All Abdominal Exercises are Not Created Equal

by J. R. McNeal, M. S., C.S.C.S. and W.A. Sands, Ph.D.

The fitness industry is replete with exercise devices designed to enhance fitness or sculpt the body. They are marketed to the unsuspecting and often gullible consumer, promising quick fixes and effortless results. Oh, if only it was that easy! Considering the amount of money Americans spend on fitness gadgets, we should be the fittest nation in the world instead of the fattest! One of the most recent trends in the industry is the emergence of the various abdominal conditioning devices, designed to “isolate” the abdominals (as if that were possible!), reduce neck strain, and in general make exercising the abdominal muscles an enjoyable experience. Are all of these devices created equal? How do they compare to a regular crunch, or the “forbidden” situp? The purpose of our investigation was to answer these questions. We decided to compare 6 different commonly performed exercises and devices to see if indeed there are differences in muscle activation and range of motion. By comparing the amount of muscle activation achieved, we can make recommendations regarding the relative value of one exercise over another with respect to force generated by the target muscles (the abs). Range of motion meanwhile, is a variable that has been virtually ignored in the fitness research literature. Watch virtually any throwing activity for example, and you can see that the range of motion of the trunk during such movements is large indeed.

We asked 20 active, college-aged students to participate in this investigation (10 females, 10 males). The exercises selected were 1) a regular crunch from the floor, 2) a regular situp with feet constrained, 3) a situp with the addition of the AbMat™ pad, 4) a crunch performed with an ab-roller type device, according to the recommendations of the manufacturer, 5) a crunch performed with the ab-roller combined with the AbMat™ pad, and finally 6) trunk flexion utilizing the Ab Bench resistive device. The exercises were demonstrated to the subjects, and they were allowed to practice each until they were comfortable with their performance. They were then videotaped with high-speed video while performing 3 trials of each exercise. Various anatomical structures of the subject were marked with reflective tape so that they were evident on the screen. This allowed the videotaped performances to be digitized and analyzed for specific kinematic information; in this case, angular displacement. Electromyography electrodes were placed on the upper and lower abdominals to assess muscle activity.

For the lower trunk angle, the AbMat™ and Ab Bench achieved significantly greater ranges of motion than did the ab-roller exercises, the situp, or the regular crunch, although the traditional situp was significantly better than the ab-roller exercises and the regular crunch. At the hip and upper trunk angles it was again discovered that the AbMat™, Ab Bench, and the traditional situp were better than the ab-roller devices or the regular crunch at moving through a large range of motion. In most cases, the ab-roller exercises and the regular crunch did not differ from eachother, making the purchase of an ab-roller for specifically conditioning the abdominals questionable when compared to the regular crunch, which doesn’t cost anything! However, if the goal is exceptional conditioning of the abdominals through a large (“functional”) range of movement, then devices such as the AbMat™ and Ab Bench, which place the abdominal muscles in a slightly stretched position prior to each repetition, may be a wise equipment investment.

The muscle electrical activity provided even more insight into the efficacy of these particular exercises. It was of particular interest to us that the recordings from the abdominals could be described by different characteristic recordings; the regular crunch, ab-roller exercises, and the AbMat™ were characterized by a continuous activation pattern with a low amplitude (low force output), while the Ab Bench and situp were described by two distinct phases, concentric and eccentric which were of much higher amplitude. We did not feel we could adequately compare the two groups of exercises against each other due to these differences and thus the results basically compare exercises within each group. This is one example of the problems that can influence the results of electromyography studies of the abdominals, and any study not accounting for these differences should be considered with some reservation. Another problem which is inherent in electromyography investigations of the abdominals (but rarely if ever acknowledged by researchers in their results!) is the problem of skin and fat rolling that occurs whenever the trunk flexes. This makes the nature of the muscle electrical activity change as the electrode moves farther from and closer to the muscle. We feel that it is important to be aware of such shortcomings in this type of research so that you can become a more knowledgeable consumer.

The continuous activation exercises were not different in their activation of the upper abdominals. However, for the lower abdominals the AbMat™ elicited significantly more activity than did the ab-roller exercises. The regular crunch was superior only to the ab-roller exercise used simultaneously with the AbMat™. Therefore, the AbMat™ seems to be the superior exercise of this group for eliciting muscle activation, especially when the lower abdominals are considered.

The situp and Ab Bench exercises as stated earlier, were different in their EMG patterns. Because the EMG was greater in these exercises, but occurred over a shorter time period, these exercises may be better choices if large force production is desired, rather than muscular endurance. For both the upper and lower abdominals the situp produced greater activation than the Ab Bench. It is critical to note, however, that due to the limitations of this study and these typical subjects, we were not able to approach any kind of maximal load on the Ab Bench. The Ab Bench allows resistance to be added to the exercise, which would cause an increase in muscle activation to move the increased load. In other words, one should be able to get any level of activation up to a maximum with the Ab Bench. The situp is constrained by the weight of the individual’s upper body. This was likely a major drawback in the ability of this study to properly distinguish between these two exercises. Common sense would tell us that if we were able to increase the resistance provided by the Ab Bench, the muscle activation results would have been different.

