevent any gastrointestinal distress, and can gradually increase to one tablespoon, three times a day. THE BOTTOM LINE While it is tempting to turn to supplements to increase exercise performance and improve recovery, some of the most potent ergogenic aids can be found in the kitchen. Try them out one at a time, for a period of two to four weeks so that results can be seen.
GLUTES - YOUR BUTT Contrary to popular belief, having shapely glutes isn’t all about appearance or vanity. Having a strong rear-end not only helps improve posture and athletic performance, and reduce knee and back pain, it can significantly enhance injury prevention as well. Here’s what you need to know about strengthening this essential group, along with eight super-effective exercises that will both strengthen and tone the glutes. The posterior musculature of the hip is comprised of three gluteal muscles, commonly known as the glutes, and each one has specific roles so it’s important to target each one. The primary function of the gluteus maximus is hip extension and it controls the movement for cycling, hopping, jumping, squatting and climbing stairs. The gluteus medius and minimus work together and separately as hip abductors, which means they control the movement of lifting the leg to the side and partial control of hip rotation. These muscles are important to strengthen for walking, ice skating, plyometrics and running. Because the quadriceps muscle group can often overpower the glutes, you want to make sure the glutes are getting the workout they deserve. Here is a simple pre-workout activation circuit to target the glutes: HIP BRIDGES Lie on your back, bend your knees and position your feet about shoulder-distance apart. Place your arms to the side or across your chest. Raise your hips as high as possible while keeping the knees over the toes. Repeat 15-20 times. CLAM SHELL Lie on your side with the knees bent to 90 degrees and your torso facing forward. Raise your top leg but keep the foot touching the other foot. Complete 15-20 repetitions on each side. HIP EXTENSION AND ABDUCTIONS Assume an athletic-ready stance next to a wall or something secure that you can hold onto. Lift one leg back as high as possible without moving your upper body. Return to the starting position and lift the same leg out to the side (abduction) and return to starting position. Repeat 15-20 times on each leg. The following eight exercises can be combined and modified to create a dynamic workout. You can, for example, use these eight exercises to start a client’s program but increase weight, intensity, reps or sets to create a greater challenge; feel free to add or substitute equipment when necessary (e.g., a kettle bell for a dumbbell). Begin with six to eight repetitions for each exercise and complete three to four sets. 1. KETTLEBELL SWINGS Plant feet in a wide stance and position a kettlebell 2 feet in front of you on the floor. Reach for the kettlebell with both hands; keep the legs mostly straight and maintain a flat, rigid back. Begin the movement by dragging the kettlebell back toward your feet and, in a pendulum-like motion, lift the kettlebell by extending your hips to stand, letting the kettlebell only reach shoulder height. Be sure to focus on the hip-hinge motion, not the squatting motion. The arms should not do anything other than hold the kettlebell. 2. STATIONARY LUNGE Start by staggering your legs about shoulder-width apart. Make sure that when you’re in the downward phase, your knees are at 90-degree angles (use a mirror if necessary). Lean slightly forward to keep the focus on the front leg—90% of the weight should be in the front leg; the back leg is only for balance purposes. Return to the starting split stance and slowly lower back down. 3. STRAIGHT-LEG DEADLIFT Begin in an athletic shoulder-width stance. Grasp the barbell across the shoelaces, just wider than the shoulders. Before lifting, assume a table-top posture with your torso and retract the shoulders to prevent rounding of the upper back. The first upward movement should come from the hips extending and then the knees to standing. Try to lower back down by initiating the movement with the glutes shifting back, while keeping the knees slightly bent. Attempt to lower the barbell to the floor, but stop if you notice the back rounding or your form breaking down. 4. CURTSY LUNGE Begin standing with a wide stance and then cross the left leg behind the right to mimic a curtsy. Keep the shoulders drawn back and chest upright. To perform this movement correctly, be aware of the knee shifting during the lowering phase. Aim to keep the knee aligned closely to the heel so there isn’t extra strain on the joint. From the lowered position, push the body up to standing while simultaneously bringing the back leg forward to the starting wide-stance position and then crossing the other leg behind. 5. SINGLE-LEG CABLE EXTENSION Begin by lowering the cable to the lowest pin and attaching a cuff securely around one ankle. Stand facing the anchor in an athletic-ready stance and hold onto the handles or a secure pole. Slowly raise the heel by initiating the movement from the glutes and continue to isolate the gluteus maximus until you cannot lift your leg anymore, all while keeping an erect torso. Return to starting position and repeat. 6. BENCH HIP THRUSTERS Using a standard weight bench, begin by positioning your shoulders on the bench and the feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. Depending on whether or not you want to add weight, you can place your hands on your hips or across your shoulders. Initiate the movement by squeezing the glutes until the hips are even with the knees and shoulders. Return to the starting position and repeat. 7. HIP EXTENSION ON BENCH Lie face down on a standard weight bench or stable surface and align your hips with the edge. Grasp the bench and keep your neck in a neutral position. Beginning with your toes resting on the floor and a slight bend in the knees, engage your glutes to raise your heels toward the ceiling. To increase the challenge, bring your heels together in a “frog-like” position, making sure to focus on extending at the glutes and not the lower back. Return to the starting position and repeat bringing the toes toward the floor, but lift back up immediately after contact. 8. SIDE STEP-UPS (WITH OPTIONAL PLYOMETRICS) This exercise requires a 12” to 24” gym box, bench or step. Stand to the side with one foot on top of the box and the other foot on the floor slightly staggered behind. Starting in a runner’s position with arms at 90 degrees, use the top leg to step up. Make sure to let the glutes to do most of the work and don’t let the quads or the other leg take over. Consciously isolating your gluteal muscles will make a big difference in the effectiveness of these exercises, as quad-dominance and lumbar-dominance are common issues. Loading the gluteals for the first 10 to 15 degrees during the initial phase will help you avoid relying on the surrounding muscles and achieve the strong rear-end your body deserves.
