Don’t Bend and Snap: 3 Reasons Your Lower Back Hurts when Exercising

When’s the last time you’ve experienced low back pain? Today? Yesterday? 60 seconds ago? We get it. It happens.

The good thing is, you’re not alone. It’s been estimated roughly 80% of Americans experience some form of low back pain in their lifetime. That’s 8 out of 10 people. Thought you were in the cool club? Think again.

Today’s objective is to give you knowledge to understand why you might experience low back when exercising.  For those you are suffering from serious, diagnosed lower back issues, we kindly ask you skip this post and listen to your doctor’s advice.

We hope that after this post, you won’t be Bending and Snapping or having any more Legally Blonde moments.

Okay, let’s get down to business. Typically, lower back pain when exercising is usually due to one or more of the following:

  1. Lack of core stability
  2. Loss of neutral spine
  3. Poor posture outside the gym

LACK OF CORE STABILITY:

There may be a time in your life that maybe a friend or workout buddy mentioned that you should “strengthen your core” to help your lower back pain. Usually when we think strengthening the core, we tend to think of doing endless crunches hoping we’ll be the next cover model for the newest fitness magazine.

In reality, we need to be training more than just the superficial muscles and training the deep inner core muscles that help support our spine. These muscles include the transversus abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and the pelvic floor. When these muscles are strong, we prevent heavy loads going straight to our lower back. These muscles serve as a shield to protect our spine! We won’t get into all the details in this posts, but for a more detailed explanation of the physiology behind this, please check out our previous post here.

So now you must be thinking, “Well..how do I know if I lack core stability?” Well, it’s pretty easy to find out. To do so, lay on your back. Get your feet off the ground, legs 90/90, and slowly straight one leg out toward the ground (see below) – WITHOUT letting your lower back arch off the ground.

Planks

If you look like the left picture and have a large arch in your back, you probably lack some core stability. It’s okay, it happens. However, lacking core stability predispositions us to lower back pain. After all, the weaker our core is, the more load our spine has to take. If you need some ideas on how to increase your core stability, check out the exercises below:

The above exercises are a good place to get started. Prioritize these at the beginning of your workout until you can really master them. Remember, you shouldn’t feel any lower back pain during any of these exercises.

LOSS OF NEUTRAL SPINE

Any exercise we do in the gym requires us to be aware of how we are positioning our spine. Why? Because excessive flexion and extension of the spine over long periods of time can cause lower back issues such as herniated discs, arthritis, etc. Moving around with poor mechanics leads to injury. Period.

If you are experiencing pain when exercising, really have a heart to heart and ask yourself: is my back neutral?

What does that mean? Neutral means just not overly arched and not overly rounded. You might not even know what your back’s doing at this point, so take a look at two common exercise examples below.

Plank

Planks. We know. We hate them too. But we’ve got to talk about them. If you’re experiencing low back pain when doing planks, check out what your lower back is doing. Take a look below:

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Notice in the first image, the lower back is extremely arched. This leads to tons of pressure being put on your lower back when in reality, the plank is meant to strengthen the core so that you don’t have all the load going to your lower back.

Now, take a look at the second image. Notice a difference? We can now see my back still has a neutral curve rather than an excessively arched one.

Tips for a good plank include:

  • Squeezing your glutes slightly to help pull your back into neutral alignment
    Drawing the rib cage down so there is no flare – thinking of your sternum and belly button being held together by a piece of string.
  • Push the ground away from you. Don’t let your chest fall toward the ground. If I were to put the back of my hand across your upper back, you should be pushing into my hand.

Squats

Squats. We hate them and we love them…except when they start giving us lower back pain.

Many people get lower back pain during squats, and this can be due to many reasons which we won’t be able to fit all into one blog post. However, one of the most common reasons because of losing neutral spine throughout the entire movement. See below for more details.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 4.10.44 PM

Rounded back

This is a squat with a rounded back. If we were add even more weight, this would be problematic because of all the stress on our discs. Rounded backs during squats could be due to a few things:

1) Tight hamstrings: If your hamstrings are tight, they’re going to pull on your lower back and cause your lower back to round. Implement this hamstring stretch into your routine:

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2) Lack of ankle dorsiflexion: If you can barely touch your knee to a wall from a few inches away, you’ve got some work to do. Lack of ankle mobility will cause your lower back to round to try to pick up the slack. Add the following mobilization into your routine:

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3) Lack of core stability: Ahh, here we go with core stability again. Can’t get enough of it, right? Add more core stability exercises to your routine such as the ones linked earlier in the blogpost.

Arched back

This is a squat with an arched back. Again, the discs are compressed and can produce pain. This can be due to a few things:

1. Lack of core stability (AGAIN! Seeing a trend? Check out those exercises linked earlier in this blogpost for some exercises)

2. Tight hip flexors: Having tight hip flexors due to excessive sitting or other factors creates dysfunction in the spine but shifting our hips back, creating an excessive arch in the lower back. To help correct this, make sure to add this hip flexor stretch before performing your squats

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3. Lack of awareness: Many times we’re not even sure what our lower back is doing during a squat. To practice proper squat form, have a friend videotape you or record yourself going through the movement. If your back is arching and you’ve addressed the two issues above, set up a box or bench behind you to squat to without moving into an excessive arch in the back. Master neutral spine in a smaller range of motion before attempting to squat full-depth. Check out the video below for an example of this:

 

Neutral Back

Let’s look at the third picture from above. Notice now there is no excessive arch or flexion of the spine. A normal lordotic curve is present. This is what we should strive for with our form.
POOR POSTURE OUTSIDE THE GYM

Unfortunately, we can’t just act like we’re athletes when we’re at the gym. If you workout for 30-60 minutes a few times a week, what are you doing for the other hundreds of hours a week you aren’t exercising?

