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yoga for core strength

Best Yoga Poses For Core Strength

Core strength is a common element in most athletic endeavours. It is also an area everyone should consider for overall good health as well. While your core is often engaged in many workout routines, yoga poses offer a means to target your core muscles, to work and develop them.

Before you dismiss yoga as a performance tool, consider that regular yoga practice can reduce your risk of injury and condition your body to perform better in other fitness areas. Yoga is a form of functional fitness, and its motions use both large and small muscles and move in many directions (twisting, arcing, etc.), in contrast to limited bi-directional motions along the traditional sagittal, frontal, or transverse planes.

What is Your Core

Often, the core is confused with the abdominal muscles. Many think, that’s it. While the abdominal muscles are part of the core muscle group, to understand “core strength” you need to understand the core muscles. When we refer to core muscles, we mean major muscles that include the pelvic floor muscles, transverses abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, and diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus and trapezius.

If you want to develop all-around core strength, you need to work this entire group, not just parts. This is why so much has been written on why abdominal work alone is not enough for improving core strength. Moreover, if you look at the list of muscles, you can see why a plank is so effective at hitting many of them.

Best Yoga Poses for Core Strength

Our list of poses is intended to work your all-around core. You can put them all together and form an entire core training session, or add 1-2 poses into your regular routine to help provide all-around training depth and variety.

  • Plank Pose
  • Side Plank Pose
  • Upward Plank Pose
  • Bird Dog Crunches
  • Half-Bow Half-Locust Pose
  • Locust Y Jumping Jacks
  • Twisting Boat
  • Listing Boat
  • Figure-4 Bridge

If you find that you enjoy yoga in your performance training, you can check out our other article on simple yoga poses. And if you really want to take the plunge, but are not sure where to start, we recommend checking out Yoga with Adriene – she offers a phenomenal online video selection through her YouTube channel. For the guys, if you want something more focused, check out Breathe and Flow’s yoga for men. Between these sites, you can easily find a yoga session suited to your ability – and help you add to your own list of the best yoga poses for core strength.

-Train Hard!

Top Five Performance Diet Tips

Your training efforts are only as solid as your diet. You might not want to hear that, but the truth is that you cannot out-train a poor diet. And supplements, they are there to supplement – not replace a poor diet. If you want to improve your performance, it only makes sense that you implement these top five Performance Diet tips.

Before you allow images of lettuce and rice cakes to flutter through your mind, you need to understand that the Performance Diet is not about going hungry or starving yourself. Quite the opposite – it is about ensuring that you are obtaining sufficient macronutrient balanced calories to support your training efforts. In fact, you may find yourself eating more than you imagined!

What is a Performance Diet

Let’ start this with what a Performance Diet is not. It is not something you go on, then off, then on again. That’s a yo-yo diet, and those are the exact opposite of a Performance Diet. A Performance Diet is something you follow – it’s a lifestyle, not fad.

It is a diet that ensures you have sufficient calories and macronutrients to meet your daily needs – physical, mental, and recovery. It is a diet that evolves over time, changing with your needs – but always meeting your performance needs – never undercutting them.

Top Five Tips

1. Develop dynamic caloric requirements

Your routine is never static – you will go through periods of intense training, maintenance training, down-time/rest, bulking, cutting, etc. Depending on your program, all these phases have different names. They also have difference caloric intake and macronutrient needs.

You need to work with information sources, nutritionist, or a trainer, to ensure that you are adjusting your caloric and macronutrient needs for each of these phases. For example, a calorie and protein-heavy Performance Diet is perfect for putting on muscle mass – but if you are working to shift your training to perform well in a half-marathon, while the calorie count might remain high, the protein level will not. This is an example of how a Performance Diet is not always a Performance Diet if it does not align with your current needs.

The take away is to keep monitoring your current needs, and adjust your Performance Diet, to sustain performance results.

2. Don’t neglect protein in your morning meals or snacks

Protein is important for your body to repair tissue damage from training – in simple terms, sustain and build your muscles. As it is more dense than other foods, it also requires more calories to digest, and creates a sense of fullness when consumed.

By consuming protein as part of your day’s first meals or snacks, studies have shown this to benefit muscle health and to support weight loss by increasing muscle mass, energy expenditure, satiety hormones, glucose regulation and by decreasing the desire to snack at night. Notably, a 2017 study examined the effect of a high-protein breakfast compared to that of a high fat or high carbohydrate breakfast over a period of 12 weeks on glucose and insulin levels following the consumption of white bread four hours after the breakfast meal. The participants who consumed a high protein breakfast showed improved blood sugar control and insulin levels after consuming the white bread.

