Why you are wasting your time doing ab exercises

The humming fluorescent light radiated off of the shiny health magazines, adding to their artificial glow, as I ever so patiently waited in line. Now, this wasn’t the first time I had seen these same exact photoshopped, glossy covers. I saw the same phrases, same messages, and the same promises as last month, and the month before that, and the month before the month before, and so on and so forth.

In the midst of this headline onslaught one theme stood out in particular (good job, graphic designers), the promise that within the ad-laden pages was the secret to the highly coveted flat stomach. I found this tragically ironic considering these magazines were directly besides a heaping mountain of rectangular corn syrup.

Social commentary aside (I’ll save that for another post, since this is already on the verge of becoming a rant), these 6 pack promises are a load of BS, a million times taller than the aforementioned Machupichu of starburst. I ab-solutely ab-hor this kind of nonsense (eh? eh? see what i did there? Yeah? ok… nevermind).

I’ve never been a fan of counter intelligence.

You’re doing it all wrong:

Ab training will not get you abs. There, I said it.

Don’t get me wrong, core training is important, in fact, my clients probably would be happy if I shut my face about it for once. However, core training is important for safety and performance, not because it’ll make you look like the cast of 300.

image

These magazines are misleading their audience who diligently follows the instructions, only to fail, leaving them confused, frustrated, and disillusioned.

This is a problem.

Doing that to people ain’t cool in my book.

How to ACTUALLY get abs:

Eat better. Plain and Simple. Not easy, just simple. Everyone has a “6 pack;” that’s just what the abdominals look like. Check out a muscle anatomy chart and you’ll see what I mean.

Getting your abdominals to show all comes down to having a low body fat percentage.  Best way to get to get a good muscle to fat ratio? Eat well (not less), and lift heavy.

Now, you can make your abdominals larger and more defined, (they are muscles right?). However, you can’t pick and choose where you want to lose fat. You can choose where you build muscle, but you have zero control over where you burn fat. Doing crunches will not burn fat from your midsection any more than any other exercise. You will build muscle in the midsection but ultimately burn calories from the whole body.

Conclusion:

Working the abs as part of a core strengthening program is important, but if you think ab training is the main ingredient for 6 pack soup, your meal is going to be undercooked and as bland as Arnold’s acting in Hercules in New York.

The worst part is that you may feel frustrated and never try to cook again. This is not an option. If your cooking sucks, try getting your recipes from outside of the grocery store.

Rebuttal: My Response to Popular Thoughts on Meat and Wheat

I love, loooooooove, when people tell me what I should be eating. I always respond politely, elaborating my views on nutrition and usually quoting Jared Diamond at some point. I still get a little internal chuckle from this exchange, though. When people criticize you it’s their issue not yours, right? To be perfectly honest, this smug satisfaction is one of the main reasons that I’m still a vegetarian. No one’s perfect, ok?

I will further rationalize my douchey behavior by saying that I like getting people to think differently. You don’t have to agree with me, but if our conversation gets you to think critically, I’m happy. I hope being a vegetarian who is strong, rarely gets sick, and in great shape makes people re-evaluate their habits, and maybe even realize eating bacon for every meal probably isn’t the best idea.

Now to get to the meat of the article.

There is a lot of talk these days about needing more meat and less wheat in the diet, even outside of those who subscribe to that whole paleo thingamajig. (Don’t make me pull over and quote Jared Diamond!!!)

Most people do not need as much meat as they are eating, especially here in ‘Merica where meat is more important than water. Everyone’s nutrition is specific to them, but chances are unless you’re a strength athlete you can get by on well under approximately a bajilliontrillionzillion grams of protein per day. I mean, I know sitting at your desk all day damages muscle tissue, but fuck man. Don’t you think that’s a little overkill?

image

Can you eat healthy if you’re a meat eater? Duh, if you do it right. Does everyone need meat? No duh, if you do it right.

Bet you didn’t expect that twist! You just got Shamalan-ed!

Wheat are you taking about? Do you have to have it spelt out for you?

My take on wheat is exactly the same as my take on meat.

Do you need it? No. Can you incorporate it into a healthy diet? Yes.