We got to be real with ourselves. Most of us sit at our desks all day and probably get anywhere from 1000-5000 steps per day which means we are, let’s face it, sedentary.  Our core gets weak, hips get tight, glutes become underactive, and our shoulders round. These issues combined with going to the gym to do the exercises listed above is bound to cause lower back issues. Why? Because spinal alignment is based around the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are attached to it. If muscles around it are weak and others overactive, this can reposition the spinal to suboptimal positions over time.

If you find yourself sitting for the better part of your day, it’s time to increase your steps and standing up more. Here are some tips:

  1. Get up to get a small cup of water instead of a large cup of water when you’re at work. This will force you to get up out of your seat more often than carrying around one of those huge water bottles.
  2. Place things you need away from you. Need to staple some papers? Keep your stapler in another room or across your office so you get out of your seat more.
  3. Park further away from your workplace. This will automatically force you to get some extra steps in.
  4. Talking on your cell phone? Stand up when you take calls and pace around the room.
  5. Invest in a stand-up desk. Amazon has lots of different ones, like this one.

Additionally, working out with weights isn’t something you should just go and do without a proper warm-up. If you sit all day, I suggest adding in the following to your warm-up routine:

Hip flexor stretch

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Foam roll your calves and mobilize them

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Thoracic windmills

 

Wallsides

 

Glute bridges

 

90/90 hip stretch

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In Summary

Low back pain sucks, and it’s a huge bummer when you get it while working out. Today we have discussed three possible reasons why your low back hurts and how to tackle them:

  1. Lack of core stability
  2. Loss of neutral spine
  3. Poor posture outside the gym

By addressing the above, you might see your low back pain lessen and hopefully disappear with time. Remember, it will take purposeful, consistent action to solve these issues, and if you are still experiencing pain, we recommend always checking with your doctor for further guidance.

Due to the prevalence of lower back pain when exercising, we make sure our clients do not push through pain.  Our programs also dive even more in-depth as to what might be causing the issue, assuming there aren’t any serious diagnosed back issues. We encourage you to bookmark our main page and check back regularly for more posts and tips.

Moderation is Awkward

There it is… that word again: Moderation. You’ve heard it countless times, and for some reason, you still don’t feel very comfortable with it.

Whether you’re thinking about your struggles with your diet or your exercise program or your secret knitting hobby,  you have probably been told “everything in moderation!”

So what is moderation, really?

Moderation (noun): The avoidance of excess or extremes.

If moderation is the avoidance of excess or extremes, then what are these extremes?

Avoiding Fitness Extremes

The CDC recommends at LEAST 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week and 2 or more days of resistance training that hits all major muscles groups. However, we often see athletes and fitness enthusiasts training way  more than this. So what is extreme?

Extreme when it comes to fitness should not be measured by how many miles you run a week or how many workouts you do a week. Instead, ask yourself the following questions:

*Am I feeling overly tired?
*Are my joints hurting more than usual?
*Did I develop an injury that won’t go away?
*Is my performance decreasing during my workouts?
*Am I having trouble sleeping?
*Do I feel less hungry?
*Do I feel more agitated or moody than usual?
*Am I losing more hair than usual?
*Do I feel sore all the time?

If you answered yes to more than 3 or more of these questions, you are probably overtraining and going into the extreme.

While you might think working out 7 days a week is better than 0 days a week, you need to be mindful about how your body FEELS. The whole point of exercising and eating better is so that you can sustain these changes LONG-TERM! If you’re exercising to the point of having issues as seen above, you will become demotivated, fall off the bandwagon, and might get some not so pretty injuries along the way.

It’s funny how we’ve made ourselves believe that pain during exercise is normal and part of “getting in shape.” But our bodies know us better than we think they do. And the thing is, you don’t have to push to the point of pain to see results, I promise.

Avoiding Nutrition Extremes

No carb or low carb diets are all the rage these days. While there are many success stories to this approach, many people struggle to maintain this type of diet long-term and begin to feel chronically fatigued. While I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with eliminating some carbs from our diets (as Americans, we basically live off our pizza, beer, donuts, and sausage biscuits), we do need to re-approach how we look at them.

Carbs are ESSENTIAL for our bodies to function properly. I mean, Michael Phelps eats the majority of meals from carbs every day to fuel his training for crying out loud. And yes, of course I know we aren’t Michael Phelps, but that doesn’t mean we can should just be “carb-free”.

When you think of carbs, most of the time you’re thinking of donuts, cake, chips, etc. But none of these foods are in any way nutritionally dense.  In other words, they don’t provide you with any real vitamins/minerals that are beneficial to you. They’re empty calories and  loaded with tons of sugar and unhealthy fats.

When we think of carbs, we need to be thinking of nutritionally dense carbs: brown rice, starchy vegetables, fruits (with the skin), sweet potatoes, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat products, etc. But not only that…we need to think about PORTIONS.

Portions are a make or break when it comes to weight loss. If you mess this part up, you’re not going to have a fun time. Carbs should make up 45-65% of the calories for the day, a guideline set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Carbs are extremely important, especially if you are getting active and doing cardio and resistance training.

So how does that break down per day? Say you eating 2000 calories, then that would mean, you need roughly 900-1300 calories worth of carbs a day. Since there are 4 calories/gram of carbs, that would equate to 225-325g a day. A portion of carbohydrates is 15g. This is equal to 1/3 cup of pasta, 1 piece of toast, 1/4 of a bagel etc. A portion of carbohydrate is not just a “serving” on your nutrition label, it’s literally defined as the amount that gives you 15g.

So I know it might sound confusing. So let’s break this down meal-wise (this is NOT including fats and proteins, JUST breaking down carbs):

Breakfast: 45g
* Two pieces of toast (30g) + 1/2 cup orange juice (15g)
Morning snack: 30g
*3/4 cup blueberries (15g) + 2/3 cup fat free plain yogurt (15g)
Lunch: 45g
*2/3 cup rice (30g) + 1/2 cup starchy veggies (15g)
Afternoon snack: 30g
*1.5 oz pretzels
Dinner: 90g
*1 cup pasta (45g) + 1 cup milk (15g) + 2 1oz dinner rolls (30g)
Night Snack: 15g
   *3 cups popped popcorn
Total Carbs: 255g

Just taking into carbs, the above is an example of healthy carbs eaten in a day that meets recommended guidelines. If you’d like to figure out how to count carbs, there are plenty of good cheat sheets you can find online. Google is your best friend here.