Stress is Bad And Other Lies Webster’s dictionary defines “stress” as “a state of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.” In other words, when things aren’t simple and predictable, the body’s physiological and psychological systems sound the alarm. This alarm places both your body and brain on alert for whatever might come. We associate this state with uneasiness, fear and general discomfort. Your heart and mind races and you’re forced to think and act in unfamiliar ways to overcome challenges. For decades, research has suggested that frequent exposure to stress is inherently bad, increasing one’s likelihood for morbidity and mortality. As a society, we’re willing to go to great lengths to avoid this unpleasantness. We turn to medication, meditation and long vacations to try to dampen our natural stress “alarm” to uncertainty and change. Despite these large-scale attempts to “avoid stress,” it’s estimated that workplace stress costs companies between $200 and $300 billion per year. We’re running, but apparently we can’t hide from this life-consuming monster. But it’s not all bad news: Recent data suggests that stress in and of itself may not be the monster we’ve made it out to be. As humans, our beliefs and perceptions play a significant role in how we react both psychologically and physiologically to any stimulus, and this plays into the relationship between stress and health in our lives. A recent study published in Health Psychology examined people’s reported stress levels in combination with their beliefs as to how those stress levels positively or negatively affected their health. Researchers found that those who believed that stress negatively effected their health had a significantly higher risk of negative health outcomes compared to those who experienced high levels of stress, but did not perceive these associated demands as negative to their health. These findings suggest that, while our physiological response to change (stress) may be constant, our psychological processing of it is what ultimately determines the effect on our health. Consider the most recent non-life-threatening event in your life that required you to break “equilibrium” and learn something new, solve a new problem or grow your capacity in some way to meet the challenge. There are two distinct ways you could have mentally processed the novel demands outlined above: “This is not fair. I should not have to be doing this. Breaking my equilibrium is bad for my life. This is going to conquer me.” “I’m going engage my resources and overcome this hurdle. I take on challenges. It’s going to be hard, but I’m going to pick up new skills that make me stronger along the way. The end result is a stronger, better-equipped me. I’m going to conquer this.” Data suggests that despite both ways of thinking eliciting a similar physiological response, the latter of the two would have the least negative impact on one’s health. So if stress isn’t necessarily bad for us, could it actually be good for us in the right doses? Research on aging populations reveals that the more novel demands, expectations and purpose-fueled action the brain is exposed to, the more it continues to adapt and grow as we get older. Additionally, it appears that individuals who associate stress with fulfilling a clear life purpose may have fewer strokes and experience lessened symptoms and a slower onset with brain pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease. When in the throes of a stressful time, it’s hard to see these redeeming qualities. Consider, however, what novel demands with uncertain outcomes can drive us to do in our lives. We learn, innovate, engage and continue to expand our capacity. Would we do this in the absence of stress? Of course, it is important to note that stress takes on different forms. Acute, life-altering events, such as death, disease and other “disasters,” engage a significant stress response that undoubtedly creates strain on one’s health. Even in these situations, however, research suggests that those who actively seek out physical, mental, emotional and spiritual measures for resiliency may curb the negative side effects of the stress response. But if you’re like many people, you also struggle to manage the chronic, day-to-day stress of modern life. For the phone calls, deadlines and daily fires that make up a majority of our operational stress, consider the following strategies to decrease the negative effects of stress on your life: 1. Reframe the game! Everyone has a hobby, sport or other activity in their life where they actually seek and enjoy a challenge. Imagine bringing this mindset to areas of life that might not be as enjoyable, but still can bear fruit from overcoming obstacles. 2. Stop blaming. Stress comes in many forms and from many different angles. It’s quick and easy to relinquish accountability for how we perceive and react to the different demands in our lives. This poor perception and defeated mindset can easily be blamed on our jobs, spouses, kids, current elected officials and more. Remember, research suggests you can actually decide how stress is going to effect you. Prior to blaming others, make sure your head is in the right place. 3. Practice gratitude. Helen Keller once said, “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” Many of the things that are sources of stress in our lives—jobs, relationships, etc.—are often what provide us with the greatest levels of fulfillment and satisfaction. When things are crazy at work, we forget how lucky we are to have a job. We’re angry with our spouse, then talk to a friend who recently lost theirs. We lament the imperfections in our material possessions, yet forget there are people who have nothing. Being aware and practicing gratitude helps create valuable context for the stress in our lives, ultimately decreasing its negative effects. Follow these steps and avoid being a victim and instead become a victor over the stress in your life.
