Sunday, April 24, 2011

My 4 Very Favorite Ab Exercises

As many of you know, I'm not big on crunches.  (If you want to know my spiel on that, this more or less covers it:  http://vimeo.com/14442475 )  Note that this is my own personal opinion.  There may be plenty of pro-crunch arguments out there.  As a matter of fact, I'm sure there are.  However, I don't do them.  I think there are many more effective ways to work the abs.  Here are my favorites:

1)  The Deadlift.  Try lifting an extremely heavy weight off the floor with good form and tell me that your trunk muscles aren't firing.  The deadlift is one of the finest midsection strengtheners I know of.  But don't take my word for it-- the research has been done:  http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2007/11000/Trunk_Muscle_Activation_During_Dynamic.22.aspx  (read in particular the part in which it states:  "In addition, the 80% 1RM deadlift ULES EMG activity also exceeded the body weight squat, deadlift, superman, and sidebridge exercises by 66.7, 65.5, 69.3, and 68.6%, respectively.").   In short, pick up heavy stuff properly, get killer abs.

 
Beats the hell outta crunches.



While we're on the topic, we can go ahead and throw in kettlebell swings right here.  A kettlebell swing is simply a ballistic deadlift.  Different intention, very similar exercise.  Done properly (of course), heavy swings will give you one hell of a strong core, just like deadlifts will.

2)  The Pullup.  Not too long ago, I gave myself a challenge, as I am wont to do.  I decided I was going to do 500 pullups in 5 days.  Because I'm stubborn, I completed my challenge.  And yeah, my back and arms were extremely sore from the unfamiliar volume, but you know what was the most fatigued?  You guessed it-- my abs.  Make no mistake, pullups (done properly, of course) are one heck of an abdominal toaster.

3)  The Farmer's Walk.  Farmer's walks are well-known in the strongman community.  The concept is simple:  pick up a weight (or two) and walk with it:

Like this. 
Bilateral walks like the one pictured are great.  You can also load your weight higher up on the body, like at shoulder level or overhead, for a different kind of challenge.  I, personally, am a big fan of unilateral farmer's walks, in which you load only one side of your body.  Your trunk is forced to stabilize against the weight in order to maintain an erect posture, and, voilá, you're on your way to a bulletproof belly. 

4)  The Hanging Leg Raise.  Hanging leg raises are not easy, but they're extremely effective.  The idea is to hang from a bar by your hands and raise your legs straight up until your feet (at minimum) touch the bar-- without using momentum.  They look a lot like this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6eF19zP9dk  There are, of course, lots of variations on this exercise to make it easier or more difficult, but this is the general idea.

So there you have it-- my Big Four Abdominal Busters.  That having been said, don't be fooled into thinking that strong abs translate to six-pack abs.  You can do all of these exercises 24/7 until you're blue in the face, and you won't have a six-pack unless you change your diet.  Abdominal muscles can't be seen under a layer of adipose tissue, and if your diet isn't spot-on, you're not going to see what you want to see in your body composition.  Put all the pieces of the fitness puzzle together, though, and you'll be one lean, mean, good-lookin', bulletproof machine.  :)

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Easy, Healthy Snacks

Recently, a lot of my clients have been asking me about what to snack on, so I thought I'd post some ideas.

If you're craving:

CREAMY

Try:
-Hummus (farmer's markets, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and more will carry hummus.  Read the ingredients, and make sure it's chemical-free, or make your own) or Baba Ghanouj.   Serve with chopped veggies!

-Plain coconut yogurt.  So Delicious makes this.  The only problem I have with it is that they use sugar in it, and, as you know, I want added sugars out of the diet as much as possible.  But as a once-in-a-while snack, it's a pretty good choice, and you can add your own fresh fruit.

