Your core – abs, lower back, and hips. A key zone for stability in functional fitness, and one you should incorporate into your regular training regime using great abs and core exercises.
So let’s get to it, and here are five key core exercises for your routine:
Simple, but it works. Variations keep the boredom away – side plank, reverse plank, knee tuck, etc. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and shoot for three intervals.
Key is to focus on keeping your hips tucked under and lower abdominals engaged. Three sets, 10-15 reps.
V-Ups or V-Hold
Perhaps not a beginner core moves, but ones you want to master. Already mastered them? Try holding a medicine ball or other weight with outstretched arms during the V-Up motion, or above your head during the V-Hold. Three sets, 8-12 reps.
No gym, then keep you back on the floor. Normally you want your arms at your sides, but, place your hands under your lower back if you have issues. Too easy? Add a crunch motion. Have access to a hang bar, or captain’s chair? Use those for leg raises, and up the work. Three sets, 8-12 reps.
Superman (also known as Cobras)
Face down, arms in front – and arch your body up (like you’re flying). Add a twist, and bring your arms back as you arch – return them to forward as you lower your body to reset the motion. Three sets, 5 reps, hold for each up position. Be careful not to strain your lower back; listen to your body.
Keep these in your kit for great abs and core exercises, and add them to your routine. You will keep your core strong and tone – which is key to so many other areas of your fitness progress. If you are going to take on these exercises outside, be sure to maintain proper hydration as you crush your core workout!
Congratulations to setting a fitness goal! Many do not – so you are already in a small group. So let’s go over a few easy steps to keep in mind as you work towards your objectives.
It’s not easy; life can get in the way. But you need to get in a daily routine. You might not get to the exercise you wanted – but do not let that stop you from doing something. No time for the gym, go for a walk or jog. Or, use a quick home routine. You can always find the time – so no excuses.
As we have stated before, you cannot out train poor diet and nutrition. Keep a balanced diet, watch your caloric intake, and monitor your macronutrient levels. You are “working out” every time you eat. Those sessions with food should be just as dedicated as your sessions in the gym.
Rest and Recovery
Often neglected in our modern lives, but rest and recovery are key to progressing to your fitness goals. Resting allows your muscles to heal, and grow. They allow your nutrient levels to restore. In short – rest and recovery are what enable you to progress to your fitness goals just as much as your actual fitness routine.
Setbacks. They happen. You missed a few days. Family visits destroyed your diet. You were sick. These happen, get over it. Move on. Your goals are yours to accomplish, and you need to keep moving, even after a pause. We often put a mindset of absolution around our fitness plans, and when those plans are off, many see failure and give up. But you need to realize that failure is not giving up – giving up is failure. So accept the roadblocks that life gives, get rid of that all-or-nothing standard you self-imposed over yourself, and keep going.
Keeping your body properly hydrated is a key part of your athletic performance and health. To help ensure full workout performance, you should ensure you hydrate properly before, during, and after your workouts.
Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours before the start of exercise.
Drink 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after exercise.
During exercise, water consumption is the best way to replace lost fluids for most individuals. Some sports drinks may help replace lost electrolytes during high-intensity exercise exceeding 45 to 60 minutes.
If you sweat profusely during exercise, or your sweat contains a high amount of sodium (salt), sports drinks can help replenish sodium levels and prevent hyponatremia (water intoxication).
Shoulders, for men or women, is a key part of the body to define your physique. They can show off strength and tone, and when sized right, create the taper that enhances the appearance of a slimmer waistline. Moreover, good shoulder muscle health and balance is key to good spine and neck posture.
All that said, they are also a muscle group many struggle to develop, despite being used in so many of our exercise motions and daily life.
So whether seeking to enhance your physique, or develop muscles that assist in proper body mechanics, here are techniques to help get you bigger, fuller shoulders:
First, prioritize shoulders in your workout. If you want to focus on developing any particular body part, it needs to be a priority. Sometimes that can be done in the gym, and sometimes in the kitchen – often it is a mix of both. Bottom line, if you want to develop shoulders, you need to focus on them.
Try hitting shoulders twice a week, while limiting every other muscle group to one session, if you really want to blast their growth; this will force them to adapt and grow more than the other muscles. However, remember to strike a balance in your workout plan. Targeting shoulders, or any part is fine for a 5-10 week plan, but should not be the permanent design of your fitness routine.