In conclusion, it can be recommended that ab-roller devices may not be any better than the regular crunch in conditioning the abdominals. For specificity of movement, equipment such as the AbMat™ and Ab Bench which place the spine in a slightly hyperextended position prior to abdominal contraction may be better choices, especially for sport performance. The situp appears to also be a good choice for both range of motion and activation, although it is limited in the amount of resistance and thus less muscle activation which can be achieved

J. R. McNeal, M. S., C.S.C.S.
W.A. Sands, Ph.D.
Dept. Of Exercise
SLC, UT. 84112

Upper and Lower ABS

by Dr M. C. Siff

Introductory Note
For newcomers, these P&Ps are Propositions, not facts or dogmatic proclamations. They are intended to stimulate interaction among users working in different fields, to re-examine traditional concepts, foster distance education, question our beliefs and suggest new lines of research or approaches to training. We look forward to responses from anyone who has views or relevant information on the topics.

Puzzle & Paradox 92
The debate about whether or not it is possible to separately exercise the upper and lower abdominal erector muscles may not have been definitively settled yet.

There is still considerable debate about whether or not it is possible to exercise separately the upper and lower portions of the recti abdominis muscles, especially since the recti constitute a single band of muscle between origin and insertion. Numerous books and fitness professionals refer to crunches and situps for the ‘upper abs’ (with the pivot being the distal rectus attachment on the pelvis), and pelvic curl or leg pushes into the air for the ‘lower abs’ (with the pivot being the proximal rectus attachment on the lowest ribs and spine).

EMG studies show that both the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ abs show considerable electrical activity during both of these types of exercise, so that some authorities dismiss the idea of separate isolation exercise of the upper and lower abs.

Yet, a TV programme some years ago showed a belly dancer using her highly skilled abdominal musculature to roll a few quarters (US 25c pieces) up, down, diagonally and sideways across the belly. She concluded her unusual display by successfully folding a dollar bill placed on her belly. From this vaudeville display, it would certainly appear that it is possible to activate different parts of the abdominal musculature in skilled sequences. This might then suggest to the skeptic that it may be meaningful to talk about separate exercise of the upper and lower regions of the abs.

Of course, we must note that the effectiveness of most non-explosive exercises depends primarily on the amount of concentrated focus and voluntarily produced goal-directed muscle tension, so that one’s visualization of the exercise would appear to have a profound effect on the pattern of activation of any muscle. This also depends on the patterns of breathing and breath-cessation used during the exercise.

Some authorities state that, since the different regions of the abdominals are separately innervated, one should certainly be able to activate upper and lower regions of the abs separately.

However, in saying that the lower abs are separately innervated we have to be cautious in misapplying this information. All of the rectus abdominis and the obliques are innervated by branches of the thoracic nerves T6 or T7 – T12, as is transversus (by the ventral rami and L1). This would tend to imply that the lower abs and lower obliques(?!) should be activated by stimulation of T6/7 – T8/9 and the upper abs and upper obliques (if these exist!) by the remaining thoracic nerves. In addition, an examination of their nervous innervation would also suggest that there should be separate activation of upper and lower transversus.

This clearly confounds the entire issue of trunk action and situps for the supposedly different parts of the trunk muscles. We can only resolve the issue if we stop talking about upper and lower abs etc and analyze in terms of a graduated activation of all of the trunk muscles progressing from the extreme top to the extreme bottom (as defined by the appropriate nerves) – much in the way that a caterpillar moves.

This would appear to offer a far more accurate and logical biomechanical approach, since the current view of upper vs lower abs would imply that there should be a somewhat jerky discontinuity somewhere during a full crunch. The entire action of trunk flexion is smooth, well-controlled and continuous, so this observation supports my view that there is a smooth continuum of activation of the entire abdominal (and erector spinae) group.

If one wishes to simplify, then it would be crudely accurate to talk of upper, mid and lower abs, but this still tends to mask the fact that there is really a continuum of muscle activation involving all of the trunk muscles, each exhibiting a different level of involvement, depending on the type and pattern of movement.

This means that it is highly unlikely that you will be able to totally isolate the ‘lower abs’, since there is always accompanying involvement of many other stabilizing and mobilizing muscles.

This, of course, has not answered the other issue which we raised earlier. If there is differential innervation of the obliques and transversus, must we then conclude that we should recognize upper and lower portions of these muscles, too? We have to bear in mind, even though essentially the same nerves are involved in activating the abdominal musculature, that different

Does this not imply then that one single exercise should be able to exercise all of the trunk muscles? Another point – if one sits up, then both the absand the obliques have to become involved in flexion, as a consequence of basic biomechanics – but what about transversus which is more strongly activated by coughing and forceful expulsion of air from the lungs (or by initiation of walking)?