The point is, you can have your carbs and eat them too…BUT! it does matter what type of carbs and how much. It may feel strange eating carbs when everyone else is avoiding them, but we promise you will see results either way as long as you are watching portions and making healthy choices.

In Summary

Avoiding fitness and diet extremes is important for overall long-term consistency.  I would hope you want to feel good and look good for more than just a few months, right? In order to stick to a plan long-term, it’s time to consider:

1) How is my body feeling? Am I pushing too hard?
2) Am I eating in a way that supports my goals and in a way I can eat long-term?

By striving to avoid extremes and finding your own moderation, you will set yourself up for long-term success that will keep you feeling, looking, and performing well.

Breaking Fads: 6 Ways to Sort Fitness Fad from Fitness Fact

“A new diet has just emerged!”
“Get a flat stomach without strenuous exercise!”
“Greasy, highly-saturated fat bacon will now make you lose weight!”
“See how Scarlett Johansson got in her best shape for The Avengers in 30 days!”

False advertising and exaggerated claims plague our news feed and creep into our subconscious every single day. This concept is not new. Bold, exciting albeit fictitious headlines have been used to market pop-culture and health magazines long before the age of social media. You may recall similar statements to the ones above plastered on the covers of magazines in grocery stores (strategically placed at the check-out line) as you waited and pretended not to be interested in what the “20 Ab Secrets Fitness Pros don’t Want You to Know” actually entail.

With the social media boom in recent years, which has been incredible for reconnecting with old friends, close family, and the “yeah, I kind of know them” acquaintances, the rate at which this unfounded fitness information travels has gone rampant. Not only does misinformation spread quickly, but marketing has gotten smarter. Supplement companies and product advertisements know that we want to see the truth before we believe it, and they have gotten very clever at mixing scientific half-truths into their marketing as they repackage old fads into new ones (does the ketogenic diet look similar to the Atkins and Southbeach diet?)

There are so many instances in the while working with clients that we encounter people who saw minimal results when they tried a weight loss supplement, the trendiest new diet, or performed the “300 Workout” for 30 days only to find that they didn’t look like Gerard Butler at the end of their 30 day plan.

300 Meme

It becomes more and more difficult for people to see great results because very often they are following the newest fitness fad: exciting and flashy, but methods that either don’t work or it don’t work long-term.

Though I could probably talk for days on each of the following marketing tactics that lead people astray, I’ve condensed it to a short list of 6 ways to sort fitness fad from fitness fact.

1. A Quick Fix

This is perhaps the easiest one to spot. Be aware of marketing that purports that their method(s) can cause a massive, unbelievable change in a short amount of time. While “massive change” and “short amount of time” are subjective, usually these claims look like “How Rita lost 20 lbs. in 20 days” or “Zedd packed on 15 lbs. of muscle in a month. Find out how!”

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a healthy, sustainable weight loss plan is going to see 1-2 lbs. weight loss per week on a good week. Not as marketable as the magazine covers, maybe, but considering it might take someone 2 years to gain 20 lbs., it’s still a great deal to knock it out in a fraction of the time and it’s definitely more realistic to be able to tackle this weight loss goal aiming for 20 weeks (or less) as opposed to an unbelievable, unrealistic 20 days.

For muscle growth it takes “several months for visible changes to occur, as they happen only after thousands of individual muscle fibers have grown larger” according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Be on the lookout for claims that refute these guidelines and try to remember that fitness is a process, and following a consistent, quality process equals progress.

2. Extreme Measures

You’re in a conversation and someone says something along the lines of “I lost 10 lbs. by completely cutting out ________.” Common examples include the ketogenic diet, fat-free diets, the Atkins diet, the Hogwarts diet, etc. This usually indicates that extreme measures were taken for a short duration of time, which SEEM to be a key to weight loss or whatever their goal is; causation without correlation.

The problem here is we don’t know the full story of these testimonials and what was occurring before they made this change. They may say that they cut nearly all carbohydrates in order to lose weight, however, it’s highly unlikely that they cut all those healthy high-fiber, low-sugar carbs out of their diets to accomplish this: the green beans, the quinoa, the sugar-free oatmeal, the carrots etc. These are far different from other, less healthy carb-dense choices such as cake, doughnuts, white breads and many others which are highly processed and are definitely not as ideal of a choice.

To simplify:

Protein = Calories
Fats = Calories
Carbs = Calories

All of these are essential to a well balanced diet if choosing minimally processed, whole foods. By cutting one out completely, you can definitely see an immediate response in weight loss, but that it’s actually the result of cutting calories, not necessarily that the macronutrient eliminated is “bad.” You also lose the benefits of the missing macronutrient as well (Carbs help with muscle growth/performance and brain function in the form of glycogen. Fats help deliver and utilize important vitamins.) Sugars, a sub category of carbs, are a different story and stretch beyond the scope of this post, but you can rest easy knowing that you can eat carbs and fats and they won’t make you fat especially if you choose the healthier types in moderation.

3. Marketing Tactics

Even under protection of organizations such as the Federal Trade Commissions, it’s still very common that many programs and products use dishonest marketing tactics to sell their brand. It is not uncommon for many supplement companies to advertise their product as being used by an athlete or competitor who “used their product to get in the best shape of their life.”

What they don’t explicitly tell you is that the athlete had already been training for a number of years, usually at a professional level, and in many cases has used illegal performance enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids (this is true for both men and women) at some point in their lives.

My opinion on the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs aside, I think we all can agree that any program or product that tells its customers “if it worked for me, it can work for you” is unsubstantiated and loses great credibility when delivered by someone who has utilized illegal drugs to alter their physiology. Not to say these people don’t work hard for their results, they’re just not telling the whole story as it pertains to the product.

