Challenge Your Core

19 04 2018

When asked to identify one’s core, most people will point to his or her abs. The core muscles are more than just the rectus abdominal which are the “six-pack” of the stomach. The core muscles can include the gluteus maximus and minimum, hip complex (iliacus, psoas, pectinus), abdominals (rectus, transverse, and obliques), erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, multifidus, latissimus dorsi, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Although there is no specific definition for the “core”, we have to get away from thinking of the core as just your abdominal region.

The purpose of the core muscles are to provide balance and stability to your body(1). No matter if for sport performance or daily function, the core muscles help support the bones and increase ease of movement. The core also aids in keeping our posture in alignment. Picture the folks who are bent over from the waist and always looking down because their muscles in their backs aren’t strong enough to hold their spine in alignment. Also, if you’re an athlete or a weekend warrior, that core needs to be strong to get you through the sport or you’ll end up with some back, hip, shoulder, or foot pain. Yes, a weak core can also cause pain at the other end of your body!

If I ask you to think of some core exercises, you’ll probably come up with a bunch for your abs, specifically for your rectus abdominis, a.k.a “six-pack,” but can you come up with some exercises other exercises to challenge your core? Don’t forget that your body moves in three dimensions so exercises should also involve the three planes of movement; frontal (side to side), sagittal (front to back), and transverse (rotational).

Give your core a challenge with the following exercises. Disclaimer: If you have any health restrictions, please check with your physician before attempting any of these exercises. Also, check with a certified Personal Trainer if you are unsure of your technique. 

Rotational Side Plank with Hip Drop

Start with your elbow or palm under your shoulder while lying on your side. Lift your hips up off the floor so as much of your side is not in contact. Taking the opposite arm, rotate and reach down and through the space created by the floor and your side. Return back to start and then lower your hip toward the ground. Before it touches, pause and lift the hip back up. Repeat for 8-12 reps, then switch sides.


Start in a pushup position with your feet shoulder width apart (you can adjust width to make it easier or harder; wider = easier, narrow = harder). Lift your left arm up in front of your body by your head while at the same lifting your right leg up. Pause for a second and then lower back down. Switch arm and leg lift and repeat for 12-20 reps.


Lying on your back, extend your legs out with your heels just off the floor and hands behind your head. Begin to bring your right knee up toward your chest as you take your left shoulder (not elbow) and bring it up towards your right knee. Make the timing of this so that the knee and shoulder comes up at the same time. Return the leg and shoulder back down toward the floor at the same time. Then repeat the movement with the other side. Perform 12-20 reps.


Yes folks, believe it, because this exercise is a total core exercise! I put this last because in order to get the benefits and not injure yourself, technique is paramount. Please use a certified Personal Trainer or Strength and Conditioning Coach if you are performing this for the first time.
Start with legs shoulder width apart. Grip a barbell with hands just outside of your legs (use an over-under grip if needed). Keeping your back straight and shoulders over your arches, push down with your heels to lift yourself and the bar up until you are standing straight up. As you lift the bar, keep the bar close to your legs and keep your back following your path upward so that the back doesn’t hinge forward from the waist. Pause a second at the top and lower yourself back down in the reverse order.

1. “Core exercises: Why you should strengthen your core muscles“ Retrieved from

Wrong Way? No, Just Different

13 03 2013

Not Always Wrong, Just Different

If you’ve had an experience where you thought you were doing something, like eating a certain food or dressing a certain way, but then saw people doing it another way and thought you were actually doing it wrong, don’t worry, you’re not alone. However, sometimes a different way might not be the wrong way, but exactly the former; just a different way. Who says that a turkey burger can’t be a breakfast item or that everyone should drive a BMW? Societal norms influence us to think that we all have the same needs. On the contrary, we all need to pay attention to our individual needs to maintain good health.

In 2007, Wesley Shultz et al conducted a field experiment testing whether normative messaging (telling people to practice a certain behavior based on what others are doing) would have mixed success rates in behavior change. They saw that when told to use more energy saving products because a specific number of others were doing it, the number of people converting to energy conservatives increased. Yes, energy conservation is ideal and we would all want to promote this type of habit, but the mere fact that it only took one little message stating that more people were practicing one certain behavior to have the minority feel like they were wrong and change their lifestyle is fascinating. A key point to this case is that in order to see a shift in the masses, the group must be  a minority, hence, the difficulty of getting our overweight country to get back down to a healthy weight (69.2% of adults in US overweight/obese). Yet again, why should we be like everyone else?

