Research/Science

5 All Time Worst Exercises – (What to Do Instead!)

Just as there is bad nutrition and good nutrition, unhealthy habits and healthy habits, there are bad exercises and beneficial exercises.  The worst exercises are not just bad, but can be dangerous. From watching workouts in gyms to videos online, we’ve seen our share of some of the worst exercises people can dream up.  Here, we’ve picked out some of our personal all-time worst exercises to avoid in order to reduce chances of injury and instead get the results you intended.

And the Losers Are…

1.  Sit-ups:  If these aren’t on the top of every fitness professional’s “never to perform” exercise list, they should be.  We’re not talking about proper abdominal crunches, but the old military style sit-ups where you bring your upper body completely off the floor towards your knees.  Besides doing little to nothing for your core, they push your curved spine against the floor which can cause injury to your back.  And, they work your hip flexors, which, frankly…why?  Most of our hip flexors are already overworked sitting in front of computers all day.

Do this instead…Plank.  Not only do these work your abdominals, but also your back and shoulders.  Proper form includes keeping your back flat, tucking the chin slightly and tightening your abs.

2.  Side Bends with Weights:  Proper side bends for stretching are great.  But, someone, somewhere, came up with this exercise with weights that supposedly was to strengthen the oblique muscles.  However, all this exercise does is put more stress on the low spine, which again can lead to injury.  Really want to work the obliques?

Do this instead…Wood Chopper.  This works both the oblique and transverse abdominal muscles—the ones that allow you to twist, swing a bat, golf club, etc.  This also has the added benefit of working your back and shoulders.  Proper form includes tightening your abs, avoiding arching your back, and using a weight that freely allows you to perform the exercise without stress on your shoulders.

3.  Lat Pull-downs Behind the Neck:  This is a common exercise seen in gyms anywhere, and carries with it a greater potential for injury to the spine, neck and rotator cuffs.  To avoid hitting your head with the bar, you have to extend your head forward.  This puts stress on your spine.  Additionally, the exercise forces your shoulders into an angle they aren’t really built for, which can lead to tearing your rotator cuffs. 

Do this instead…Lat Pull-Down to the Chest.  This is the correct form of the exercise.  Pull the bar down in front of you towards the chest.  Proper form includes keeping your feet flat on the floor and leaning slightly back.  Be sure when you release the bar doesn’t extend beyond your reach to avoid injury to the shoulders.

4.  Hip Abductor/Adductor Machine.  This piece of equipment appears in almost every gym.  You sit down and push your thighs in and out.  Sorry, but besides looking ridiculous, this works very few muscles and is a complete waste of precious exercise time.  It also puts stress on the spine, and unnecessarily tightens the IT (iliotibial) band which can lead to pain between the hip and knee.

Do this instead…Side Lunges.  Not only do these work the major muscles of the legs, but also the hip abductors and adductors due to the side to side movement.  Proper form includes keeping your spine straight, tightening your abs and keeping the bent knee from overshooting the toe.

5.  Hurdler’s Stretch.  We still see a lot of people doing this.  One leg is stretched in front and the other bent behind, which puts the bent knee in a very awkward position.  This puts a lot of stress on the knee and can cause pain and injury.

Do these instead…Basic hamstring, quad and hip flexor stretches.   These stretches will do everything the hurdler’s stretch was trying to do without the added risk of injury.  Proper form includes:  minimizing rounding your back in a hamstring stretch so as to avoid putting stress on the spine; avoiding overstretching the quad to where it causes pain; and whether seated or standing for a hip flexor stretch, avoid arching your back.

Most, if not all of these, were made popular during the early gym days.  They are tough, and they fit into the model of “no pain, no gain.”  However, they are not very effective, and worse, they are dangerous.  People have injured themselves doing these before.  Remember – pain does not equal gain, and often will slow down progress.  The key is to work at exercise in a smart and efficient way.  Challenge yourself, instead of hurting yourself.

TV & Junk Food: Are They Related?

