What Exactly Is the Core?

When people talk about the core, they often think of just your abdominals.  It is not that simple.  The muscles of the core can be divided into three categories, the local stabilization system, global stabilization system, and movement system.

The local stabilization system is made up of muscles that attach directly to the spine.  They work together to achieve stability between vertebrae or segments of your trunk.  An example would be the transverse abdominus.

The global stabilization system is made of muscles that attach the spine to the pelvis. They work together to help transfer loads from upper extremities to lower extremities and provide stability between the pelvis and spine. An example of a muscle in this category is the external and internal obliques.

The movement system is made up of muscles that attach your extremities to your spine and or pelvis.  They are responsible for producing force during dynamic activities.  A muscle in this group is latissimus dorsi, or lats for short.

All three of these systems of muscles must work together to achieve stabilization.  When we refer to stabilization, we are talking about your body’s ability to distribute weight, absorb force, and transfer force efficiently.  In other words, all movements stem from the core and any inefficiency in these muscles lead to poor balance, force production, and increase your risk of injury.  The best way to train the core is with movement patterns.  Machines at the gym may be great for improving strength in isolated muscles, but they don’t load the core as well as movement based exercise.  Machines neglect to train how we move in everyday life.


rk, Micheal, Scott Lucett, and Donald T. Kirkendall. NASM’s Essentials of Sports Performance Training. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010. Print.

Spaghetti Squash

I don’t often tell my clients with weight loss goals to eat pasta, it tips the balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats way off.  You won’t like what it does to the scale the next day either.  This is a recipe that replaces spaghetti with spaghetti squash, a vegetable and good source of carbohydrates.  It takes up the taste of the sauce, so you won’t even know the difference!

Cut a spaghetti squash in half, length wise.  Place on a baking tray and bake in the oven on 350 for 45 minutes.  If it’s a smaller squash, you may only need 30 minutes. While that is baking, brown 2 lbs of ground turkey breast, adding Italian seasoning to taste. Once the turkey is fully cooked, add 2 cans of pasta sauce.  You can find sauce that has no added sugar or HFCS (high fructose corn syrup); I use the Full Circle brand at Schnuck’s in the St. Louis area. When the spaghetti squash is done baking, remove it from the oven and use a fork to pull it apart. The strands look just like spaghetti.  If you want softer spaghetti, you can sauté the squash in a pan to soften it up, otherwise it will be a little al dente.

Shopping List:

–          2 lbs of ground turkey breast

–          Italian Seasoning

–          2 Jars of Pasta Sauce

–          1 Large Spaghetti Squash

Add a green veggie or salad and you have a complete meal.

Gluten Free: Is it necessary?

A very popular trend in nutrition right now is going gluten free. First of all, I will explain what it is. Gluten is a protein in wheat and other related grains like barley and rye. There are known diseases and conditions that should avoid it such as celiac disease or people with known gluten sensitivity. Other conditions that should try to avoid it are people with ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid.  You should see a gastroenterologist if you have any of these problems.

There are many alternatives to products with gluten, although there is a glaring problem with most of them.  The glycemic index of many gluten free products is often higher than that of products with gluten.  Glycemic index is a rating of how fast after a carbohydrate is ingested that it will raise your blood sugar, ultimately causing spikes in your insulin secretion and promoting fat storage in an oversimplified explanation.

Diets high in any carbohydrates lead to weight gain for the majority of us, moderation is the key.  Some athletes in competition season may require more carbohydrates in their diets, but not if trying to cut weight in the off-season.  Your choice of carbohydrates is important to losing weight, and you should get most of them them from vegetables and fruits and some whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, Ezekiel bread and steel cut oats that are low on the glycemic index. The moral of the story: a gluten free cookie is still a cookie, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy and you can eat as many as you want.

Supplements: Things You Should Consider First

If you are considering taking a supplement to enhance your training, lose weight, or for health benefits, there are some factors you should take into consideration.

