Exercise Trends: Part 2

by Charles Platkin, PhD

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“Ab Workouts”

What is it? This should be about developing your body’s core (exercises that focus on your abdominal and back muscles). However, many people are looking for ab workouts to make them skinny.  This boggles my mind because no matter how many sit-ups or crunches you do, you will not get a flat stomach or “six-pack abs”! You simply cannot “spot train” — meaning you can’t work one spot on your body and have the fat melt away — no matter how hard you try. Sure, you can “spot tone,” or work your stomach until you are blue in the face — and you might even succeed in building a layer of rock-hard abs. But if you haven’t lost any weight in the process, your muscular masterpiece will still be obscured by a layer of fat.

Experts disagree about the “best way” to work the abdominal muscles. Some say that these muscles are no different from any other skeletal muscles and so, theoretically, they should respond to the same stimuli. Thus, working them the same way you would work your biceps or shoulders should be effective. “If you really want to have the outward appearance of washboard abs, you need to train the stomach muscles just like you train your biceps — using strength/resistance training methods (e.g., holding a weight against your chest while doing crunches),” says Michele S. Olson, Ph.D., a professor at Auburn University’s Montgomery Human Performance Laboratory.

Then there are those who believe the primary purpose or best function of your abs is to act as “anti-gravity” or stabilizer muscles, meaning they support and anchor your body (hold you upright) and are in a low state of all the time. Experts believe that, in this case, abs should be treated as endurance muscles and trained accordingly. “This means doing a variety of exercises, including using core equipment such as an /stability ball, with a high frequency on a daily basis,” says Olson.

Health Benefit: Strong abdominal muscles are important for several reasons, aside from vanity. For one thing, having strong abs protects our internal organs, helps our lungs function better (e.g., blowing out your birthday candles), prevents injuries and helps us maintain good posture, which can reduce lower-back pain, all of which help to improve overall body performance.

Health Consequences: One of the most common mistakes people make is working the wrong muscles or actually not working any muscles at all. The most important thing to remember is, if you don’t feel the abdominal exercises in your stomach or if you experience discomfort in an unrelated area of the body — it’s probably NOT working, and there is a good chance you will injure yourself.

Bottom Line: A study completed by the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University looked at some of the most common abdominal exercises and found the following three to be the best of the bunch: Bicycle Maneuver, Captain’s Chair, and Crunch on Exercise Ball. (Keep in mind that only 13 out of hundreds of abdominal exercises were analyzed.)
Check out the ACE Fitness Core work out here:  http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness_programs_core_workout.aspx?workoutid=5 and their AB exercises here: http://bit.ly/1gFSiCa.  Finally, if you want great abs, it is about diet. Take a look at my column on leaner abs here:  http://bit.ly/1dteRvK.

“7-Minute Workout”

What is it? The “7-Minute Workout” is about high-intensity training.  The folks at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., published a scientific article titled “High-Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight: Maximum Results with Minimal Investment” in the American College of Sport’s Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal in June of 2013 (see: http://bit.ly/1eC0JNm).  The article outlined a 12-station high-intensity workout with each exercise to be performed for 30 seconds and 10 seconds of rest between sets.
1. Jumping jacks — Total body
2. Wall sit — Lower body
3. Push-up — Upper body
4. Abdominal crunch — Core
5. Step-up onto chair — Total body
6. Squat — Lower body
7. Triceps dip on chair — Upper body
8. Plank — Core
9. High knees/running in place — Total body
10. Lunge — Lower body
11. Push-up and rotation — Upper body
12. Side plank — Core

The one catch is that the researchers recommend doing the “circuit” two or three times, which means it’s actually a 21-minute workout.  But doing at least the seven minutes still has benefits.

Health Benefit: According to the researchers, “HICT [high intensity circuit training] seems to be an efficient means of exercise to help decrease body fat, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve VO2 max (maximal aerobic capacity) and muscular fitness.” Additionally, using only your own body weight as resistance means you don’t need a gym.

Health Consequences: Any time you’re doing high-intensity training you need to be wary of injury as you plow through the exercises as hard as you can.

Bottom Line: Most people are pressed for time. In fact, it’s the No.1 reason we don’t exercise.  So, if you can do seven minutes at the very least, it will affect your life. Try seven minutes per day of those 12 exercises.   You can download a free “7 Minute Workout” app by Bytesize. It times the workout for you.

“Kettlebell Workouts”

What is it? Kettlebells can provide a challenging, effective workout for those who are bored with traditional free weights or simply looking for an alternative. The placement of the handle on the kettlebell means that its center-of-mass is outside the grip. This results in a far different — and greater — challenge than that of most free-weight exercises and can provide a terrific challenge to the muscles of the forearms, shoulders and core, says Jonathan Ross, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise.

“Kettlebell exercises help with regular everyday functions such as lifting groceries, carrying a pile of magazines, gardening, throwing out the trash or lifting a child — moving irregular-size objects and controlling the momentum,” says Tedd Keating, Ph.D., a professor of physical education and human performance at Manhattan College. “Kettlebells use a swinging, curvilinear pattern when performed, whereas free weights have a linear pattern. It’s actually in the process of accelerating and decelerating the movement of the kettlebells that the strength and power gains are made,” he adds.

Kettlebells do not provide a complete workout.  And don’t try this on your own; get an expert to show you how to do it.  Also see: http://bit.ly/1d3PcDU.

Health Benefit: A kettlebell is a compact and convenient piece of fitness equipment. Once you figure out the weight that’s appropriate for you, all the exercises use just that one kettlebell. As you get stronger, you simply do additional repetitions and increase movement speed.  According to a study completed by the American Council on Exercise, “The most dramatic increase in strength came in abdominal core strength, which was boosted by 70 percent. Meanwhile, dynamic balance (in the posterolateral direction) showed a significant improvement.”

Health Consequences: Kettlebells can be unexpectedly heavy, and the design adds an additional “unwieldy” component that can be both helpful and dangerous. “Many of the movements with the kettlebells are done rapidly — thus generating a significant need to control the momentum of the weight when accelerating and decelerating it,” says Ross. Additionally, kettlebells can create an excessive challenge to the forearm muscles, putting the wrist at significantly greater risk of injury.

Bottom Line: Kettlebells can be very effective if used appropriately, and very dangerous if not.

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