One of the most common questions I have been asked over the past 30 years is “Gina….what are the best abdominal exercises for getting a six pack?” For any of you other fitness professionals out there you will understand my reluctance to answer such a complicated question with a few word answer. It is so frustrating for me to comprehend that so many people would think the human body is such a simple machine, where-as in reality it is quite the opposite. There are so many considerations to make before giving an adequate answer to such a complex query, and yet I hear so many trainers give inadequate advice as if there is only one way. That is just pure ignorance and something that I struggle with ignoring if I experience it.
OK, so when I put my exercise physiologist hat on, my first consideration is “what are your current limitations/injuries/abilities?” An exercise that is quite safe for one person can be absolutely destructive for another. Lets take crunches….an exercise I have done for over 20 years when instructing my group exercise classes, but one I never program to clients today nor do anymore myself. My concern with crunches is the amount of disc pressure caused during spinal flexion, and the gradual wear and tear of the disc rings (annulus fibrosus) that can lead to deterioration and eventually predispose the person to a prolapse. But does that mean that no one should ever do a crunch? No! But lets be honest here….no exercise is quite done to death like the crunch! It’s the excessive repetition that causes concern.
Lets look at planks…..the gold standard exercise for developing core strength. Well I occasionally perform dynamic planks (moving from forearm to hand and vice versa) but even planks have their risks. In a horizontal position the vertebrae are not as stable as when in a vertical position (where gravity provides a compressive force from one to the other keeping facet joints more stable) and this can also provide increased risks. So should planks be banned for everyone? No!
As a functional strength trainer myself, I have my OWN favourite exercises that I choose for MY abilities and injuries, and I have to admit I don’t really work my abs in isolation. I prefer to choose exercises where the body works as a unit, so I may not implement abdominal exercises specifically. In every strength training workout I always perform some kind of uni-lateral exercise (i.e. one arm, one leg) for example a one arm cable or dumbbell row, lunges, cable wood-chops, half kneeling single arm overhead dumbbell press. Any exercise where my torso has to stabilise itself in order to perform the exercise properly, and trying to stay in the vertical as much as possible (except for the one arm dumbbell row of course). Explosive exercises are also great for activating the abdominal muscles – box jumps, stair runs, sprinting, boxing, kicking (the last two are awesome as they are explosive through rotation). Rope training is also amazing for working the abs, as too are some kettle bell exercises…..and it can go on and on.
So do your WHOLE body a favour and train the WHOLE body harder and you may be surprised at how much those abs turn on!
My biggest deciding factor when choosing exercises for a person (and for myself…remember I also have a chronic disc injury that I have to live with), is what is the benefit to risk ratio? If an exercise gives me greater benefit and has lesser risk I will choose it over another that is higher risk with less benefit. Elite athletes and a lot of bodybuilders will sacrifice risk to gain that little bit more benefit – so can you see that yet again, one size does NOT fit all. So what ARE the best ab exercises? It will be different for everyone, but yes…… some are definitely better choices over others.
Oh and lets not forget the biggest deciding factor for determining whether you can SEE those abs……your eating habits! If you want to see all that hard work then you will need to do something about your food and drop some body fat.
So that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If your trainer thinks everyone should train the one way….then it might be time to upgrade to a more understanding trainer.
There are many myths surrounding health, nutrition, and fitness as most of us know, but there are none quite as big as the one on cholesterol! A little while back I came across a three-part Catalyst documentary on the ABC – it covered the truth on sugar, cholesterol, and statin drugs. It was hugely controversial and the ABC were even forced to remove these videos from their website. The other day I again saw a TV interview with two of the men on the afore-mentioned documentary who have since published a book called “The Great Cholesterol Myth”. The authors are Dr Stephen Sinatra MD who has been a cardiologist for most of his long life, and Dr Johnny Bowden PhD who is a well-respected nutritionist. What they have to say is important to help us at the very least question our beliefs and hopefully nudge us into some further investigation for ourselves.
As a society we largely believe information that is regurgitated without even looking into the facts. What I am encouraging is to at least make your opinions educated ones. It takes a long time to change perceptions, but remember we all used to believe the world was flat! We believed the myth that cholesterol caused heart disease as fact. We were taught this based on research done in the 1960’s and 70’s which has since been shown to be extremely faulty. That sort of research wouldn’t even get published if done today.
Most well-meaning doctors don’t have time to actually read the details of the research and in that research it shows pretty clearly that cholesterol doesn’t really lead to heart disease. It’s a bad predictor.
Here is some information that you may not have been aware of.