3. Cycle your nutrients and calories to match your daily needs

Not all days are created equal when it comes to your caloric and macronutrient needs. So do not treat them as such with your diet.

This tip is about looking at your caloric and macronutrient needs at the weekly level, not daily. It enables you to increase your caloric intake on days of long or intensive training, and cut back on days you do not need as much.

You can work out how to cycle particular macros in this tip as well – using high protein and fat on days of intense training – to force your body to use more fat resources for energy while focusing on carbs more during rest days.

This is also a tip in which we are going to point you to a great article on Healthline.com for more reading. We could repeat it all, but just click the link to read a solid, research-based summary on calorie cycling – why it works, and how to apply.

4. Focus on food before supplements

Many people fall into the trap of thinking supplements can make up for poor diets. This is not the case. Your Performance Diet needs to come first from food. When that is not enough, then you can kick in with the supplements – which research has shown to have positive effects on performance.

In a Performance Diet, we are likely referring to adding protein or meal replacement shakes when you lack the ability to eat more, or possibly access to normal food. Running around all day between client sites – OK, protein shakes are a great tool to get in a healthy snack that promotes tissue health and provides a sense of satiety – keeping you from nutrient-weak, yet easy to obtain snack options. Or if you just cannot eat more (sometimes your stomach just says “done!”) – but you know your workouts will suffer if you do not get enough calories – then have a shake.

Studies have also shown that many in developed countries actually do not obtain sufficient nutrient levels from food – even though the caloric intake is adequate. This is another reason to consider supplements – if your diet is lacking a nutrient value necessary for your performance. But the stress to this point is “necessary,” and you should not be taking any supplements that lack a direct value to your performance goals.

If you use supplements, be sure to check they are of quality, without excess filler ingredients or sugar, or other elements that work against your efforts. So even when used on top of healthy food choices, you still need to read the labels when choosing them.

5. Do the math to figure out your needs – do not guess

Performance Diets are not guesswork. Hate to say it, but you need to spend some time with a pencil and calculator. Knowing your daily caloric and macronutrient needs to reach and sustain your performance means taking the time to run the numbers.

There are several online tools for this, and we’ve even covered it in our Achieving Your Target Weight article. What you need to understand is that while there is some truth to the old saying of “listen to your body” – the reality is more often than not, your body is not accurately telling you what you need to sustain a Performance Diet.

Do the math, trust the numbers.

How to Maintain

The first part of maintaining your Performance Diet is understanding it takes time. Time for you to see real results of the diet change. Why? Because this is about performance – obtaining real performance.

If your performance diet is set right, you will see results, and will be able to sustain them – not just look or feel good for a moment. But give it time. Everyone starts from somewhere…

But as your performance efforts continue, the key to maintaining the Performance Diet is to go back to the books – back to the math and update your needs. For example, if you start your performance journey overweight, without much muscle mass – but now have less fat and more muscle – and are more active, your dietary needs to sustain and grow performance from that point are different from when you started. That might sound obvious, but…

What makes most people give up is the plateau – and while there can be many reasons for one, dietary issues are common. In this, we mean that people fail to adjust their diets to meet their newly found performance levels, and then fail to see more growth. Do not fall into this trap. We recommend that every 2-3 months, you take some time to assess your Performance Diet. Check your calories and macronutrients against your current body and activity, and where you want to go next. Make a plan, and execute…

In the end, performance fitness means owning your workout effort, and your diet. Cheat at one; you fail at both.

-Train Hard!

Density Training: Performance Results In Less Time

Time is likely never on your side when it comes to scheduling your fitness routine. So how can you maximize your workout efforts to see performance gains? Welcome to Escalating Density Training…

What is Escalating Density Training

First, Density Training is a measurement of workload vs time. Escalating, in the sense of this training, is taking one of those components, and increasing (workload) or decreasing (time) in order to escalate the effect on your training. Rather than focusing purely on the weight you lift, this will target sets and reps to perform as much work as possible in the amount of time you allot for your workout.

Let’s go over this using a simple barbell bench press:

Say you can press 150 pounds for 3 sets of 10 reps, in 5 minutes. So in this, your density is 150x3x10 = 4,500 lbs in 5 minutes.

The escalation can occur in various ways:

  • Sustain the time, and work in an 11th rep on each set. 150x3x11 = 4,950 lbs in 5 minutes
  • Shorten your rest interval, and do the same weight in 4:30 minutes.

