Featured Exercise- Mountain Climbers

Featured Exercise: Mountain Climbers

Primary Muscles:  Abdominals, Hip Flexors, Cardiovascular System

Secondary Muscles:  Shoulders

The Mountain Climber is a great, multipurpose exercise.  In addition to stressing the abdominal muscles, it is an effective exercise for getting the heart rate elevated.  The abdominal muscles engage to drive the knees towards the chest, with the hip flexors assisting in the movement as well.  The shoulders act to stabilize the upper body during the active movement of the lower body.  Due to the vigorous nature of the exercise, the heart rate is also elevated, making it a great for anaerobic conditioning exercise as well.  Kick-start that body fat loss with this one!  Here’s how it goes:

Starting in a prone position on hands and feet with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, right foot back with leg extended and left knee drawn up to the chest, switch feet in the air, driving the right knee forward and driving the left foot back until you have completely switched foot positions. Repeat this movement at an elevated pace, engaging the abdominal muscles as you drive each knee towards the chest. Keep a regular breathing pattern as you perform the movement.  Perform the exercise for time or repetition number.  Start with 30 seconds without stopping or 50 total repetitions and work up from there.  Make sure that there is no discomfort in the shoulders or lower back.

This is how you create a strong, stable core and burn body fat at the same time.  Enjoy!


Featured Exercise: Side Plank

Featured Exercise: Side Plank

Primary Muscles: Obliques, Hip Abductors
Secondary Muscles: Low Back, Latissimus Dorsi, Shoulders

OK.  So you think you have mastered the regular plank.  Well, here’s a new challenge.  The Side Plank is another great body-weight core stabilization exercise to add to your routine.  No equipment needed and it can be performed anywhere.  Like the regular Plank that I featured before, this exercises utilizes just gravity to provide resistance.  As opposed to the deep transverse abdominis and outer rectus abdominis muscles stressed in the regular plank, this particular version targets the obliques (the muscles on the side of the abdomen responsible for side bending and torso rotation), muscles essential to a healthy and stable core.  But due to the total body nature of the exercise, it also enhances muscle strength around the shoulders and hips.  Here’s how it goes:

Lie on your side with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder and your legs fully extended and stacked on top of one another.  Draw in your abdomen and lift your torso and hips off of the floor, keeping the back in a straight position.  The only two points that should be in contact with the ground are the bottom elbow and bottom foot.  Keep the neck in line with the rest of the body.  Hold the position for as long as you can, and keep your breathing regular as you hold.  Switch sides and repeat the exercise.  If this version is too difficult, you can switch to the bent-knee version.  The only difference is that instead of extending the legs, bend the knees at a 90-degree angle.  This means that when you lift the torso, the only points of contact are the bottom elbow and the bottom knee.

I hope this exercise adds a little variety to your routine!  Enjoy!


Cardio is Not the Best Way to Burn Body Fat-Part 1

Nugget of the Day:  Cardio is not the best way to burn body fat.

I thought I would start this nugget on the positive side of things.  What is cardiovascular exercise good for, and why do we use it as our “go-to” exercise when we want to lose weight?  What we call “cardio” should be more accurately termed “aerobic” exercise.  The term “aerobic” literally means “with oxygen”.  The body can breakdown food into energy in the presence of oxygen or without oxygen present.  However, the fat molecule needs oxygen in order to be broken down into energy to be utilized by the body.  Because the intensity is not as high in aerobic exercise, the body is able to get enough oxygen to meet the energy demands of the body.  This allows fat to be utilized as a major energy source.  Carbohydrates, on the other hand, can be burned with or without the presence of oxygen.  But fats provide a little more whallop to their punch, supplying more energy per gram than carbohydrates, so it is a more efficient fuel source.  This makes it the more prevalent provider when the intensity of exercise is low enough to allow it to be utilized properly.