When dealing with exercise, we must look at performing a task with blinders on. Not one person is alike and thus not one specific regimen will work for everyone.  The National Academy of  Sports Medicine has a training model that is different than that of the American Council on Exercise. Is one of them wrong and the other right? Absolutely not, because both will reach the same result in the end, although both use different pathways. The same goes when I am asked which one is better for getting toned arms, free weights or machines? Both are two different modalities that lead to the right direction to get lean arms.

The right answer to improving your health is not to follow the yellow brick road that everyone else has followed, but to lay each stone in front of you and test the ground supporting it to determine if it will work for you. So the next time you’re scratching your head wondering if the person next to you is doing it right and you should follow suit, ask yourself if you are still improving your health with what you’re currently doing. If so, then embrace the difference and continue to tread through the unbeaten path to success.


American Council on Exercise: IFT Model
CDC Faststats: Overweight and obesity
National Academy of Sports Medicine: OPT Model
Shultz, P. W. et al. The Constructive, Destructive, and Reconstructive Power of Social Norms. Psychological Science, 18(5) 429-434. 2007 

The 3-0 Challenge

2 05 2012

As the final hours of the second decade of my life quickly fade into history, I pause for a moment to review what I have accomplished in the last twenty-nine years. Then I scope out what I still need to work on to continue staying healthy as my body begins to fight against me. Literature states that your body’s performance peeks in your twenties and begins to level off once you hit the big 3-0. This translates into, “work harder or work longer to achieve your goals.” I also know that my body will need more time to recover after workouts (those all-nighters before a hard workout are pretty much over). As long as I can keep stimulating my muscles with cardio and resistance training my metabolism will still be high enough to burn my meals. Yet when it comes to meals I will have to change accordingly just like I did when I went from my teens into my twenties. This is a common mistake that many people make because they’re so accustomed to their old diets.

This is the age where you know that you’re either cut out for the pros or not. For 99% of us who are not cut out to be an elite athlete, we must focus our workouts on what matters the most: longevity. Ladies, if you want to tighten up your tush, tummy, and thighs, you have to change it up after you hit 30 years. So do the men. Your body’s changing, so why aren’t your workouts?  For all who are about to take the big leap into the next installment of their lives, here is a workout for you to make that seamless transition. And if you’re a veteran of this age, you can still do it to challenge your core stabilizers and continue to improve your health. If you are still rocking the teens and twenties, try this workout too. Before starting any new workout plan, remember to always consult your physician if you have any medical conditions or haven’t been exercising within the past three months.

The 30 Year Old Challenge
This workout uses functional movements to target commonly missed areas to give you a body that will transcend well past your thirties. You will run through the exercises in a circuit. Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, moving from one exercise to the next. Rest for 2 minutes before starting back at the top and doing another round. Complete 3 rounds total.

1. Squat to Rotational Press
Starting in a squat with a weight in your hands, lower your weight to one side just outside your knees. Then press with your heels and stand up, while rotating your body to the other side and press the weight overhead. Switch to the other side for the next 30 seconds.

2. Normal/Narrow Pushups
Start in a pushup position (you can modify it by using your knees) with your  hands placed a little wider than  shoulder width. Perform a pushup and then move your hands to shoulder width and perform a push up with your elbows close to your side.

3. Lunge with Twist
Start in a long staggered stance. Place a weight in your hands and keep your elbows bent at a 90° angle. Drop your back knee down into a lunge and stop before your back knee touches the ground, forming a right angle with your front knee. Rotate the ball and your torso to the side of  your front knee. Make the movement come from your abs and obliques. Rotate back and push with your front quads to stand back up. Stay on the same side for 30 seconds then switch sides.

4. 1 Arm High Row with Knee Lift
Place a handle to a pulley machine and adjust the pulley to the top setting. In a staggered stance with your right hand on the handle and your left foot back, pull the handle to the side of your chest while lifting the back knee forward and up to hip level. Return your hand and leg back in a controlled movement. Stay on the same side for 30 seconds then switch sides.

5. Plank with Hip Drop 
Place your forearms on the mat with your elbows under your shoulders. Keep your body in a straight line and raise your hips and knees off the mat. (Place your legs apart wider to make it easier.) Then drop your hip to one side and touch the mat. Bring your hips back up and drop down to the other side.

6.  Pushup to 1 Leg Stand
Start in a 1 legged standing position. Bend forward and drop your hands to the ground while staying on 1 leg. Lower yourself down into a pushup and explode back up to a 1 leg stand. Switch leg after 30 seconds.

7. Incline Bench Superman’s
Lie on your stomach on an incline bench. Place your arms by your side with your fingers pointed up. Without lifting your chest, extend your arms straight up slowly and return back slowly.

8. Crossover Lunges
Start in a standing position. Cross one leg behind the other and drop down into a lunge while extending the back leg to the side. Tap your back foot on the floor then push yourself back up with your front leg to a standing position. Perform one side for 30 seconds then switch sides.