Standing Barbell Press
Target Muscles: anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids
Set Up: Approach a racked bar, with weight already loaded. Unrack the bar and step back. The bar should be resting in your hands right around your collarbone.
Motion: Tighten your core, tilt your head back, drive the bar above your head with equal exertion on each side. Exhale at the top. In a controlled manner lower the bar back to your starting point. (If too heavy on the lift, or you reach failure, step back, allowing the weight to come in front of your body, and perform a controlled drop of the weight; do not stay with the weight as it goes down, just control it away from your body, and let it go. Do not try and save heavy weight in these types of moves – let them go – it is not worth the risk of injury)
Target Muscles: anterior, lateral and posterior deltoids
Set Up: Hold a pair of dumbbell weights in front of your shoulders, palms facing your body – as if you had just finished a dumbbell curl.
Motion: In one fluid motion, press the dumbbells up and rotate the palms of your hand to face forward — keep lifting until your arms are extended straight above you. Exhale; pause and lower the weight back to the starting position.
Target Muscles: lateral deltoid
Set Up: Stand, or sit, with your core stable, arms extended down your sides, holding light to semi-moderate dumbbell weights. Palms face in, and elbows slightly bent.
Motion: Tighten your core, and raise your arms away from your body until your elbows are as high as your shoulders. Keep palms towards your body. Try not to squeeze during this motion – it can shift the focus onto your trapezius, which one, is not the focus of the exercise, and two, can risk neck strain if done incorrectly. Return your arms to the starting position.
Bent-Over Reverse Fly
Target Muscles: posterior deltoid
Set Up:Holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other, stand with your knees slightly bent. Bend at the hip joint, keeping your back flat, and core stable.
Motion: Lift both arms to the side with a slight bend in the elbows and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Exhale. Control the weight back to the start position. This exercise does not require a lot of weight to be effective, if proper form is applied to full concentric peak motion, and slow controlled eccentric return to start position.
Target Muscles: anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids
Set Up: Stand upright, holding a barbell using an overhand grip (palms towards your), or dumbbells in the same position.
Motion: Keeping core upright, raise the bar or weights to your shoulders, leading with your elbows. This needs to be a smooth motion; do not jerk, or over-exert in this motion, as it will risk shoulder injury. Pause in this top position; concentrate on the muscle contraction, and then slowly lower the weight back to the start position.
Target Muscles: anterior deltoid
Set Up:Stand upright, with feet about shoulder-width apart. Your arms holding weights should hang down, across your thighs, with palms facing down.
Motion: Tighten your core, and keep your elbows slightly bent, raise your arms upward, keeping them in front of you. Finish the concentric motion when your arms are parallel to the floor/should hight. Exhale, and perform a controlled eccentric motion back to the start position. Be careful with moderate to heave weight on this exercise, due to the leverage stress the motion places on your shoulder. It does not take heavy weight for this exercise to be effective.
As with any weight training program, ensure you properly warm up the muscles and joints prior to the actual weighted portion of the training. This will assist in injury prevention. As always, pain and discomfort in a motion is an indictor your should stop the motion. Consult your physician if you have any specific concerns about exercise.
Lastly, remember the gym is only part of your training. Proper nutrition and rest are also needed to develop, maintain, and achieve your goals. You cannot out train negligence in those areas. “Killing it in the gym” should also mean “killing it in the kitchen” and “killing it in recovery.”
We know these by many names. They are parts of our bodies, that while not injured, pose challenges for those trying to workout and keep fit. These are not active injuries, rather part of the body that just do not work at 100% any more (likely from an earlier injury).
So how can we keep fit, and deal with these problem spots?
It’s a problem for a reason. Something happened, and part of your body was forever affected. This is where we all need to work with our physician to ensure we understand the mechanics of the issue. Guessing at why something is an issue is not the same as taking effective training steps based on solid knowledge.
Do not confuse a problem for an injury. Listen to your body on this – pain, swelling, immobility, etc are signs you have an injury. Maybe minor, maybe not. But you never train on an injury. You seek medical advice, rest, and recover. But you’ve had a bad knee for years – OK, but today your knee decided to upgrade its issues. Be smart, put aside the ego, and treat the injury.
