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Work That Core!

Photo by: Leslie Hassler

Photo by: Leslie Hassler

Believe it or not, this Motivation Monday brings us three weeks into 2017. Know what that means? We’ve also reached the halfway point for those New Year’s healthy resolutions to start feeling like second nature. So whatever you do, don’t give up now!

The extra good news is there’s still time to tweak your routine to make this your strongest year yet. I couldn’t let this building phase of January pass without an important reminder about one area of training all of us need to incorporate into our routines regardless of where we are in our fitness journey. Whether your passion is power walking; running; cycling; dancing; swimming; weight training or boot camping, there is one area of the body no one should ignore: the core. My repeat readers already know I’m probably one of core training’s biggest cheerleaders. Why? It’s simple: without a strong core, the rest of your body can suffer. Seriously.

The core is much more than just those “six-pack abs.” It’s actually the part of the body made up of the:

  • Lumbo-pelvic-hip-complex
  • Thoracic spine and
  • Cervical spine.

The core is where all movement begins and where we find our center of gravity. The muscles in the core are broken into two categories: the stabilization system and the movement system. If the stabilization system doesn’t work properly, then your body will make compensations to move, and those compensations can ultimately lead to injury. For example: you could have strong “abs” (rectus abdominus), external obliques and erector spinae, but weak stabilizing muscles in your lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. Without proper stabilization, extra stress is placed on your vertebrae when you move, and this can lead to low back pain and possible injury.

So, today I implore everyone to add my all-time favorite core exercise to your routine: the plank. The following photos taken by Lauren Bachner at New York City’s Hype Gym show the start and finish positions for a plank. (I also added a leg lift option for an advanced option.) Aim for two sets of 12-20 reps. Training tips: In either version, be sure to draw in your navel and squeeze your glutes before you raise your body off the floor to form a straight line from head to toe. Hold for two to three seconds before dropping to the ground to re-start. 

Another bonus when it comes to planks: they are a great exercise for Tabata training. Click here for a refresher on how Tabatas can take add some spice to your fitness routine.

So now I want to know what is YOUR favorite core move? As we continue to make our way through 2017, I look forward to learning what my readers of all ages and skill levels are doing to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Personal Training 101

Happy MLK, Jr. Day! I hope you’re enjoying the first long weekend of 2012.

I’m feeling extremely lucky to have kicked off the New Year enjoying back-to-back productive and life-changing weekends. Last weekend was all about becoming licensed Zumba® instructor. This weekend, I kicked my personal training goals into high gear.

Prep materials & paperwork for training sessions

While I’ve written about guiding my friend Jared along his journey with a first-time gym membership, this weekend I conducted my first official personal training sessions at Hype gym here in New York City.  I’m grateful to my colleagues Rebecca, Colleen, Lea and Lauren for signing up for these first workouts, and I’m already looking forward to the next round!

Each of these women came to me with a similar goal of reducing body fat and increasing the appearance of muscle definition, but each had her own unique background based on several factors including medical history and daily activities (e.g. wearing heels or sitting for a good part of the day because of her occupation). This is why it’s crucial to understand why a “one-size-fits-all” approach to exercise isn’t the best course of action. Just because your best friend has gotten great results from taking a certain group exercise class or running through a specific high intensity circuit on the weight floor doesn’t mean the same routine will work for you – especially if you’re body isn’t properly prepared for that type of workout.

This is where a personal trainer can help. Along with collecting subjective information about your general and medical history, we analyze crucial objective information (measurable data), as well. This includes performance assessments, one of most important being the overhead squat assessment. As I learned through my NASM instruction, this dynamic postural assessment is key in creating a safe and effective exercise program. Observing a person’s feet, knees, lumbo- pelvic-hip complex and shoulder complex while he or she performs an overhead squat shows which overactive muscles need to be stretched and which underactive muscles need to be strengthened. For example, a couple of the women had knees that turned out when performing their overhead squats. That meant we had to stretch the adductors (inner thighs), bicep femoris (hamstring) and tensor fasciae latae (TFL) as part of a warm up before jumping into the rest of the workout.

As far as the workouts are concerned, each woman has begun the first phase of her training: stabilization endurance. This includes lots of fun exercises like dumbbell chest presses and shoulder presses on a stability ball as well as bicep curls standing on one leg instead of two. These exercises have an added bonus: since the body needs to work harder to stay stable, you can end up burning a lot of calories. Each woman will remain in this phase of training for the next four weeks.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll keep you posted on their progress (here’s hoping they come back for lots of sessions!) and also share some specific exercise programs that will hopefully help you with your routine so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Stabilization Before Strength

My friend Jared Morrison recently signed up for a membership at New York Sports Club. This being his first gym membership ever, we decided to turn it into a win-win situation for the both of us. Not only is Jared on his way to improving his overall health by getting on a regular workout schedule, but I am putting my NASM personal training studies into practice by helping Jared reach his goals. After meeting up with Jared for an assessment and kicking off a program, I was reminded of just how important the first phase of training is for anyone new to the gym or coming back after a hiatus.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s system for integrated training is called the OPT model, which stands for Optimum Performance Training. It is divided into stages and designed to help someone progress toward his or her individual goals in a safe and effective manner. The model is divided into three “building blocks:”

  • Stabilization
  • Strength
  • Power

The bottom line is you should not focus on strength and power before you’ve tackled stabilization. Training in the stabilization phase allows you to increase muscular endurance and establish optimal communication between the nervous system and muscular system. Multiple studies have shown inefficient stabilization can cause muscles to produce force incorrectly and increase stress on the joints. This is a surefire way to put yourself at risk for injury.

Basically, the key exercises in this training phase are performed in a proprioceptively enriched environment, which is a “fancy” way of saying controlled, but unstable. These exercises challenge the body’s balance and stabilization systems. Many times, they involve taking a “traditional” exercise off a flat surface and moving you to an unstable one, like a stability ball; or standing on one leg instead of two. These exercises have an added bonus: since the body needs to work harder to stay stable, you can end up burning a lot of calories.

Here are some classic examples of stabilization exercises for resistance training. Aim to perform two sets of 12-20 reps of each:

In addition to his resistance training, Jared’s cardio routine will be working on reaching his goal of maintaining a zone one heart rate for a minimum of 30 minutes two to three times a week. (How to calculate your zone one heart rate.) He also will work on his core. Finally, as for flexibility training: he has the green light to stretch every single day – and multiple times a day if he can!

I am looking forward to monitoring and sharing Jared’s progress. In the meantime, I hope you’ve learned about some key stabilization exercises that can help your body perform at its best so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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