I don’t know, maybe I was just burned out a bit from working too hard and needed a break, but yesterday was one of those lazy days for me.  I decided enough was enough and I was just going to relax for the day.  Now we all need those relaxation days to recharge.  But, on this particular day, I was glued to the TV.  And, for some reason, I took more notice of the many food commercials that we are bombarded with. 

It Made Me Wonder if TV Led to More Eating, and Junk Food in Particular.

To be completely transparent, some of what I have to say on this subject is based on my own experience, and some on research.  First, my own experience…

What I Know to Be True for Myself

I fight my food demons like I know a lot of others do.  Growing up, there were always sugary desserts and candies on hand.  While that’s another story in itself, suffice it to say, while we had to eat dinner at the table, dessert was served later in front of the TV.  I took this same practice into adulthood for many years.  Unconsciously, I associated relaxing in front of the TV with treat time.  During my own weight loss journey, it was one of the habits I became aware of that were contributing to my overweight.  (If you want to know what I did…I slowly began substituting for a healthier snack.

Back to Those TV Commercials.

To be fair, not all those food commercials I noticed yesterday promoted bad foods.  Some were certainly healthy.  But, on seeing them, even though I wasn’t hungry, it made me want to eat.  In sight, in mind, so to speak.  So, my natural tendency was to hit the kitchen and forage for food.  That meant extra calories I was consuming, healthy food or not.

What Some Research Says

In 2018, Cancer Research UK1 [United Kingdom], conducted a survey of teens between 11 and 19 years of age to assess if there was an association between TV streaming and ads on diets.  More specifically, on junk food and sugary drink consumption.  They discovered that teens who regularly streamed shows containing ads “were more than twice as likely (139%) to drink fizzy drinks compared to someone with low advert exposure from streaming TV, and 65% more likely to eat more ready meals than those who streamed less TV.”

In another study, researchers looked into whether eating while watching TV increased the number of calories consumed relative to eating with no TV2.  The participants were women.  Interestingly, everyone ate more with TV.  If the show was a favorite, or one they were familiar with, the food intake was even greater.

I always like to leave with a bottom line.  After working with clients and my own experience, one of the ways to combat TV and food intake is to be mindful of it.  The more mindful we are of what we are doing, the more we can move to modify it in a healthier way.

1Cancer Research UK. “Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 January 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180115184342.htm.

2Braude, L., & Stevenson, R. J., 2014. Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia. “Watching television while eating increases energy intake. Examining the mechanisms in female participants.” Appetite. Vol. 76, pp 9-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.01.005.

Are Carbs the Reason Behind Weight Gain?

The poor carbohydrate, it gets such a bad rap!  Now, before you roll your eyes, or remind me of all the stories about people losing weight by cutting out carbs, hear me out on the subject…

Can drastically cutting carbohydrates help to lose weight?  Sure, just like other diets, cutting out a bigger source of calories than you take in can mean successfully losing weight.  But are carbs the reason behind weight gain as so many have implied?  Not really, and here is why.

Wait…first I want to digress and take a look at the carbohydrate and why it is so important to our diet.  (For more on this, read our ebook on the 7 Myths About Weight Loss and the Top Proven Strategies to Overcome Them.)

The Mighty Carb

Put simply, when we consume carbohydrates our bodies break them down into glucose.   Glucose really has one major role and that is to supply energy for our body.  It is the body’s primary fuel for most of its cells.  It is highly important to the brain, red blood cells, nervous system, and for those pregnant – the fetus and placenta.  In fact, virtually the only fuel used by your brain is glucose! 

To be quite succinct, without enough carbs to make enough glucose, our energy levels wane, brain function slows, and our nervous system and ability to fight disease gets impaired.

But you’d rather burn more fat than carbs you say! 

Well, the fact is that when fat is burned for a source of energy, it needs a small amount of glucose to break it down.  So, you need carbs to make glucose to burn fat. 

There is a ton of misinformation out there that fat and protein can easily be used as a source of energy – directly, they cannot.  The ultimate fuel source is glucose (more specifically glycogen).  The process of converting fat and protein to glycogen is a costly process for your body, and degrades muscle in the process.  Finally, muscles are made of protein, but built by carbs (and resistance!)

