Sunday, June 20, 2010
Many years ago (20 or more), I saw an article in a magazine where the author gave kuddos to the best body parts in Hollywood. Raquel Welch got the vote for back, and the attached caption for the beautiful photo of her back stated that a muscular back on a woman is sexy.
I decided I was going to try and get a back like that.
And try I did. Back had always been my favorite body part to work, but at that point I started putting concentrated effort into building the back muscles when I lifted. The problem was that I couldn't really see my back and it didn't occur to me to have someone take a picture (bright, I know!), so I never knew if my efforts were paying off.
Then I started working with as a nutritionist and distance coach in February of 2010. He taught me some basic posing and I had my daughter take pictures to show him, so that he could see where my body was muscle-wise and have a good idea of the work that needed to be done. When I looked at those first photos I was shocked for two reasons: 1) I was REALLY bad at posing, and B) I had developed back muscles! I truly was stunned. 24 or so years of weight lifting had paid off, I just hadn't known it until that very moment.
I think I can safely say I not only met my goal of having muscle like Raquel's, but surpassed it.
This isn't to say that it will take you 24 years of lifting to have a strong back, but it IS to say that when you concentrate efforts on building up this area, for Pete's sake, be sure to have someone snap flexed pics along the way!
Okay, so here is my prescription for building a strong back:
1) Diet. As I stated in my "Creating Abs You Can Be Proud Of" blog, if you don't get the fat off of the area, you'll never see all the beautiful muscle you are building. Having said that, many people gain fat in their backs LAST, so it could very well be that you will see development in this area faster than others. I know this is the case with me. But if you have excess fat to lose anywhere on your body, do it! A little will still come off of your back, and even a small amount of fat reduction can make a big difference in how much developed muscle you can see. Also, proper nutrition and a cleaned-up diet (ban the junk!) will help you to put on muscle much faster.
2) Lift heavy! You can't get a muscular back without resistance training. Push-ups alone aren't going to build a balanced and symmetrically muscular back. You are going to have to pick up the weights!
3) When I train, I target 3 different muscle groups: Lats, Rhomboids, and low back. The lats are the muscles that flare out to the side under your armpit and down the side of the ribcage when well-developed. These look wing-like on very muscular men, in particular. The rhomboids are what I call the tenderloins- they run on either side of the upper area of the back bone and attach to the scapula. The lower back is all the muscles that make up the lower region of the back area. As I said in my abs blog, if I have not done an exercise that brings low back in some other time in my workout week (stiff-legged dead lifts, hyperextensions, etc), I will include lower back exercises on back day.
So on back day, since I usually do deadlifts, squats, and/or hyperextensions on leg day, I concentrate most of my weight lifting efforts on Lats and Rhomboids.
Lat exercises are going to be mostly pull-down and overhead type moves, like different types of lat pull-downs and chin-ups.
Rhomboid exercises are going to be mostly squeezing-type moves, like various rows and and reverse flyes (which you have to be very careful to keep in a lower plane of motion, so as not to make them a shoulder exercise).
Having said this, both types of moves incorporate all muscle groups in the back, so don't be surprised if you feel one exercise in the rest of the back.
When I work my back, I really concentrate hard on contracting the muscle targeted. I put in max effort, and usually do three sets of 15-20, with the goal being exhaustion at the end of each set. If I were trying to build my back muscle, as opposed to maintaining it (I need to let the rest of my body catch up to my back), I'd do a pyramid setup of four sets of 12, 8, 4 then another set of 12, with the same goal of exhaustion by the end of all but the first set. This is pretty much the way I built my back to where it is now.
So my current back exercise selection once a week (the only muscles I work twice a week are quads, hams, and delts, sometimes abs), might look something like this:
3 Super-sets, 15-20 reps each to exhaustion, of:
- Wide-grip lat pull-downs (always front- I won't do behind-the-neck pull-downs without an experienced spotter)
- Narrow-grip seated pulley rows
- Dumbbell bent rows, single arm (to let one side recover while the other rests).
If I feel a need to work lower back, I'll perhaps jump over and do three sets of 15 hyperextensions, weighted or not, depending on how strong I feel that day after the back exercises. I might point out that when I first started working my back I did NOT max out on lower-back moves. I realized I needed to slowly build my strength to avoid potential injury. If you are just getting into the back-building business, I would advise that you do the same.