This is to give you an example of how the density math works. However, the reality is this is going to be applied to your entire workout. When implementing this, you will measure and apply this to each exercise throughout the whole workout.

Density Training Application

Implementing the process into your routine is simple – but beware of underestimating the intensity of this process. It’s going to involve pushing your muscle groups, and as you want a decent rep range, focus on the technique.

Follow the process below, and you will see improvements in your performance:

  • You’re going to have to do a workout at least once, to establish the baseline for your density measurement – keep a good journal for this, either on your phone or old school pen and paper.
  • Start with a weight you can complete full sets, for the first 2-3 sets – you do not want to be hitting failure in your first couple of sets, but it is okay if you do hit failure in later sets of your routine.
  • Use opposite pairing for your muscle groups for Density Training; for example, if you are going to work on the chest with dumbbell presses, then pair it with a leg extension or seated row. Mix it up – you need to be able to keep pushing your muscle groups throughout the whole workout.
  • Get a wide range of reps into the program; do not stick with the same rep ranges or set counts throughout your routine.
  • This is about reps and time driving density volume – not adding weight. If you feel you have more in the tank, do more reps, or shorten the rest intervals.
  • For each session, plan on rep increase, or time decrease to target density escalation, and record your results. Do not figure it out as you go.
  • Remember, even 1 rep is an improvement – if all you get is one more rep in the same amount of time – celebrate, you increased your density. Same with time – if you could only do the same volume in 10 seconds less, you still increased your density.

5 Key Training Benefits

Following the Escalating Density Training process, you should find improvements in 5 key areas:

  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Hypertrophy
  • Fat burning
  • Time (more efficiently spent in the gym)

You can build your entire program around this for a whole cycle, but this is very taxing to your body, so we do not recommend this as your standard training regime. Use it as an effective tool to boost your fitness performance, but as with all intense programs, give your body proper rest and recovery before resuming another cycle.

– Train Hard!

Research Update: Do Supplements Help Performance?

Supplements are ever present in the fitness industry. We’ve covered some of them in other articles, but the question is always out there – do they help with performance?

In October, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released the results of a 12-week exercise regimen study conducted on 148 active duty Air Force airmen. The exercise regimen combined strength training and high-intensity interval aerobic fitness challenges. Additionally, half of the participants received a twice-daily nutrient beverage that included protein; the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA; lutein; phospholipids; vitamin D; B vitamins, and other micronutrients; along with a muscle-promoting compound known as HMB. The other half a placebo. Neither the participants nor researchers knew who received the supplement or the placebo.

In short, half of the group were given supplements during the study.

The Findings…

For both groups, the exercise regimen alone alone “improved strength and endurance, mobility and stability, and participants also saw increases in several measures of cognitive function. They had better episodic memory and processed information more efficiently at the end of the 12 weeks.” The participants’ body fat percentage was reduced and they showed an increase in the oxygen-uptake efficiency (VO2 max). They also showed signs of increases in the accuracy of their responses to problems designed to measure fluid intelligence.

In short (again), exercise is good for you – the whole group saw benefits, both physically and mentally, from performing a regular fitness routine.

Researchers found that those who also consumed the nutritional supplement “saw all of these improvements and more.”

Those that took the supplement drink displayed an improved resting heart rate and greater improvements in their ability to retain and process information. Additionally, their reaction time on fluid intelligence tests was better than the placebo group.

Some Questions…

While the study saw improvements in the supplement shake group, it did not fully ascertain why this occurred.

  • How did the shake affect the macronutrient, micronutrient, and vitamin profile of the test subjects?
  • How did the shake affect daily caloric intake?
  • How was the shake timed with optimal intake windows for the participants?

Matt Kuchan, a co-author of the study, stated “it is possible the active supplement closed nutrient gaps,” since the average American diet that the airmen were on is well-documented to have nutrient gaps. He believes, though, the positive effects “resulted from the combination of muscle and brain nutrients,” and that the nutrients in the shake, which are found in healthy foods, would be difficult to replicate in a natural diet.

Bottom Line…

The study showed that those on the supplements obtained more results in physical and mental performance. While there are questions as to the “why” – the result is that the supplements helped close some gap for the participants’ that supported achieving higher performance levels.

As the term itself states, supplements are to supplement – not replace – dietary needs. But with many individuals, even athletes, trying to balance access to quality nutrients and daily responsibilities, supplements offer a mechanism to help people achieve their fitness performance goals.

– Train Hard!

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