Okay back to carbs being the cause of weight gain

Let’s be honest, carbs are not the bad ones here.  Good sources of carbs provide excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and dietary fiber that our body needs to stay healthy and lower the risk of disease.  High nutrient foods with carbs include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Legumes

Even the bad carbs in small amounts aren’t necessarily the culprits of weight gain, though certainly they need to be limited.  You know what they are…candy, sugary desserts, sodas, etc.

Barring a medical problem, weight gain is an accumulation, over time, of eating too much…period.  The “wrong foods” make this worse as they are usually higher calorie.  Couple that with a sedentary lifestyle — not getting enough exercise/movement — and of course any food can cause issues.  So, let’s stop blaming carbs and be sure we are eating a healthy balanced diet and getting an adequate amount of exercise. 

All this said, carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of the total amount of calories you eat each day. These are essential to your diet!

Caffeine – Friend or Foe?

Many of us love that first cup of coffee or tea in the morning.  It smells good, gives us a boost to get the day going, wakes the brain, and may be associated with one of the most relaxing moments we have during the day.  And to go without it – well that just starts the day out wrong!  

Caffeine has an addictive effect.  But before thinking you are a drug addict, consuming low to moderate amounts of caffeine does not pose a problem for most healthy people.  However, as with any consumable, caffeine has both benefits and drawbacks, and may not be for everyone.  

Let’s take a look at what caffeine does in the body, the benefits it can have to improving performance, and when to use caution consuming it.

Why There Is an Almost Instant Boost

Caffeine is a stimulant.  It’s absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and is quickly metabolized by the liver.  Within 15 minutes caffeine begins circulating in the bloodstream, and within 45 minutes 99% percent of it is absorbed.  It easily crosses nerve and cell membranes and into the brain.  As a result, caffeine can make you feel more physically and mentally energized.

Typical caffeine sources

  • 8oz Coffee (95-200mg)
  • 1oz Espresso (40-75mg)
  • 12oz Cola (30-47mg)
  • 8oz Green Tea (24-40mg)
  • 8oz Black Tea (14-61mg)
  • 1oz Bittersweet Chocolate (25mg)

Caffeine and exercise performance

The use of caffeine in athletes has been shown to improve their performance by decreasing reaction time and lengthening time to exhaustion.1  Additionally, athletes consuming caffeine an hour before resistance training, researchers found that the athletes could perform more repetitions, and the muscle soreness that developed in the following days decreased (known as DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).2  The optimal amount of caffeine consumed was found to be between 3-6 mg per kg of body weight (pounds divided by 2.2).  So, what does this mean for everyone else?

Caffeine and the average exerciser – Benefits and Concerns

For us non-athletes, a bit of caffeine (1-2 cups of coffee for example) before working out may give us that boost of energy to increase aerobic exercise and resistance training repetitions.  Always go slow and steady when adding anything new.

For pregnant and nursing women, and for those with heart issues, stomach issues, high blood pressure, sleep problems, etc., caffeine beyond small amounts is not recommended and should be determined in consultation with a doctor.

1 Goldstein, E. R., Ziegenfuss, T., Kalman, D., Kreider, R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., & … Antonio, J. (2010). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition71-15.

2 Hurley, C.F., Hatfield, D.L., Riebe, D.A. (2013) The effect of caffeine ingestion on delayed onset muscle soreness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27(11)3101-3109.

Is a Personal Trainer Right for Me? (part 1)

Is a Personal Trainer Right for Me & What to Ask (Part 1)

Working with a personal trainer can have tremendous benefits to reaching your health and fitness goals.  What often happens, however, is that the client feels they don’t get what they need and the trainer feels frustration because they couldn’t help them, leaving everyone with a less than happy experience.  Before working with a personal trainer, or not, first consider why you should or shouldn’t’ use one, and if you do, what you need to know.

