As a business owner, I utilize many of the top social networking sites to promote Dane Life Fitness. Sites like Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr utilize a visual format to entice viewers to stop and read, and then perhaps “buy” whatever it is we’re selling. Lately I have been dismayed as I see a huge surge in posts displaying women whose abs are so muscle bound that they sport more than the proverbial 6-pack – they have an 8-pack and oblique striations (see photo below).
These are not muscle-bound she-men training for a body building competition, these are young (20-30’s) athletic women who have achieved the type of abs usually viewed only on super low-fat and fit men. Clearly it’s great that women have figured out how to finally lower their body fat levels to such a state that their flat tummies rival men – OR IS IT?
While I applaud these women who work hard and make their daily focus be exercise and extreme nutrition, I’ve stated time and time again that women NEED body fat if we are to be healthy. Obviously we need our body fat levels to stay in a certain “lean” range for our health’s sake (17-28% depending on age and build), but the female form is not supposed to be as low-fat as the male body naturally is. Not to mention that the aforementioned extreme nutrition makes life sometimes feel stressfull — after all, we’re supposed to be able to enjoy good food, wine and chololate (in moderation) aren’t we?! (Oprah says yes!)
Why this is a detrimental trend in my view is because women with body fat levels lower than 17% can and do see a weakening in their immune systems, poor circulation (personal thermostat levels), menstrual and reproduction systems compromised, and thyroid confusion (thyroid malfunction is not surprisingly on the rise). It is especially hard on the body when these low-fat levels are forced vs. natural. What I mean by that is some girls/women are born naturally thin with super fast metabolisms. I was one of those – I was 5′ 7″ by age 15, but I still couldn’t break 100 lbs until I was about 22 (with 15% body fat). But I didn’t starve myself ever, I had (and still do) have a great immune system, and clearly my body could handle it. Forcing your body to have super low body fat levels when it’s not natural creates a great strain internally, especially on your organs.
Now that I am in my 50’s, and while still lean and healthy (19% body fat), no longer sport my own concave lower abs, I realize more than ever how detrimental it is to women to be always told we need to have flat abs. We’re supposed to be slightly round between our ribs and hips – we’re supposed to be curvy and…well…feminine. These uber-lean models are changing what our young girls think about how their bodies should look.
The worst part of this is that 85% of men when polled about their preferences fessed up to actually not finding super skinny or overly-toned women as attractive as someone with a little “softness” to their build. Men want us to be women – not walking muscles. So one must ask, why are we so obsessed with a washboard stomach?
With all this as food for thought, once again I plead with all my female followers and friends to maintain healthy levels of body fat, but more importantly to love your bodies and your stomach in particular. Join me in re-labeling what is attractive and sexy in our own perceptions and embrace being well-rounded individuals – including our abs!
By now most of you know that it is highly beneficial to incorporate resistance training (lifting weights) into your weekly fitness routines. Toning, trimming and/or building muscle burns more fat calories than cardio, increases bone density, and keeps a body looking good and functioning efficiently. What’s important for you to understand is that form is the most important aspect of resistance training. We trainers say “lift smart or go home.”
The problem with so many people finally embracing the weights, is rampant incorrect lifting via poor posture, using over-heavy weights, and lack of proper muscle isolation. The results from this bad technique range from postural distortions (rounded shoulders, tightened leg muscles) to muscle strains. In other words, lifting incorrectly can create neck strain, chronic headaches, sciatic pain in legs, hips and glutes, spine-misalignment, knee strain, ankle weakness, and more.
Therefore today I will offer three easy tips that if followed will help you avoid some of the painful postural distortions. (Should you desire specific exercise instruction, contact me directly.)
1. BALANCE YOUR WEIGHTS:
Even if your goal is to have huge muscles, lifting heaving is not the necessarily the way to achieve that goal. The key is to find the balanced amount of weight that challenges your muscles without having to over-tax adjoining muscle groups just to get the lift (or push) conducted. Example: Dumbbell Biceps Curls performed with too heavy a weight can overly-engage your delts (shoulders) and traps (lower neck). This in turn, stretches those muscles out while shortening your pectorials (chest muscles), which causes forward-rounded shoulders that pull on your neck and spine.