I usually work biceps with back, so will often super-set a bicep exercise with a back exercise (moving immediately from back exercise to bicep exercise). This helps to save time while my back recovers, and uses the back exercise to somewhat pre-exhaust my biceps, which gives them a better workout.
There is another big muscle back there- the trapezius (a kite-shaped muscle that runs from the base of your neck out to your shoulder girdle and then about 1/2 way or so down your backbone). I never target it because I don't feel big traps bulging up between the shoulders and neck is a particularly attractive look on females. And I'm starting to get concerned that mine is almost disproportionately large compared to the rest of my back muscles. My traps don't need any more volume! If, however, you are either a female who feels your traps are underdeveloped or are male (big traps look great on guys!), you will want to find exercises to target this muscle, as well. Shrugs are the most popular exercise I know of to build traps.
I hope this information is useful to someone.
If you have questions, as always, please don't hesitate to ask!
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
I have received multiple inquiries as to how I've managed to get my abs into the condition they are after birthing four babies and spending forty-three years on this earth. What I am about to share is nothing earth shattering or new, and you've probably heard it all before, but I thought I'd blog about it so that I can give people my own recipe for ab success when they ask me how to get a nice midsection.
The first thing I want to point out is that there is no magic bullet for getting good abs. I think people really want me to share some literal secret, like drinking a weird vinegar or doing some super-off-the-wall ab move to have tight abs, and that's just not the case. It really is a multi-faceted, yet still simple, approach.
In order from most important to least, here is what I do for a tight midsection.
#1. Diet- Bring your body fat down! It does not matter how well all the tips following this are working- If your beautiful abs are hidden by fat, no one (including you) will be able to see and appreciate them.
#2. Hold 'em in! All the time. As often as you can think of it. Honestly, I'm almost always in an isometric ab contraction. It's a habit. The more you do it, the more automatic it becomes. There is not a single ab exercise out there that does as much for ab flatness and definition as simply contracting your abs as much and as often as possible. Reason? Ab exercises last for just a few minutes. Holding your abs in lasts all day long.
3. Cardio. Same reason as #1. Cardio helps burn fat. Lack of fat means ab visibility.
4. Hold 'em in while doing ab exercises. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone doing an ab exercise with their abs protruded. The tighter you hold your abs in while working them, the more effective (and harder!) the ab exercise will be.
5. Strengthen your lower back. Your ab and lower back muscles cross over each other. To to have tight abs, you MUST have tight lower back muscles. If you have tight abs and a weak lower back, your abs will have the appearance of being wide, no matter how strong they are. Plus, you will have created a skeletal imbalance. I can't tell you the people I've given this advice to, and after strengthening their lower back they begin to see the V-taper they've been unable to obtain until then.
6. For my actual ab workouts, once a week I usually do 20 minutes of an ab tape. My favorite is Kari Anderson's Curl DVD. But sometimes I will choose two of the ten-minute sections in either Kathy Smith's Tummy Trimmer DVD or 10-Minute Solution Quick Tummy Toners DVD. There are other DVD's out there you could use.
Often I will add another ab workout in the gym a couple of days later (abs are like every other muscle group and need plenty of time to recover between targeted ab workouts). When I do this, I treat them as two different muscle groups: Middle abs (always including both upper and lower in the move), and obliques. I don't isolate upper abs because they are the same muscle running between the rib cage and pelvic bone. Upper abs are not my issue- lower are. So it is much more efficient for me to spend my workout time targeting the area of the muscle that is weakest. I've found that upper abs get tightened in the process.
I do at least three exercises for the middle abs, and two for obliques. Sometimes, I will work them between other muscle groups (for instance, super-set them between back or bicep exercises), and other times I do them back to back to really burn them up. A sample ab workout for me looks like this:
3 Super sets of:
- Reverse Crunch on bench (feet coming down all the way to the ground with control at all times)- 20 reps
- Weighted side bends- 20 reps, each side (challenging weight- you want to FEEL this in the obliques!)
