Fitness Myth Busting Part 1: Lactic Acid

The fitness world is full of myths, legends, and downright BS. Sometimes I think it’s harder for people to sift through the nonsense on the internet than it is for them to complete their first workout.

Should I lift weights? Should I do cardio? Should I NEVER do steady state cardio? Will I get bulky? Higher reps, lower reps, heavy, light…wait, WHAT?

There are a thousand questions you can ask about fitness and exercise, and odds are you’ll get a different answer for each of them depending on who you ask. While there are some things out there that are just a matter of differing opinions, there are others that are continuously shared in the fitness world, despite heaps of evidence and science disproving (or at least strongly questioning) their validity.

I was going to take today to talk about 3 of the top three fitness myths out there, and why you need to stop believing in them, stat. However, once I got started on the first one, I realized it was a post in itself. The other two in this series will be coming soon, but for now, myth #1!

The Lactic Acid Myth

We’ve all heard it: if you work out at a high intensity, lactic acid will build up in your muscles. And if you don’t do something to “get it out” at the end of your workout, it will stay there and cause soreness later on. I’ve always pictured this like Ghostbusters slime that seeps into your muscle belly and just sits there for all of eternity.

So, what’s the truth here? Well, get ready for the shock of your life:

Lactic acid doesn’t “build up” in muscles. In fact, lactic acid basically doesn’t exist.

*Mic drop*

whatdidshesay

So, that thing you’ve been hearing about since your days as a middle school track star is nonexistent? Than why oh why does everyone keep talking about it? That’s honestly a good question. So here’s the breakdown:

When you exercise, your body uses different substrates to create energy for your muscles to continue to contract (so that you don’t end up a heap of Ghostbusters Slime on the floor).Energy from your muscles comes first from carbohydrates and fats, and then in more dire times, from protein (muscle tissue). The first and easiest source of energy for your working muscles are carbohydrates, which can be turned into energy rather quickly. However, the one downfall to this is that your body needs plenty of oxygen to convert glycogen into energy, and when we do high intensity exercise — think hill sprints, sled pushes, heavy KB swings, sets of dreaded burpees– the body lacks enough oxygen to continue this energy making process.

So instead of just shutting down, since our bodies are wild and crazy machines that power through some of the most amazing circumstances, lactate is formed.  Essentially (without going into too much detail and losing all of you), during normal aerobic energy production, glucose is broken down to form pyruvate, which is then converted into energy through a series of steps that utilize oxygen. When oxygen isn’t available, however, pyruvate is converted into lactate. Lactate allows the glucose breakdown and energy production to continue, even when you’re sucking wind and have very little oxygen on demand for your cells.

crazy-dog

If all of that science talk makes you feel like this, I apologize. It’s almost over! 

Lactate, commonly called “Lactic Acid” is then utilized during those periods of low oxygen. And I’m talking just a few minutes at a time here, not days upon days of some slime sitting inside of your muscles making you sore.

But, here’s the catch that most people don’t realize: once that period of low oxygen is over and the body recovers from that last sprint, sled push or set of burpees, lactate is converted back into pyruvate and the oxygen utilizing process of energy production continues. Thus, lactate is almost immediately cleared from your muscles after a tough workout session; it is only there for the short time that your muscles absolutely need it for energy production. Once it’s need has passed (that is, once your high intensity bout has finished), the body gets rid of it rather quickly and efficiently. Converting that built up lactate into pyruvate allows your muscles to keep contracting (and your exercise session to continue).

So, lactic acid doesn’t build up in my muscles?

Well, yes and no. During those times of high intensity exercise — I’m talking short bouts of about 1-3 minutes here, lactate does build up in your muscle tissue. And it can build up to quite high levels — this creates the burning sensation you feel in your muscles at the end of a hill sprint; that feeling that your legs can’t possibly take another step.

But after that high intensity bout, that lactate does not just hang around. It does not become comfortable, kick it’s shoes off, and crash on your bicep’s couch for a few days. It is just about immediately converted back into a usable form for your muscles, so that you don’t end up in a sweaty heap on the floor.

This cycle can happen over and over again, depending on your fitness level and “lactate threshold”, which is why we are able to do things like HIIT incline hill sprints, and still have legs to walk on afterward. The recovery period is key when training into your lactate zone, and is what allows you to do rep after rep of those torturous hill sprints. Without the recovery period which allows more oxygen for energy production, your reps will be finite. You will reach a point where your body is unable to continue producing energy for muscular contractions; otherwise known as failure.