5 Spring Vegetables You Should Be Eating Spring has sprung and it’s time to say good-bye to stews, chili and the slow cooker, and hello to lighter fare featuring the bounty of the new season. The best news about all of these veggies is that they are packed with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants, which can help decrease inflammation, reduce blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol. Loading up your meals with these foods can also lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, and you might even shed a few pounds. A trip through your local farmer’s market is a great way to get reacquainted with the produce that’s filling the bins. Some veggies, such as ramps and fiddlehead ferns, will only be here for a very short time, so get them before they’re gone. If you’re not sure what something is, ask the farmers who grow them—they love sharing information about the food they grow, and will probably offer you a sample along with tips on the best way to cook it. And be prepared to encounter lots of greens, which means it’s the season for salads, cold soups and smoothies. Here are five spring veggies that are easy to find and can be used a number of ways in recipes. ASPARAGUS You might be most familiar with the green variety, but did you know that asparagus also come in white and purple? Regular consumption of these nutrient-packed stalks can improve your heart health (thanks to the folate). Of course, the most common complaint from asparagus lovers is that it causes urine to smell strange, due to the asparagusic acid, a sulfur-containing compound that results in that telltale odor. But don’t let that keep you from enjoying these beauties. Coat them with a little extra virgin olive oil, pink Himalayan sea salt and freshly cracked lemon pepper, and roast them until they are a little golden on the bottom. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese or balsamic glaze and you have a dish that you won’t want to stop eating. Asparagus can also be steamed, stir-fried or grilled. artichokes ARTICHOKES Whether you love them for the leaves or the heart, these prebiotic-rich beauties will nourish the probiotics in your digestive system and help reduce inflammation in your body. Studies of artichoke leaf extract show that it induces cancer cell apoptosis (cell death) and reduces cell proliferation in some cancers, which can possibly be used for cancer prevention or treatment. The phytochemicals cynarin and silymarin help improve liver tissue and are often recommended for people with liver disease. Compounds in artichokes also make this veggie a natural diuretic and digestive aid. Artichokes are best when steamed or braised, and are great in soups like this delicious Spring Vegetable Soup. WATERCRESS This peppery, wild green leafy vegetable is often found in salads and cold soups. A member of the cruciferous vegetable family (like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower), watercress is rich in immune-boosting antioxidants vitamins C and A, and digestive-enzyme-rich chlorophyll. It also contains natural antibiotics that fight candida and other bad bacteria in the colon. Build healthy bones and teeth as well as improve heart function with the calcium and vitamin K found in watercress. RADISH Known for their quick growing time and peppery bite, radishes are often found in salads or thinly sliced and layered onto sandwiches. One of our favorite ways to prepare this cruciferous vegetable is to roast them along with their green tops. High in fiber, potassium and isothiocyanates, incorporating radishes into your diet can help lower your risk of cancer and heart disease, improve your digestion, lower your blood pressure, and assist in detoxification. You might be most familiar with the red radish, but try out the candy cane (striped) and watermelon radishes for a variety of colors and flavors. PEA SHOOTS Pea shoots are the young leaves of the pea plant—they’re harvested as microgreens and taste just like peas. They can be used in salads, on sandwiches or stir-fried with other vegetables. Pea shoots are high in folate, which is important for heart health and for women who are trying to become pregnant, as folate is vital to prevent neural tube defects that can occur in the early weeks of pregnancy. Additionally, pea shoots are an excellent source of antioxidants (vitamins A, C and carotenoids), which can reduce your risk of cancer. Although we only featured five spring super-stars, we also love these spring veggies: Cactus Ramps Fiddlehead ferns Garlic scapes Morel mushrooms Cherimoya Snow peas This season has so much wonderful produce to offer, so be sure to expand your vegetable repertoire and reap the benefits of nature’s bounty.