Warm up the area. Get the blood flowing in the the area through simple stretches, and low intensity resistance movements. Keep it simple and slow, until, and if, your problem area is ready to go. For example, you have a tricky shoulder and its chest day… Try doing 10 reps of just the bar, followed by 10 reps of 30% 1RM (One Rep Max) – this will warm up the shoulders, and put just enough tension to let you see if they are OK to add weight. Push-ups? Do them on your knees to decrease the weight. You get the idea.
Apply progressive levels of exercise, vs large jumps. That problem area is going to benefit from steady, progressive adjustments in difficulty, speed, or resistance. Manage the increase in slow amounts. This will keep the area active and warmed up, but also not shock it with in increase that could result in injury. Remember, there is a reason that area is a problem.
Know when to quit. Again, get the ego out of the workout. If you have a problem area, and it acts up – before or during a workout – call it a day with that area. We bet there are other parts of your body you can exercise. Or, change exercises. We want to stress, without control, ego can turn a sore joint into something worse.
Apply proper rest. Have we mentioned those areas are problems for a reason? They will need more attention that other areas after the workout. Foam roller, muscle creams, ice, adequate time off, etc are all critical to ensuring that problem areas have time to recover and rest before your next session with them.
Eat a healthy diet. Your body as a whole, not just the problem area, will benefit from the macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals a healthy diet provides. Keeping beneficial fuel in the tank is vital to helping problem areas rest, recover, and get ready for your next workout.
With these steps, you should be able to manage exercising with a problem area. But remember – one, never, never, exercise on an injury, and two, your best source of advice on this is going to come from a medical professional who can diagnose your specific issues.
Vitamin D is required for the regulation of the minerals, calcium, and phosphorus found in the body. And in addition to calcium, it is an important aspect of maintaining proper bone structure.
Natural sunlight exposure is the easiest and most reliable way for most people to get vitamin D. Normal exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight 2-3 times a week for 10-30 minutes is sufficient time to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, and other factors. During periods of sunlight, vitamin D is stored in your body fat and then released when sunlight is gone.
Vitamin D’s ability to help build strong bones by increasing the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorous is long known. However, recent years have seen it associated as a defense against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mood swings, and depression. But current studies are now altering our understanding of this vitamin, and while not diminishing its importance to our body’s health, may be challenging some decades-old hype.
In 2014, in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers recruited and studied the vitamin D effects in over 25,000 healthy U.S. adults over 50 for an average of almost 5 1/2 years. The study concluded that vitamin D supplements did not lower the risk of cancer, stroke, or heart attack.
And in early 2019, researchers published an analysis of prior studies on the link between vitamin D supplements, cancer risk, and survival. The analysis found no link between supplementation and reduced cancer risk; however, studies suggested that taking vitamin D supplements may lower the risk of dying from cancer by 13%. The study did not determine if the potential vitamin D supplement effect actually caused the body’s own immune system to improve and fight cancer, or if the supplement was directly responsible. In contrast to these possible positive results, a recently published Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL) noted that in a large study of more than 25,000 participants that those taking a vitamin D supplement did not lower rates of heart attack, stroke, or cancer. However, among people who later developed cancer, those who took vitamin D supplements for at least two years had a 25% lower chance of dying from their cancer compared with those who received a placebo.
Possible Assistance in Weight Loss
There is limited evidence vitamin D levels may affect one’s ability to lose weight.
According to the article’s researchers, vitamin D supports mechanisms that can lower viral replication rates and reduce concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines that produce lung inflammation that typically leads to pneumonia, as well as boosting concentrations of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Again, there are mixed results on this too, as several observational studies and clinical trials did not observe any effect from vitamin D in reducing the risk of influenza.
Natural Sources of Vitamin D
Foods that provide vitamin D include:
Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon
Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
Vitamin D Supplements
While research is ongoing, there are benefits from taking vitamin D supplements to promote bone health; however, large amounts of vitamin D are not required to get the benefit. Notably, a 2010 study published in JAMA showed that intake of very high doses of vitamin D in older women was associated with more falls and fractures.
But too much vitamin D (or any supplment) can create risks. Taking a supplement that contains too much vitamin D can be toxic in rare cases. It can lead to hypercalcemia, a condition in which too much calcium builds up in the blood, potentially forming deposits in the arteries or soft tissues. It may also predispose women to painful kidney stones.
Vitamin D2 and D3
The most important forms of Vitamin D for the human body are D3 and (to a lesser extent) D2. If you select to take vitamin D supplements, choose a quality supplement and eating some foods fortified with D3.