Cholesterol is an essential component for health. Here are some of its important protective uses:
- It is vital for cellular function
- Makes vitamin D in the skin
- It assists with cerebral-vascular function
- It helps with neurotransmitter function so we can think better
- It lubricates the skin
- It protects from diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and lungs
Framingham studies have shown that increased cholesterol over the age of 40 correlates to increased lifespan. (The Framingham Heart Study is a long-term, ongoing cardiovascular study on residents of the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. The study began in 1948 with 5,209 adult subjects from Framingham, and is now on its third generation of participants. It is the longest running study on heart disease).
The root cause of heart disease is inflammation, and inflammation causes the plaque that leads to heart problems. So what causes inflammation? Being overweight, what we put into our body, and SUGAR! Sugar is the villain. Sugar in your blood causes oxidative stress and plaque and you get an enormous insulin response.
Ok so what about stain drugs to reduce your cholesterol? Well they DO reduce cholesterol. But remember cholesterol isn’t the problem. By reducing it in your body you are also reducing the protective properties that cholesterol is responsible for. Plus statins have huge side effects. For the general population, for women and children, statins tend NOT to be useful. They do seem to work well with ONE population however….middle aged men with coronary disease, primarily with reduced HDL’s. Statin drugs have been shown to predispose women to diabetes and have also been linked to cancer. It has been linked to coronary calcification, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, muscle pain, and liver problems. In children statins can interfere with development….especially cognitive! Statin drugs are amazing at making pharmaceutical companies VERY rich by using their scare tactics on uneducated people.
The best things to do to reduce the risk of heart disease and to keep the heart healthy are:
- Reduce inflammation.
- Processed foods, sugar, trans fats, alcohol, omega 6 rich foods (vegetable oils) when not balanced adequately with omega 3, ALL encourage inflammation.
- Look for natural foods that have anti-inflammatory properties such as those rich in omega 3, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, berries, apples, garlic (which helps to reduce blood pressure). Doing a google search will give more specifics.
- Get rid of toxic relationships
- Lower stress in your life (stress is a very high risk factor for heart disease)
- Getting adequate sunshine and Vitamin D (see earlier blog for information on this)
- Getting enough fresh air
- Regular exercise/physical activity
- Saturated fats CAN increase cholesterol, but more of the GOOD cholesterol (yes there is ANOTHER myth). Remember though that there are both good and bad foods that are high in saturated fats so choose the healthy natural ones like coconut oil, nuts, oily fish rather than ones like processed meats.
Keeping the heart healthy is NOT the same as lowering cholesterol!
For 99% of the population cholesterol in the diet has virtually NO effect on anything of importance! Can you hear the eggs screaming out in victory? 🙂
As far as tests are concerned, the number one medical test that could predict your risk of heart disease is the “Particle Size Test”. This test measures specifics about the bad cholesterol in your body. It measures LDL (low density lipoprotein) but not all LDL is as harmful as commonly believed. The small LDL’s are the ones that tend to attach themselves to artery walls (they are oxidized LDL’s). The large ones are not the monsters they are labelled. The small LDL’s get into the nooks and crannies of the arteries and when they bore in they explode, This causes inflammation and contributes fundamentally to the plaques and to the risk of a heart attack.
So if you are someone who likes to think for themselves, I ask you to do some further research and actually investigate the findings. Don’t just been sheep who follow the others in front who have no idea where they are going. Remember….a million wrong people are still wrong.
Happy self-awareness everyone.
It would have been my late fathers birthday a few days ago and reflecting back on his life gave me the idea for content for today’s blog. Coupled with a Precision Nutrition reading that finished with the words “Don’t just survive – THRIVE!” I was compelled to discuss this subject matter in detail.
Ok, so firstly let me set the scene with some family history. Both of my parents were born early last century – my father in 1920 and mother in 1926. Sad;y, both have now passed and each of them lived to around the age of 80 (so lifespan was very similar). However, they lived their lives VERY differently. By the time I was born my mother was in her early 40’s. All I remember growing up is her sitting in her chair watching TV and smoking like a chimney. She suffered depression quite badly and never left the house. Whenever she did anything remotely active she would be in pain for days afterwards. In my eyes, my mother was always old and frail, and though I loved her with all my heart I cry for the life that she had. My father, on the other hand, was forever out and about. He never smoked and was always out taking numerous walks or scenic drives. He was strong and capable and forever present with life and nature. Clearly, their lives were completely opposite to one another.
Quality of life is something that is very precious and often people neglect to make the effort to enhance theirs. Genetics is an important indicator for longevity and disease but your behaviour matters! Your genetics will not counteract bad behaviour. Quality of life principles are really quite simple, but like anything worth having, it requires dedication and effort.
- Physical activity. Get moving! Move more, and move with intent. Work the heart and lungs, strengthen muscles, and improve range of motion by stretching regularly.