This idea that carbs are the root of all evil is absurd. Hey, guess what foods have carbs in them? Broccoli, kale, spinach, bananas, bell peppers, etc. Grains have carbs yes, but carbs are not synonymous with grains. There is an obesity epidemic because people sit on their butts all day reading stupid fitness blogs and eat tons of processed, calorie dense, yet nutrient deficient, foods.

How long have people been eating large quantities of grains? Oh right, since the BEGINNING of agriculture/civilization. The obesity epidemic is only a little less recent than the paleo diet.

Is wheat the healthiest thing you can eat? No, but that doesn’t mean eating wheat is ruining everything in the world. I don’t think wheat is essential,  but it is certainly better than a lot of foods out there. Not everyone can afford organic-grass-fed-free-range-college-educated beef and veggies all the time. So for those trying to eat better on a budget, grains can be a decent alternative to cheap frozen junk food. Wheat has nutrients, maybe not as many as kale or broccoli (most foods don’t), but wheat still has many more than a lot of commonly eaten foods.

Will wheat kill you? If you are allergic, yes. If not, no. Is it necessary for a healthy diet? No. Can a healthy diet include wheat? Yes.

The epic conclusion: when wheat and meat meet

Dogma sucks. Everyone is different. There is no one thing that causes people to be overweight. There are usually many. As far as wheat and meat are concerned, you can do with or without as long as your diet is not composed of too much of either.

Are you heading down the path to injury?

You have muscle imbalances. Sorry I’m not sorry. Muscle imbalances require immediate attention and are quite common, so your in good company (I know it’s the wrong “you’re”, just wanted to make sure you’re paying attention).

So! You’re probably wondering what a muscle imbalance is at this point. I guess I’ll tell you. I got the time and why the hell not, right?

However, before getting into imbalances it is necessary to talk a wee bit about how muscles facilitate movement.

Why we don’t resemble pudding

Our bones don’t move on their own. Bones provide our bodies with structure, which is why we aren’t all flopping about like jellyfish, or the gelatinous boss from the god-forsaken Water Temple in Ocarina of Time.

image

Muscles move the bone. Movement occurs when the length of a muscle changes. Think tug of war. The length of a muscle determines the amount of tension or pull on a joint. The shorter the muscle, the less slack, and the greater the pulling force or tension.

By definition, a flexed muscle is shortened and a stretched muscle is lengthened. When a muscle shortens, it pulls the bone, initiating movement, and the opposing lengthened muscle allows the movement to occur unhindered. Try flexing and extending your elbow and pay attention to what your biceps and triceps are doing throughout the movement. This relationship between the muscle and joint is aptly called the length-tension relationship.

The implications of this dynamic are paramount. The structure and shape of the skeleton at any given moment is determined by the lengths of muscles. Every joint has a certain length-tension relationship with the muscle that is conducive to optimal movement. A suboptimal, or altered length-tension relationship is what we like to call a muscle imbalance.

Two tickets to pain-adise (I know, it’s a stretch)

When you have a muscle imbalance, your muscles are pulling on your joints at an incorrect angle. This causes unnecessary stress to the joint, which can lead to injury. No bueno.

To reduce the risk of injury and maximize your workouts, muscle imbalances must be fixed. This is done by simply strengthening muscles that are too weak and stretching muscles that are too tight. Now get out there and find some balance!

Stop the Slop: How to Get the Most out of Your Workouts

Technique! What is it? Why is it important? And how does one obtain it?

It is a common misconception that lifting weights proficiently is simply a matter of strength. Because the strength component of lifting is so apparent, the skill component is often overshadowed (it is called STRENGTH training after all).

However, just because someone has enough muscle to deadlift a truck filled with Twilight Dvd’s (the deadlift would be required to throw said truck into the Sarlacc pit from Return of the Jedi)does not mean that they can.

“But, Jeff, surely if someone is strong they can lift heavy weights!?” you might say.

Well, yes and no.

Not to get too semantic (I always was a hopeless semantic), but the answer depends on how we define strength. Here strength is defined as the physiological capacity, or potential, to exert force on an object i.e. lift stuff. The only thing preventing that potential from being realized is the requisite SKILL. Skill here means using proper technique.

What does good technique entail?

Technique means that you complete a movement in a way that places the minimal amount of stress on the body and consequently complements the biomechanics of the human body. Using bad technique is problematic for several reasons.