When you should work with a personal trainer

You should work with a personal trainer if you have a specific goal in mind.  In that way, the trainer can help set up a program specifically designed to get the results you want.  For instance, say you want to run a half-marathon.  The trainer can put together an exercise program that includes specific running drills to help improve the efficiency of your running gait, as well as build your cardiovascular endurance, and strength and power through resistance and plyometric exercises.  This program would be geared towards getting you in shape and building the endurance and power needed to sustain the run.

If you are looking to lose 20 pounds, then the trainer can build a program designed to increase your cardiovascular function, and strengthen and build muscle mass in order to help you burn fat and carbs at a higher rate.  In our customized workout plans, for example, we conduct an assessment and goal list with clients like you so the workouts help you achieve your specific goal AND so they work for where you presently are.

When you shouldn’t work with a trainer 

At the risk of sounding rather harsh, avoid working with a personal trainer if you don’t plan on:

  • doing what they ask you to do,
  • following up with exercising on your own,
  • keeping session appointments, or
  • arriving on time for session appointments.

At the same time, avoid working with a personal trainer who doesn’t:

  • show up for your session appointments,
  • show up on time for your session appointments,
  • always seems ill-prepared for your sessions, or
  • shows more interest in what is happening in the gym or on their phone than with you.

Why spend all that time and money on a personal trainer if you are not committed to take their advice and do what is expected, or if they are not committed to helping you reach your goals?  Lastly, a good personal trainer will plan for your session ahead of time and will help you work out a good routine for the days you don’t see her/him.

Can a personal trainer help with nutrition?

 While a trainer can make some general nutrition recommendations, they cannot, and should not, design specific diets and meal planning unique to your needs.  This type of expertise is done by registered dieticians, which are licensed individuals in every state, have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, have residency/internship requirements and testing, plus continuing education requirements.  Therefore, if you are looking for a nutrition program designed specifically for you and your goals, you need to seek the advice of a registered dietician, ideally one that works with what your goals are (i.e., sports performance, weight loss, etc.)

In Part 2, we’ll take a look at the questions to ask before deciding to work with a personal trainer.  In this way, you can choose one that best fits your fitness needs and goals. Click here for Part 2.

Exercise and Fat Burning – Demystified (Part 2)

Exercise and Fat Burning – Demystified (Part 2)

In Part 1, we took a look at how much exercise is enough.  Take a moment to read “Exercise and Fat Burning – Demystified (Part 1)“, if you haven’t already.

Now let’s look at the last two questions, how hard do I have to work out to burn fat, and do I even have to exercise to lose weight.

How hard do I have to work out to burn fat? 

Just because you work out hard doesn’t mean you burn more fat.  And, just because you workout at a lower intensity, doesn’t mean you don’t burn fat.  In fact, have you heard you can work out at a lower intensity and burn more fat?  Confusing?  Let’s explain.

If you exercise at a low intensity level, a higher percentage of the energy expended in your body actually does comes from fat.  But, the total energy expended is low, therefore, you don’t burn that much fat.

On the flip side, if you exercise at higher intensity levels, a lower percentage of energy expended in your body comes from fat.  The higher percentage comes from carbs.  But, the total energy expended in your body is higher, therefore, combined, you burn both more fat and carbs.

So, to answer the question, you are better off working at higher intensities because your total energy expended, while low from fat, is higher from a combination of fat and carbs.

Do I even have to exercise to lose weight?

The truth is, you don’t have to exercise to lose weight.  In fact, what and how much you eat has more to do with it than exercise.  However, there is a real downside to leaving off exercise.

When weight is lost without exercise, it’s usually muscle that is lost.  And, should you gain back this weight, you’ve gained back fat.  Have you ever known someone who lost a lot of weight quickly and their skin looks saggy or they have a “sunken” look?  This is not unusual if a person loses weight quickly without exercising.  Building muscle through exercise, while dieting, decreases the potential of looking like that.

The Bottom Line…

That is, exercise will build stronger muscles, which burn more calories, even at rest.  And, you can lose weight faster by combining exercise and eating less calories, creating a bigger deficit between the calories consumed and the calories burned.

Take some action now – you’ll find more of the common myths on weight loss, and facts behind them, in our complimentary ebook “7 Myths About Weight Loss, and the Top Proven Strategies to Overcome Them!

