How to Get Razor-Sharp Abs
Most guys will tackle their abdominal training with a few sets of sit-ups or some version of crunches. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great start – but if the sides of your waist are soft and covered with fat, crunches may not be enough. Of course, your calorie intake needs to be in control and your diet has to be clean, and you must boost your cardio to drop body fat – but to carve hardness into the sides of your waist, you must target these weaker areas of your abdomen. Lying windshield wipers tighten and strengthen the major muscles on the sides of your waist and the lower part of the abdomen. A few months of lying windshield wipers and a good diet will eliminate any hint of love handles and replace them with razor-sharp abs.
Muscles Used in Lying Windshield Wipers
There are two major muscles and two deeper muscles that are responsible for maintaining the lateral boundaries of your abdomen. The external oblique muscle is the more superficial of the two muscles. This muscle begins on the lower ribs and extends to the hip bones. Small bundles of muscle fibers connect from lateral to medial, in the same direction that your fingers would point if you were to put your hands in your pockets.
When both left and right sides of the external oblique muscles work together, they flex the trunk and move the head toward the feet. When working one side at a time, the muscle flexes the trunk to the opposite side. For example, the right side of the external oblique strongly contracts when you bend or twist to the left side.
The second important muscle is the internal oblique muscle. It sits just deep to the external oblique muscle. The fibers of the internal oblique run around the side of the trunk at right angles to the external oblique muscle, fanning out from the origins and running toward the head (superiorly). It attaches on the lowest three or four ribs, where it becomes continuous with the internal intercostal muscles (respiratory muscles of the rib cage).
Similar to the external oblique muscle, the internal oblique flexes the trunk at the waist and moves the head toward the feet, if both left and right portions contract together. However, unlike the external oblique, if you twist to the right, the right side is most active.
Two other muscles act as abdomen stabilizers during lying windshield wipers. The transversus abdominis muscle helps to pull your abdomen inward. It is the deepest abdominal muscle, beginning on the inner surfaces of the inferior five to six costal cartilages of the ribs, the posterior side of the vertebral column, and also from the iliac crest region of the hip.
The second stabilizer is the iliopsoas muscle. This is a posterior abdominal muscle that consists of two fused muscles. The psoas major is a long and thick muscle that lies beside the thoracic and lumbar vertebral column. The iliacus muscle is a large triangular muscle overlaying the iliac bones of the hip and it lies along the lateral side of the psoas major. The fibers of the iliacus and psoas major combine into a single tendon that attaches near the head of the femur (thigh) bone. The iliopsoas is the most powerful flexor of the thigh at the hip joint. This muscle assists in stabilizing the femur of the thigh during each repetition of windshield wipers.
This exercise targets both the internal and external oblique muscles.
- Place a flat bench under a Smith machine. Lie on the bench in a supine position (face upward). Place the bar at arms’ length above your face and grasp the bar. Your hands are here solely to stabilize your upper body and to prevent you from falling off the bench as you are twisting to one side or the other.
- Put both feet together. Extend your legs and hips so that there is a straight line from your torso down your legs.
- Inhale and raise your legs and hips so that they are perpendicular to your torso, with the toes pointed directly upward, straight toward the ceiling.
- Lower the legs to one side (e.g., to the left), until they are at an angle of about 45 degrees to the floor. Exhale as you lower your legs and try to pull in your abdomen as much as possible.
- Reverse the movement and inhale as you are coming up to the perpendicular point. Do not stop there. Go slowly to the other side until you have reached an angle of about 45 degrees. Exhale and pull in your abdomen on the way down. Continue to move your legs back and forth like a windshield wiper. Start with 10 reps to each side, but work up to 30. Three sets should be enough to make it feel like a tiger has been gnawing at your sides.
You should make an effort to pull the transversus in as much as possible as the legs are going downward. A strong transversus abdominis also acts to stabilize your spine and pelvis when you are lifting heavy weights in squats or rows. The iliopsoas largely acts to stabilize the thigh. You should not go down lower than 45 degrees on each side, because this puts too much strain on the lumbar vertebral discs and any further abdominal benefit is simply not worth risking any injury to your back. You will find that this smaller range of motion will get the job done, without any back risk.
