My Favorite Crunchless Ab Exercises

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, then you probably know that I do NOT enjoy training abs. Actually, I have to say that I pretty much HATE ab exercises-they are probably my least favorite muscle group to train. But it IS important to have strong abdominals and core, so it has to be done. However, that does not mean you have to do hundred of crunches-there are more effective ways to strengthen your abs. These exercise will give you a bigger bang for your buck, since you’ll be working not just your core but other muscle groups as well.

Here are a few of my favorites:

1)Ab wheel or ball rollouts-This is probably my favorite abdominal exercise, and it always gets me sore! Make sure to keep your abs tight, squeeze your glutes, and don’t arch your back.

2)Hanging leg raises- I’d have to say that these are my least favorite(because they are hard!) but one of the most effective. If you do them from a bar, you get the added benefit of working your grip and upper back, but they are extremely challenging. I try to bring my toes all the way up to the bar without swinging. If you can’t do them, you can just hang from the bar and tuck your knees up as far as you can, or use the machine most gyms have to support your arms.

3)Farmer’s walks and overhead carries- Carrying heavy dumbbells at your sides or holding a dumbbell overhead really forces your abs to work. I do these as finishers to an upper or lower body workout. You can even try doing them off-set, with two different weights in each hand. They are a great grip and upper back exercise as well.

4)Plank crossovers-In a pushup position, slowly bring one knee up across your body to the opposite elbow, hold for a second and switch. I use these a lot with my clients.

5)L-sit holds and modified front levers-It has been a goal of mine to one day be able to do a front lever. For now, I just do a modified version with knees tucked in, but even that is a super challenging core, grip and lat exercise.  SO much harder than it looks! L-sits are another great core exercise to incorporate into your workouts. I do a few sets of L-sits or front levers at the end of a workout or between exercises for a 10-15 second hold. You will feel the burn!

6)TRX or exercise ball pikes- In a pushup position with your feet in TRX straps or on an exercise ball, use your abs to bring your hips up towards the ceiling with your legs straight until your hips are over your shoulders.  If this is too challenging, you can just tuck your knees in to your chest.

I don’t do them often, but you can also do planks and all the variations of planks there are. And don’t forget that just heavy lifting in general works your core as well. I don’t necessarily think crunches are horrible, but you do NOT have to do them to get great abs.

I’m sure there are other great crunchless core exercises out there-what are your favorites?

Don’t Make These Nutrition Mistakes  

When most people decide they want to lose weight, the first thing they usually do is restrict. They decide to go on a “diet”, which to most people means severely lowering calories, and/or eliminating all “bad” foods, or even entire food groups or macronutrients. For example, they completely cut out all carbs, or swear off all sugar, and initially, they get great results. The weight drops, they lose 20 pounds in just a few weeks, they feel great, and then…

Usually one of two things happens: one day they have something that’s not on their “diet”, they over-do it and binge, feel guilty, go back to depriving and restricting until their next binge, and the cycle continues.

OR they simply just give up on their “diet” because they can’t continue restricting, feeling deprived, having cravings, and being miserable all the time. So they go back to eating poorly, and then slowly but surely, gain back all the weight they lost, plus some. These are usually the people who are always either eating horrible or on a strict diet, otherwise known as “yo-yo” dieters.

The problem is that neither of these people ever achieve long-lasting success when it comes to weight loss. Why? Because they have failed to achieve a sustainable lifestyle change that allows them to lose the weight and keep it off. The thing is, if your diet is all about depriving and restricting, as most diets are, you can only last for so long!

If this sounds familiar to you, here’s what you should do instead:

Rather than focusing only on what you need to cut OUT of your diet, try focusing on things you should add IN. For example, many people don’t eat enough protein, so that could be the first place to start. Make it a goal to have a lean source of protein with every meal. Maybe you don’t get in enough Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, so you could add in a fish oil supplement. Other ideas: drink more water, eat more vegetables, eat a balanced meal every 3-4 hours, and cook more meals from scratch. Then you can start slowly cutting back on other things, or swapping them for healthier choices.

Many people simply make the mistake of trying to do all of these things at once, drastically changing their whole diet and lifestyle overnight. This may work for some, at least for a little while. But for others, it lasts a few weeks, maybe even just a few days, and then they give up. Instead, just pick one or two of these things to focus on at a time until you can  implement all them into your lifestyle consistently. Yes, the results will come slower than going on some crash diet, but it will be easier for you to maintain the weight loss in the long run, which is really the goal, right?

Another reason people fail in their fat loss efforts is due to their mindset. Many people view foods as either “good” or “bad”, or label certain foods as “diet” foods or “off limit” foods, etc. What usually happens with that mindset is that they believe that those “bad” foods will make them fat so they avoid them at all costs.

What also tends to happen with people is that they equate their results to the fact that they didn’t eat carbs…so that must mean that it’s carbs that make you fat! Or if they gave up meat, then it must be that meat makes you fat! What they don’t understand is that the weight loss they achieved was most likely simply because they lowered their caloric intake as a result of eliminating an entire food group from their diet!