To see the big picture, you need to understand that it is a matter of proportions.  You never are just utilizing one energy source.  You are always using a combination of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins as energy at all times.  While engaged in aerobic exercise, you burn a higher proportion of fat calories versus carbohydrate calories.  As an analogy, let’s look at it like a dinner plate, with the food on the plate representing the amount and type of energy burned in an aerobic workout.  At a low intensity, the plate might hold three Twinkies and one granola bar (the Twinkies representing fat and the granola bar representing carbohydrates).  You might have as much as a 3:1 ratio of fats burned versus carbohydrates when engaged in aerobic exercise.  Fats are the major source of energy in this case.  Sounds like a good recipe for weight loss, right?  Wrong…and I’ll tell you why in the next post…


Featured Exercise: Cable/Tube Standing High Row

Featured Exercise: Cable/Tube Standing High Row

The upper back is one of the most important areas of the body that requires our attention in our exercise routine.  Because the bulk of the physical activity we do in our day-to-day life happens in front of us, those muscles (the chest and shoulders especially) become overly tight and unequally strong compared to their counterparts, the muscles of the upper back and rear shoulders.  Since muscles keep each other in check, this imbalance can create postural problems and can make one susceptible to future injury.  For this reason, we need to keep the muscles of the chest and shoulders flexible, and the muscles of the upper back strong.  However, upper back exercises are some of the most difficult to perform on your own without some form of equipment.  Short of pull-ups or the modified pull-ups that I featured a few weeks back, you need some implement to assist you.  The following exercise can be done in the gym with a cable machine or can be done at home or outside using a very inexpensive tool called resistance tubes.  They come in different thicknesses and can be purchased at any sporting goods store.  The have handles attached to the ends and usually come with a door anchor for home use.  The greater the thickness, the more resistance and the more difficult the exercise.  For a couple of dollars, you can add dozens of potential exercises to your routine.  One of these is the Standing Tube/Cable High Row.  Here’s what you do:

Set the cable machine at its highest height with handles attached, or set the tube anchor at a height at or above your head.  Grasp the handles and stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.  With arms extended in front of you and up towards the cable/tube attachment, set the shoulders down away from the ears and pull the handles towards the chest.  Keep the elbows close to your body and use the muscles of the back and arms to perform the movement.  Slowly return the starting position.  Avoid using the neck and keep the shoulders down throughout the exercise.  Exhale as you pull, and inhale as you return.

Start getting that posture back!


Featured Exercise: Side-Lying Thoracic Rotation Stretch

Featured Exercise:  Side-Lying Thoracic Rotation Stretch

The spine has four major segments: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral.  The thoracic spine is the segment of the spine below the neck, comprised of the 12 vertebrae that serve as attachment points for the ribs.  Not only do they allow us to bend forward, backward, and side to side, but they are the vertebrae responsible for the bulk of our torso rotation.  The vertebrae of the thoracic spine are designed for mobility, while those of the lumbar spine are designed for load-bearing and stability.  However, years of sitting at a desk in school, followed by years of sitting at a desk at work have left people very tight in the thoracic spine.  The result is that when we attempt to rotate our spine, (golf, tennis, housework, gardening, driving) our tight thoracic vertebrae force us to also rotate the lumbar vertebrae, which are not designed for twisting.  This leaves us at risk for muscle injury, as well as disc bulging or herniation.  The following stretch helps increase thoracic mobility, while eliminating rotation of the lumbar spine.  Plus, it just feels GOOD!  Here’s how it goes:

Lie on your side with your knees pulled up towards your chest and arms extended out in front of your chest.  Your head should rest on the floor.  If you need to some extra support for the neck, use a small pillow or roll up a hand towel and place it underneath your head.  From this position, rotate the top arm and torso across the body towards the floor on the opposite side until you feel a full stretch or until the top knee starts to lift off of the bottom knee.  Don’t allow those knees to come apart.  Otherwise the stretch will begin to go into the lumbar spine, where we don’t want it.  This stretch can be done as a dynamic flexibility exercise before activity, where you rotate to the full stretch, pause for a 2-count, and then return to starting position and repeat 6-8 times.  Or, it can be done as a static flexibility exercise after a workout where you hold stretch for 20-30 seconds, then return to start position.  Whichever method you choose, make sure you stretch both sides.    It’s a great stretch to start your morning with, and a must for everyone to keep that back HEALTHY!