Give your views on the concept of upper vs lower exercise of the abdominal musculature, including the obliques. Quote any relevant references or personal findings to corroborate your reply.

Dr Mel C Siff
School of Mechanical Engineering
University of the Witwatersrand
WITS 2050 South Africa

Get the most out of your abdominal workout

There are so many people looking for the secrets to great abs. You see all the hype on TV infomercials. Companies peddling all types of equipment that will help you build rock hard abs and a miraculous mid section. Without spending tons of money or any money at all, I’ll discuss a simple and effective way of building great looking abs. It can be done at home or at your gym.

Now we all want defined, toned abdominal muscles. Mostly to look great. A lot of men strive for a 6 pack or close to it, while most women’s goal is for a tight toned mid section. Let me stress that besides the cosmetic reasons for having great looking adominals, having a firm and toned mid section has many other benefits. You’ll ease any extra stress a belly or extra weight puts on your back, improve your posture, increase your stamina and endurance because you are not carrying any extra weight and improve your self esteem. You’ll feel even better about yourself and what you have accomplished. Anyway, this is pretty basic knowledge, but it is good to reflect on why you want to have solid great looking abs.

To develop solid abs, you need to shed some excess body fat. This is accomplished by eating properly and consuming less calories each day than your body burns.

Secondly, your abdominals must be trained in accordance with proper resistance training. I’ll discuss Ab Crunches as an effective exercise to build your abs.

Ab crunches can be performed anywhere:

Starting Position:
Place your hands crossed on your chest and lie flat on the floor with your knees bent. By bending your knees you’re providing your lower back with support. You can also place your hands behind your head if you prefer, but this position often leads to poor posture and unnecessary strain on your neck. In other words, you also end up cheating by lifting yourself using your arms and neck rather than your abs.

Performing the Exercise:
Slowly raise yourself using your abs, with your lower back always pressed against the floor. Raising your lower back will put unnecessary stress on your back. There are many exercises specifically for your lower back and remember, the abdominals create the exercise. Following the same method, slowly lower yourself.

Try 4 sets of 24 with a short rest in between. The great thing about abs is that they can be exercised every second day or on consecutive days depending on your time and workout schedule.

Try the same procedure by raising your legs or when you want to work on your obliques. Most people forget about working the oblique muscles (your side stomach muscles). Lie on the floor the same way as for regular crunches and cross your legs over to begin the exercise. If this feels uncomfortable or difficult, you may want to try the exercise standing up.With a reasonable weight in one hand, slowly lower one side and then return to the starting position. Repeat the procedure on your other side.

These are just a few of the many ab exercises that you can perform almost anywhere.

Theres No Such Thing as Cheating

There’s no right or wrong way to eat. Healthy eating is all about motivation, balance, and flexibility. There will be times when you eat a high-fat meal or eat beyond fullness, or when your schedule gets so busy that you miss a work- out. This happens. It’s normal. But it’s very important that you don’t get down on yourself and abandon your new healthy lifestyle when this happens.

If you’re like most people, your reaction to these diet/ fitness obstacles is guilt. You feel as if all your hard work has been for nothing. “I blew it; I was doing so well. Oh well, I might as well enjoy this weekend and start over on Monday.” Or even worse: “I just don’t have the motivation or will power to start over and be successful. I quit.” Feeling defeated, many people discontinue the healthy living and return to their old routine until some mythical time in the future: “Maybe this spring will be a better time to start over again.” This kind of scenario is a perfect example of the diet mentality at work.

An all-or-nothing attitude is why so many people have so little success; we choose structured programs because they relieve us from making choices for ourselves. A properly designed program makes sense, but expecting to stick to a structured eating and exercise plan for an extended period of time without ever deviating makes no sense at all. In fact, this is so unrealistic as to be a set-up for failure. If you begin to change your habits with the assumption that any deviation from your plan will ruin it, you might as well not even begin. Life is full of unplanned obstacles, distractions, and temptations. Your best approach is to prepare for them, keeping an open mind and maintaining a positive attitude.

It’s very important that you begin your healthier lifestyle with an understanding that there will be days when you will stray from healthy eating and exercising. Before you begin, tell yourself that no matter what happens, rather than abandoning your new lifestyle, you’ll resume your healthy habits as soon as you can; it is equally important that you feel confident, not guilty, about doing so. What- ever the temptation or obstacle is, keep in mind that it’s not wrong or bad to eat fattening foods once in a while or to miss a workout. Just remember to resume your healthy lifestyle. If you keep moving forward and you don’t let guilt and discouragement stop your program all together, you’ll eventually have improved eating and exercise habits.