Need help in achieving your weight loss goals?  Checkout our 21-Day Fierce & Fit Formula Program.

Exercise and Fat Burning – Demystified (Part 1)

Exercise and Fat Burning – Demystified (Part 1)

In this two part series, we’ll cover the facts behind exercise and weight loss.  We expand on these basics in our popular ebook “7 Myths About Weight Loss, and the Top Proven Strategies to Overcome Them!

How much exercise is enough?  How hard do I have to work out to burn fat?  Do I even have to exercise to lose weight? 

These are a few of the most common questions that often get asked about exercise and weight loss.  While the answers can be unique to each individual, there are enough commonalities that can get you started in the right direction if you are trying to lose weight and get in shape.  Let’s take a look.

How much exercise is enough?

This depends upon one’s particular health and fitness goals.  The amount of exercise an athlete needs to train for a particular sport or competition is going to be different than a mom with two kids trying to lose 20 pounds.  Here, we’ll address the non-athlete.

Generally speaking, to get healthier, more fit or lose weight, following the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines of “between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week,” is going to best answer the question.  Since this is surely one of the areas where more is better, the range of physical activity recommended, indicates that more health-related benefits are realized by increasing the amount of cardiovascular activity.  This increase should be done gradually by increasing the time, frequency, intensity, and type (variety) as one’s body adapts to the exercise.

Moderate-intensity physical activity is an activity that increases a person’s heart rate and breathing to some extent.  Brisk walking, swimming, dancing, or bicycling on a level terrain are examples.  Vigorous-intensity physical activity is an activity that greatly increases a person’s heart rate and breathing.  Jogging, swimming continuous laps, or bicycling uphill are examples.  These are aerobic activity examples.  Further down we’ll look at resistance training.

It doesn’t matter how you split the time up during the week to get in the recommended number of exercise minutes.  For example, this can be met through:

  • 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity 5 days per week or,
  • 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity 3 days per week.

And, on a given day, it can be done in one continuous session or multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes).

If all this seems a little much, consider this:

  • 3 to 4 sessions per week will still get you gains in cardiovascular capacity, and
  • A minimum of 2 days per week is needed to maintain a level of cardiovascular health.

Just as cardiovascular exercise is good for heart health, so is resistance exercise good for bone and muscle health.  (It has also shown to provide some indirect benefit to the cardiovascular system.)  As we age, it becomes even more important to maintain strength and mobility vital to performing daily functions and enjoying a quality life.

The goal of resistance exercise is to train each major muscle group 2-3 days per week, using a variety of exercises and equipment.  This can be done in the following manner:

  • 2 to 4 sets of each exercise will improve strength and power,
  • 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise will improve strength and power, while
  • 15 to 20 repetitions of each will improve muscular endurance.

For each muscle group worked, it’s important that there be at least 48 hours between resistance exercise sessions to allow your body to repair itself to prevent injury from overuse.

Much like resistance training, flexibility exercise is also important to maintaining mobility by improving the range of motion your muscles move.  To achieve this, stretching and flexibility exercises should be done 2-3 days per week.  Even doing this just a few minutes can greatly help.

Neuromotor exercise is just a fancy name for improving one’s motor skills, especially balance, agility, and coordination.  While this can be done a number of ways, some of the more popular forms are through yoga and tai chi.  This type of exercise should also be done 2-3 times per week.  Another alternative, for balance, in particular, is to do some resistance training on one leg.  This saves time, advances the exercise and combines two tasks at once.  Just make sure to start slowly.

Breaking all this down, an optimal exercise program might look like this:

  • Cardiovascular exercise 3-4 times per week; alternating days with
  • Resistance exercise 2-3 times per week; adding
  • Flexibility and neuromotor exercises 2-3 times per week into the days you do your cardio or resistance training.

When starting an exercise routine, try just 1 day of each and increase as you adapt, and most importantly, remain committed!