- Nourish your body. Eat natural healthy foods with a balance of nutrients amongst all food groups; drink plenty of clean water; get adequate sunlight (without burning the skin); enjoy quality replenishing sleep;
- Nurture your mind. Take time out to relax and unwind the mind; be present with nature (earth yourself on grass, sand, sea). Explore ways to de-stress and be at peace.
- Avoid toxins. Minimise toxic foods (processed, high sugar, trans fats, additives and preservatives); give up cigarettes and control intake of alcohol. Look for other alternatives to prescription medications if needing to take them long term (some medications can be alleviated by change of lifestyle!). Research toxins that surround you everyday – your toiletries, sunscreen, household cleaning agents etc and see if there are healthier alternatives.
Yes this all takes time and effort and it isn’t going to happen all at once. But once you start focusing on health and see the results healthier behaviours can yield then the snowball effect will stem into other areas of your life. I don’t just want to exist. I want to enjoy the time I have on this earth. If quality of life is something that you are lacking, then look for ways to make improvements and bit by bit you yourself may find yourself starting to thrive!
I wanted to cover a highly misleading concept today about the “importance” of eating breakfast for weight-loss and health. Why do we believe this as “fact”? We have to stop going with the flow of the masses and remember that “a million wrong people are STILL wrong!” Try and do some thinking for yourselves by reading and analyzing credible information. The moment someone reads that something has been scientifically supported through research they blindly follow without understanding anything ABOUT the research. As a scientist myself I personally understand just how much misconception there can be around it all.
As I am an avid supporter of Precision Nutrition I did not want to reword their article and thought I would just cut and paste the basics. The full article can be read at http://www.precisionnutrition.com/skipping-breakfast-and-obesity.
Here is a snippet….
The importance of a “healthy breakfast” is nutritional gospel. Everyone from your grandma, to your personal trainer, to your favorite fitness magazine “knows” a morning meal will help you lose weight and stay lean. But is “what everyone knows” actually true?
Sure, most research on breakfast and body comp shows that breakfast eaters tend to be leaner than non-breakfast-eaters. Unfortunately, a lot of scientific research doesn’t quite “prove” what people think it does.
Yes, science is our main pathway to genuine discovery. But it’s also a human endeavor, and fallible. That’s right, despite their expertise, scientists are people too. As such, they (and their research) can be influenced by many factors, including:
- Worrying about where their next research dollars are coming from.
- Their own deeply rooted assumptions.
- Who’s running their lab or overseeing their work.
- What’s “hot” or “trendy” in their field.
- Sticking it to their arch-rival, Dr. Smug Loudmouth.
- Getting published in The Bigname Journal.
- Their upcoming tenure file review.
Yep, even though we like to think of the scientific process as distant from the petty inter-social nonsense of daily life, it’s not. In fact, it can sometimes resemble a soap opera. That’s why, when it comes to interpreting the results of their own studies, or other peoples, scientists might mess up.
Their needs and their beliefs can distort the way they see the evidence, and what they make of it. This can lead to biased reporting and faulty recommendations. An even bigger problem? This can lead to wide-spread mistaken beliefs among non-scientist people. But is this a rare occurrence? Not really. It happens more often than you think. Take, for example, breakfast. While study after study may appear to support the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it turns out there has never been a properly randomized (causal) study that “proves” the positive effects of breakfast!
Generally, scientists are just as prone to error as anybody else! We see it time and time again. Small biases, and tiny language differences, cause a whisper-down-the-lane effect. And “truths” are accepted that were never true in the first place. Specifically, there’s very little evidence to suggest that skipping breakfast will cause you to get fat. Sure, we can establish a correlation between skipping breakfast and being overweight. But many factors — from genetics, to a general lack of interest in health — could explain this relationship. We just don’t know that one causes the other.
What to do
For those of you looking to lose or control your weight…should you eat a big breakfast or not? Well, here are some guidelines.
First, remember that you’re unique. We don’t know all the relevant factors yet. You may be someone who thrives on breakfast. Or you may not.
Observe your own body’s cues. Experiment on yourself. Does eating breakfast make you feel better and more in control of the rest of your day’s consumption? Or does it make you weirdly ravenous later on? When it comes to making decisions, your body’s actual response is the only evidence that counts.
Try different breakfast types. What happens if you exchange one food source (say, processed carbs) for another (say, lean protein)? How do you feel? How does your body react?
Whatever you eat, whenever you eat, stick with your fundamental healthy habits. Eat slowly, watch your portion size, avoid distractions, and pay attention to how you feel. And, of course, try not to get carried away by rumors. Even if they seemed backed by scientists. Because those same scientists may be struggling even more than you are.