With this approach, there is no such thing as cheating. When we feel we are cheating, we often punish ourselves; we make ourselves feel guilty, frustrated and defeated. Replacing the negative concept of “cheating” with the idea of “straying from healthy habits” takes away the all-or- nothing emphasis on right and wrong. If you treat every deviation from your plan as a failure, you won’t get very far

Substituting the idea of a brief straying away from your plan instead of feeling guilty, and learning to return more and more quickly to healthier habits, is more realistic. It’s also easier and more enjoyable.

In the non-diet approach, all foods are legal. There are no “good” foods or “bad” foods. You must believe this. Sudden changes and/or drastic restrictions of high-fat foods when you have a preference or craving for fat will result in feelings of deprivation. No one can or should go through life depriving themselves of foods they really enjoy. You must learn how to make gradual healthy changes to the foods you love while experimenting with and learning to appreciate new flavors and textures.

A recent survey showed that more than 75 percent of people feel guilty about eating so-called “bad” foods. The greatest obstacle to adopting healthy eating habits is guilt. Attaching a value to foods only makes you feel bad for eating them. When you do decide to eat a high-fat food, enjoy it. Don’t beat your- self up over it. Just make a special effort to eat low-fat the rest of the day. Remember, there is nothing wrong with splurging now and then. It can even be good for you if the satisfaction of a higher-fat meal that you’ve been craving helps you stick with a low-fat lifestyle the rest of the time.

If you’re having a special diet meal that’s different from what the rest of your family or friends are eating, you’ll feel as though you’re being punished. In order to be successful in changing your eating habits, you must look forward to and enjoy each meal you eat. This doesn’t mean that you have to learn to like rice cakes and celery. It means you must learn how to make simple changes in the foods you love.

Perhaps one of your favorite meals is fried chicken, a baked potato, and salad. Small changes in how the food is prepared can turn this traditionally high-fat meal into a low-fat well- balanced one. Simply marinating a skinless chicken breast in sweet and sour sauce, rolling it in bread crumbs, and baking it makes the chicken a lot less fattening than if it’s fried. Instead of butter or regular sour cream on your potato, try low-fat or nonfat sour cream or a reduced fat ranch dressing. Try using a non-fat or low-fat salad dressing rather than a regular dressing and adding as many vegetables to your salad as possible for their additional flavor, texture and nutrients. Any or all of these changes drastically reduce the amount of fat in the meal without sacrificing flavor or feelings of satisfaction.

Healthy eating patterns can only occur when you’re enjoying all the foods you eat. If you’re eating low-fat foods just to be healthy but without enjoying the flavors and textures or how they make you feel, this most likely won’t be a permanent change. However, if you begin enjoying healthy foods, you’re far more likely to stick with healthy eating for life.

Many people also enjoy eating out but associate this with being “bad” or eating “illegal” foods. Fortunately, it is very possible to eat a healthy, low-fat meal in a restaurant. You don’t need to forego your favorite foods or eat before you go out with friends or family. The same decision-making process occurs whether you eat at home or go out to a restaurant. Many people think that they have two options when eating: eating for taste and pleasure or eating for health. As you learn and practice healthy eating techniques, these two options will become one and the same. Good luck and enjoy all the wonderful benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle.

By Chad Tackett

Pilates vs. Yoga

by Kathy Smith

When people speak of the physical benefits of exercise, they tend to focus on the three S’s: strength, stamina and slimming. With this in mind, their training programs usually consist of weight lifting to build muscle, with some form of aerobic activity to build cardiovascular endurance and burn calories. But there’s a second tier of benefits we’re starting to value. These include flexibility, coordination, posture and stress relief.

It’s not that these secondary benefits weren’t always important — it’s just that they’re more in the spotlight these days thanks to the growing popularity of so-called “softer” training modalities. Two of the most popular of these are yoga and Pilates.

Yoga, of course, has been popular in the U.S. for decades. I started practicing yoga more than 20 years ago and it’s still one of my favorite ways to tone my body and calm my mind. Pilates though is a newer trend that apparently still has many people baffled. I often get letters inquiring about the difference between Pilates and yoga and asking which I recommend. As with most “which do I recommend” questions, the answer depends on your physical goals. Simply put, the difference between yoga and Pilates is that between East and West. Both systems build strength and flexibility; the difference between them is not so much physical as it is philosophical.

A Tale of Two Workouts

Let’s take yoga first. Yoga is based on the Eastern idea of moving energy through your body. The more freely the energy flows, the healthier and more energetic you feel. Physical tension hinders the flow; over time, areas of tension in your body can become tight and rigid, even painful. The goal of yoga is to keep the body supple through movement and stretching. But there’s another dimension. Yoga is a holistic spiritual discipline with its roots in Eastern forms of meditation. The physical postures, although they condition the body, are really aimed at the mind. They symbolize the goal of living your life in a state of balance and composure. When I spend an hour in a yoga class, I melt into a kind of meditative state and emerge wonderfully relaxed and refreshed.