Time under tension (TUT) is the amount of time that a muscle or group of muscles is under stress during a set. The reported advantage from TUT is that by focusing on the duration muscle fiber is under stress, rather than a movement repetition count, the intensity will result in gains in muscle size and strength.
The general consensus is that increasing TUT will maximize hypertrophy by increasing the muscle fiber breakdown that occurs during the workout. Thus, hypertrophy may improve if one lifts lighter weights for a longer period of time than to use heavy weights for fewer reps.
How does TUT do this?
TUT’s results may be through creating a hypoxic environment in the working muscles. The premise follows as such:
Resistance training with weights produces a buildup of metabolites in the body,
At the same time, muscle contractions cause blood vessels to condense and restrict the blood flow to working muscles
Focus on the eccentric part of the muscle movement. Eccentric is the lowering, or “anti-contraction” part of the muscle movement. Slowing your eccentric motion will cause an increase in micro-fiber muscle damage, thus encouraging more growth.
Focus on intensity. You need to be lifting heavy enough to fatigue the muscle. Consider ranges 60-80% 1 RPM.
Drop sets until fatigue. It’s about time, and failing to finish a set works against it. So if you hit your limit too soon with the weight, drop to a lower amount, and keep repping out until you finish the set.
Apply TUT to bodyweight movements centers around slowing down the eccentric part of the movement. For example, lower yourself in a push-up using a 4-6 second count, before exploding back up. Same with a squat – slow lower, power back up. Resistance bands work for this too.
Hopefully you now understand enough include TUT in your fitness toolkit.
There are a lot of articles out in the fitness world that talk about the wonders of creatine supplements. Many supplement companies not only have creatine as a standalone product, but include it in pre-workout mixes.
So this stuff must be great, right? As we did with our Pre-Workout article, we’re going to try to give you simple, yet science based take on creatine to help guide you in your health and fitness decisions.
So what is creatine, and how does it work?
Let’s start with the science – adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the most basic form of energy in your body’s cells. It plays a fundamental role in metabolism and muscle function.
Biochemically, ATP is a nucleoside triphosphate, which indicates that it consists of three components: a nitrogenous base (adenine), the sugar ribose, and the triphosphate.
In muscle performance, ATP acts in the following manner with myosin, which is a motor protein best known for its role in muscle contraction:
ATP prepares myosin for binding with actin by moving it to a higher- energy state and a “cocked” position.
ATP must bind to myosin to break the cross-bridge and enable the myosin to rebind to actin at the next muscle contraction.
For training, or any intense muscle activity, your muscles typically store only enough ATP for 8–10 seconds of high-intensity exercise. After this, your body must produce new ATP to match the demands of your physical activity.
Simply put, this is why you can burst few short periods of energy and muscle movement, but cannot sustain those levels.
We’re getting to the part about the creatine…
A study by the Centre for Human Sciences in 2000 showed that fatigue sustained during short-term, high-intensity exercise is associated with the inability of skeletal muscle to maintain a high rate of anaerobic ATP production from phosphocreatine hydrolysis – and that the ingestion of creatine monohydrate at a rate of 20 g/d for 5-6 d was shown to increase the total creatine concentration of human skeletal muscle by approximately 25 mmol/kg dry mass, some 30% of this in phosphorylated form as phosphocreatine.
Moreover, the study showed that a loss of ATP during heavy anaerobic exercise was found to decline after creatine ingestion, despite an increase in work production. These results suggest that improvements in performance are due to parallel improvements in ATP resynthesis during exercise as a consequence of increased phosphocreatine availability.
Short version – Creatine supplements increase your body’s stores of phosphocreatine, which in turn helps support your body’s ability to create ATP and replenish the depleted supply to continue fueling muscle activity.
Lastly, a study in 2010 from the Department of Sport Science was conducted to determine the effect of resistance training for 8 weeks in conjunction with creatine supplementation on muscle strength, lean body mass, and serum levels of myostatin and growth. The researchers found that creatine increased muscle mass when added to an exercise regimen and resulted in a “significant decrease in serum levels of myostatin,” which is a protein that inhibits muscle cell growth.
So that’s it – creatine helps your body maintain its ATP levels, which in turn help muscle output, recovery, and growth.
Does that mean you should take it?
That is a discussion between you, your health provider, and if available, registered dietician. But hopefully, with our comments, you are now better informed about one of the more prolific supplements on the market.