So Why did You Say Lactic acid doesn’t exist?

Because it’s a misnomer, and one that people overuse in the fitness world. Yes, lactate is very important when training at high intensities for short bouts; it allows us to take our training to the next level. However, that’s all it is. Lactic acid is not a byproduct of lactate that hangs around and creates soreness, it’s simply a different name for lactate. That’s it. It really is that simple. They are one in the same– tomato, tomahto if you will.

Now, all of this being said, lactate is very important to training, especially if you are trying to improve performance, or perform at higher intensities for a longer period of time, as in cycling or running road races. Or heck, just squeezing out a couple more hill sprint reps. But training to improve your lactate threshold is a completely different post for a different time (and one that you can find a thousand articles about on the interwebs with a quick search).

The bottom line for this post is that I hope you understand one thing: lactic acid does not build up in your muscles long term and it is not what causes that crippling delayed onset muscle soreness after a tough gym session. And next time someone tells you otherwise, hopefully you’ll be prepared to let them know that any lactate that did form during your workout has cleared rather quickly on its own, thank you very much.

If you want to really sound like a smarty pants, you can even throw around some fancy words like pyruvate or glycolysis. Now go drop some knowledge bombs on those gym bros!

 

20 Week Update: Halfway There

So here I am at 20 weeks! My, these past few months have flown by and it seems so hard to believe that I’m halfway to having this little one in my arms.

14 and 20 weeks

Here I am at 14 weeks (left) and 20 weeks (right). Things sure are changing quickly, but I’m still feeling pretty great! 

First things first, for those who don’t follow me on Instagram, we found out a couple of weeks ago that we’re having a little girl!! It’s funny because I was 100% convinced we were having a boy (for no reason at all, just a gut feeling), but I couldn’t be more excited to bring a strong little lady into this world. Let’s not talk about the fact that my mothers intuition is already way off — hopefully that gets a little better as time goes on.

itsagirl

At this time, baby is the size of a banana. That seems so big to me! She’s in the super fast growth phase now, so things will be changing rapidly from here on in.

How am I feeling?

Overall, I’ve been feeling great for the last few weeks — I’m still pretty tired overall, and forget about me being a functioning human if I don’t get at least 8-9 hours of sleep, but no real symptoms besides that. I’m just kind of cruising along at this point, fascinated by my growing belly and in awe of the fact that this baby will be here in just a few short months!

Cravings?

As far as cravings go, I haven’t really had any super strong cravings that I can think of. I’m still loving fruit, and tomatoes have really been on my mind lately as well, but there hasn’t really been anything that I just have to have. I must say, I’m kind of waiting for some weird cravings to hit, because right now my eating habits are just about identical to my non-pregnant eating habits. And that’s quite boring, huh?

Workouts?

My workouts have continued to be pretty normal in terms of frequency/duration, although the intensity has taken a hit. I am still running about once per week, spinning once or twice per week as well. I also have been walking a ton, and frequently head out to walk some of the super steep hills by my house. Since I’m not lifting quite as much as I would like, I’ve got to keep these glutes in shape some how, and hills do a pretty good job of that!

As for workout intensity, knowing when to rest is key. There are some days when I know I can’t push through, and there are some days when I feel totally “normal” in terms of energy. For instance, the hill I run near my house is very steep and pretty long. Pre-pregnancy, I used to run all the way up and down without resting, for anywhere from 6-12 reps. Now, I run about 2/3 of the way up, walk the rest of the way up, and lightly jog down. I do this for only about 6 reps now before my body says “ok, that’s enough!”.

It’s all about paying close attention to the cues I get from my body on a daily basis.

And while we should all always “listen”, this is more important than ever before since now I’m caring for a little one inside of me, and not just myself! There have been a few times when I’ve done too much, and I’ve paid for it in the form of being completely lethargic and feeling horrible for the rest of the day. Trust me, I’ve learned not to hit that point again.

As far as the weight room goes, I have been lifting 2-3 days per week, usually full body lifts. If I’m feeling particularly lethargic one day, I’ll skip lower body stuff and focus on my upper body as I feel that stresses my body less overall. I’ve learned to really listen to my body well, and it’s gotten very good at telling me when I’ve pushed a bit too hard or worked out too many days in a row. I’ve come to really appreciate off days, and always feel 100% again after taking a day to totally rest.