4. Credentials of Presenter

Who is delivering the information to you? What do the true professionals say? While there are very knowledgeable people at all education levels in fitness, credibility and credentials do matter a lot. Fitness professionals have varying levels of degrees and certifications, however, even without a PhD in their field, they can typically cite a credible source of where they’re getting their information from.

More than likely though, we hear anecdotal references from Bob at the office or Mary who heard from a friend who read from an infographic that if we cut carbs, our bodies will turn to fat for energy. This should raise an alarm, and we should look further as to what the research and people who study research have to say. There may be more to it than what’s on the surface.

Even if you know or work with a personal trainer, I advise doing research or even politely asking where their information might be coming from so that you can learn more. While I have worked with many phenomenal trainers over the years, I have met my fair share of trainers who provide some of the same misinformation we’re trying to debunk and challenge in this post.

5. Do Real-life Observations Match the Testimonials?

This is a quick section but I’ll highlight a few examples:

• Marketing tells us the key to weight loss is cardio, yet we see most people who are in great physical condition do more weight training and only moderate amounts of cardio.

• We’re told carbs make us fat, but we see athletes who use carbs every day to fuel their bodies to get stronger, faster, and stay conditioned.

• Media portrays that you have to exercise like a maniac to get in great shape, but we see most people who stay healthy year round employ methods of consistency over intensity. They push themselves to see results, but they don’t push over the limit.

6. The “Medicine” for your “Sickness”

This part may upset supplement enthusiasts, but I am going to level with you: Most supplements have little evidence to support that they do what they say they do. Supplements are able to sell their consumable products under guidelines that are not regulated by the FDA the same way that our foods in the supermarket are regulated. This means that in many cases, we don’t even know what we are getting or what the concentration is in these products as they are usually listed under a proprietary blend: a mask to hide how much of each ingredient is in their product. In some cases, especially with “fat burners” they can cause life-threatening harm until it becomes a widespread case worth pulling from the shelf (anyone remember Ephedra?)

Some substances do have evidence to support that they can improve performance (creatine and caffeine are some of the very few) however, even these more beneficial ones are useless if used as a substitute for other healthy practices. A healthy protein supplement may be recommended if you’re not getting enough protein in your natural diet.

What’s most troubling about supplements though is that the products are often marketed as medicine even if subliminally. Even the bottles for most supplements mimic medication in their design and layout. This is to tap into your subconscious that these “fat burners” will make you better for what supplement companies want you to think of as a “weight-gain illness.” Disguising themselves as medicine bottles also builds trust in their product. If it looks like medicine, it must be backed by science and therefore must be safe.

ALT TAG
Side-by-side comparison of a medication and a weight-loss supplement. Which is which?

Like I mentioned earlier : dishonest marketing is getting more sophisticated and harder to spot.

In Summary:

In an age where the truth is harder to find and distrust is at an all-time high, it is important for us to be aware of the information presented to us and to be able to sort the fad from the facts. Not everyone spreads misinformation with the intent of tricking others. In fact, I believe most people are actually operating out of benevolence when passing on the latest success trends to others.

The problem is that many times, especially in health and fitness, is that these methods simply sound good at face value and miss so many other important factors that are important for long-term success. Causation without correlation.

As always a moderate, consistent, and well rounded approach always works best and is something we at Eon Fitness employ in all of our exercise programs whether working with clients in-person or through our online personal training programs. If you found this information to be useful, please feel free to share it with your friends, and leave us a comment below.

Crunches Won’t Cut It: Truly Strengthen Your Core

There was a time in the early 2000s, as a 16-year-old kid, when I was getting in shape for the first time of my life. It was two years since I had taken my first steps to transforming from the chubby little video gamer I had always identified myself to be. I was thrilled to feel what it was like to lose some of the weight I had carried around for years while developing a little bit of muscle. In these early stages, goal setting was so very important as I hadn’t yet developed any kind of actual enjoyment in the process of being active.

I eventually reached a point that many exercisers comes to at one point or another, and in the name of vanity, I set out to develop a 6-pack of abs because, well… maybe I thought it might be cool. Or maybe it was the movies or comic book heroes that marketed to me that this was what it meant to be in shape. Whatever the reason was, I don’t remember, I just went for it.

But at 16-years-old, what did I know about developing a strong, defined midsection? Well, I had seen the Rocky movies a few times. I also knew that when I did crunches in JROTC for our physical fitness test that my abs would hurt for 3 days after. I also think I heard time and time again that this Actor/Actress did 500 crunches a day to get in shape for this or that movie role.

So with this knowledge, and this knowledge alone I set out for my goal… and failed miserably.

I remember starting with 100 crunches per day, 5 days per week while finding… no visible abs. It didn’t take long for my endurance to increase so I began increasing to 150 per day and before long, 200 crunches per day, and while after a while I had no problem maxing out my JROTC  crunch test, I still had no visible abs. There was no attention given to nutrition, and while I didn’t know it at the time, I was performing a useless workout program.

The experiment was a failure, but it taught me a great deal of information, though I wouldn’t realize it for maybe a decade later. And while the appeal of visibly defined abs no longer interests me from an aesthetics perspective, I have learned a tremendous amount since that time about how functional it is to have a strong, balanced and coordinated core for both in-the-gym training and in the real world.

While core strength is becoming more and more discussed in the fitness industry and in mainstream marketing, our general perception as a whole of what core strength is and how it is developed is still commonly misconstrued. After spending the past seven years working in commercial gyms, I have seen dozens upon dozens of people each day make the same mistakes I described above, and I hope to set you up for success with the information in this post so that you can be spared the mistakes that I and so many others have made.

Breaking the Spot Reduction Mindset

We cannot spot reduce where we lose fat. Period. (Although it would be awesome if we could…)

Where we store fat in our bodies is a great deal attributed to both gender and our genetics. To generalize, men typically tend to store more body fat in the abdominal and midsection area, while women tend to store more body fat in their hips and lower bodies. While there are many exceptions to this overgeneralization, this is the case for most people.

