Common Six-Pack Mistakes

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be on a local radio station again.  I took one of my many all-star female clients, Amber, with me and we discussed the critical role that strength training plays for women achieving the bodies they want.  I was really pleased with it and think it’s definitely worth a listen.  If you missed it, check it out here.  Scroll back to yesterday (2/27) and click on the replay button for “Treasure Valley Live”.  The portion of the show I was on starts at 22:30. Do it.  Do it now.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people talking to me about the elusive six-pack, only to have them surmise that what they really need to do is more crunches.  Yup, if they only did more crunches they would be akin to Michelangelo’s David.

If only.

Sadly, due to a ton of misinformation and no fault of their own, people often think this is the case.  But it’s not.  At all.  In fact, crunches aren’t even necessary to achieve a lean, sculpted mid-section.

Here are a few common mistakes people make when tying to whittle away at their middle.

NOT CHANGING EATING HABITS

The bottom line is that no amount of exercise is going to give you a six-pack if you have too much fat on your stomach.  Visible abs are not the product of a lot of abdominal exercises, they are the product of having low enough body fat that you can see them.

Getting your body fat to a low percentage requires a diet that consists mostly of whole, natural foods.  Fast food, processed foods and sugary drinks are not conducive to helping those see the light of day.

NOT LIFTING HEAVY ENOUGH

The abs play an important role in stabilizing the body.  When you have heavy weight on your back during a squat, or are pulling heavy weight off the ground, your abs have to brace incredibly tight to keep your body from folding in half.  Simply put, the heavier the weight, the harder your abs have to work.

People often use less than optimal weight, resulting in less than maximum stimulation of the abs.

In short, lift heavy!

NOT USING UNILATERAL TRAINING

Unilateral training is simply working one leg or one arm at a time.  Examples would be lunges, step ups, single arm bench press, etc.  By loading the body unevenly, you force the abs to brace tightly to keep you stable.  This is different than simply lifting heavy.  Uneven loads require anti-lateral flexion, which simply means avoiding leaning over to the side.  This is an often overlooked function of the abdominals as well as an over looked component to training the abs thoroughly.

NOT TRAINING THE ABS IN DIFFERENT PLANES OF MOTION AND STABILIZATION

As I hinted at above, the abs serve several different purposes.  People tend to train them solely through spinal flexion (think crunches).  How ever the primary role of the abs is to stabilize the torso against various types of forces.  This is why things like Pallof Presses (anti-rotation training) and Barbell Roll-outs (anti-extension training) are critical to developing a strong mid-section.

In addition to various types of stabilization exercises, moving through different planes of motion, such as rotary based movements are just as important for the abdominals.

Making the above changes to your training programs can have a great impact on the strength, definition and visibility of your abs.  So get to it!

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Your Comfort Zone Sucks

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

-Neale Donald Walsch

I came across the above quote this morning, and it got me a’ thinkin’…comfort zones suck.

They hold people back. 

They keep people stagnant. 

They keep people from reaching their potential.

Nothing amazing, life changing, or revolutionary ever happened within the confines of comfort.

In fact, most people’s goals are never reached simply because the idea of stepping out of what is comfortable is just too much for them.

Getting lean isn’t easy.  And it can most definitely be uncomfortable.

Adding 20 pounds to your deadlift requires a lot of discomfort.

Putting on 20 pounds of muscle is incredibly challenging.

However, this doesn’t apply just to fitness goals.

What about asking for a raise, talking to the cute new girl at work, or living within a budget?  All of these require you to step outside of what is safe and comfortable.

You don’t have to live every day outside of your comfort zone, but you should frequently step out of it.  Otherwise, you run the risk of never changing, never growing and never really living. 

CrossFit: A Cult?

I hate CrossFit.  I absolutely hate it.  I despise everything about it.

Well, at least that’s what I’m told.

To be honest, I’ve been told that a lot.

The funny thing is, I don’t hate it.  In fact, I even wrote an entire blog post about all the things I like about it.

I’ve stated before that there are things about it I disagree with and that I think there are potential dangers with it, but guess what? If you tell me that Nickleback is the greatest band ever, I’ll disagree with you, but I wont hate you for it.  And as far as potential dangers go, anything can be dangerous if done carelessly.  Driving a car, shaving, not checking the expiration date of the milk.

So, somehow, a couple of comments that weren’t pro CrossFit, despite an entire article discussing the many things about it I like, have turned me into a hater.