Since I can only do so much to control what my body is going to do from the chest down during this pregnancy, I figure the one thing I have a decent amount of control over is my upper body (arms/shoulders). One main goal that I have for myself is to continue doing unassisted chin ups for as long as I can…and I can still do a couple! I also do a few sets of band assisted chin ups/pull ups just about every day to maintain my strength in this area. And surprisingly enough, my strength has actually gone up in some of my main upper body lifts, which I’m pretty happy with. I figure the longer I can keep doing unassisted chin ups, the easier they’ll be after baby when the weight starts to come off.

Aches/Pains/Problems?

No consistent pain yet, although my SI joints do like to scream at me every now and then. I’ve found if I’m really diligent with foam rolling and also lacrosse ball rolling along my sacrum, I can keep it under control pretty well at this point. Other than that, my body seems to be responding pretty well thus far, and nothing has become too angry with me. I do get some pains every now and then if I don’t drink enough water or if I do a little bit too much, but I recognize those quickly and rest up when I need to.

Sleep?

Luckily I’m still sleeping well at this point! I haven’t invested in a pregnancy pillow yet, although I’ve had many people tell me that they’re totally worth the money. I’ve always been a side sleeper though, so I guess my body is used to sleeping in this position. I suppose as I get a little bit bigger a supportive pillow will probably be necessary, but I’ve been putting that off for as long as I can.

I think that’s about it right? Is there anything else to include in one of these updates? Anyway, happy Monday everyone, I hope you all have a great week!

 

 

 

Good Reads: Tackling Fitness and Nutrition Myths

My oh my, things have been a bit crazy around here this week! I apologize for not getting any posts up, but I’ll hopefully have some updates for you soon.

Just a reminder for those of you in the Boston area, bootcamp classes will be starting on Tuesday, May 17 (that’s next week!) and I hope to see some of you there!!

Today I’ve brought you some good reads from the past few weeks; things that have caught my eye and that I think everyone should read.

 

Shut Up About Toxins – From Erika at Hurst Strength. Think you need to go on some sort of crazy juice cleanse to remove the toxins from your body? Nah. Erika reminds us that that’s what our liver is for and breaks it all down in a pretty bad ass, no BS way.

4 Reasons Rest Days are Just as Important as Time in the Gym – From Athena at Achieve With Athena. Athena’s got it right here, rest days are just as important if not MORE important than your days in the gym! Think you’re getting stronger while you’re at the gym? Spoiler alert: Not quite. Read up for some more insight on this from this awesome lady.

5 Myths About Cardio Exercise  – Another from Athena. (She’s crushing it lately). For some people, cardio is the Holy Grail of exercise, and for others it’s the 8th deadly sin. Athena gets into some common myths and gives us the info we really need on this heart healthy form of exercise!

The Real (And Surprising) Reasons Healthy Movement Matters – From Precision Nutrition. If you read one thing on this list, read this. Yes, it’s a bit long. Yes, it’s worth every second of your time. Move well, be well — that’s about it.

Why You Can’t Lose Weight On A Diet – From The NY Times. This one was sent to me by a great friend and it is quite the interesting read! We’ve all seen articles and posts lately about the tactics used on The Biggest Loser and why they aren’t effective — but what if losing weight slowly ends up with the same outcome? Why is it so hard to keep off weight that is lost?

Enjoy these reads everyone–  hopefully you all get some downtime this weekend to sit with a nice warm cup of coffee and peruse all of this good stuff. And maybe, just maybe, if this beautiful spring weather holds up (Bostonians), we could all spend some quality time outside this weekend! Just think, a comfy chair or blanket, the sun shining down, and some good reads at your fingertips. Sounds like a plan!

 

 

 

News, Updates, and New Services

Wow… what do we have here? News? Updates?

AND new services? Things are just getting wild.

Seriously though, I have a lot to tell you guys and I figured the best way would be to get everything out there in one post! So here we go. There are lots of things going on around here, such as…

Group Fitness.

The Group Fitness Page has been updated, and on it you’ll see that we are starting up with bootcamp in just a couple of weeks! The week of May 15th will be our starting date, which means that Tuesday May 17 will be our first class. If you’re new around here, I run group fitness classes here in the Jamaica Plain/Roslindale area of Boston on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 6:30 -7:30 am. Check out the group fitness page for more details, and come check us out! We have a great time, and I always love seeing new faces.