As we overindulge and store calories in the form of fat in our bodies, our genetics also determine whether we store more fat in our legs versus our arms, or our hips versus our bellies, or our fingers versus our toes. You get the point.

This means that when we attempt to lose body fat in our bellies, that really, we just need to burn fat in our bodies which is a combination of:

• A well balanced diet
• Creating a healthy caloric deficit (which doesn’t entail starving ourselves)
• Performing activities that raise our metabolism (heavy compound movements for example, and exercise in general)

But if aesthetics are important to you whether it is regarding your abs or any other muscle group, there IS a secret formula, which really is not a secret at all, and it’s:

(Developed muscle in an area) + (Low Body Fat) = Muscle Definition

The big mistake, however, is that most people set out to “get abs” by nearly starving themselves which certainly does some work reducing fat albeit an unhealthy one, but it also reduces muscle in our bodies which means it shrinks muscle in the abs. Remember, no muscle = no definition.

Nutrition is perhaps the most essential component to seeing the abs, but developing the core is a very close second, and from a performance standpoint, strengthening the core area is the foundation of most great exercise programs as it protects us from injury, and strengthens all movements we perform. But how do we strengthen our core?

Stop Doing Crunches and Sit-Ups

I know this sounds counterintuitive, but not only are countless floor crunches and sit-ups repeatedly performing a movement that worsens the ramifications of the seated desk position that causes so many of us to have slouched posture, tight hips, and low back pain, but it also doesn’t work well for building the abs. In order to build muscle effectively for any area in the body, heavier progressive overload exercises work best.

Even when putting aside the evidence that crunches and sit-ups are correlated with tight hip flexors (which cause low back pain) and stress to the discs in the spine ( Which also cause back pain,) the nature of these exercises is more of an endurance classification, and while you may “feel” the area working, you’re just getting better at resisting fatigue in the abs, and not necessarily building muscle. There are better methods and exercises out there, and I intend to share them with you.

Some Quick Physiology

If you want to skip the science stuff, scroll ahead to Effective Ways to Strengthen the Core. While I won’t dive too far into the physiology that influences muscular growth as it pertains to the core, it is important to briefly touch upon it to explain why other training methods work better than crunches and Russian twists when it comes to truly achieving a stronger core.

According to the 3rd edition of Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, “Heavy resistance training brings about significant adaptive responses that result in enhanced size, strength, and power of trained musculature.”

The three primary hormones involved in muscle tissue growth are testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor.

Maybe you’ve heard of these chemical compounds before in the news or articles covering athletes’ illegal use of steroids or performance enhancing drugs, however, they actually occur naturally in our bodies (in both men and women) and can be influenced to a degree by heavier resistance training. These compounds are responsible for building lean muscle which is a huge factor in burning fat and feeling and looking stronger. Most of all, using some of the training protocols used for influencing these hormone levels will also develop strength in the entire body, especially the core:

Natural Testosterone Boosting Methods:

• Large Muscle Group Exercises
• Heavy Resistance (85%-95% of 1 RM)
• Moderate to High Volume of of exercise using multiple sets, exercises, or both.
• Short Rest Intervals
• Two or more years of resistance training experience

Natural Growth Hormone Boosting Methods:

• Growth hormone has not been found to be affected by low resistance high repetition exercises (VanHelder study noted in text mentioned above)
• An Intensity Threshold (lifting heavy enough) exists to get the body to begin secreting growth hormone
• Kraemer study showed less break time mixed with total volume of exercises (Volume =  Weight x Reps x Sets) increases GH serum levels
• 10 Rep Max sets were shown to produce higher levels of GH responses

When evaluating the natural ways to boost growth hormone and testosterone to build muscles, you see in both cases, it requires heavier resistance loads (sets of 3 to as many as 20,) so it makes sense that an endless number of repetitions and long duration sets of “abs” won’t be very effective for building much musculature there. These exercises fall into a category of more of an endurance type, and they still carry the risks mentioned above.

Effective Ways to Strengthen the Core

So where does this leave us? Well, we should approach the core like we would if we were trying to strengthen anything else such as the biceps, triceps, lats or quads.

Compound Movements are king in any exercise program; even when focusing on core strength. The degree of core strength and stability required to perform a squat or a deadlift or a bent-over-row, with safe form and full range of motion is tremendous. I can personally attest to this from my own experience in 2015, When I entered a 90-day weight loss challenge for my job, and I finally achieved my 16-year-old self’s goal (although this time, “getting abs” wasn’t the goal.)

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2015: 90-Day Transformation. Compound lifts, healthy carbs/proteins/fats, and 0 “Ab Days.” Not a single crunch was performed or necessary.

The difference this time around was there were many more principles of nutrition and physiology that factored into the program. By following a protocol that required a lot of caloric output by using heavier compound movements and a sensible nutrition plan (yes, I ate carbs… LOTS of carbs which are healthy and part of a well balanced diet)  the conditions were right for a favorable transformation to occur.

99% of this program consisted of compound movements: Squats, Deadlifts, Pullups, Bent Over Rows, Overhead Press, etc. without ever performing an abdominal crunch. The core works hard in every single one of these exercises, even though they are not “ab movements.”

