By Susan Bianchi, MS Health & Wellness Coach
When most people think of “core” exercises, crunches are often the first go-to exercise. In actuality, crunches should probably be last on the list. It is important to understand that your core is a whole host of muscles that encompass the entire midsection of the body, front and back. Some of these muscles are part of the intrinsic core that helps provide stability for the spine and pelvis, and others are extrinsic core muscles that help mobilize and transfer force between limbs of the body.
The problem with crunches is that it is a very isolated exercise. The rectus abdominus, also known as the “six-pack,” is not an effective stabilizer of the spine and hips. Doing crunches does not promote stability and integrated movement, which is of primary importance for injury prevention and performance.
Most people spend a majority of their time in a seated position, hunched over their computer, spine flexed and the abdominal wall already in a short position. Doing crunches perpetuates and feeds into that flexed spine and forward head pattern, resulting in back, neck and shoulder problems. Additionally, those who are practicing crunches on the floor are missing one-third of the exercise since the body can’t extend beyond the floor. Simply sit in a chair away from the back support and tip your upper torso backwards then come back to an upright position. Notice how your abdominals help pull your forward. This range is totally missed when doing any flexion exercise at floor level.
Core exercises that involve developing good stabilization for the spine and hips and develop effective transfer of energy across multiple joints are much more effective than isolated crunches. Asymmetrical weighted exercises like the one-arm fly, one-arm weighted carry or lunges can challenge stability. In addition crawls, planks, alternate arm/leg raises on all fours and cross body woodchops create effective challenge and integration for the core.
Spending time strengthening the stabilizers and movement patterns you aren’t doing during your workday will help you create the quality and injury-free movement you want.
Lastly, seeing your abdominals is a matter of how much body fat you have, not how many crunches you do. If seeing your six-pack is a priority, then your most important exercise will be watching what goes on your plate.
“Don’t eat egg yolks, they are high in cholesterol.” This has been a common mantra for about 30 years now. Unfortunately, poor understanding of cholesterol and dietary cholesterol has left this nutrient-dense and economical food with an unwarranted negative reputation. In fact, recent studies have shown that egg consumption may even improve blood lipid profile and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The “incredible, edible egg” is only truly incredible if you eat the whole egg. Eating egg whites has been the alternative to avoid the fat and cholesterol in the feared yolk. However, 90 percent of the nutrients and nearly half of the protein is in that yellow center.
The yolk is packed with key fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and omega-3. In addition, calcium, iron, B6, folate, B12, and zinc and antioxidants are just a few of the many nutrients in this powerhouse. The yolks also contain choline which is vital for cardiovascular and brain function and may
Addressing the root causes of inflammation in the body that may be contributing to increased production of cholesterol may prove more vital than fearing the egg. The whole egg is a nutrient-dense food in a compact package worth revisiting. Remember, eating a clean, balanced diet with variety and moderation is a smarter, healthy step.
Conventional stretching for better mobility, injury prevention and performance may not be your best defense. Many exercisers find themselves doing their three minutes of yanking on limbs robotically or skipping stretching altogether. It is no wonder that conventional stretching is often an afterthought since there is not much to be gained from all the tugging, pulling and hanging. The toes still seem a mile away on the forward bend no matter how many times we may try and reach them.
Much of the controversy with stretching is a result of the method. Conventional stretching, which consists of pulling on a passive muscle, does not create much change or provide any warm-up for the muscles. In fact, in some instances it may result in over-stretched, underactive muscles.
Instead, performing resistance stretching can help improve mobility and provide an active effective warm-up for the body. Said to be the secret weapon of Olympic athletes, resistance stretching is the practice of forcefully contracting, not relaxing the target muscle group as a resistance-stretching practitioner assists in moving the exerciser’s muscles from a contracted to a lengthened position. So, it requires the muscle being stretched to be engaged while it is being lengthened. Stretching the muscle only as far as the muscle can maintain resistance ensures that it is never overstretched. It is not only a way to increase flexibility, but also a way to maintain and/or increase strength of muscles, especially at end ranges where muscles are often most susceptible.
Are you confused? We are constantly bombarded with a different way to eat for weight-loss and optimum health. The bottom line is, there is no one-size-fits-all diet. We are each a bio-individual with unique nutritional requirements. These requirements can change with age, seasons and even hormonal cycles.
While someone may flourish and feel energized with a high-protein, Paleo-style of eating, another might find himself sluggish and fatigued eating that way. Adopting the mindset that there is only one strict way to eat for weight-loss and health, or employing a “my friend lost a lot of weight doing this” mentality, may lead you down a road of frustration and fatigue.
Your first step is to listen to your body and how it responds to different foods and ratios of foods after consumption. If you are starving an hour after your meal, or you are feeling sluggish, your proportions of carbohydrates, proteins and fats may be out of balance. Feeling satiated and energized two to three hours after a meal is a positive indicator that you are on the right track. Keep a journal in the early stages to not only to track the food you eat, but also record how your energy levels fluctuate. Remember you are unique and these ratios can shift, so pay attention.
Switch your use of vegetable oils, like canola and soybean, to organic butter from grass- fed cows, olive oil, coconut oil or avocado oil. Canola and soybean oils are highly processed and refined with chemicals. Look for fats and oils that are minimally processed and well sourced.
Many women shy away from lifting heavy weights thinking they will bulk up or that serious repetitions with light weights will burn more calories.
To the contrary, a woman’s hormonal makeup does not lend itself to bulking up, but lifting heavy weights does lead to burning more calories in a shorter amount of time and increasing bone density in a more effective manner.
Another important benefit of lifting heavier weights is the increased release of human growth hormone, (HGH) which continually declines as we age. HGH improves bone density, stimulates fat loss, and improves skin, sleep quality and aspects of cognition.
Barring any injuries that would contraindicate lifting heavy weights with proper training, incorporating this can be a key component to weight loss, bone health and staying healthier, longer.
The concept that all calories are the same contradicts the reality that our body is greatly affected by the composition of those calories. The body utilizes very different pathways to metabolize the different foods we eat and our hormones are directly influenced by what those calories are.
Consuming too much sugar fructose is a prime example. Excess intake of fructose can impact insulin resistance and increase the storage of fat in the abdominal region because fructose is only metabolized in the liver. Unlike the sugar glucose, ingesting fructose does not suppress the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for making you feel hungry. So 100 calories of fructose does not have the same effect as 100 calories of glucose does.
Protein is another example. It requires a lot of energy to digest protein. Nearly 30 percent of the calories that come from the protein ingested will be required to metabolize it.
Protein also has a strong effect in suppressing ghrelin and stimulates other receptors in the gut that signal to the brain the feeling of fullness.
Understanding the different responses in the body, not all calories are the same. The quality, types and ratios of proteins, sugars and fats have an impact on weight and weight gain. It’s not just a number.
Our ideas of health and healthy choices will continue to shift as we expand our understanding of the complexities of how the body works. Hopefully, clarifying and dispelling some myths and misconceptions will help you move toward being your best.