Pilates on the other hand is physical conditioning first and foremost — and there’s nothing quite like it. Its creator, Joseph Pilates, was looking for a way to rehabilitate injured soldiers after World War I. He developed an assortment of curious machines with names like the “Reformer” and the “Cadillac.” Using cables and trolleys and unusual body positioning, Pilates exercises stretch and strengthen and are unique in their ability to encourage coordination between the muscles that stabilize the body.

Pilates techniques quickly became a hit with dancers, who found them a highly effective way to improve body awareness and alignment and promote graceful, fluid motion. Machine-based Pilates actually has more in common with weight training than with yoga since it involves moving against resistance (provided by springs) with the aim of overloading the muscles. In particular it resembles functional strength exercises such as squats or cable pulls. There’s also a new form of Pilates, the Pilates mat class, which relies more on callisthenic-style exercises and stretches. This form is physically more similar to a yoga class though the emphasis is still on physical change rather than on spiritual development through postures and breathing.

The Choice Is Yours

Generally speaking, I think it’s fair to say yoga is more about how it makes you feel while Pilates is about how you look — how you carry yourself and move. So if you’re looking for a limbering, rejuvenating workout that will provide as much of a lift for your brain as your body — and you’re not too concerned about building muscle –I’d recommend yoga. If you’re interested in a more dynamic system of muscle conditioning — or if you just want to try something new and different — Pilates may be the answer.

In fact, it doesn’t have to be an either-or choice. After all, no single training system can give your body all the types of conditioning it needs. That’s why my week includes a variety of activities, from weight lifting to hiking, running, yoga and more. My best recommendation is to try everything — experience it all — and see what works best for you. East or West, the important thing is to explore!

Strength Training Is For Every Body

A visit to your local health club weight room will reveal a space filled with dazzling steel and chrome machines. Not long ago, these modern-day “torture chambers” were places for dedicated body builders, mostly of the male gender who had very little body fat and a whole lot of rather large, hard-to-miss muscles. There was a distinct aura to that room, a feeling of raw power and intimidation. The moment you entered, something told you to get out quickly – you didn’t belong there.

Not so today. Although the appearance of weight rooms today has remained somewhat the same, the game has changed and so have the players. Where once only getting “bigger muscles” was the goal of strength training and mostly men participated in the routine; today, women and men alike; young and old; thin and fat; healthy and not so healthy are finding their way into weight rooms and realizing the magic of strength training – beyond simply achieving a beautiful body.

Why all the sudden fuss about strength training? It’s really quite simple. Fitness experts have finally realized that there’s more to being “fit” than just cardiovascular strength. Muscle strength is an equally important component to overall health and fitness. According to Dr. Michael Pollock, chairman of the American College of Sports Medicine’s position paper on exercise guidelines, “With society living long and longer, it makes sense to keep people functionally capable and independent.” Strength training is a means to achieving this end.

Although physical appearance is certainly a plus that comes with strength training as well as a motivation factor for a great number of people, “physique perks” are not the primary goal of strength training participants. There are three additional reasons every body can benefit from strength training, regardless of age.

It’s a fact. You will lose 1/2 pound of muscle for every year you age past 20, if you do not incorporate some type of resistance strength training into your exercise routine. Think about that for a moment. That means if you weighed 120 pounds at the age of 20 and you weigh 120 pounds now at the age of 40, you’ve replaced 10 lbs of muscle with 10 lbs of fat, even though your weight is exactly the same. Pretty shocking isn’t it?

We all recognize the health risks associated with excess body fat, but did you know that muscle actually burns more calories than fat? That’s right, one extra pound of muscle will burn 50 more calories a day, just at rest. On the other hand, every pound of muscle you lose will burn 50 less calories a day.

This may explain why you were able to eat more when you were young. And, since muscle is denser than fat and takes up less space (even though you weigh the same), your body doesn’t quite look the same and that size 8 is now a size 12.

Aerobic exercise will help burn the excess fat, but cannot delay the natural diminishing in overall body muscle tissue associated with the aging process. There are no magic pills or treatments…strength training is the only cure.

Skeletal muscles are the major shock absorbers of your body. Some of these muscles work up to 24 hours a day, such as the ones that help maintain your posture as you stand or sit. Muscles help protect your bones and joints every
time you take a step or dance during Jazzercise participation. lt’s easy to see how strengthening your major muscle groups (i.e., the shoulders, arms, legs, back, and abdominals), will diminish the stress of impact forces and lessen the
risk of exercise-related injury.

Strong muscles also help one to perform daily tasks with ease and efficiency. Activities such as climbing stairs, gelling out of bed, lifting groceries and children, cleaning the house and mowing the lawn all become easier to perform.

Although strength training cannot turn back the clock on osteoporosis once you have it, recent research indicates that regular strength training can help to maintain bone mass and reduce a woman’s risk of developing osteoporosis.