My main philosophy for these group fitness sessions is that it should be a positive experience for everyone. I will not get in your face and scream, nor will I run you into the ground just to say that I could. I will provide well thought out, challenging, but fun workouts for participants, and my only request is that you give everything your best shot. Can’t do a full push up (yet)? That’s okay! Everything we do can be modified to any level and is done so without judgement. 

group fitness 1

This year, classes will be moved to Fallon Field in Roslindale. It’s a great park with plenty of parking surrounding it, a couple of killer hills, some stairs to work that booty with, and a playground to get a little bit creative with our workouts. We’ll bring the same quality content that we had last year, in a new, improved (in my opinion) location. Anyone and everyone is welcome — women, men, bring a friend! Can’t wait to see some of you there!

group fitness 2

We will also be starting a new Facebook Group this year for group fitness, as a place where we can build a little bit of community for those who join class. Support, pictures, announcements — it will all be there. Don’t miss out!

RondeauGroupFitness

New Services Coming (Very) Soon:

Starting on June 1, the following will be available here at I Train Therefore I Eat:

1. Online Custom Fitness Programs.

Accepting a certain number of clients per month, I’ll be offering fully customized 12 week workout programs here on the website. It will start with a questionnaire all about you and your activity level/lifestyle/goals, and then I’ll develop a plan that is specific to you. There will be a few different options for this that will include more/less features, so stay tuned for a new page that will break all of these down for you individually! These will include feedback about workouts/form, Skype sessions, email access for questions, and much more. Get the personalized touch without having to shell out hundreds per session at your local gym.

2. 8 Week Fitness Programs For All.

In addition to custom workout programs, I will also be offering a couple of different 8 week workout programs that you can purchase here with just one click! I understand that some people just can’t afford a custom plan or personal training, but still would appreciate a little bit of structure in their workouts. There will be a few different “tracks” to follow, depending on where you work out — in the gym or at home. These will not be customized person to person, but will be offered at a fraction of the price.

3. In Home Personal Training (local to Boston).

On a limited schedule, I will be offering in-home personal training to those local to the Boston area. Have a home gym but you’re not sure what to do with it? Don’t have a home gym but also don’t have time to leave due to having kids at home, working from home, etc? I’m your girl.

4. Outdoor Personal Training (local to Boston).

Again, for those who are looking for some personalized training outside of their normal gym or outside of the home, along with bootcamp sessions I will be available on a limited basis to train locally outdoors. There’s almost nothing better than a great workout outside on a beautiful day, and the possibilities are endless. Let’s get moving!

New Services Also Coming Soon:

Later on this summer, the following services will also be offered here at I Train Therefore I Eat:

1. Personal Health Coaching.

I will be completing my health coach certification early this summer, and soon after that will start accepting new clients who are looking to make improvements to their quality of life. From fitness to nutrition, to making decisions that impact your life in a positive way, this will be a great service for anyone who feels “stuck in a rut”, but can’t seem to figure out how to make those changes. This will be offered both locally and with distance coaching (online), and I couldn’t be more excited to begin to offer this to all of you.

2. “Healthy At Home” web/in person services.

There will also be some additional services offered with health coaching, such as “pantry clean outs”, grocery shopping 101 trips, webinars, etc. Webinars will be available to all near and far, and the others will be offered on a local case by case basis. These will be part of health coaching programs, and will serve to offer you the very best in healthy living.

So that’s it! Big news, more services, and I couldn’t be more excited for this summer to hit. I hope you all will join me in some of these endeavors, and also that you will spread the word to friends who you think may be interested. I couldn’t offer any of this without my faithful readers, so hopefully you’re as excited about this journey as I am!

 

 

Cranberry Almond Energy Bites

I don’t know about you, but I’m a snack-a-holic.

I’m one of those people who has to have snacks on hand — in the purse, in my desk at work,etc — because if emergency hits, snacks are essential. And by emergency, I mean it’s been more than 2 hours since I’ve eaten. 

I kid, I kid.

But I do keep snacks on hand because while I can go more than 2 hours without eating, when the hunger monster does strike it’s really not pretty. Plus, without healthy snacks at the ready, being hangry can do some crazy things to the brain, such as forcing you to down an entire bag of Goldfish crackers without stopping to breathe. Not that I know from personal experience.