This is not to say isolating the core is useless. It can be highly effective for isolating weaker areas and imbalances and can be especially effective as a good warm up for lighter lifting  or circuit training days, or a great way to end a workout on heavier lifting days. In fact, core stability exercises help quite a bit to ensure compound movements are functioning properly. But stability aside, there are still some pretty great isolation movements out there which include the following:

Time-Under-Tension Exercises:

• Planks
• Hollow Body Holds
• Deadbugs
• Pallof Presses
• Stir the Pot
• Dragon Flags

Resistance Loaded and Full Range Of Motion Exercises:

• Suspended Leg Raises
• Cable Woodchop/Horizontal Rotation
• Side Bends
• Cable Flexion (Cable Crunch)
• Ab Wheel

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Hollow Body Hold

In Summary

Piecing it all together can be tough, but let’s try and break it all down right here into a few short bullet points to simplify as much as possible:

• Core performance has different categories in which we discussed three: Core Strength, Core Stability, Core Endurance
• Core Strength is most associated with growing the size of the abdominals and other core muscles (though the other categories play an important role)
• There exist specific loads, rep schemes and movements that trigger muscular strength, power and size in all muscles including the core
• Compound Movements, if performed correctly with full range of motion and enough resistance will activate the core in very large amounts and are strongly recommended for developing a strong core
• When isolating the core, focusing on time under tension and full ROM resistance loaded movements are highly effective when compared to high endurance exercises such as crunches

These are some of the fundamental principles we implement into our exercise programs when training in-person or in our Eon Fitness: Online Personal Training Program. If you’d like to learn more about ways to strengthen your core or improve your exercise programming, we encourage you to bookmark our main page and check back regularly for more posts and tips.

How a Woman with a Rotator Cuff Tear Got into the Best Shape of Her Life

Meet Cindy Sue.

Cindy goes to the gym and decides she wants to work her pecs. She’s 64, she’s seen people use that one chest press machine, and knows it works the chest because it a sticker says “chest press” in small writing on the machine. Cindy sits down on the machine, sets a weight she thinks she can do, and goes to town. She does 3 sets of 12 reps to exact. She thinks it felt great. She felt her whole upper body working. Things are good. She wipes off the machine like a good gym-goer does and goes home.

A few hours later, Cindy’s shoulder starting hurting. “OWW!!” She says, maybe including a few expletives. “It must have been that machine. I thought everything was fine…what happened?!”

So what did Cindy do wrong? In Cindy’s eyes, she didn’t do anything wrong. She got on a machine that SAID “chest press” and she ended up in pain a few hours later. What gives?

What Cindy failed to think about (and most people weight training in general) is her restrictions, current posture, and maybe that rotator cuff tear she forgot she had 10 years ago.

To understand this more, we’ll need to look into Cindy’s past, Christmas Carol style. So let’s go.

Cindy was never too much into sports growing up, but she loved to bike. She biked all the time. When she turned 40 however, things started to change. She started going through menopause, hot flashes and all. Her lower back started to give her trouble and she started feeling less motivated to work out. Everything started hurting! She gave up biking and took up crocheting instead (she loves making blankets for her grand babies). At 54, Cindy was helping her husband lift a heavy piece of wood (her husband’s of course a carpenter) in their backyard, and she felt something snap near her shoulder.

Over the course of the next few days, her back and the front of her shoulder hurt so bad, she decided to go to her doctor. After an X-Ray and an MRI, Cindy got the results back and found out she tore her rotator cuff. “My rotator what?!” she asked. The doctor assured her that physical therapy over the next 3-6 months would help the pain. If it didn’t, they would do surgery. Cindy did the physical therapy, started feeling better, and decided not to do the surgery. Her doctor released her.

On a Wednesday, Cindy, now 60, read an article in Reader’s Digest (because I mean who doesn’t love their articles?) that discussed the benefits of strength training for women over 50. She thought about that old gym membership she still paid for that she never used. That Friday, Cindy got up early, got her gym clothes (and her game face) on, headed to the gym, and the rest is history.

Now that we’ve dove into Cindy’s past, do you now see any issues with what Cindy did at the gym? If not, let’s discuss.

Cindy used to ride her bike all the time, remember? If you think about riding a bike (think Lance Armstrong), you’re usually bent over the bike to grip the handles. When you see bicyclists, they often ride very hunched over do to the nature of the exercise.

Over time however, this can lead to body adaptations and make bicyclists’ posture less than ideal. It leads to rounded shoulders, AKA your shoulders slump forward. This creates tightness in the chest and actually lengthens/weakens muscles in the upper back. Since muscles are attached to joints and tendons, these changes can reposition joints and strain tendons over time creating dysfunction and pain.

Cindy then went through menopause and her back started hurting out of the blue. She stopped biking and took up crocheting, you’re remembering all of this aren’t you? Most crocheters are again slumped over due to the amount of sitting required. So, not only did she stay hunched over biking all those years, but now she is doing a hobby that also leads to suboptimal posture over time.

After not working out for years and a little older, Cindy tears her rotator cuff. Cindy of course thought it “just happened” but in reality, her activities, hobbies, and lack of posture correction put so much stress on her joints, muscles, and tendons that her rotator cuff had no choice but give in.

She does the physical therapy. She learns exercises that help strengthen her shoulder again and the supporting muscles around it hopefully. I mean, after all, she did say it was feeling better. But after physical therapy, Cindy didn’t continue doing those exercises. She wasn’t told she really needed to or how to progress exercise over time to be more challenging or complex.

Physical therapy is a blessing for most, but it often fails to equip clients for long-term success in pain management. Why? Because physical therapy is reactive. You broke your leg and now you need to walk again? They got you covered. You tear your rotator cuff and need to reach up in your cupboard? You’ll be reaching up into that cupboard with so much ease, you’ll host a dinner party for 60 people and get coffee cups down all night just ‘cuz.

But for those who want to continue or start to do resistance training, physical therapy very often falls short. If you really want help starting to get back into your old gym routine or begin a new one, the best physical therapists to ask are those who have worked with athletes. Athletes don’t just stop playing their sport for the rest of their lives (unless it’s something they really can’t recover from), they must…go on. Of course if you’re reading this, you probably are in that line of thinking — you must go on. You don’t want to give up your gym routine. You can’t just not lift weights the rest of your life. You have to do SOMETHING. Right?

This is where personal trainers come in. I don’t know how many times over the past several years, I’ve heard “I want to start weight training, but I got injured, and now I don’t know how to start. No one could show me.” There again, many physical therapists do not set their patients up for success in the “gym” world. In a clinical and homebound world, sure, but not the real, gym world.

Let’s find out what happened to Cindy two weeks after her shoulder injury.