There you have it – three excellent reasons to start some type of resistance strength training. What does it take to get those muscles in shape? Not as much as you may think. You can choose from a variety of resistance equipment. There
are weight machines, free-weight dumbbells, wrist/ankle weights, bands, balls, or even your own body weight with calisthenics. Naturally, your fitness level and goals will dictate what type of equipment is best for you.

In terms of recommended training routines…if you ask ten different experts, you’re likely to get ten different answers. There are numerous routines for increasing strength depending on your specific goals. Working out “hard” and “long” may elicit greater improvement in strength, but it also increases your risk of injury. So why not take a sensible,
yet effective approach.

After years of research, here’s what the experts have found:

  • Frequency of training: Minimum of two times per week.
  • Number of Repetitions: 8-12 per set
  • Number of Sets: Minimum of one set per muscle group.
  • Number of Exercises: 8-10 exercises which focus on the major muscle groups.
  • Movement Speed: Slow to Moderate
  • Amount of Weight: Enough to fatigue your muscles by the last few reps. (8-12 reps for strength training, 15-20 reps for endurance training.)

Isn’t it great! You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to significantly improve your strength. You can be in and out in as little as 20 minutes. Now, that’s a schedule we all can live with!

Remember, you don’t have to be in perfect shape to work with weights. Strength training is now considered an important component of a weight loss program;  along with diet, aerobic exercise, behavior modification, and is recommended for people suffering from certain types of arthritis and chronic back pain. Once believed dangerous for the elderly, research has confirmed that a low to moderate resistance strength training program is safe for the older population and people with high blood pressure or heart disease. Of course, if you happen to be one of those people in less than perfect shape, be sure to get your doctor’s “OK” before you start lifting away!

What are you waiting for? Now’s the time to turn your body into a strong and efficient, lean and mean calorie-burning machine. Strength training is for every body…start your program today!

Forget the fat burn zone

“Fat burn is greater when exercise intensity is high.” Izumi Tabata

I believe in high-intensity aerobics. In Ripped 3, for bodybuilders, I recommended “a variety of relatively short and infrequent aerobic sessions interspersed with explosive muscular effort.” In Lean For Life, published six years later, I emphasized high-intensity aerobics even more; I reduced the frequency of aerobic sessions to two times a week (in Ripped 3 I recommended up to four) and substantially increased the intensity. But it wasn’t until recently, when my friend Richard Winett, Ph.D., publisher of Master Trainer, called my attention to new research findings, that I came to fully appreciate the superiority of high intensity aerobics compared to the usual prescription that heart rate be maintained between 60% and 80% of maximum.

As explained in the nearby FAQ (Low intensity aerobics?), high intensity aerobics burns the same amount of fat as low intensity, but the expenditure of calories is substantially greater; plus, intense aerobics produces a higher level of fitness. Importantly, the more fit you become, the more likely you are to use fat as fuel for any given activity. And now, research in Japan and in Canada shows that short, very intense aerobic sessions are amazingly effective for both fitness and fat loss.

Maximal oxygen uptake, or V02max, is generally regarded as the best single measure of aerobic fitness. As the rate of exercise increases, your body eventually reaches a limit for oxygen consumption. This limit is the peak of your aerobic capacity, or your V02max. As intensity increases beyond V02max, your body must shift to anaerobic (without oxygen) energy production. An oxygen debt begins to build at this point and blood lactate levels climb. In general terms, one’s ability to continue exercising in the face of rising oxygen deficit and lactate levels is called anaerobic capacity.

This is important because many high-intensity sports (including basketball, football, soccer and speed skating) require a high level of both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Clearly, total fitness involves both high V02max and high anaerobic capacity. A training protocol that develops both would be a godsend.

Izumi Tabata and his colleagues at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan, compared the effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on V02max and anaerobic capacity. (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (1996) 28, 1327-1330). Interestingly, the high-intensity protocol had been used by major members of the Japanese Speed Skating team for several years; it’s a real-world training plan. As you will see, however, the protocol is unique among aerobic training programs for its intensity and brevity.

Many studies have been done on the effect of training on V02max, but little information has been available about the effect on anaerobic capacity. That’s because until recently methods for measuring anaerobic capacity have been inadequate. This study used accumulated oxygen deficit to measure anaerobic energy release, and is one of the first to measure the effect of training on both aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

Notice that the duration of the moderate-intensity and the high-intensity protocols are drastically different: (excluding warm-ups) one hour compared to only about 4 minutes per training schedule

Tabata’s moderate-intensity protocol will sound familiar; it’s the same steady-state aerobic training done by many (perhaps most) fitness enthusiasts.

Here are the details (stay with me on this): In the moderate-intensity group, seven active young male physical education majors exercised on stationary bicycles 5 days per week for 6 weeks at 70% of V02max, 60 minutes each session. V02max was measured before and after the training and every week during the 6 week period. As each subject’s V02max improved, exercise intensity was increased to keep them pedaling at 70% of their actual V02max. Maximal accumulated oxygen deficit was also measured, before, at 4 weeks and after the training.