On this token though, keeping healthy snacks on hand can be a challenge in and of itself! Many prepackaged bars and other convenience foods, whether labeled “healthy” or not, often include tons of sugar, preservatives, or ingredients that just don’t belong in my body on a daily basis. While there are a handful of bars and pre made snacks out there that I have come to love due to their short, natural ingredient lists, sometimes it’s nice to make your own. Am I right?

Today’s recipe can be thrown together in about 15 minutes, and will give you enough energy bites to last the week. Unless you fall so in love with them that you down them by the handful. Be careful — you’ve been warned!

I made these last week on a whim–  I just threw a bunch of ingredients together in my kitchen and ended up loving the flavor combination. Not only did I love them, but so did Will, and trust me when I say that he’s the biggest critic of bars/snacks/etc.

And because of this, I decided to throw them together again this weekend, only this time I actually measured everything so that I could share them with all of you!

cranberry almond bites 2

Cranberry Almond

cranberry almond bites 4

As the recipe states, these will make about 16-18 bites. Due to the combination of ground almonds (I just pulsed mine in my Vitamix about 6-10 times) and peanut butter, these are calorie and energy dense!! Just 2 make a great mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, or as a pick me up before a workout. A great mix of protein, healthy fats, and a small amount of carbohydrates, these are sure to give you just the energy boost you need when hunger strikes.

cranberry almond bites 5

*Note: I use crunch peanut butter because that’s my preference — I’m a texture gal! Of course you could substitute creamy here. Also, if you are using unsalted peanut butter, I would add a pinch of salt to really bring out all of the flavors.

Enjoy!

Workout Wednesday: Full Body Lift for Beginners

Years ago, when I first got into weight lifting, I remember how aimlessly I would wander around the gym trying to figure out what the heck I should be doing. I knew I wanted to get stronger, and I had a great working knowledge of most of the equipment, but it was putting it all together that was giving me the most trouble. I found myself just doing things haphazardly — a few bicep curls here, some walking lunges there, and then calling it a day.

Sure, I was beginning my journey of building muscle and getting stronger, but I definitely wasn’t maximizing my time in the gym. And I certainly wasn’t getting the most out of my fitness experience that I could have.

Since then, I find that this is true for many people who are just starting to explore the world of strength training. Maybe they have been shown how to do a few lifts with good form, but without a program, what does that matter? Many women, especially, who are new to the weight room might be scared off because of this (maybe leading to the lack of women in the weights area, as discussed in this recent post). Even if they’re not totally scared off though, they  might just do a couple of things and then go back to what they are used to. A few exercises are better than none, but what would be even better would be to go in there with a plan, lift like a boss, and know that you’re getting the best work in.

Today’s full body lift is for the person (man or woman) who has a basic understanding of movement patterns but isn’t quite sure yet what to do with them. As I’m a believer that beginners should start with full body days before moving on to upper/lower body splits, this will target the whole body and hit the major movement patterns that form the base for all of our daily movements.

Full Body Lift

One important thing to remember is that this shouldn’t take you very long! When I first gave one of my clients her first program, one of her early questions was “These workouts are only taking me about 45 minutes, shouldn’t I be doing more?” And the answer is no! At least at the beginning, many highly effective workouts can be done in an hour or less. There is no need for everyone to be spending two hours in the gym every day, and frankly many of us just don’t have time for that. As long as you’re working hard and doing the work you need to do, the time is really the least of your concerns.

Goblet Squat – Hold a dumbbell, upright, at your chest. It should be right against your chest, not out in front of you which can strain your shoulders and upper back. Starting with your legs at about shoulder width apart, sit your hips back into your squat, imagining that you’re squatting between your hips — not pushing your knees forward like many people want to do. Keep your core engaged and back flat during the entire movement.

DB Bench Press – DB = Dumbbell. Choose two dumbbells that you know you can lift. Start out on the lighter side for your first set to get the movement down and to warm your shoulders up a little bit. After this warm up set, then go into your 3 work sets. Lying flat on your back, feet flat on the floor, engage your core and squeeze your glutes. Begin with dumbbells at chest height with palms facing in front of you. Raise up over your chest at an even pace, then lower carefully just to chest height — not below.