In Part 2, we dive into burning fat, weight loss, and some common myths around that.
Check out our 7 Myths About Weight Loss and the Top Proven Strategies to Overcome Themif you haven’t already.  To read Part 2 now, click here.

Is a Personal Trainer Right for Me? (part 2)

Is a Personal Trainer Right for Me & What to Ask (Part 2)

For Part 1, Click Here

When considering using a personal trainer, approach it as if you were interviewing someone for a position in your company or business.  You are, after all, entrusting them to help you improve your overall health and fitness level.  So, if you’ve decided to work with a fitness professional, and are armed with your goals in mind, there are 7 important questions you should ask before choosing one.

1. Are they certified through a nationally recognized organization?

This is the most important question to ask.  Sadly, since the fitness profession is unregulated, there are people giving fitness advice and training with no credentials to do so.  You want a trainer who has undergone an extensive certification process.  The most reputable ones take months to study for and require a comprehensive exam process.

Some of the best certifying bodies include the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), and American Council on Exercise (ACE).  While there are other organizations that certify, these are the most recognized and preferred certifications you should be looking for.  ACSM and NASM follow a more scientific approach and typically have better results.

 2. Do they have a higher education degree in a related field?

While this may not be a deciding factor on choosing the trainer to work with, individuals with college degrees in the related fields of exercise science, exercise physiology, human anatomy and physiology, rehabilitation, etc., have underwent years of study.  They typically will have a better and more complete understanding of the human body, how the body reacts and adapts to exercise, and in determining the exercises that best meets your fitness needs and goals.

Whether many want to admit it or not, exercise is a science and there is a wealth of quality scientific research in the field.  Therefore, it is worth considering a trainer with an undergraduate or graduate degree in an exercise science or related field.

3. What type of people do/have they worked with?

This helps you identify if the trainer will be a good fit for you.  For example, if the trainer mainly works with body builders and you are a mom with 2 kids wanting to lose 20 pounds, they may not be the best choice.  However, if they’ve worked with people like you, then they may be a good choice.

The important thing is that you need to be clear about what you are trying to achieve.  Then, look for a trainer who either specializes in that, or has extensive experience working with others with similar goals as yours.

4. What type of success have they had with their clients?

 In addition to the type of people they have worked with, it is a good idea to ask about their client success stories.  In other words, ask them to tell you what their clients have achieved while working with them.  A good trainer will have several success stories.

The reason this is a good question, is that it will provide insight into what is possible for you.  Just be sure the successes they mention are pertinent to what you are trying to achieve.

5. What type of program will they design based upon your specific goals?

This helps give you a general sense of how they will approach your training.  You are looking to see if they will be working with you on a comprehensive program, one that includes cardio, resistance, flexibility, balance, speed and agility and flexibility training, or any combination of these.

Your program does not have to include all of these types of training, but it does need to include the parts that are most important to reaching your goals.  The trainer needs to be able to tell you what that encompasses.

6. What is their philosophy on training?

This question is geared towards determining if they will be a good fit for you on a more personal level.  And while this can illicit many different answers, your goal is to determine if how they train fits into your goals, desires, capabilities, and how you like to be approached.  For example, you might want to have fun exercising, yet expect to work hard.  Or, you might enjoy a more disciplined approach, such that a trainer is more like a drill sergeant.

There are no right or wrong answers to this question.  However, you are matching up their training philosophy with what best matches how you like to be approached and the personality you work best with.  Thus, it is worth taking the time to find this out before deciding on a fitness trainer.

7. What are their expectations of you?

This is a very important question because it is about your personal responsibility.  You need to know what the trainer expects from you, and determine if you can meet those expectations.  It also establishes an understanding between you and the trainer.  In this way, there are no surprises.  The trainer knows what they are holding you accountable to, and more importantly, you know what you are holding yourself accountable to.

Not only does the trainer have to be good for you, you also need to be willing to do the work necessary to reach the goals you desire.  What you do is 90% of the results you will achieve.

Lastly, you need to evaluate if you like the trainer’s personality, and whether you can work with and get along with them.  It’s a bit like a relationship you want to take seriously.  After all, it is about you and your health!