After Cindy hurt her shoulder, she rested for a few days and the pain went away. Thank goodness. But she decided that maybe she needed some help. She knew her physical therapist couldn’t help her (plus her insurance wouldn’t cover any more visits), so she decided to request a trainer to show her some things she could do in the gym that wouldn’t hurt her.

She started working with Georgie, a new trainer at the gym. Georgie just graduated college and got certified as a personal trainer last year. So far, Georgie’s only worked with about 5 people consistently since she’s been working at the gym for 6 months. She’s lost a lot of clients too…but she wouldn’t dare tell Cindy that. Maybe this time she can help Cindy and get her to stay on with her. After all, she needs money to pay her college debts. She’s got this.

Cindy and Georgie meet for a consultation. Cindy describes her past love for biking, crocheting, lack of activity, rotator cuff tear, and her recent experience hurting her shoulder on the chest press machine. They start training together. Georgie shows Cindy how to do crunches, burpees (modified of course), chest presses, and lat pulldowns over the next hour. Cindy says she’s getting that pain her shoulder again. Georgie tries to make Cindy feel better and says, “Well, it’s just because you haven’t worked out in a while. Let me just take off a little bit of weight.” Cindy still continues to have pain over the next couple weeks. Cindy breaks it to Georgie she’d like to cancel her next session and Georgie never sees Cindy again.

Cindy’s now worked with a physical therapist and a “certified” personal trainer and each one of them has let her down. She gets discouraged and stops working out.

Classic, right? Relatable, definitely. Three weeks after leaving Georgie, Cindy’s neighbor Ann asks Cindy how her workout routine is going. Cindy says, “Not good. I stopped because I was in so much pain, even with a trainer. It’s hopeless.” Ann recommends a Cindy try a different trainer, one that she’s been working with herself for over three years. She’s GREAT. I have knee pain, and she has done wonders for me.

Cindy meets this new trainer. During her consultation and assessment (Georgie didn’t even do that!), Cindy finds out that her posture, muscle tightness, and weakness is causing her pain. She found out that it’s not even the shoulder that’s the proper, it’s the muscles around it that need to be strengthened. After the first week of training, Cindy’s already feeling better.

Cindy’s new trainer works with her on her posture when she’s not at the gym, gives her corrective exercises to do at home each day, and focuses on lengthening Cindy’s tight muscles and strengthening the ones that are weak. She also starts Cindy on specific core exercises (that aren’t crunches!!) to really strengthen her core from in the inside out. Cindy’s back pain goes away.

One year later, Cindy has lost 40 pounds, 23 inches, is pain free, and looks leaner than she’s ever looked. She still works with that trainer too. We’ll leave her unnamed.

So how did a woman with a rotator cuff tear get into the best shape of her life? She trusted her trainer who had good testimonials, learned to be aware of her posture at all times, lengthened muscles that needed to be stretched, and strengthened muscles that needed to be strengthened. She didn’t push it too hard to the point of pain or losing good form, and she actually started ENJOYING her journey. Her trainer found a program that worked for HER. Her trainer listened, had the knowledge from experience, and delivered life-changing results.

If you find yourself in Cindy Sue’s predicament, do not lose hope. There IS help out there and there IS a way for you to still be able to workout around your injuries. All it takes is a little knowledge and hard work. If you need help and you are between 30-60 years of age with normal aches and pains, let me know you what I can do for you. You do NOT need to be going around like a broken record. We can work through it together.  All of our training is done online and by phone and Skype. All workouts are sent to your phone with demonstrations of us doing every exercise. You can do the workouts on YOUR schedule. You can get started by submitting the form below to see if we’d be a good fit for each other. And all it takes is 3 minutes of your time.

Apply for Training

Until next time,

Lisa

Who Do You Need to Become?

How many times have you told yourself, “I’m gonna lose 20 pounds and fit into a dress I used to love to wear? or “I’m going to become a gym-a-holic and finally get fit!”?

 

Many of us have goals for ourselves we’d like to accomplish for our health. Some goals are lofty and life-changing while others might be small. So, today I wanted to spend a few minutes addressing an important concept when it comes to goal setting that many of you might find helpful.

 

We all know that change is hard. It can be difficult to change our ways when we’ve been stuck for so long doing things OUR way, the comfortable way. We have these goals in our heads of what we’d like to do, like how many pounds we want to lose, or what dress we hope we can fit in again. But many times, we fail to know what it will take to get there….or if we’re even ready.

 

I want you to work backwards when it comes to goal setting and first visualize actually reaching a goal you’ve had in mind. Really soak in how you believe you will feel when you get there. How does it feel? What will that look like?

 

From there, I want you to ask yourself one question: Who do I need to become to get the goal I want to achieve? 

 

What do I mean by that? Let’s think about your goal for a minute. Let’s say you have it in your mind you want to lose 20 pounds and start working out 5 days per week and right now you are not working out at all. Big goal, right? Big goal, but doable.

 

With that goal in mind and understanding where you’re currently at, begin to think of what things you might have to learn or do differently to get there. Do you have to wake up 30 minutes earlier to make a nutritious breakfast instead of always skipping it? Do you have to spend 10 minutes the night before getting your workout clothes ready by your bedside to make it easy for you to slip them on in the morning to go for a walk? Do you have to start tracking calories to figure out where your problems with your nutrition lie? Do you have to learn how to meal prep so you can have a healthy lunch at work instead of eating out every day? Do you need to take 5 minutes in the morning to meditate to focus your mind before starting your day?

 

Sometimes there may be things you do not know how to change or even start. If you’ve never worked out before, how do you know how to create a sustainable workout program for yourself? And if you’ve been working out forever and still seeing no results, how know to achieve your fitness goals?

 

It’s okay to admit you might need help. The important thing is to realize that even though you may have to make a monetary investment to learn what you do not know, you will get that money back from the results you achieve and the money you save in future medical costs.

 

Therefore, instead of just thinking “I’m going to lose 20 pounds”, I want you to think about who you need to BECOME to achieve these goals. If you can’t accept change, you will never reach your big goals. With big goals comes big change.