Hubley-Kozey CL, Hanada EY, Gordon S, Kozey J and McKeon M. Differences in abdominal muscle activation patterns of younger and older adults performing an asymmetric leg-loading task. PM R, 1: 1004-1013, 2009.
McGill, SM, Karpowicz, A (2009). Exercises for spine stabilization: motion/motor patterns, stability progressions, and clinical technique. Arch Phys Med Rehab, 90, 118-126.
Parfrey, KC, Docherty, D, Workman, RC, & Behm, DG (2008). The effects of different sit- and curl-up positions on activation of abdominal and hip flexor musculature. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 33, 888-895.
Teyhen DS, Williamson JN, Carlson NH, Suttles ST, O'Laughlin SJ, Whittaker JL, Goffar SL and Childs JD. Ultrasound characteristics of the deep abdominal muscles during the active straight leg raise test. Arch Phys Med Rehab, 90: 761-767, 2009.
Teyhen, DS, Rieger, JL, Westrick, RB, Miller, AC, Molloy, JM, & Childs, JD (2008). Changes in deep abdominal muscle thickness during common trunk-strengthening exercises using ultrasound imaging. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 38, 596-605.
Workman, JC, Docherty, D, Parfrey, KC, & Behm, DG (2008). Influence of pelvis position on the activation of abdominal and hip flexor muscles. J Strength Cond Res, 22, 1563-1569.
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Unlock Your Hip Flexors
5 Tips from a Dietician to Get Started with Plant-Based Eating
Whether you’re looking to make the move to a vegetarian or vegan diet, or just looking to add more plant-based foods into your diet that also may include animal-based proteins – we can all benefit from eating more plants. We get vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients from plant-based foods and research shows diets rich in these foods improves cardiovascular health, supports a healthy functioning immune system and good gut health, better controls blood sugar levels, and improves brain health!
With all these great health benefits, let’s talk through some simple tips for incorporating more plant-based eating into your diet:
If you’re new to plant-based eating, you’ve probably got some new habits to master. You’ll be modifying the way you grocery shop, plan, and cook and developing new habits and skills takes time. Rather than completely changing your diet all at once, set some small goals that will help you build toward your end goal.
For instance, you could have a Meatless Monday and eat all plant-based for one day of the week to start, or even just pick 1 meal to swap for now. Starting small will allow you to navigate your new habits and adjust as needed as you work to scale up.
Replace meat with a plant-based protein in a meal you already make
Rather than starting from scratch with new recipes, adopt meals you’ve already mastered to a plant-based version. For instance, instead of a beef hamburger or beef chili make a bean hamburger or bean based chili. Instead of an egg scramble, make a tofu scramble.
Plant-based proteins include lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, soy, tofu, tempeh, edamame, quinoa, nutritional yeast, and spirulina. Keep in mind there will be nutritional differences between an animal protein source and a plant-based protein source and you may need more of the plant-based protein in order to meet your protein needs.
Add more plants to your current meals
Along the same lines, instead of swapping the protein source, you can simply add more plants to your current meals alongside animal-based proteins. Add extra veggies to your pasta sauce, to scrambled eggs, on a sandwich, in a smoothie, soup, or in a casserole, on a pizza, in stir-fry, or in tacos.
Pre-prep plant-based snacks
Including more plants in your diet can be accomplished in a number of ways throughout the day. Make eating more plant-based easier by pre-cutting fruits and veggies that you can eat as a snack. Pre-cut bell peppers, cucumbers, mango, and pineapple. Dip veggie slices in hummus or a cashew-based dip.
Order a plant-based meal at a restaurant
Eating more plant-based doesn’t always have to mean cooking at home. Try a vegetarian or vegan restaurant or order a plant-based meal off the menu. Check out ethnic restaurants – many Indian dishes are plant-based. Thai, Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean restaurants typically have plant-based dishes as well.