For most people(there are exceptions), losing weight is simply a matter of decreasing caloric intake. What that ultimately means is that can eat ANY kind of food as long as you stay below your calorie goal for the day.

So guess what? Eating a cupcake is NOT going to instantly make you fat! Yes, you should choose foods that are nutritious and make you feel good the majority of the time, but you should not have to force yourself to eat foods you don’t enjoy just because you think they’re good for you. This is when counting calories or tracking macros can be helpful because then if you do want to have a brownie or cupcake, or whatever, you simply fit it into your daily allowance and enjoy it guilt free!

So instead of having the mindset that you’re on a “diet”, or that certain foods will make you fat, focus on eating healthy,  nutrient dense foods most of the time-foods that make you feel good, give you energy, and help fuel your workouts. Quality of food DOES matter if you want to function well and feel good. But if you do that most of the time, it’s perfectly okay to have some treats here and there so that you don’t feel deprived. The main cause of weight gain is simply not controlling portion sizes and overeating, so as long as you are mindful of portion sizes, you can and should enjoy foods you love!

So, to sum it all up:

-Your nutrition shouldn’t make you miserable.

-Don’t fear carbs(or any food group).

-You CAN eat all your favorite foods in moderation.

-Be mindful of portion sizes.

-Find a nutrition plan that works for you but that is sustainable.

-Change your mindset about food by not thinking of foods as good or bad.

Like I always say, losing weight is the easy part-maintaining it is the true challenge! But by mastering your mindset about food, focusing on health, and allowing yourself to have treats every now and then, you will be able to find a way of eating that will get you the results you want but keep you sane at the same time. That is the key to sustainable weight loss!

How I Built Muscle

When I first started training with the weights, I really had no clue how to build muscle. I just did exercises and routines that I found in magazines and didn’t put that much focus into my nutrition because I didn’t understand it’s importance in building muscle.

After doing research online and reading tons and tons of bodybuiding books, I learned quite a few things over the years about gaining muscle mass. I thought I’d share some of the things that I learned and applied that I believe helped me in my quest for building muscle:

-I didn’t go crazy with cardio. Actually, I didn’t do any cardio at all! Only weights, 5-6 days a week with a bodybuilding split.
-Increased protein intake. I started having a protein shake immediately after workouts, and also before bed, as well as increasing my intake of lean meats, eggs, and fish in order to get at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
-Lifting heavy. In the beginning, I trained with reps in the 8-12 range, but in the last few years I started lifting heavier with reps in the 3-6 range. I focused on big, compound lifts with fewer isolation exercises.
-Tracking workouts. This helped me to make sure I was getting stronger and increasing my weights progressively. I kept track of exercises, weights, reps, and rest time in between sets. I really think this helped tremendously.
-Eating more REAL food. This made a huge difference in my physique. I used to eat almost everything out of a can or a box, thinking that it was healthy if it said on the label that it was! I finally learned how to cook fresh meat and started eating more vegetables, more healthy fats, and less processed foods.
-Learning the importance of pre and post workout nutrition. I studied about what foods to eat before and after workouts in order to maximize muscle building. I never trained on an empty stomach, and made sure to get in a fast digesting protein and carbohydrate source within 30 minutes of training.
-Progress pictures. It’s sometimes hard to see how your body is changing because you look at yourself every day. I wouldn’t have been able to tell such a huge difference in my physique if I didn’t have pictures that I took over the years, showing how my body has changed. The scale is not the best way to measure progress, whether your goal is building muscle or losing fat.
-TIME and patience. These two things are key. It has taken me over 12 years to build the muscle that I have today, and I’m still working on it! Don’t give up on the weights if you aren’t seeing the results fast enough. Keep at it, and the results will come if you are doing the right things. Just. be. patient.

Compare Yourself to YOURSELF  

Just like most women, I am totally guilty of comparing my body to others in the past. I used to look at pictures of fitness models, and they just looked so perfect… I just wanted so bad to look like that!

Comparing yourself to others can sometimes be motivating by making you want to eat healthier and train harder to reach your goals. BUT what I’ve found is that it can actually be super discouraging, because it just causes you to focus on your flaws and imperfections.
One thing that helped me was when I stopped comparing myself to others, and started comparing myself to myself.
When I would start to get discouraged or down about they way I looked, what helped me was to look back at old photos to remind myself of how far I’ve come and how much progress I’ve made over the years. 
Back in 2006, I was super skinny! And what’s funny is that I actually thought I had muscle. On the days when I still feel like this scrawny little girl, I just look back at this photo to remind myself of how far I’ve come!
It’s hard to see the changes in yourself sometimes because they happen so slowly and over a long period of time. That’s why progress photos are important. I didn’t notice the changes in my body composition until I looked back at photos and compared them to myself now.
It’s always an ongoing journey, of course, but I have a LOT more muscle than I did 6 years ago and am leaner and more defined than just 2 years ago. And it’s NOT all about looks-I’m also MUCH stronger than I was back then, and I eat much healthier.
It’s all about making improvements on yourself, not constantly comparing yourself to others! Focus on being a better version of yourself, not trying to look like someone else.