9. Quadrupeds
Position yourself on all fours on the mat. Keeping your abs, glutes, and back tight, extend one arm straight out while extending the opposite leg behind you. Return to start and switch sides.

10. Side Planks
Lie on your side and stack your legs on top of each other. Place your bottom elbow under your shoulder and forearm on the floor. Lift your hips and knees off the floor. To modify, bend your bottom leg behind you at the knee. Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.

Show Osteoporosis Who’s Stronger

26 04 2012

Weakening Your Bones
As we age, our muscles and bones begin to wear. Without consistent physical exercise and proper nutrition, the marrow in your bones begin to deteriorate and/or stop forming. This condition is called osteoporosis (meaning “porous bone”). It is a condition where the marrow in your bones become brittle, leaving larger spaces within the bone. Osteoporosis affects half the population of women in the world, while affecting only one in every four (1:4) men. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) states that today in the US, ten million individuals are effected by the disease while another 34 million are estimated to have low bone density which increases their risk for osteoporosis and broken bones. The two sites that are most commonly identified as osteoporosis is the lumbar (lower) spine and femoral neck (hip). When these two sites become too brittle, the risk of fractures increase and life expectancy decreases. Another condition may occur in the spine due to osteoporosis. As the vertebral discs weakens, a forward curvature of the upper spine will occur known as the “dowager’s hump”. Someone with a dowager’s hump can have balance problems, which will increase the risk fractures from falling, while at the same time subjecting their internal organs to a lot of overbearing pressure.

There are several risk factors that increases the chances for osteoporosis. These include:

  • Age – anyone can get osteoporosis but it is more common to see it in older adults
  • Gender – females are more susceptible than men
  • Family History – genetics play a role in the predisposition of osteoporosis
  • Menopause – Females going through or have gone through menopause have a higher risk
  • Low Body Weight or Small/Thin Framed – People with small bones increases their risk of osteoporosis
  • Poor Diet – lack of calcium and vitamin D slows down and can stop bone growth
  • Alcohol – consuming excessive amounts will reduce the formation of bone
  • Sedentary Lifestyle – inactivity can lead to lack of strength, poor balance, and reduced bone growth resulting in falls and fractures

Get Tested
The only way to diagnosis osteoporosis is to get a bone density test. Other methods like ultrasounds, blood tests, and normal x-rays are used as quick estimations, not accurate data and can cause a false sense of security in individuals who actually have osteoporosis. The most common bone density test or scanning method is a DEXA or DXA (Dual Energy X-Ray) scan. The two most common sites tested are the left hip (Femoral Neck) and the lower spine (lumbar spine). Other sites that can be used are the right hip, ankles,  and wrists if surgery or injury was prevalent in one of the other sites (e.g. hip replacement, spinal fusion). The results of a DEXA scan will show three possible outcomes: Normal (T score ≥ -1), Osteopenia (T score between -1 and -2.5), and Osteoporosis (T score ≤ -2.5). Your bone density scores are critical when talking with your physician about treatment plans.

If you are diagnosed with either osteopenia or osteoporosis, your physician will probably discuss medication options with you to help treat your condition. There are a number of medications currently available for patients with osteoporosis and osteopenia. However, each medication may not be suitable for you, so you might not want to take what you’re next door neighbor is taking. Read up on the medications so that you are as informed as your doctor about the medication that you are prescribed. Sometimes, the physician is not as knowledgable about your treatments, so be a team and know your information. The NOF has a great listing of the current medications and information on each one (click here for medication listing).

Strengthen Your Bones
Another way to prevent fractures and reduce the risk of further deterioration of bone is to follow a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and dairy rich in calcium and vitamin D. Adding a little bit of sun exposure (vitamin D) can help improve absorption of calcium. For those of you who are concerned about skin cancer, all you need is 15 minutes of sun exposure to absorb enough vitamin D to get health benefits. Note that applying sun block while outside will prevent you from getting the vitamin D that you need. While you’re outside, do some weight bearing exercise (e.g. walking, jogging, jumping) to strengthen your muscles and also increase the density of your hip. To build up the density in your spine, resistance training should be done. A creditable, certified personal trainer can help you identify the correct resistance training for you. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 3-5 days a week of moderate intensity weight bearing cardiovascular exercise for 30 minutes. Supplement that with 2-3 days a week of resistance training. Those with osteoporosis should also implement a daily balance and stretch program to prevent possible falls.

American College of Sports Medicine, Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription , 8th ed.

National Osteoporosis Foundation

WebMD, Anatomy Guide: Curvature Disorders