Why Do Muscles Fatigue?
Why do muscles fatigue? First, fatigue is a safety mechanism that stops us from causing greater damage to our bodies. From a physiological perspective, muscle fatigue is the inability to maintain power output. Some forms create change at the molecular level in the muscle and cause peripheral fatigue, such as physical exercise, whereas others involve the brain, or reduced hormone levels, and lead to deteriorating energy levels and performance. Most of the studies that examine fatigue focus on the neuromuscular system, but in fact, all organs are involved.
Some of the causes of muscle fatigue are:
- Depletion of phosphocreatine concentration
- Accumulation of hydrogen (H+) and changes in pH values
- Depletion of glycogen in muscle and decreased glucose in the blood
Sleep, recovery, and proper diet are all critical for reducing muscle fatigue. Sleep deprivation results in reduced protein synthesis, which decreases the body's ability to restore muscle damage. Without proper recovery, muscle growth will be stunted and exercise-induced stress will remain high. And, of course, without proper nutrition—especially protein intake—energy levels will decline and muscles will begin to waste away.
Fatigue can be broken down into two general categories: acute fatigue and overtraining fatigue.
Acute fatigue generally refers to exercise-induced fatigue. Compared to a consistent drop in energy levels, acute fatigue is often an everyday occurrence. Possible sites of exercise-associated acute fatigue can be:
- Accumulation of lactates
- Inhibition of the Ca2+ release of the sarcoplasmic reticulum
- Glycogen stores decline
- Inhibition on motor neural drive
- Cytokine released during exercise
Overtraining fatigue represents a more serious physiological problem. It usually occurs when the balance between training and recovery is disproportionate. The average man loses 1 percent of his muscle mass after age 30. If schedule and training are not adjusted to allow proper recovery for this reduction in capacity, overtraining-induced fatigue may occur.
While long-term decreased training capacity can occur without any evident physiological or psychological signs of overtraining, it could also reflect on mood state, immune system, biochemistry profile, sleep, etc.
Recovery from overtraining could last from 4 weeks to 6 months or even a year. Overtraining can even lead to a reduction in your capacity to produce ATP.
What is ATP?
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the body's ”molecular currency,” created during the Krebs cycle (also known as the citric acid cycle). Carbohydrates are the predominant fuel source and the reactions that make up the cycle require oxygen, which is why it is also known as “aerobic” metabolism.
Prolonged, low-intensity exercise activities, such as walking and cycling, require a great deal of oxygen to run this cycle and generate the needed energy. In contrast, high-intensity sports that rely on repeated short bursts of energy use anaerobic (no oxygen) metabolism. Weightlifting is classified as an anaerobic activity.
Oxygen is not necessary during anaerobic exercise since ATP is needed at rates that exceed aerobic metabolism. ATP converts to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and can only sustain a high-intensity movement for a few seconds. This timeframe can be extended using phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine donates a phosphate group to convert ADP back to ATP, thereby extending the time the body can perform high-intensity exercise.
This process happens naturally, as we have endogenous creatine stores. However, supplementation with creatine increases phosphocreatine stores to extend the anaerobic timeframe for high-intensity exercise. Here is a list of ingredients that help extend ATP production:
Muscle Burn Out vs. Mental Burn Out
So far, we've been discussing muscle burnout, which is primarily caused by insufficient levels of energy and changes in pH values due to lactate and H+ accumulation.
Mental burnout is a combination of several physiological factors, including CNS inhibition and hormone imbalance. The production of cortisol, a stress hormone, is higher under these circumstances. This scenario influences our mood and will affect exercise and training.
How to Combat Muscle Fatigue
Since fatigue usually develops because of low energy levels (phosphocreatine and ATP), it is logical to assume that creatine supplementation can tackle both chronically low energy and acute fatigue.