Then 3 Super sets of:
- Captains Chair leg lifts (curl your lower back off the padding to lift your legs, don't just lift them- it's supposed to resemble a reverse crunch!)- 12 reps
- Cable Rope Crunches- 20 reps (weight should be challenging)
- Bicycle Crunches 3x15, alternating sides (15 on each side)
And if I haven't hit lower back by doing something like deadlifts or squats some other time in the week, I'll do 3 sets of a targeted lower back exercise like Supermans or weighted hyperextensions on a Roman Chair.
The only thing I'd say that is negotiable, here, is #6. I know of others who do their ab workout quite differently and get similar results. This is just simply how I prefer to work my abs. In all reality, the way you target exercises for the abs is really just the gravy of the whole process. The meat and potatoes of having beautiful abs lies in the other five steps.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
I added two more products, my favorite Ab workout DVD and a self-tanning product, to my "Products I Have Found Useful" blog here:
urnal_individual.asp?blog_id=3214254 , if anyone is interested.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
I am getting many of requests from people, asking what I did on my cutting diet so they can try it, too. It's starting to disturb me, so I felt it might be a good idea to blog about the subject. Also, maybe this way I can stop typing the same thing over and over again.
The first thing I want to make clear is the purpose of a cutting diet: It's generally for fitness competitors (body building, figure, or bikini) to get max weight off(both fat and, at the end, water) while not only maintaining their current muscle, but also building new. This is so that when they get on stage the judges can clearly see the muscle development the competitor has worked so hard for.
Me? I don't plan to compete until summer of 2011, but was scheduled for a corrective surgery where it was beneficial for the surgeon to see me as close to competition weight and shape as possible.
A cutting diet is NOT something the average Joe (or Jane) should be doing as a tactic for permanent weight loss. Not only is it a fairly extreme way of eating (there is almost no wiggle room in what you eat- I got used to getting food out of my cooler to bring into restaurants to eat with friends and family), but also the competitor gains anywhere from 5-15 pounds back right away after the diet is over. This is because of the reintroduction of more carbs and salt, never mind the fact that they usually feel deprived of "regular" food and go a little nutty with the eating for a while after their show is over.
Furthermore, a cutting diet is NOT something I would recommend ANYone try, particularly the first time out, without professional help. I simply could not have obtained the results I did without the aid of a good coach, and I couldn't have made it through as healthy as I did without his specific cutting diet made just for me.
In other words: Not something that the general public should be attempting.
The things I DID feel others could use from my experience I blogged in my blog "Lessons Learned and Still Applied From My Cutting Diet", right below this one. These are things I felt safe telling people across the board that they could apply to their regular lives.
The other thing I want to point out is that it wasn't just the diet that got me those dramatic results in 12 weeks: I was working out like a fiend! Without strict adherence to a vigorous weight lifting and cardio program, my results would not have been nearly as impressive.
And one other thing: I've heard from several here on Spark who seem to have the impression that they can do a 10 day cutting diet and get results like mine. NOT HAPPENING! My cutting diet was 12 weeks. It amazes me when people ask about my "10-day Cut". The fact is that it was an 84-day cut.
For the record, I weigh about 5 1/2 pounds more than I did when I came off of the cutting diet. This was withOUT the above mentioned nutty eating that most competitors indulge in after their cutting diet is over. It's mainly because I have more water in my system now, due to raised sodium and carbohydrate levels. (You can read my blog "And Unexpected Gain is Nothing to Sweat Over"to find out more about the reason for this.) The photos below were taken 2 days ago, 19 days after the cutting diet was over. I still look pretty good, see?.......
...... But I'm smoother and not as "cut" as I was in my final photos the day the cutting diet was done.
So the long and short of it is: Unless you have a competitive or fitness related reason for needing to go on a cutting diet, I'd advise you not try it. Ask me for recommendations on good coaches. (There is one roaming around here on Spark I would NOT recommend for reasons I can share with you privately.) Read my blog further ahead titled "Moving past a weight Loss Plateau" for a formulation on how you can lose weight (this is a GREAT plan and requires no membership fees). Or join Weight Watchers! That's how I lost my first 38 pounds. Then post your own photos, bragging your progress with "after" photos that you can actually walk around looking like!
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