Working out at the gym yesterday I caught a glimpse of an infomercial selling the most ridiculous fitness-related device I’d ever seen: the “Miss Belt.” A wide velcro “compression” belt designed to squeeze your fat into place so that you’ll get “the perfect waistline in seconds” and give you an “hour-glass shape.” All for the cheap price of $19.99 + $7.99 S/H.
I literally stopped my workout and started laughing. I looked around, and several women giggled with me but a few others looked intrigued. This reminded me of the fact that so many are still looking for a shortcut, a quick remedy, an easy fix, a way to look and feel better without having to do any exercise or change your nutrition.
What is really infuriating about this product is that it messes with our society’s already confused idea of what is the “perfect” body type. This belt contradicts the current desired body type — that of slim, skinny, and flat stomached — by offering to reposition your body into a curvy, Mae West-type hour-glass shape. Worse yet, they show women ranging from fat to slender all enjoying the ease and comfort of this product and they even suggest that you can confidently wear it OVER your clothes (not hidden underneath) and look up to two sizes slimmer. I’m sorry, who are we deceiving here and why? I won’t even get into the question of how does your body look and feel after hours of wearing this unflattering corset.
Women and girls are confused enough about their body image, and this throws it all into chaos in my opinion. I hate to break it to you again, but there are NO shortcuts. If you want to have a healthy percentage of body fat, and a decent level of strength and stamina then you have to make the commitment to eat all things in moderation, exercise regularly, and actively seek to eliminate gratuitous stress from your life and environment.
Until everyone is willing to take responsibility for their physical condition (or lack there of), corporations will continue to make millions of dollars off the desperate and/or lazy selling us ab toning devices, fat-burning DVDs, and body slimming belts.
Save your money – adjust your nutrition, and make a firm schedule of 30-minutes of exercise three to four times a week and you’ll get to your goal. It’s that simple and easy. Write to me when you’re ready to make that change. Until then, turn off that infomercial and walk away from the TV!
Most large gym franchises (24 Hour Fitness, Golds, LA Fitness) as well as many small independent gyms offer what’s referred to as a “circuit” for your workouts. A circuit consists of a series of machines (usually 8-12) placed in an oval or circuitous line, designed to hit every body part. You start on any machine of your choosing (although some gyms actually have them numbered consecutively), then follow the machines around until you have used each one. Simple, right?
Yet I find that 99% of gym members misuse or simply do not understand how to effectively use the circuit. Members either follow the circuit in a robotic fashion still performing the exercises exactly the way they were shown in their sign up demonstration (which unfortunately is usually wrong), or they avoid the circuit completely. To many gym-addicts, the circuit carries a stigma of “for beginners only” and egos shy away.
But the circuit provides several great options to beginners and advanced lifters alike. There’s the obvious benefit that you can get a total work out completed in a relatively short period of time. But other perks include that you’re less likely to need a workout partner (a spotter if you’re lifting heavy), and less likely to get injured if you don’t have perfect form.
So how do you decide if the gym circuit is right for you, and more importantly, how do you effectively use a circuit to increase muscle tone and lower body fat? Well, here’s the skinny (excuse the bad pun):
The circuit is right for you if you are a beginner; if you are looking to do something very different than you’ve done the last several months; or if you want a total body workout in 30 minutes or less. A circuit of machines usually consists of the following:
- Chest press
- Pec Fly
- Lat Pull Down
- Back Row
- Shoulder Press
- Leg Press
- Hamstring Curl
- Calf Raises
- Ab Crunches
Performing 3-4 sets on each machine, one machine at a time, will allow you to hit every major (and some minor) muscle groups. If time is crucial to you, you can use the upper body machines one day, and hit the lower body on your next gym visit.
Being that the circuit is comprised of machines (vs. free weights) and that they have a limit to how much weight is available, your best approach is to start with lighter weights lifting for more repetitions. A great, and underutilized tool of machines is the easy ability to do “drop sets.” When incorporating a drop set into your routine, you start with the heaviest weight you can handle, then every 5-10 reps, you drop the weight by 5-10 lbs until you are down to a very low weight.
