When it comes to exercise selection there is one body part that seems to be spoilt for choice – and that’s the abs. Maybe it’s our obsession with acheieving that wash-board stomach. For me there are many great exercises that really work for my abs but it’s those hard-to-reach obliques that really need attention for me and for this my favourite exercise is without doubt the good old-fashioned seated Russian Twist.
You can perform this exercise without any weight at all. Just begin in a seated position with your knees bent at 90 degrees and leaning back slightly to help balance but with your back straight. Hold your arms outstretched in front of you (level with your chest). Then whilst pulling in your stomach (important), explosively rotate your torso round to the left as far as you can and then all the way back round and to the right as far as you can.
Hint: your back should be straight and you torso 45 degrees to the floor. It’s easy to perform the exercise if you arch the back but that’s not the idea. It’s very tough to perform when keeping the back straight but it works, so concentrate on correct form. You can also perform the exercise with your feet off the floor. My personal preference is to perform the exercise this way as I feel the stomach working harder this way.
The great thing about the Seated Russian Twist is that it really works. Even without weight you can feel it working. But to add extra difficulty to the russian twist exercise try holding a dumbbell, medicine ball or even a kettlebell. Only progress to something like the Kettlebell Russian Twist when you have already perfected the movement without any weight. Keeping correct form is the most effective way of feeling the burn.
I have to confess I love the sunshine! There is nothing better than being outdoors when the weather is fine and watching the sun go down. Being a fitness fanatic I love to change my workouts in the Summer months and get myself out of the air-conditioned gym and breathing fresh air while I exercise. But for those that like to train outdoors, there may be more benefits than just the sunshine on your face. Scientists have shown that outdoor exercise can reap many rewards that cannot be replicated by working out in the gym.
In the winter months I often add a treadmill routine to my program. Yet I always notice that when I start running outdoors I struggle to cover anywhere near the same distance as I can on the treadmill. Why? Outdoor running is harder. From the uneven surfaces that we run on to the wind resistance, we have to push our bodies harder to cover the same distance. I always find running downhill quite tough. Most people who don’t run assume running downhill is easy (like riding a bike!) but in fact when you run downhill you use muscles that just don’t get worked when running on a treadmill (you certainly cannot replicate downhill runs in the gym).
But apart from the physical advantages of changing your routine, outdoor exercise can have fundamental advantages to our mental health. Studies have shown that exercising outdoors can boost mood by up to 50%, compared to training in the gym. Outdoor fitness can decrease tenions, anxiety and depression and it seems that green countryside has a positive effect on mood. Sunlight, open space and scenary make a significant difference to our enjoyment of exercise and studies even show that a 20 minute walk through a country park has a much more mood boosting effect than a similar walk through a busy city. It seems our exercise environment matters.
Outdoor exercise can get us motivated and this in itself can help to keep us more consistent with exercise. We all know that changing a routine is one of the best ways to achieve results. So whether you prefer to run, cycle, shoot hoops, play tennis or just walk – make the most of the weather for a positive change in your fitness routine.
One of my favorite exercises for building core strength (abdominal and hip flexor stabilization) and also adding serious strength to arms, shoulder and back is the renegade row. You’ll also get the heart pumping faster as you begin to lift heavier weights – making the renegade row an incredibly effective full body workout in itself.
Start in a press up position with a dumbell (or kettlebell) on the floor gripped under each hand (shoulder width apart). Ensure that your body is straight and that your hips are not too high or too low. Your body should be straight and in line. Raise one dumbbell up so that it ends up near your ribcage. Lower and repeat on the other side. Perform the movement slowly and under control. Also don’t twist the hips. Whilst you may see a lot of internet videos showing people twisting the hips when performing the renegade row, this actually makes the exercise too easy.
There are many variations that can be performed including swapping dumbbells for kettlebells or raising one leg off the floor after each row. You can even add burpees if you feel so inclined! However the basic renegade row works just as well. Those with weak wrists or rotator cuffs, may find this exercise uncomfortable to begin, as there will be extra pressure exerted on the wrist and rotator cuff in this exercise. If this is the case for you, start with a light dumbbell or kettlebell and once you feel more confident start increasing the weight gradually. Focus on low reps, slow movement and keeping form strict.
So everyone who reads my blog knows that I love to exercise. I suppose you could say I am a little addicted. I can’t live without it. But that isn’t such a bad thing right? What’s wrong with keeping yourself active and healthy? However, I was surprised to find that too much exercise can actually be a bad thing for those of us who exercise for weight loss. That’s because too much exercise can actually cause our bodies to store fat rather than burn it.
A recent study showed that too much exercise at too high an intensity can cause the body to become depleted and worn down and this can actually slow the body’s metabolism as we go into survival mode. This means that our bodies will try to hold on to our fat stores rather than burn them. In such situations its not uncommon to actually lose muscle and preserve fat. Not what we want!
So how can we ensure that we are exercsiing in a way that will ensure we burn fat not muscle?
1. Firstlly make sure that you enjoy exercise. Keep the workouts at a level that ensures you still enjoy what you’re doing. If you work so hard that you begin to totally dread every new workout and feel drained, chances are you are doing too much. It ‘t doesn’t have to be pure agony for you to derive benefit.