Performing repetitions of 8-12 where your muscles are being exhausted through the repetitions while still bearing at least 85% of the actual weight will result in fast and visible benefits while not wrenching your muscles or spine of out whack.
2. START WITH GOOD POSTURE:
This tip works in tandem with the tip #3 below as you cannot have good posture without limber and flexible muscles. This is not to say that you have to be “gymnast-limber,” but you do need to have enough flexibility to execute the moves listed below. Performing moves while standing in a neutral position with head, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles aligned (or sitting with torso aligned) will allow you full range of motion on all exercise, better isolation of the targeted muscle(s), and again, less incorporation of unnecessary muscle groups.
3. STRETCH CORRECTLY:
Before any resistance training workout I always recommend at least 5 minutes of non-aerobic cardio (i.e., elliptical or walking at an incline). This gets blood flowing evenly throughout the body and warms up the muscles making them more supple for flexing and contracting. Equally important is a post -workout stretch of your entire body. A lot of people tend to only stretch the muscles they have just worked, but again if you are prone to improper lifting form, you will have undoubtedly worked other muscles that would benefit from stretching as well. You do not need to be a yoga-master, but a well-stretched body should be able to perform the following stances:
Standing in a deep, stationary and stable 90-degree lunge (each leg);
OVERHEAD ARM STRETCH:
Able to clasp your hands above directly over-head without your head sticking forward in front of your arms or your arms forward in front of your face (arms directly in-line with ears)
SUPINE OVERHEAD ARM STRETCH:
Able to rest arms comfortably over-head while lying in a supine (face-up) position on the floor. (If your arms are not able to comfortably rest on the ground above your head, your shoulder-girdle is too tight.)
WIDE-LEG TOUCH DOWN:
Relax into a wide-leg toe touch – legs in wide stance, bent at waist, fingers or palms hands resting comfortably on the ground.
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In closing I continue to encourage everyone to resistance train – weight bearing exercises are so beneficial for all adults – but please, take care, take your time, tell your ego to be quiet, and lift smart!
N o one likes to be isolated – except for muscles! Isolating muscle groups when you work out can make a HUGE difference on the quality of your results and how quickly you achieve them.
Having a dance background (studied Ballet and Jazz from age 3-18), I have to remind myself that I have a skill many people at the gym lack. I understand isolations. Isolation is the ability to focus on only the muscle(s) needed for a particular movement. Dancers routinely run through a series of isolations in their morning warm ups to ensure that each muscle group is properly warmed and stretched prior to dancing.
Isolations is very important when it comes to resistance training as it will help you gain the most benefit from the least amount of lifting. But I have found that most people do not understand how to isolate their muscles. Therefore you see a lot over or under extension, swinging other body parts, and bad posture incorporated when people lift weights. This can cause injury, but more importantly it is an ineffective and inefficient way to work out. You’ll spend more time, often lifting heavier than you need to, and see less results. Who wants that?
So the next time you hit the weights, try the following the ideas. I’ll use a standard biceps curl as my example:
1. Ascertain exactly what muscle group the exercise is designed to affect (i.e., curls=biceps).
2. Position yourself (whether sitting or standing) in a way that will allow the rest of your body to stay relatively still, and any secondary muscles needed will only contribute about 25% of the exertion. In other words though your forearms are utilized they should not carry the brunt of the weight, and your shoulders should stay out of it completely.
3. Perform the exercise (the curl) slowly and precisely, maintaining a consistent contraction of the biceps (a squeezing) as you lift, and a slight relaxing and stretching of the muscles on the lowering (lowering all the way down, not half way as many people do).
4. Lift enough repetitions to exhaust the muscles and make them burn. If you start to swing your body or feel your shoulders pulling, or your forearms fatiguing, redirect your efforts back exclusively to the biceps (relax your hands, forearms and shoulders). Then do 5 more reps!
After 3-5 sets performed in this manner, you will have torn down and exhausted the muscles effectively, and now you can move on to another body part and do the same. Focusing on the quality of your form also helps you stay motivated as you will see more rapid results which always begets fresh enthusiasm to continue with your fitness goals.
So take the time to watch your form and learn to isolate each muscle group. Your body will thank you!