Not only are proper movement patterns essential for injury prevention, but they will allow an individual to lift and perform at their maximum physiological capacity. For example, let’s say we have two individuals who are EXACTLY the same in every respect except that Lifter A’s hips are too far forward when squatting. Lifter B will have a heavier squat. Lifter B has better technique, thus using physics to his/her advantage and squatting heavier than Lifter A. Consequently Lifter B will also be able to perform more repetitions with a given weight.

The key to proper technique (assuming you have been informed on what an exercise looks and feels like) lies in practice. However, practice in and of itself does not necessarily make perfect.

Your nervous system remembers every move you make. More importantly, repeated movements, whether correct or not, will be subconsciously habitualized. This means you must ALWAYS focus on your movement when performing an exercise. Never go on autopilot and constantly strive to improve technique. This awareness will result in habitualizing proper movement patterns, better technique, and most importantly, you will get more out of your workouts.

Just remember, perfect practice makes perfect.

Dealing with Injuries

I couldn’t move my shoulder. It felt as if my right arm was not attached to my body and hence I had no control of it. Such things can happen in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Although quite painful at the time of injury, it does not seem to be severe. However, the injury has halted training. This is utterly unbearable for me. I am not talking about the pain; the physical pain is almost nonexistent unless I try and, heaven forbid, actually use my shoulder. Even then, the pain is more annoying than anything else. The couchtime is excruciating, not the physical pain. The necessary rest, the inability to do what I love, is infinitely more painful than my sprained rotator cuff. We, as athletes, feed off of our ability to use our bodies; we are dependent on it. It’s how we grow as individuals. When injury strikes, you feel stagnant. The inability to progress physically can translate into inability to progress mentally, if you view it as such.

Now injuries are frustrating for everyone, not just athletes. I’ve noticed that a similar breed of injury induced frustration is often found in individuals who have only recently began exercising. This frustration stems, in part, from the idea of being prevented from working towards a goal. It takes a lot of energy to start working out. It is an immense, difficult, and complicated lifestyle change, definitely no easy feat. So it is understandable that once someone has finally arrived to the action phase, they are reluctant to return to inaction, even if they are clearly injured. Working through the pain, of course, often makes the injury worse, and pushes training back even further. Pain is your body telling you to stop. Yep, that’s right, “no pain, no gain” is misleading. Listening to your body is of utmost important when testing its limits.

As a mixed martial artist, hell, as an ATHLETE, it is inherent that you will get injured. It’s not really a matter of IF it’s a matter of WHEN. That is not to say that you cannot minimize the risk of injury. There are plenty of ways you can, which I will discuss in later blogs. However, even when following the proper precautions and techniques, with the intertwining of determination and exercise, injury is bound to strike at some point. So what do you do when injury rears its ugly head? How do you deal with being sidelined from your goal? For starters, sitting around wishing you hadn’t done that last bench press, curl, hill sprint, kick, or kettlebell swing won’t do you any good.

As much as I cannot stand being injured, I do usually come out of it with a new perspective on my sport, and much more knowledge about “insert injury and body part here”. Unless you completely obliterate every part of your body, from every angle, there is some form of training or practice that one can do during injury season. For example, my shoulder is injured. I can focus on my jab, do body weight squats, balance drills, and strengthen my core musculature, the latter two being crucial for minimizing the risk of future injury and maximizing physical potential. Having an injury also frees up some time to study, to reassess, to think about what we were doing wrong and how we can improve upon it.

Injuries can give us time to reevaluate our approach. If having one body part injured is unbearably frustrating, chances are you neglecting other important training methods. I am not going to be worse off for working my balance, legs, and core intensely while my shoulder heals. Giving yourself a break can also yield a time to forget bad habits(come on, everyone has them). The longer a bad habit persists, the harder it is to forget. After a long break in training, one has to relearn skills to a certain extent. This allows the opportunity to reform(hopefully correct) the neuromuscular pathway responsible for the bad habit. Coming back from an injury is a fresh start, if you choose to look at it that way. Thinking like this has helped me stay motivated during my many injuries, as well as aided in preventing a relapse injury upon resuming training. One must remember to take it slow and pace yourself when coming off an injury. I’m sure the last thing you want is more couchtime.