DB Romanian Deadlift – Again, this is for someone who has been shown the proper movement patterns, i.e. hip hinging. If this is not familiar to you, work with someone to practice this movement before trying to load it with weight. Standing with feet hip width apart and “soft” knees (not bent but not locked), hold 2 dumbbells in front of your thighs. Keeping your core engaged and shoulders pulled back (lats turned “on”), push your hips back until your torso bends forward. Dumbbells should be traveling right along your thighs, not farther out in front of you.  Keep pushing hips back until your dumbbells reach about knee level or you feel a tightness in your hamstrings. Allow your knees to bend slightly with this motion. Squeeze your glutes and return to the top position, being careful to not over arch your back at the top.

Bent Over Single Arm Row – For this you will be at a bench with one knee and corresponding hand resting on the bench. The other leg will have your foot on the floor, and you will be holding the dumbbell at that side. Bend so that your back is flat, and DB is down by the side of your down foot. Keeping palm facing in and elbow tucked towards your body, raise elbow so that dumbbell ends up next to your side. Squeeze your back muscles between your shoulder blades, then return to bottom position. It is extremely important to keep your back flat during this entire exercise.

Dumbbell Rear Lunge – Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step one foot back into a lunge. Make sure that you step back and then straight down, instead of letting your front knee fall forward over your foot. Alternate feet to complete set.

Standing Cable Row – Set the cable machine so that it is at about waist height. Holding the handles so that your palms are facing each other, stand with your core braced and knees slightly bent. Squeezing those back muscles between your shoulder blades, pull arms back, elbows bent, until hands are about at your sides. Slowly return to start.

Standing Pallof Press – Check out this post for explanation if you missed it!

Side Plank –Pretty self explanatory, no? For more of a challenge with this, stack your feet one on top of the other. For a little bit of an easier exercise, stagger your feet one in front of the other.

Key Points:

  • Know your abilities. If any of these are foreign to you, consider working with a professional in person to learn the specific movement patterns of the squat, hip hinge, push and pull.
  • Always begin with a dynamic warmup to get your body  moving properly before you load any movements. This is not optional! For a dynamic warmup, click here.
  • When working with weights, be conscious of form at all times. Yes, this includes when you’re picking up your weights from the floor — never let that back round out, especially when there is weight on the other end.
  • Take your time! Don’t rush through these. Make each movement slow, deliberate, and take care of your form. Rest in between sets and in between exercises.
  • Challenge yourself! If you go through this and don’t feel like you did a whole heck of a lot, that means you need heavier weight. Don’t go too far too soon, but use weights that are challenging, that you can’t just fly through each exercise without thinking about it.
  • Enjoy! You’re getting stronger today! 

Workout Wednesday: Train Your Core Without Crunches (Or Planks!)

Ah, core exercises.

What comes to mind when someone says “ab workout?”

Is it the sit up test that you did in the 5th grade gym class Presidential Challenge? (God, I hated that).

Is it planks for minutes upon grueling minutes?

Unfortunately, core workout for many people falls into those two categories, or at least variations of those two things. The good news, though, is that there are far more (and better) exercises that you can do to train your core without having to suffer through either of these.

Not to mention, being pregnant, there are certain exercises that I now have to avoid, such as crunches, for various reasons. A)Laying on my back is a no-no, as it can occlude blood flow to the baby. B) Diastasis recti is a thing. A thing I don’t want.

But, BUT! This is not just a pregnancy post. Truth be told, crunches are not in my repertoire of core exercises anyway, and they haven’t been for quite some time due to many theories about repetitive spinal flexion, and the fact that I really don’t think they do much of anything, anyway. Planks are something I do, but I don’t utilize them as a training staple — and I certainly don’t believe in super long held planks as something that is necessary or functional for real life. Why not train our core in a way that we may be using it in our daily lives?

The main purpose of our core is to stabilize the rest of our body, correct? To provide a strong base from which our limbs move, while at the same time protecting our spine from unhealthy movements. So unless someone can tell me why they think sit ups and crunches are the best way to do that, we’re going to move on to some much better, and more effective core exercises.

And the bonus is that these are safe for the mama’s-to-be as well! Keep in mind that these are my favorites — of course there are more out there. But try to swap out your planks or crunches for some of these full-body core activation exercises, and see if you can feel the difference !