A second group followed a high-intensity interval program. Seven students, also young and physically active, exercised five days per week using a training program similar to the Japanese speed skaters. After a 10-minute warm-up, the subjects did seven to eight sets of 20 seconds at 170% of V02max, with a 10 second rest between each bout. Pedaling speed was 90-rpm and sets were terminated when rpms dropped below 85. When subjects could complete more than 9 sets, exercise intensity was increased by 11 watts. The training protocol was altered one day per week. On that day, the students exercised for 30 minutes at 70% of V02max before doing 4 sets of 20 second intervals at 170% of V02max. This latter session was not continued to exhaustion. Again, V02max and anaerobic capacity was determined before, during and after the training.

In some respects the results were no surprise, but in others they may be ground breaking. The moderate-intensity endurance training program produced a significant increase in V02max (about 10%), but had no effect on anaerobic capacity. The high-intensity intermittent protocol improved V02max by about 14%; anaerobic capacity increased by a whopping 28%.

Dr. Tabata and his colleagues believe this is the first study to demonstrate an increase in both aerobic and anaerobic power. What’s more, in an e-mail response to Dick Winett, Dr. Tabata said, “The fact is that the rate of increase in V02max [14% for the high-intensity protocol – in only 6 weeks] is one of the highest ever reported in exercise science.” (Note, the students participating in this study were members of varsity table tennis, baseball, basketball, soccer and swimming teams and already had relatively high aerobic capacities.)

The results, of course, confirm the well-known fact that the results of training are specific. The intensity in the first protocol (70% of V02max) did not stress anaerobic components (lactate production and oxygen debt) and, therefore, it was predictable that anaerobic capacity would be unchanged. On the other hand, the subjects in the high-intensity group exercised to exhaustion ,and peak blood lactate levels indicated that anaerobic metabolism was being taxed to the max. So, it was probably also no big surprise that anaerobic capacity increased quite significantly.

What probably was a surprise, however, is that a 4 minute training program of very-hard 20 second repeats, in the words of the researchers, “may be optimal with respect to improving both the aerobic and the anaerobic energy release systems.” That’s something to write home about!

What About Fat Loss?

Angelo Tremblay, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the Physical Activities Sciences Laboratory, Laval University, Quebec, Canada, challenged the common belief among health professionals that low-intensity, long-duration exercise is the best program for fat loss. They compared the impact of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and high-intensity aerobics on fat loss. (Metabolism (1994) Volume 43, pp.814-818)

The Canadian scientists divided 27 inactive, healthy, non-obese adults (13 men, 14 women, 18 to 32 years old) into two groups. They subjected one group to a 20-week endurance training (ET) program of uninterrupted cycling 4 or 5 times a week for 30 to 45 minutes; the intensity level began at 60% of heart rate reserve and progressed to 85%. (For a 30-year-old, this would mean starting at a heart rate of about 136 and progressing to roughly 170 bpm, which is more intense than usually prescribed for weight or fat loss.)

The other group did a 15-week program including mainly high-intensity-interval training (HIIT). Much like the ET group, they began with 30-minute sessions of continuous exercise at 70% of maximum heart rate reserve (remember, they were not accustomed to exercise), but soon progressed to 10 to 15 bouts of short (15 seconds progressing to 30 seconds) or 4 to 5 long (60 seconds progressing to 90 seconds) intervals separated by recovery periods allowing heart rate to return to 120-130 beats per minute. The intensity of the short intervals was initially fixed at 60% of the maximal work output in 10 seconds, and that of the long bouts corresponded to 70% of the individual maximum work output in 90 seconds. Intensity on both was increased 5% every three weeks.

As you might expect, the total energy cost of the ET program was substantially greater than the HIIT program. The researchers calculated that the ET group burned more than twice as many calories while exercising than the HIIT program. But (surprise, surprise) skinfold measurements showed that the HIIT group lost more subcutaneous fat. “Moreover,” reported the researchers, “when the difference in the total energy cost of the program was taken into account…, the subcutaneous fat loss was ninefold greater in the HIIT program than in the ET program.” In short, the HIIT group got 9 times more fat-loss benefit for every calorie burned exercising.

How can that be?

Cardiovascular Exercise Principles and Guidelines: Part One

For maximum effectiveness and safety, cardiovascular exercise has specific instructions on the frequency, duration, and intensity. These are the three important components of cardiovascular exercise that you really need to understand and implement in your program. In addition, your cardiovascular program should include a warm-up, a cool-down, and stretching of the primary muscles used in the exercise. This article is part one of a two part series discussing the very important principles and guidelines of a safe and effective cardiovascular exercise program. Part one will explain the proper methods of warming-up, stretching, and cooling-down and discuss the frequency and duration of a sound cardiovascular routine. Part two will discuss how to monitor exercise intensity and heart zone training.

