Tag Archives: Strength training

My Top 3 Exercises for Core Strength (The First One Will Make You Cry)

Do them until the vein in your forehead bursts!

Yesterday, I was speaking with a relative who’s nearing 60. She’s been doing a ton of hard work to strengthen her legs after dealing with a knee issue. Now, she wanted to add some serious abdominal exercises for extra power and stability. I thought that if she needed this information, you guys might too!

Many of us know how to do a push-up, but the best exercises to work your core aren’t as well known. The classic crunches have never given me the burn and strength increases that these do.

See the video below for an introduction to all three!

  1. Flutter Kicks

A mainstay of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS) training. If it’s hard enough to challenge aspiring Navy SEALs, it should challenge us too! Lay on your back and move your legs in a scissor pattern without putting them down. After 90 seconds of this, my abs are fried from top to bottom.

  1. Plank

Until I started yoga, I had probably never done a plank properly in my life. The key is to get your shoulders above your wrists. When you do this, your core muscles will engage and you’re well on your way to serious strength gains.

  1. Boat Pose

Just did this in yoga this morning! You sit down, holding your legs up and bent and your arms alongside them, and open and close your body in a V shape. I find this particularly challenging for the lower abs.

Like all strength training exercises, I suggest doing them until failure. Keep going until your muscles give out. And if you’re hungry for more strength training resources, see this post.

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What Is the Ideal Amount of Exercise?

Above: Me sucking wind after a tough workout.

We often hear what the minimum amount of exercise we need is, but what amount of exercise is actually optimal? At what point have we reaped all the benefits exercise has to offer, and possibly even gone over the edge into damaging overtraining?

With the largest snowstorm in years lashing my apartment today, I thought it was as good a time as any to try to find an answer.

The federal government recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. This establishes a useful lower bound we definitely shouldn’t dip below, but a highly cited study in JAMA Internal Medicine finds that you can get further longevity benefits by exercising a lot more:

the longevity benefit threshold appears to be approximately 3 to 5 times the recommended physical activity minimum

So, in order to be sure to get the maximum longevity benefit, you need to do five times the minimum recommended level of exercise. 5x the minimum recommended level would be 1 hour 47 minutes of moderate activity daily or 54 minutes of vigorous activity daily.

Furthermore, the study found no danger from exercising even more than what it takes to get the full longevity benefit:

there does not appear to be an elevated mortality risk with LTPA [leisure time physical activity] levels as high as 10 or more times the recommended minimum.

Looking at the differences between moderate and vigorous activity, I also wondered if one is better than the other. There doesn’t seem to be solid data to say that either moderate or vigorous activity is superior from a health perspective:

comprehensive reviews of the literature on physical activity and mortality report that overall volume of physical activity is associated with lower mortality risk but report mixed findings on the relative contributions of moderate- vs vigorous-intensity activities

So am I doing enough? Looking at the pedometer app on my phone, I’ve averaged 2.75 hours per day of walking (moderate intensity exercise) over the past year. I also do about 3-4 hours a week of vigorous exercise (yoga and strength training, mostly), so about 30 min daily.

So, I seem to be comfortably above the level needed to get the maximum longevity benefit. That said, counterintuitively, I sometimes find my mood is a little lower on days I don’t do vigorous activity. (You think you’d be happy for a rest day, but maybe not!) Just because I’m at the maximum amount of exercise to produce longevity benefits doesn’t mean that more exercise might not produce other benefits in terms of mental health, athletic ability, appearance, etc.

Since there appears to be no harm from even very high levels of activity, I may add another vigorous workout (likely yoga or calistenics) to my routine some weeks, depending on my schedule and desires at the time.

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My Best Resources for Home Workouts

When my gym closed last March, I wondered how I’d continue to train and stay healthy. Even with gyms reopened now, lines are often long and many people are still not comfortable going. So how can we stay in shape at home, preferably with little or no equipment? These are the best resources I’ve found:

  • Athlean-X. Terrific YouTube channel created by Jeff Cavaliere, a physical therapist and trainer to professional athletes. It’s one of the marvels of today that you can have the same trainer as NFL players and other elite athletes, all for nothing and without leaving your house.

    His Athlean Xero program in particular has countless exercises that use no equipment whatsoever. But just because they’re bodyweight exercises doesn’t make them easy! I particularly like the sidelying bicep curl and the Bulgarian split squat.
  • Body by Science. The author is a doctor with deep knowledge of how strength training works. I used his principles even while I was still going to the gym, but I find them just as applicable now that I’m doing mostly bodyweight training.

    This program has you move slowly to maximize time under load and lift to failure so that the muscles will be overloaded and grow. Moving slowly can also make a small weight feel like a big one if your equipment is limited. The program also emphasizes the importance of training each muscle group only once a week, since the muscles take significant time to repair and grow. A burn or cut doesn’t heal in a couple of days, and neither do the microscopic tears in the muscle caused by strength training.

These resources have helped me gain a significant amount of mass and strength in the last 10 months. In fact, I’m progressing at a faster rate than I did with a gym membership. I also find that moving slowly and using primarily bodyweight means I don’t injure myself, which was a problem in the past.

No more excuses! Let’s get to it!

I Found a Secret Gym!

One of the benefits of not travelling in 2020 has been discovering what’s right around me. I’ve made more new friends this year than in the prior 5 years combined. I find myself actually (perish the thought!) saying hello to neighbors! We’re even exchanging baked goods like something out of the 1950’s. And it’s totally awesome.

Besides new friends, I just discovered something else: the building I’ve been living in for 2.5 years has a gym! I peeked through a hole in the laundry room wall, where plumbers were working on a pipe. As I got closer, I could hardly believe what I saw. A secret room filled with…exercise equipment?

I passed through a door marked Meter Room, past our electric meters, and went through a second door…this one unmarked. Inside was a gym straight out of the 1970’s. Rusty iron weights, exercise bikes without a single transistor, and bodybuilding posters from decades ago.

Our superintendent created this gym entirely on his own. It’s not the Equinox, but the equipment is surprisingly varied and of high quality. He made it for himself and shared it with whoever might wish to use it. After his recent retirement and return to his home country of Colombia, he left all this here for us.

Working out in this secluded space alongside exposed pipes makes me feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger at Gold’s Gym in the 1970’s. Until I look into one of the mirrors, at least. 🙂

I wanted to tell you about this to emphasize the wonderful things we gain from being at home more this year. We are not just missing out on travel, concerts, etc. We get something too…a new familiarity with and appreciation for the world right outside our own doors.

It also shows me the great effect one person can have on others, even others they’ve never met, with just a little care and individual initiative. People our superintendent will never see will be healthier because of what he did. What a great example for the rest of us!

How are you guys staying healthy this year? What have you discovered nearby? Let me know in the comments!