Carries –  These are great because they can be done anywhere — at home or in the gym. All you need is a dumbbell or kettle bell, and a little bit of space to walk. Carries are a great way to engage your core while moving other parts of your body, which is extremely functional for real life (carrying a heavy bag of groceries or a heavy suitcase/duffel comes to mind!)

There are 3 different positions you can utilize for carries. From most advanced to most beginner-friendly, try one of these soon:

Overhead Carry: Make sure that your arm holding the weight remains completely straight, with elbow right next to your ear (not translating in front of or behind your head). Grip the weight tightly, be conscious to not let your shoulders creep up by your ears (pull your shoulder blades back and down). Keeping your core engaged, walk slowly for a predetermined distance — usually 10-20 yards to start, but this will depend on your level. And you can always turn and walk “laps” if you don’t have that much space. 

OH carry KB

Rack Position Carry: Carry the weight at your chest, with elbow bent and palm facing your body. Your knuckles will be just about resting on your collar bone. The most important things here are to make sure your wrist is strong and straight, not bending under the weight, and also to keep shoulders tightly down. Keep your elbow in by your side, brace your core, and walk. 

rack position carry KB

Farmers Carry: These will be done with the weight down by your side, and are the most beginner friendly of the carries. These can usually be done with a heavier weight, which will benefit your grip strength as well. Keeping your torso upright (not bending towards or away from the weight), keep your core engaged and walk straight ahead. Make sure to keep your shoulders tucked down — again not letting that shoulder on your weighted side creep up by your ears. 

farmers carry KB

With carries, I generally will do 2-3 reps of overhead or rack position carries a couple of times per week, transitioning from overhead to rack position when I become fatigued and can’t hold a proper position anymore. Remember, proper form is much more important than doing one of these for a long distance!

Pallof Press – Pallof Press is another amazing core exercise, one that I utilize with almost all of my rehab patients as well as my personal training/group fitness clients. I learned this one from one of the greats — Tony Gentilcore (if you don’t read his blog, you’re missing out BIG time). Again, it engages your core in a very functional way, allowing you to brace and stabilize your core while moving your upper body limbs.

standing pallof press

To start, stand next to a cable machine or resistance band that is about at chest height. The band/cable should be at your side. Grasp the band, standing with core braced and knees slightly bent, an “athletic position”. Bring the band to your chest, and then straight out in front of you until arms are straight. You will be using your core to avoid letting it twist you back towards the cable or band attachment. Remember to breathe! 

kneeling pallof press

An alternate position here is a half kneeling position, where your “down” leg is the one that is closest to the band attachment/cable machine. The arm positioning and core bracing cues will be the same. 

Wood choppers- Similar to the Pallof Press, wood choppers can be done with either a cable machine at the gym or resistance bands, that are attached at a height that is a little bit taller than you, or at least at shoulder height. Standing with your core engaged and knees slightly bent, begin the movement holding the band high up on the side that it is attached. Keeping your arms straight, bring the band/cable down in a diagonal pattern across your body, ending low on the opposite side. Complete reps on one side before turning and completing on the opposite side.

Standing wood chopper abs

Similar to Pallof Press, these can also be done in a 1/2 kneeling position to increase the challenge a little bit. 

kneeling woodchopper abs

I’m not sure why I look so sad here..I promise I wasn’t! :) 

Land Mines- Land mines are one of my favorite core exercises, but they do require a barbell so they may need to be done at the gym, unless you have a very impressive home gym! If you don’t have a “Land Mine” attachment for the barbell — essentially a set up that attaches at one end to let it pivot, these can still be done easily, all you’ll need is a corner of the room. Place one end of the barbell in a corner to keep it from rolling around. Pick up the other end, and hold it at chest height — you may have to play around a little bit with hand positioning to find the right fit for you. I tend to hold with my Left hand above my Right hand on the base of the barbell, just because that is more comfortable for me.

Bring the barbell straight out in front of you, then slowly and with control, bring it down by your right side, keeping your left arm straight. Use your core to then swing the barbell back up and down to the left side, this time keeping your right arm straight. As you are moving the barbell from side to side, your goal is to keep your torso completely still, not letting it rotate with the weight of the barbell.

landmine 2

Landmine 1

These are pretty advanced and I wouldn’t start with any weight on the barbell at first — just those 45 pounds goes a long way!

Readers: Do you utilize any of these in your training? What are your favorite core exercises?