 

We must accept change by addressing our weaknesses and acknowledging we must take steps to learn and grow. You are NOT weak in acknowledging these things. Conversely, you are STRONG for being self-aware and willing to progress yourself to be better. 

 

So I ask you today – who do you need to become to reach your goals?

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The Lost Art of Weight Maintenance and Setting Realistic Health Goals

These days it’s hard to find nearly anyone who isn’t on some type of diet trying to lose X amount of weight. Instagram has become a haven for fitness fanatics and weight loss journey-ers alike. Magazines and media constantly promote weight loss products, services, and diets that fuel consumers urge to lose weight. The problem is, we never really hear people’s stories about how they are after the weight loss.

'Let me know if these weight-loss pills actually work.'

Our society loves the idea of weight loss. It gives companies a reason to sell their ineffective products and supplements and it gives you something to work for. It creates purpose, drive, and a plan. But what happens if you reached your desired weight loss/body composition goal?

I used to spend a great part of my day criticizing my appearance and wasting time on the little things regarding my weight. Social media made me feel like I needed to be striving for a weight loss/body composition/strength goal at all times and it became exhausting. I never felt good enough. I think this can be a common trap to those who are getting closer to the goals they have for themselves. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with setting up new fitness goals, I do think its important to know how to feels to just maintain. It is a skill we are not usually taught, as most of our time we are spending trying to get better or reach a goal.

Society is always propelling us to go above and beyond and tap into our true potential. We go through years of school, getting smarter (hopefully!) and more experienced. We bounce from job to job to grow our careers, we have babies who grow to be adults like us…we are always trying to reach toward the future.

I see a lot of extremes in fitness in my profession. Many women have started to want to compete in bikini and bodybuilding competitions while fixating so much on their diet and workout routines, and other important aspects of their life fall by the wayside. On the other side of the spectrum, a lot of fitness newbies begin to associate fitness with extremes which many times intimidates or de-motivates them to pursue a healthy fitness journey of their own.

So how do you find comfort and balance in a world of such extremes? It’s important to really sit down and figure out your own health and fitness goals, short-term and long-term. Write everything down and really decide which are realistic for you. Then, break down your goals into smaller chunks that are achievable. When you reach certain goals, check them off. If you are starting your fitness journey for the first time, this is hugely helpful, as most of the battle is just developing healthier habits.

Here are 10 goal ideas to work on that are achievable, better your health (and save you money on medical costs in the future), and make you feel better over time:

  1. Get at least 10,000 steps per day
  2. Drink half a gallon or more of water a day (depends on your activity level and some of this comes from food!)
  3. Perform moderate aerobic activity (e.g. brisk walking) 150 minutes per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (e.g. jogging, elliptical, biking) per week
  4. Reducing salt in your diet (look up DASH diet for ideas)
  5. Supplement Vitamin D if you do not go outside and iron if you are anemic
  6. Stretch a couple times a day
  7. Perform core stability (e.g. dead bugs, planks, pallof presses, bird dogs, etc.) exercises 2-3 times per week to prevent lower back pain and injuries
  8. Weight lift 2-3 times per week for total body focusing on compound movements (exercises that use more than one muscle group) sticking to 8-20 rep range for 2-4 sets if you know how or know a trainer who can help you with putting together a safe plan based on your limitations
  9. Learn your portions and memorize them. Learn how to read nutrition labels.
  10. Eat balanced meals of healthy carbs, proteins, and fats. Getting enough protein (~50g+) will help stabilize your hunger levels.

These are just a few ideas to get you started on creating goals of your own. The goals above can be broken down into smaller goals that will make it less daunting to start. Get good at the basics like above before tackling more vigorous goals like doing a spartan race.

Remember, you don’t have to go to extremes in order to be healthy. Once you hit certain goals like the ones above, create habits around them and continue doing those things. If you fall off the bandwagon, it’s OKAY, but get back on! Continue to strive to be better over time, not overnight. This will help you reach a maintenance mode where you don’t have to think about all these things all the time. It will become a habit. But remember, habits only form from what we repeatedly do. So repeatedly doing healthier things like the ones listed above will eventually become habits which will have significant impact on your overall health and wellbeing. So to answer the question earlier in this post, habits are what should happen after we reach our weight loss or fitness goals.

YOUR habits create YOUR maintenance.

Forget what others are striving for or what you think you should be striving for. Do what YOU want to strive for and be realistic. As Tony Robbins says, “It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.” 

The Problem with Physical Therapy

I’ve had this topic in mind for a while now and just now have the opportunity to discuss it. Most of us have been to physical therapy at least once or know or someone that has been through physical therapy. Whether for a shoulder injury, knee issue, hip problem, etc., we’ve all been there. You get hurt, you go to the doctor, they refer out and there you are in physical therapy. I have been to five physical therapists in my life for SI joint dysfunction and have yet to find someone who knows how to completely help me. The closest I have come to having someone understand my condition still can’t quite figure out what’s going on.

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Source: http://www.clinton-ind.com/products/physical-therapy-equipment

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Why You’re Not Losing Weight

There are many reasons why you might not be losing weight. Weight loss occurs when we are burning more calories than we consume through a combination of both food intake and exercise. If either of these components is lacking, weight loss can slow down. With so much information out there, it can be hard to determine how many calories you need to be eating to lose weight. Today’s post will touch on how to figure out if you are eating too little, too much, or if you are right on target for meeting your weight loss goals.

I like to break down the kinds of people who are struggling to lose weight into two categories:

    1. Those who are not eating enough to lose weight
    2. Those are are eating too much to lose weight

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Prioritize Strength Training for Your Fat Loss Goals

Over the past several years, I have worked with primarily female clients. Most of the time they come to me after seeing little to no results from their current exercise routine. Their goals typically include getting “toned”, building muscle, or looking better.

After inquiring about what they are currently doing, most women will say they are just doing cardio 5x/week or taking group exercise classes. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, performing cardio and taking classes alone will not get them to their goals of building muscle. 

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