It’s funny how people jump all over the negative and completely ignore the positive.  I say “funny”, but what I really mean is “frustrating”.

I even had someone send me this article explaining how they were sure I would like it because they knew I hated CrossFit.

They “knew” it? Because of a couple sentences, they were able to sum up all of my thoughts on one of the biggest fitness movements in the country?

That’s the problem with a blog.  It’s short.  It’s brief.  It’s certainly not all-encompassing, but people respond as if it is.

I could write a 1,500 word post (which would be loooong for a blog) about programming for fat loss and it wouldn’t begin to scratch the surface of what I would have to say about it.  I even had a fat loss seminar last fall where I talked for almost four hours about fat loss and I felt like I left a ton of things out.

I think it’s safe to say that if I put something up in a post, it doesn’t cover every thought I have on the subject.  Unless it’s about deadlifting.  Then all I have to say is that it’s awesome and you should do it.

The article that was sent to me was titled “Inside the Cult of CrossFit”. I was about half way through reading it when I realized I had read it before over on the Men’s Health website.  I guess I wasn’t interested in it enough the first time for it to make much of an impression.

Anyway, the article bashes CrossFit for a variety of reasons.  Reasons that have been brought up in a hundred different articles over the last few years.  In short, I didn’t think it was anything new and certainly not anything worth taking the time to write.

What did strike me about the article was the “all or nothing” attitude about it.  CrossFit=bad.  CrossFitters=cult followers.  End of story.  I whole-heartedly disagree with that sentiment.  I also think it speaks to a larger issue within the fitness industry.

After politics and religion, it seems like exercise is the thing people can be the most dogmatic about.  What they do in the gym is what they do and good luck trying to get them to do anything else.  And if you disagree?  Well, then you my friend are an ignoramus.

It’s polarizing. It’s close-minded.  And it makes the whole industry weaker.

Yes, there are things that I think are dangerous, or foolish or completely false that I will speak out about.  I feel like that is a responsibility of mine.  And, yes,  there are a few people in the industry who I wish would go away.  However, it’s an entirely different thing to write off an entire movement, to deem it a “cult” whether it be CrossFit, Zumba, body building, powerlifting, etc. simply because there are elements you disagree with.

In my opinion, and I guess this is my point, is that anytime you close yourself off to something entirely, you’ve probably missed out on something that could be of great benefit to you and your goals.  And in case there is any confusion, that’s not a good thing.

The Good And Bad In The Fitness Industry

Yesterday a couple friends of mine (thanks Ryan and Laura…who just happen to be a couple of crazy love birds) shared a few videos on my Facebook page:

While I thought the first was hilarious, and the second frustrating maddening…er, interesting, I also thought that both of these videos give a pretty accurate depiction of what goes on in the fitness industry.

I have to say that I’m proud to be a part of this industry as it’s full of some amazing, generous and crazy smart people.  People like Kellie Davis, Nia Shanks, Tony Gentilcore, Eric Cressey, Dean Somerset, Bret Contreras are hard working, honest folks who do the industry proud.

It’s too bad that the industry is known more for quick fixes and deceptive sales pitches like the ones in the above videos than it is for hard work.

These kinds of things give people a false sense of what healthy is and what it takes to achieve a healthy life.  Then when the products, “gurus” or diets fail them, they have a bad taste in their mouth for the industry as a whole.  I can’t say I blame them.  They don’t know any better.

I guess I see it like this.  The fitness industry is a like a big family.  There are those family members that you enjoy spending time with.  They are positive, they don’t brag about they things they have, and they are genuinely happy for the success and milestones in your life.

Then there are those other family members.  Maybe it’s a sibling, an uncle, or a second cousin twice baked and once removed, but chances are you have one somewhere. They are the ones who are always trying to sell you on their new idea, trying to make their lives sound better than yours and in general are not that fun to be around.

Like anything, the fitness industry is full of good and bad.  It’s inevitable and will always be that way.  You’ll be exposed to the negative parts, but you can certainly minimize your exposure to them and the effects they have on your outlook.  You can also choose to surround yourself with positive, intelligent fitness industry people.  A good place to start is the blog roll I have on the right side of this page.  These folks are all quality people who are worth reading/listening to.  They’re people who can earn your respect, who you can build trust with.  People who will take the time to answer an email.  Something a shake weight can’t do.