Example: Chest press 50 lbs x 12 reps
40 lbs x 10 reps
30 lbs x 8 reps
20 lbs x 5 reps
That’s one set. Do it again starting from the top 3-4 more times. By the end you’ll be pushing hard to do those last 5, but it’s a great way for beginners or people wishing to avoid bulking up to tone muscles fast. (You can also do reverse drop sets, starting with lighter weight and moving heavier.)
Form is of great importance with all resistance training, and this is where the most confusion and misuse of the circuit machines occur. Almost all of them have seats and/or backs that need adjusting to your height. How do you know where is the right placement for you? Usually the machines offer a diagram or a “spot point” where your knees or elbows should line up to. Use that as a guideline. Otherwise, make sure that your back is supported, and that when you perform the motion, your elbow, knees or shoulder joints are not feeling strained. You want to try and isolate the designated muscle (biceps, triceps, hamstrings, etc.) It may take you a few tries and adjustments but soon you’ll know exactly where to set the seats.
As for range of motion, the slower and fuller you can perform each exercise, the better. Take a biceps curl – if you don’t straighten your arms fully (i.e., you keep a bend to your elbow at all times) you will be cheating yourself out of toning the lower portion of the biceps. If you see a large muscle-bound man speedily performing a chest press where he only pushes the weights about 2 inches off his chest, he’s not only lifting too heavy, he’s not accessing all his pectorals have to offer.
As for what weight to pick, if you can perform 20 reps and it never gets hard, it’s too light. If you can’t even get through 8, it’s too heavy. Also keep in mind that you will gain strength over time, so you’ll need to adjust the weights (heavier by 5 lbs, etc.) about half way through a 4-week period.
Hopefully this will help you see the circuit in a better or less intimidating fashion. As always, you should never stick to the same routine for more than about 6 weeks, but give the circuit a try and I suspect you’ll become a fan. If you would like a personalized circuit routine created for you, please visit my website http://www.workouts247.com.
A recent study was undertaken in by fitness professionals to find out if machines, gadgets, and trendy ab exercises all garnered equal results on toning the abs. The results proved that the good ‘ol crunch, if performed CORRECTLY was the best way (and the cheapest and easiest) to tone your midsection. Here are several graphs which will paraphrase the test findings, and their summation:
Figure 1. Comparison of upper rectus abdominis (URA) activation for the various exercises compared to the traditional crunch.
Figure 2. Comparison of lower rectus abdominis (LRA) activation for the various exercises compared to the traditional crunch.
Figure 3. Comparison of upper rectus abdominis (URA) activation for the various exercises compared to the traditional crunch.
“THE BOTTOM LINE: ‘We spent a considerable amount of money on abdominal exercise equipment to basically show that you can effectively train the abs at home for free,’ notes Stenger. ‘Obviously, laying on the ground doing the traditional crunch is not appropriate for everybody, especially people with low-back pain, but for the average person who wants to work his or her abdominal muscles to get stronger, have less back pain, and get better health benefits, all you need to do is get a comfortable spot on the floor, lay down and do some crunches. It doesn’t cost anything to work out. Everything else is kind of a waste of money from this standpoint.’
That said, Porcari notes that this study’s findings exhibited greater activation from the traditional crunch than some other similar studies. The lesson from that: It’s all about form. Do your crunches correctly and deliberately and you’ll get the most out of your workout. ‘When you look across the different exercises, none were greater than the traditional crunch. This is interesting because other studies (including other studies we’ve done), showed a difference,’ he says. ‘I think a part of it is, when we looked at the EMG for the traditional crunch, we had people do the traditional crunch very deliberately and correctly, and I think we had fairly high activation from the abs because of that.’
‘It’s important, however, to keep in mind that there is no single abdominal exercise that challenges all the abdominal muscles in the most effective way,’ explains Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, ACE’s Chief Science Officer, ‘and the best way to work the abs is with different types of exercises. For example, the plank exercise effectively engages the transverse abdominis, which plays an important role in spinal stabilization.'”