2. Make sure that you add resistance training to your workout regime at least twice a week. Too much cardio and not enough resistance can cause your body to stop burning fat effectively. This can be in the form or weights or just by using body weight exercises. Using our muscles and building them ensures that we don’t lose muscle.
3. Try to reduce cardio if you are pushing yourself too much. 2-3 cardio workouts a week of 30-45 minutes at moderate to high intensity is sufficient for most people.
4. Try using intervals as a way of breaking up your workouts. You can speed up your metabolism and burn fat whilst spending less time exercising. Replace long runs on the treadmill with short 15 minute interval circuits to help boost your metabolism.
5. Ensure that you get plenty of sleep. This helps your body to repair and recover from the day’s stresses and strains. Look at ways to reduce your stress if you have trouble sleeping
6. Eat a healthy balanced diet and don’t cut out food groups or starve yourself. Sensible eating and portion control ensure that you eat a balanced diet that will give you all the energy your body needs.
Mountain climbers are without doubt one of the most popular all round exercises you can perform without any equipment. They look pretty simple, yet they are a killer! I love them. They are a full body plyometric exercise that you’ll feel working all over. Not only do they hit just about every muscle they also work the core and raise your heartrate, giving a great cardio workout.
Mountain climbers place significant muscular emphasis upon the butt/hips and thighs. Due to the repetitive nature of the exercise they are great for building strength and endurance in the lower body, but you’ll also begin the feel it in the arms and shoulders too. It’s a favourite warm-up exercise for track athletes as well as sports team as it gets the blood pumping around the body quickly.
Getting the mountain climber exercise correct depends upon form. Getting your body angle wrong means that you won’t see the kind of results you should from the effort you put in. Ensure that your weight is distributed evenly between both hands and feet and keep your hips low (bum down!) throughout the exercise trying to ensure that your knees virtualy touch your chest on their way forward. Keep your arms straight and hands directly below the shoulders. Now you’ll feel the burn!
Beginners can modify the exercise by placing their hands on an elevated surface rather than the floor and they can also perform the exercise with a shorter range of motion, so that the knees don’t reach the chest. Advanced exercisers can use an unstable surface to rest the hands on such as a medicine ball, bosu. This will add greater stability challenge to the core muscles or you can even try adding a push up before each rep. Other variations include mountain climbers performed using TRX straps to suspend the legs off the ground – this is a really tough version!
In the last few years there seems to have been an explosion in the use of fitness-selfies (or gym-selfies). Looking online there are millions of pictures of healthy, muscular and toned individuals (of all ages) who are happy to post their pictures of themselves in their gym gear on social media sites, particularly on Instagram or Pinterest. The prevalence of smart phones means it’s a piece of cake to snap and post in an instant. Of course many of these people are happy to post their pictures because they’ve achieved a toned and muscular physique – a body to be proud of. The idea behind some of these fitness-selfies is no doubt to brag, but in fact for many it’s to act as inspiration. If I can achieve this, you can too.
I have to say I’ve come across a few of these gym selfies online and actually felt slightly more inspired to work that little bit harder in the gym. Is there just something about looking at pictures of people who look like regular folks, but who clearly have achieved great physiques, quite inspirational? Or do they harm or dent our own self-esteem? Do they inspire others or just discourage us?
Certain psychologists say that these fitness selfies can actually harm those with low self-esteem or low self-image issues. There’s also the view that some people posting these selfies may themselves be becoming obsessed with their self-image, never quite happy with how they look and always striving for perfection. This in itself can of course be equally harmful.
There is no doubt that self-photos are useful when it comes to fitness. Personal trainers regularly take photos of clients as they progress throughout their fitness program. Week 1, Week 6, Week 12 and so on. But the reason they take these pictures is that most of us don’t notice changes to our own bodies on a day to day basis. We don’t notice gradual changes in our bodies. It’s only when we look over photos (side by side) that we can see how far we’ve come. Think of it as a log of your progress.
So what’s your thoughts on this. Have you ever taken a fitness selfie? Are these fitness-selfies you see online, images that inspire you to get in shape or do they simply put you off? Do they motivate you to want to get fit or do they make you feel slightly depressed? I want to hear your views.
I have been using kettlebells for quite a few years and really love them. I don’t think there’s anything better for developing upper body and in particular shoulder strength and stability. One of my favorite exercises to perform is the kettlebell press. If you’re familiar with shoulder presses then you already know the exercise. In fact many may argue that dumbbells or barbells do the exact same job for the press as the kettlebell. But in fact they don’t – quite. The kettlebell is in itself an unbalanced load when in the shoulder press position. This allows for a more natural and indeed a more fluid movement when pressing, which doesn’t place stress on the joints in the same way as an overhead press with say a barbell. Equally the kettlebell with this instability, ensures that you engage your core, giving you added benefits which are often lost when using other alternatives.
The kettlebell press forces us to adhere to good biomechanics, engaging our core and moving fluidly. We can start off with a lighter kettlebell of say 4kg and then can easily progress as we start to develop our shoulder and tricep strength. One of the things I like best about the kettlebell press is the variety.
There are literally hundreds of ways you can alter the kettlebell press to add variety including, for example, the see-saw kettlebell press, kettlebell clean and press, alternating kettlebell press, kettlebell military press, one-arm kettlebell press and even a squat kettlebell press. In fact the list goes on. The variations are really limitless which is one of the reasons this basic exercise has so much to offer.