Monday, July 19, 2010
Which type of physique do you admire and wish you looked like? Is it the people who run all the time? Bike? Sit on the couch with a remote in one hand and a bag of pork skins in the other? The ones who spend all their time at the gym in cardio classes? Doing Pilate's or Yoga? Those who spend most of their workout time on weight lifting machines? Or the ones who spend their time on the grunt-end of the gym with the heavy free weights and bare-bones machines?
None of these answers are wrong (except for perhaps the couch potato one, simply because it will lead you to an early grave). The answer, though, should clearly show you what it is you need to be doing to obtain a body most closely resembling the one you desire.
Me? I took a look around many years ago and decided I'd most like to look like the gals who compete in figure and bikini competitions. Upon a little investigation I discovered those ladies spend a bulk of their exercise time lifting heavy weights, and a moderate amount of time doing both cardio and stretching, while completely avoiding steroids. (I did NOT want to look like a freaky manly-muscled she-male- Gross!) They eat really clean and keep a good amount of protein in their diets. So I decided to do what they do and see how close to looking like them I could come. I've never regretted that decision. It's yielded me results that I am really happy with.
So if you like the way gymnasts look, take a look at how they train (and eat!) and see if you can't implement some of those principles into your own exercise time. If want a runners legs, run! (And if you don't like the way runners legs look, why are you running?) Like the way yoga enthusiasts look? Yep- Do yoga! But if if you want muscle tone, even a little, you're going to have to get on down where the big boys work out and start picking up really heavy stuff. I've never seen someone with substantial muscle tone who only does group exercise classes! Am I dogging group classes? No! I love them and take them occasionally. But they aren't going to get the kinds of results alone that adding weight lifting into the equation will.
If you want to look fit, though, you're gonna have to do something more than just have low body fat. You're going to have to find time to exercise. And how you exercise will eventually dictate the way your body looks, so choose how to spend your exercise time wisely.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Here are a few tips to get the most out of your ab exercises. All of these help to ensure that your abdominal muscles do the work and not other body parts:
1. When doing any kind of crunch, strait up or to the side for obliques, keep your elbows so far back that you can only see them in your peripheral vision.
2. Also for any kind of crunch, keep your chin well back from your chest wall. You at least want a fists-length distance between your chin and the base of your neck- more is better.
3. When doing standard crunches, focus on a spot on the ceiling slightly behind your head. You want to be looking up and back, not up and forward.
4. When doing side crunches, pull your shoulder towards your knee, not your elbow. Keep your elbow far back as in rule #1, above. Envision there is a rope or cable attaching your shoulder and opposite knee that is being pulled on to pull you up into the crunch position. And come up as far as possible on side-crunches.
5. When doing strait-leg lifts (also called ceiling stamps) for lower abs, point your toes towards the ceiling at the top of the move.
6. ALWAYS think of the part of the abs you are using (middle, upper, lower, or obliques) as the originator of the movement. The more mental focus you can put on the muscle worked, the more muscle fibers you will engage and therefore the better the workout of the muscle will be.
And remember: The best ab work you do is in how you eat. The less fat cells you have at your mid-section, the better your abs will look.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
The biggest difference to my body since I've started working with personal trainers is my hips. I'm convinced that it's because they've had me squatting so much. Just about every single time we worked lower body they had me doing some kind of squat.
I'll be the first to admit that I don't really like squats. Never have. They're hard, and I've always been afraid of injuring myself. The first time I did squats many years ago I did too many reps with too much weight and employed bad technique. I literally hurt my whole body. I could barely walk for a week or so. I probably should have gone to the hospital. Ever since then I've been leery of squats. But knowing what I do now, I think squatting should always be included in a lower body workout. Even when you dislike them like I do.
My first trainer was a power lifter. Therefore, the man knew about squats! Here are some things I learned from him that might help you:
1. TAKE A WIDER STANCE THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED TO (shoulder-width apart is usually a little wider than you think it is), and turn your toes slightly OUT. The way most of us learned, with toes pointing forward, isn't necessarily best. After doing some research I discovered that the toes-pointed-out version of the squat is a power-lifting stance. I'd had problems with my knees when I did squats with my toes pointed forward before, but haven't since I've started doing them with my toes out. My guess? The risk of injury to the knees is lessened in this position. I think power lifters, bearing those huge amounts of weight, discovered this long ago.
The other advantage to turning toes out is that it more recruits the inner thigh muscles. This not only involves more muscle in the exercise, therefore giving you more power, but also tones up this area faster than anything else I've tried for inner thigh to date.
2. STAY IN YOUR HEELS! That first trainer, Ross, had to work to drill it through my head to stay far, far back on my heels all the way through the move. This helps to keep the knee from jutting too far out over the toe and puts the emphasis where it needs to be- on the quads and glutes. Lean back hard on your heels on the way down and drive up through them on the way up. I'm so far back on my heels when I squat that my toes are almost lifted off the floor, and Ross often STILL told me that I was too much on the front of my foot. He harped on me about heels more than anything else. Evidently, it's a pretty important point to squatting.
3. YOU AREN'T GOING DOWN LOW ENOUGH! I'm sure you've heard of the hard and fast "Don't let your thighs go below parallel to the ground" rule. This is a very valid rule, and you should follow it. However, parallel to the ground is MUCH lower than you think it is! When I finally got myself low enough that Ross approved, I felt like my butt was going to hit the backs of my shins. When I watched Ross do it, I thought it looked like HIS butt was going to hit the backs of his shins! But here's the thing- it's the FRONT of your thigh you are wanting to have parallel to the ground, not the back. If you have thick thighs like me, parallel is a very different thing when you are considering the front of your thighs as opposed to the back. I'll be honest: Coming down low like this is uncomfortable and awkward- especially at first when your hip flexibility is still improving! But it's recruiting more muscle, and therefore giving you a much better workout.
4. YOUR KNEES AREN'T AS FAR OUT OVER YOUR TOE AS YOU THINK THEY ARE. Another thing that I worried about with squatting in the past is the position of my knee over my toe. It's a widely known fact that when doing any kind of exercise your knees should not project past your toes. However, the execution of your heels as described in point #2 above prevents your knees from coming out too far and causing damage. So.... if you employ point #2(heels), it will ensure you don't hurt yourself with point #3(thighs parallel). Make sense?
5. LOOK STRAIT AHEAD! This was probably been the hardest habit for Ross to break with me. I thought constantly looking down at my knees to ensure they weren't jutting past my toes was a good thing. But when you look to the side while squatting you subconsciously swing ever so slightly to one side, putting uneven stress on your joints, especially your knees. Pretend your neck is in a brace and look strait ahead and slightly up!
6. IF YOU ARE A WOMAN, DON'T BE AFRAID OF SQUATS! They do GREAT things for a woman's rear view!
At first, after a hard squatting workout I always found it interesting that some part of my upper body (usually shoulders) was more sore and felt better worked than it did when I work that same body part specifically. That's because, while generally targeted for the quadricep (front of thigh) and glute (butt) muscles, squats literally involve the whole body, making muscles work in ways they've never been challenged before. And THAT'S a whole lot of bang for your exercise buck!
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!
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