-Cashew "cheez:"
  1 1/2 cups raw cashews
    around 1/2 cup water
    One or two large cloves garlic 
    1 teaspoon salt
Optional ingredients:
    A squeeze or two of lemon
   If you have it handy, a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast

Soak your cashews in a bowl of water for at least two hours before making this cheez.  After that, throw all of the above in a very good blender (I loooove my VitaMix), blend till smooth, and spread on your favorite sprouted grain bread or tortilla.  I use this as a wrap base with Ezekiel tortillas for lunch all the time.  Or, you can add a little more water and a few slices of roasted red pepper and use as a "cream" or "nacho" sauce on sprouted grain pastas or spaghetti squash.  :)


SALTY:

Kale chips:  Don't wrinkle your nose just yet.  My roommate is addicted to these, and actually gets psyched when I bring home kale.  I like to use black dinosaur kale for these, but you can use any kind of kale.  Cut the leaves off the stems and into bite-sized pieces.  Spray a cookie sheet with olive oil, put the leaves on in one layer, and spray them again.  Sprinkle with a little salt or some herbs to taste, and bake at about 350-400 degrees until they are crispy.  Soooooo good.

Kale Chips.  Nom.


You can also make "chips" in this manner with sweet potatoes, turnips, or really any root vegetable.  I am a HUGE fan of sweet potato "chips" (I just cut them into rounds for baking) and I do not salt them.  I like to use coconut oil for those as opposed to olive oil, as it brings out their flavor really nicely.

Sweet Potato Chips.  Double nom.


I find that a lot of salt cravings are due to stress, and the craving is actually for crunch as opposed to salt.  In this case, grab yourself some baby carrots,  celery, or other crunchy veggie, and munch away.  :)

I've recently become addicted to nori chips.  They're super-easy to make, and very healthy.  Here's a basic recipe (or you can buy them pre-packaged):  http://www.babble.com/Best-recipes/healthy-eating/nori-chips/

I recently discovered these chips:  http://www.beanitos.com/ .  I served them at my Superbowl party in February, and no one knew they weren't regular chips.  They're mostly made from beans, are high in fiber and protein, non-gmo, gluten-free, high in omegas, and have all kinds of good stuff inside.  So, as far as bagged chips go, these are a pretty good choice!

SWEET:

Fruit!  While I don't recommend eating it in unlimited amounts as it still contains sugar, seasonal fruit (especially berries)is very good for you and high in flavor.  I also love dates as a sweet snack.  The fruit, not the ones I go out with.  Although I guess the latter would be lower in calories.  ;)

Here is my own personal recipe for black bean brownies:  http://vegweb.com/index.php?topic=24531.0 The only change I now make, having cut out sugar, is that I replace the sugar with erythritol (I use a full cup of erythritol, as it tends to be a bit less sweet than sugar).  They're incredibly nutritious, and you really feel like you're eating something naughty.  :)

My friend and fellow kettlebell guru Lauren Brooks Miller makes this great apple cinnamon bread: http://kbellqueen.blogspot.com/2011/01/apple-cinnamon-bread-gluten-free-and.html , which is high in healthy fats and protein.  My own personal changes to the recipe (as I am vegan) would be to replace the egg with 1/4 cup milled flaxseed mixed with enough water to make it "eggy" and sub in erythritol or coconut sugar for the brown sugar, as I'd like to stay as sugar-free as possible. 

I have, just for you, made the ultimate sacrifice and taste-tested some chocolate bars, as many of my clients are chocoholics and want to satisfy their cravings without so much guilt.  And my search has landed me here:  http://www.gnosischocolate.com/zero-glycemic-raw-chocolate/  .  It's expensive stuff (which means you won't eat as much, right?!), but it's extremely high-quality.  So you get all the benefits of raw chocolate and all the taste of an artisan bar without any of the sugar or crap that tends to go into commercial chocolate (even the good stuff).  The company makes all kinds of other chocolate bars, all of them have excellent ingredients, and the ones I've tried taste absolutely great.  My only gripe is that they use agave as their main sweetener, which, while low-glycemic, is also high-fructose, which I don't think is particularly healthy.  So I'd stick with the erythritol one and splurge on one of the other kinds on your cheat day.  :)

Hope this helps--  let me know if you need more ideas!

Questions, comments-- post 'em here!