Warming Up and Stretching
One very common mistake is stretching before muscles are warmed-up. It is important to stretch after your muscles are warm (after blood has circulated through them). Never stretch a cold muscle. First warm up. A warm-up should be done for at least 5-10 minutes at a low intensity. Usually, the warm-up is done by doing the same activity as the cardiovascular workout but at an intensity of 50-60% of maximum heart rate (max HR). After you’ve warmed-up for 5-10 minutes at a relatively low intensity, your muscles should be warm. To prevent injury and to improve your performance, you should stretch the primary muscles used in the warm up before proceeding to the cardiovascular exercise.

Cooling Down

The cool down is similar to the warm-up in that it should last 5-10 minutes and be done at a low intensity (50-60% of max HR). After you have completed your cardiovascular exercise and cooled-down properly, it is now important that you stretch the primary muscles being used. Warming-up, stretching, and cooling-down are very important to every exercise session. They not only help your performance levels and produce better results, they also drastically decrease your risk of injury.

Frequency of Exercise
The first component of cardiovascular exercise is frequency of the exercise, which refers to the number of exercise sessions per week. To improve both cardiovascular fitness and to decrease body fat or maintain body fat at optimum levels, you should exercise (cardiovascularly) at least three days a week. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends three to five days a week for most cardiovascular programs. Those of you who are very out of shape and/or who are overweight and doing weight-bearing cardiovascular exercise such as an aerobics class or jogging, might want to have at least 36 to 48 hours of rest between workouts to prevent an injury and to promote adequate bone and joint stress recovery.

Duration of Exercise
The second component of cardiovascular exercise is the duration, which refers to the time you’ve spent exercising. The cardiovascular session, not including the warm-up and cool-down, should vary from 20-60 minutes to gain significant cardiorespiratory and fat burning-benefits. Each time you do your cardiovascular exercise, try to do at least 20 minutes or more. Of course, the longer you go, the more calories and fat you’ll “burn” and the better you’ll condition your cardiovascular system. All beginners, especially those who are out of shape, should take a very conservative approach and train at relatively low intensities (50-70% max HR) for 10-25 minutes. As you get in better shape, you can gradually increase the duration of time you exercise.

It is important that you gradually increase the duration before you increase the intensity. That is, when beginning a walking program for example, be more concerned with increasing the number of minutes of the exercise session before you increase the intensity, by increasing your speed or by walking hilly terrain.

Please check back for Part Two, where I’ll discuss how to monitor your training intensity and how to use heart zone training to achieve the specific results you desire. Until then, remember that cardiovascular exercise should be done a minimum of three times a week and a minimum of 20 minutes per session. Once your muscles are warm (after warm up) and after the cardiovascular exercise, you should stretch those muscles used in the exercise. For example, after bicycling, stretch your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hips, and low back. After doing the rowing machine, stretch your legs, back, biceps, and shoulders. Good luck and enjoy all the wonderful benefits of cardiovascular exercise.

For a leaner stomach, exercise and get good nutrition

How do I get a lean stomach?
Best results are exercise, and menu planning for nutritional benefits. Each person is different, and needs a specialized plan to eat certain foods, especially for allergies.

Exercise should include abdominal muscle strengthening: contracting your stomach muscles for strong “abs,” and optimal pelvic area for circulation. This is called the abdominal crunch. To accomplish this, lie down in a horizontal position, bend your knees, and place your feet flat on the floor. Roll your upper body forward, contract your stomach muscles, and release after holding for a count of 15 or 20, then let go. Repeat as many times as possible, being sure not to push hard beyond your ability. Start slowly and steadily build up. Make this a daily routine.

Lift your shoulder blades off the ground, hold the pose, contract your stomach mus cles and lower yourself slowly. Repeat this three or four times, gradually building up. Most exercises need to be done every other day for the rest of your life.

Get a bicycle with a comfortable, padded seat and start moving your legs vigorously.

Ride around our beautiful island and take note of the beautiful scenery as you are increase your circulation. For beginners, take it slowly to start and you will reap your rewards. It is advisable to consult with your doctor before embarking on any exercise program.

Ask your nutritionist about high energy foods that will help you build muscles and strength. Remember, it takes work, time and your patience for as much as several months to achieve optimum results.

Best results using Strength training

Whether you are a beginner at strength training (also referred to as weight training or weight lifting) or one who is already advanced, needing alternate exercises to add variety, increase intensity or overcome a frustrating plateau, a Strength Training program will help you develop your own program step-by-step, educating you in the safest and most effective ways to strength train.

Many people don’t realize the numerous benefits of a sound strength training program: increases in muscle size (if desired) and tone; increased muscle, tendon, bone, and ligament strength; increased physical performance and appearance; improved metabolic efficiency; and decreased risk of injury. A good Strength Training program provides clear explanations, exercise instructions, video demonstrations, and customized strength training programs that will allow you to achieve the results you desire.