Creatine can also act as an antioxidant, improve mitochondrial activity, increase exercise capacity, and delay muscle fatigue. It can increase strength, power, and total workload, and it is the ultimate supplement to enhance performance and delay fatigue. It appears 3-5 grams of creatine per day is sufficient to increase muscle phosphocreatine levels.*
Beta-alanine is a nonessential amino acid produced in the liver, and when combined with L-histidine forms a dipeptide called carnosine. Intracellular acid-based regulation is the main physiological role of carnosine, but it's functions also include protection from oxidative damage, glycation, and regulation of calcium sensitivity.
Intramuscular carnosine helps regulate acidity produced during high-intensity anaerobic activities. As the training load increases, lactate production increases and pH decreases. This leads to a decrease of force production and an increase of fatigue. A limiting factor in carnosine synthesis is the lack of availability through dietary intake. A number of studies reported an increase in muscle carnosine through beta-alanine supplementation, suggesting it is justified and more efficient than absorbing it through nutrition.
Hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB) is another ingredient with anti-catabolic characteristics, meaning it aids in preventing muscles from breaking down. It can also decrease muscle damage after strenuous workouts and has been shown to have positive effects on strength, aerobic and anaerobic performance, body-fat reduction, and increases in muscle mass.*
Preventing Muscle Soreness for Improved Capacity
Multiple actions can be taken to prevent muscle soreness. Immediately after exercise there is a window of opportunity to consume glucose, electrolytes, and proteins. Various supplements can also help in preventing muscle soreness. Intake of the amino acid leucine, most effective when taken as hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB), can improve recovery and help to rebuild the muscle.*
Hydrogen therapy is proving to be a novel recovery aid, most effective when taken by drinking or bathing in hydrogen-rich water. A hydrogen water bath immediately after high eccentric training may also enhance recovery and decrease muscle damage biomarkers. Hydrogen (H2) has been shown to decrease inflammation in the muscles after heavy exercise.
How to Combat Mental Fatigue
Mental fatigue can emerge due to factors such as oxidative stress, sleep deprivation, and mitochondrial dysfunction. Many studies have evaluated the effects of essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals without any significant improvements detected for these outcomes. However, molecular hydrogen (H2) is demonstrating to be one of the most effective and clinically validated therapeutics for a wide range of outcomes. H2 can selectively reduce free radical damage and oxidative stress, promoting redox homeostasis, which is the harmony between beneficial oxidative and nitrosative molecules and our bodies production of antioxidants.*
Long-term excessive intake of traditional antioxidants inhibits redox-sensitive signaling pathways and interferes with mitochondrial biogenesis, cardiac and skeletal muscle hypertrophy, and improvement of insulin sensitivity.
Molecular hydrogen has been shown to improve exercise performance and recovery. It has been proposed as an emerging therapy for improving cardiovascular health, and has shown to increase insulin sensitivity, in part due to its selective nature regarding free-radical scavenging.
There are several ways to administer H2, but the most feasible is through hydrogen-rich water. Emerging studies also show that drinking hydrogen-rich water can reduce fatigue and increase alertness among sleep-deprived habitual coffee drinkers equivalent to caffeine, while leading to a more robust improvement in brain metabolism than caffeine.
As mentioned, creatine supplementation can also address mental fatigue, which can be caused by low levels of brain creatine.
A third solution to fight mental fatigue is caffeine. Caffeine can act as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant by suppressing adenosine receptors in the brain. Caffeine increases alertness and aids in the maintenance of attention, mainly in extended and demanding tasks.
One patented form of arginine, ”Nitrosigine,” has shown to improve focus, alertness, and mental stimulation in clinical research.
Choosing the best supplement can be more complicated than many think. Besides false advertising, a lot of supplements on the market—as many as 15 percent—are contaminated with illegal ingredients.