  1. There are supplement labels and there a food labels.  In order for something to get a food label, it has to be approved by the FDA. Most supplements have a supplement label and regulations are very loose.  The claims that the manufacturer makes are not regulated by the FDA so they can pretty much say whatever they want to say. However, within the supplement world, there are a few organizations that will put their stamp on a product certifying that what is on the label is actually in it, and that it doesn’t contain anything harmful such as steroids. A couple stamps you should look for are NSF (NSF International) and USP (U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention). Another label out there is GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) which ensures that the product meets certain manufacturing standards.  You’re going to pay a little more for USP and NSF labeled products, but at least you have some assurance of what you are getting.
  2. Many supplements have no known recommended daily allowances for human consumption.  In other words, it isn’t known how much you should take or what level of consumption could be harmful.  Just recently, the FDA asked supplement makers to stop using DMAA in products because there have been 86 illnesses or deaths associated with it.
  3. Do your research.  Take supplements that have studies done with humans that actually back up what they claim. A great example is Juice Plus+.  It has university research studies done showing that it actually helps improve many aspects of health, and it has a food label instead of a supplement label since it is made from fruits and veggies. It also has the NSF stamp on the bottle. Other supplements that have research behind them are Omega-3 Fish Oil supplements and Whey Protein or Whey Protein Isolate.
  4. Be wary of products that claim to be a magic pill. None of those supplements you hear about on the radio have research done specifically with them or have the USP or NSF label.  Nothing beats a good diet plan when it comes to losing weight anyway.

Chocolate Coffee Protein Shake

Protein shakes can be used as a meal replacement, especially for breakfast when we don’t have much time, or as a post work out shake (remember, drink within 45 minutes of finishing your work out). Sometimes I get bored of drinking the same protein shake all the time, so I like to mix it up a little bit here and there. I came up with this recipe:20140110_161659

  • 1 Scoop/Serving of Chocolate Protein Powder
  • 1 Packet of Instant Coffee
  • 1 Cup Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk
  • 4-5 Ice Cubes
  • 1 Spoonful of peanut butter (optional)

Blend in a Magic Bullet or your blender and enjoy!

Lasting Results

Every year when January comes, people think about changing something about their lives and it is usually related to weight loss.  As a personal trainer, it’s great for business, but I would also like to see changes to everyone’s lifestyles that make lasting results, year round so that the next year, you just keep doing what you’ve already been doing!

Here are a few habits I have noticed about people that have success losing weight and keeping it off:

  1. Make exercise or physical activity a part of your daily ritual, like brushing your teeth.  You don’t have to work out every day, just make more active decisions, like parking at the far end of the parking lot, get up from your desk a few times a day at work, take the stairs, walk the dog, etc.
  2. Make healthy foods convenient. Make meals ahead of time and keep it either in the freezer or refrigerator so that you always have something ready. Keep healthy snacks with you in the car or at work so that you avoid moments of weakness. When you’re in a hurry, make a meal replacement shake.
  3.  “Out of sight, out of mind” and “in sight, in mind”.  Keep unhealthy foods in your house put away, or better yet, don’t buy them!  Keep healthy foods where you can see them, like a basket of fruit on the kitchen counter.
  4. When you are browsing the fridge or the pantry, think first. Are you actually hungry? Don’t eat out of boredom, better yet go workout!
  5. Don’t justify eating ice cream because you worked out.  Just because you worked out doesn’t mean that you can eat whatever you want, you won’t gain any ground on losing weight.
  6. Don’t obsess about messing up your diet for one meal. Don’t beat yourself up; nobody is going to eat absolutely perfect all the time.  Don’t discourage yourself!

Why Foam Roll?

In my first session working with a new client, I always start with the use of a foam foam rollingroller. The first response is typically, “This really hurts!” or “Why are you making me do this?!?” My goal by writing this is to clarify the reasons why.

The technical term for what you are doing when you use a foam roller is Self-Myofascial Release, or SMR.   Here are a few reasons why it is a GOOD thing, even though it’s not always comfortable:  

–          Inhibit overactive muscles that cause movement compensations

–          Help reduce the side effects of trigger points

–          Improve flexibility and overall better movement

–          Reduce muscle soreness

Types of foam rollers:

–          Vary from firm to soft. Firm rollers provide more pressure.

–          Sport balls can be used as well. Soft being a tennis ball, firm being a baseball.

–          There are also textured rollers that give more pressure with points on the surface.

Guidelines for foam rolling:

–          Can be done everyday

–          Can be done on almost any muscle group

–          If lying on the floor is difficult, you can use a roller or a small ball against a wall.

–          Put as much pressure as you can tolerate on each body part you roll

–          Roll with good pressure for 30 seconds if you tolerate pain well. Roll for 90 seconds with light pressure if you don’t tolerate pain well.

A foam roller is something that you should have at home so you can use every day if needed. Here is a link to where I get mine: Foam Rollers

Source: National Academy of Sports Medicine Corrective Exercise Specialist Textbook

Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers

Why eat boring? This is healthy and has lots of flavor!Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers

–          2 LBS of Ground Turkey Breast

–          1 ½ Cup of Crumbled Feta Cheese

–          15 OZ Package of Frozen Spinach

–          1 ½ Cup of Oats

–          4 Eggs

–          1 ½ tsp Oregano

–          1 tsp Thyme

–          ½ tsp Basil

–          ½ tsp Marjoram

–          ½ tsp Onion Powder

–          ½ tsp Garlic Powder

Each burger patty is about 305 calories, 11 grams of carbs, 8 grams of fat, and 47 grams of protein.

Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. Grab a handful of the mix and form into a patty. Keep making patties until you have no more mix. You can either cook on a George Foreman grill, on your charcoal or gas grill on top of foil (may fall through the grate otherwise), or in a pan and cook on each side.

Serve up without the bun and then throw some veggies on the side!

Deadlift vs. Squat

Many people don’t know the difference and some use these terms interchangeably. There is a big difference between these two powerful lifts. The squat is a more knee dominant movement, placing great demand on the quadriceps. The deadlift is a hip dominant movement, requiring strength and mobility of the posterior chain of your body and less demand on the quads. They are both great lifts for strengthening your whole body, however which one you do depends on the training goal, and the particular goal for each training session.

In the deadlift, the hips shift backward first, with some knee bend. This loads up the glutes Deadlift-300x195and hamstrings as well as the quads. Since you are holding onto a weight, it also engages your upper back and your muscles for your grip, not to mention your core is engaged because it connects your upper back to your hips. It’s a practical lift for everyday life. What kills me is when someone has awesome form on a deadlift, and then they set the weight down by rounding their back. Rounding your back under a load = bad. The deadlift is all about keeping your low back arched and your shoulders back, aligning the spine in a position that won’t hurt it under load. The deadlift is also a foundation to learn other exercises such as the kettlebell swing or the Romanian deadlift also called a straight leg deadlift.

In the squat, your hips move down first, creating an end position where your lower leg and singlearmfrontsquattorso are parallel to each other if you took a picture and extended lines out from those segments of your body. It uses the same muscles as the deadlift, but in a different way. The knee bends to a greater angle and the load is more on the quads.  The upper back is either supporting something or holding something up near your shoulders, different than pulling up on something like in a deadlift.

I often hear from clients that before they worked with me that their back or knees hurt when doing a squat or a deadlift. Doing a deadlift or a squat doesn’t hurt you, your form hurts you. Unless there is an underlying orthopedic problem, it is always due to poor form. I cannot emphasize enough on learning the right technique.

Training John vs. Jane

The most common response when meeting a new female client is “I want to tone up, but I don’t want to get bulky.” For the most part, training has the same effect of both genders. Training can help you improve strength, build muscle, lose fat, gain speed, build bone and other connective tissues, improve brain function and change your metabolism. However, there are a few differences between men and women.

  1. Men and women have the same strength potential. Muscle is muscle, it doesn’t matter what gender you are. Women just tend to be smaller in size, so they don’t usually produce the same force as men. Because of the difference in hormones, men tend to have less body fat and more muscle mass than women of the same height and weight.
  2. Women tend to have larger fat cells and have more subcutaneous fat under the skin. Men have more fat stored as visceral fat, or fat around the internal organs (which is also the unhealthiest). This difference is why women store fat around their upper arms, hips and thighs and men store fat in their belly.
  3. Women have a different resting metabolism than men. Women tend to use more carbs as fuel at rest, and burn more fat during exercise than men. Men are just the opposite. This explains why women are better ultra-endurance athletes.
  4. Women have different strength ratios between agonist and antagonist muscle pairs. An example is that women have more strength in their quadriceps than they do in their hamstrings. This difference is a possible explanation why women are at a higher risk to tear their ACLs.

Here’s the practical application of all of this:

The best model of training for fat loss consists of weights and intervals. Women should stay away from just doing cardio! It’s important to have a baseline of cardiovascular fitness, but it will not help women lose fat. Women start with less muscle mass, so the fear of using heavy weights and getting “bulky” is not a real issue. You have to train really hard to gain size for either gender, period.

Due to the difference in strength ratios between muscle pairs, many women are “quad dominant” and need more attention to training the posterior chain (hamstrings and calf muscles). People with quad dominancy tend to have trouble engaging their core without engaging their legs first. This can be helped by working with me.

When it comes to diet, women need to be more carb conscious than men do. Diets that consist of lean protein, good fats, and veggies and fruits lead to gaining lean muscle and losing fat. Men can tolerate more complex carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, or sweet potatoes better than women and still lose weight. Carbohydrate sources should be coming from your vegetables and fruits. I say “veggies and fruits” instead of “fruits and veggies” for a reason. That reason is sugar, and vegetables have a lot less than fruit so there should be more emphasis on eating veggies. Also, because women burn more fat than men during exercise, they don’t need to replenish as much carbohydrates in their post workout shake or meal as men do.