Look for supplements bearing certifications such as ”Informed Sport” or ”NSF Sport,” to ensure they have been tested for banned substances. Make sure your supplements also include clinically validated ingredients delivered in the dosages shown to be effective in the research. “Fairy dust” levels of ingredients hidden in ”proprietary blends” amount to nothing but an expensive placebo. Look for brands that proudly state what they've added, in what dosages, with the testing to prove it and the certifications to prove nothing else is contaminating their product.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Fit for Firefighting: How to Train When Lives Depend on It
Special Ops Tactical Fitness | Patrol Officer Tactical Fitness | Firefighter Tactical Fitness
Firefighters may not have the typical physique of pro athletes or bodybuilders, but that doesn't mean they're not incredibly physically fit.
Take a moment to visualize a firefighter in action. Are you picturing someone carrying a heavy ax with a big coat and large helmet? Did you notice the thick oxygen tank on their back, or the enormous boots? Well, that ax weighs close to 20 pounds and the oxygen tank can weigh up to 50 pounds, depending on how full it is. Imagine carrying all of that while sprinting through a fire!
Your local firefighters may not step onto a bodybuilding stage anytime soon, but it doesn't mean you can't learn important functional fitness tips from their workouts.
And if you're reading this with an eye toward becoming a firefighter, it can help increase your chances of passing the physical tests.
Each step below represents a different segment of the average firefighter workout. Pick a movement or movements from each category and move down the list consecutively:
Step 1: Start with a Movement That Works in Multiple Planes
Traditional strength training workouts will only have you move in what's called the sagittal plane, meaning front to back, like a forward lunge. Now consider a firefighter, who sprints through a burning building. Do they charge forward the entire time? Not a chance.
There are two other planes of motion: frontal and transverse (horizontal). An example of a frontal plane exercise is a traditional standing dumbbell lateral raise. You're already familiar with the transverse plane if you perform cable twists to build core strength.
With firefighting training, your first movement should be a multi-plane movement for timed rounds. Start with 3 rounds of 30 seconds each. Build to a maximum of 60 seconds per round.
Here are some exercises to choose from:
Functional fitness training requires the ability to hit every single workout hard. For that level of intensity, you need a pre-workout that's up to the task.
Step 2: Explosive Training
Next up is explosive training. You won't be doing multiple, consecutive jumps during too many real-world situations, but you should train your joints and muscles to be explosive—you never know when you'll need to leap across flaming rafters to get to an attic window! I prefer to measure my explosive training by reps instead of by time. Medicine balls are great for this type of training.
Perform 4 sets of 8 reps for any one of the following movements:
Other explosive movements:
Step 3: Work One Side at a Time
Unilateral movements, a true test of core strength, involve loading one side with weight in order to resist rotation. By carrying or holding weight to one side while performing a movement, you cause numerous spinal stabilizers to activate. When do firefighters carry something that's equally balanced? Never. It's more like: ax in right hand and distressed fire victim over left shoulder.
Pick any two movements from each of the three sections. Begin by performing 3 sets of 15 reps. After 4 weeks, increase sets to 4 and drop the reps to 12.
Full-body unilateral movements:
Upper-body unilateral movements:
Lower-body unilateral movements:
Step 4: Hit Your Core Hard
When unexpected gut-checks occur in life or at work, we must to learn to adapt. Nothing is more chaotic than the scene of a fire. A firefighter must burst through a building to rescue someone. They activate their core to kick down a door, heft a beam, carry a small child, or even climb a tree to get your neighbor's cat.
Start with 3 rounds of 30 seconds each. Build to a maximum of 60 seconds per round:
Step 5: Backdrafts Require Back Work
A firefighter's shoulders take a beating, so finish your workouts with a direct hit on your upper back. Strengthening the muscles that stabilize the shoulder blades allows you to carry heavy loads. The goal with this movement is to pull your shoulders down and back.
Pick one of the movements below and perform 4 sets of 15 reps:
Full Firefighter Workout Breakdown (Printable Page):
You now have the five training lessons you need to become a physically fit firefighter. Give the workout a try, and the next time you see a firefighter, maybe you'll have an idea of the physical fatigue they feel after every call.
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