Fitness

  • 5 Trainers Share Their 10 Best Tips for Getting in Shape

    Maybe you’re designing your own workout and diet plan and could use a little expert advice. Or perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a trainer you love and trust. But playing the field can be fun when it comes to fitness, diet and lifestyle advice. So here’s your chance to go on a speed dating session with other trainers without feeling like you’ve cheated on your everyday CrossFit coach.

    Here, five CrossFit coaches share their favorite ten lifestyle, exercise and diet tips that you can use everywhere from the grocery store to the gym:

    Tom Duer

    kc1Coach at CrossFit Pittsburgh, CEO of Pittsburgh Fitness Project and Founder of Tom Duer Fitness

    Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.

    “In order to master movements and get the most out of everything,” says Duer. “Learn to master the movement and learn technique before moving on to speed.”

    The advantages of polishing your form are many, according to Duer. Good technique helps you “get more work out of work,” get most out of the exercise experience and stay healthy.

    Approach recovery as seriously as you do your workouts.

    “Become friends with your foam roller and lacrosse ball,” Duer advises. “By maximizing recovery you can then maximize each workout.”

    Brandon Mancine

    kc2Owner of B-Fit Personal Training/Brandon Mancine Fitness in San Antonio, Texas

    Choose one change.

    Mancine refers to statistics presented in Leo Babauta’s best-selling book, The Power of Less when he advises clients to start slow.

    “When making nutritional changes, I first refer my clients to a study that showed, over a 30-day period, making one nutrition change had a 55 percent success rate. Making two changes dropped [the rate] to 15 percent and three dropped [success] further still -- to less than 1 percent,” says Mancine, who is a nutritionist as well as a certified personal trainer. “In the name of setting people up for success, I will have them choose from a few options I give on the one change they will make.”

    The usual options Mancine presents are:

    1. Have a protein rich breakfast every morning with in the first hour of waking.
    2. Batch prep food in casseroles or crock pots.
    3. Cut out all starch.

    Depending on the individual situation and the person's health history, he may offer a few other options, or one of the changes listed above won’t be offered. Mancine also emphasizes accountability for his clients.

    “I have them set up support systems with family and friends to hold them to the one they chose. I, of course, follow up with them as well.”

    Learn the movement, then challenge the movement.

    Adding intensity at the expense of form is asking for injuries, Mancine says.

    “I will find movement patterns that my athletes are efficient in and we will add intensity to those. I will give them homework to improve their current ability to move,” Mancine says of his coaching technique. “As mobility increases, we are able to incorporate more into their workouts. On the flip side, if a person looks to add intensity beyond what their capable of doing, this will lead to injury at some point. It all comes back to leaving your ego at the door and being proud of what you have accomplished on your way out.”

    Wendy Shafranski

    kc3Owner of CrossFit Vero Beach in Vero Beach, Fla.

    Think beyond the WOD.

    Sometimes, you can barely squeeze a workout into your packed schedule. But when you have time to do even a few minutes more, try a variety of activities that’ll make you fitter both in and out of the weight room.

    “The beauty of CrossFit is its ability to get you fit without a major time commitment. But a little more time spent on honing skills, strength and techniques that have transferability to the sport of fitness will also make you more fit,” Shafranski says. “Join your gym's barbell club. Spend some time working on gymnastics. Develop your strict pulling and pressing strength. Carve out 10 minutes after the WOD to strengthen your midline or dedicate a day to work on rowing or running intervals. Before you know it, you're leaner, fitter and more of a beast at the gym!”

    Stephen Gizzi

    kc4Owner and head trainer at Left Coast CrossFit in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

    Find persistence partners.

    Consistence is the key to getting and staying in shape, and friends who expect to see you at the gym can be the motivation you need to get out of bed on those dark, cold mornings to complete your Frans.

    “If you aren't making friends at your box you need to find a new one! Find a gym where you have friends that hold you accountable and that you look forward to seeing every week,” Gizzi says. “When you think an extra hour of sleep sounds a lot better than ‘Fran’ it might just be that extra push you need to get out of bed.”

    Carbs are not the enemy.

    “Get your nutrition timing down, and carbs can be your best friend on the road to getting in shape. Most people have a pretty good idea of what they should and should not eat. What a lot of people don't realize is how timing can be just as important as what you eat,” says Gizzi. “Get enough carbs to fuel and recover from your workouts and, not only will your workouts be more productive in the moment (i.e. PRs), but you will build more muscle, and have more energy throughout the day.”

    Gizzi recommends the resources and advice found on the Renaissance Periodization site when it comes to timing your food intake (you can also check out our tips on pre- and post-workout nutrition).

    Matt Kinback

    kc5Coach at TAS CrossFit in Tampa, Fla., and director of marketing and product testing at Clever Training

    Regiment your routine.

    Everyone’s workout is going to look a little different, and that’s okay. The key is deciding what fits your body and schedule best and making activity and everyday priority.

    “A lot of people today looking to get into shape or maintaining shape understand the importance of getting themselves into a regimented gym routine, whether it's working out 5 days a week, 3 days on - one day off, once in the morning and once in the afternoon,” Kinback says. “Everyone has a different standard for what they consider a ‘gym routine.’ Whatever it is, it is important to stick to it and make time out of your day to do it! Whether you have 15 minutes or an hour, get out there and sweat once a day!”

    Your diet needs to be as routine as your gym routine.

    “Many times, people who work out think that ‘they can eat whatever they want, since they work out!’ This is a common misconception. I'll share with you my habits and how I encourage others to do the same. I eat three very balanced meals every day and fill in with healthy snacks and proteins,” says Kinback.

    “My secret is not deviating much from my daily regimen. I tend to eat the same (or similar things every day). I shop at the beginning of every week and plan my meals out ahead of time. So, come Sunday evening I know what I will be eating for dinner on Wednesday night! I always allow for some cheat meals (out to dinner/drinks) with friends on Friday and/or Saturday. I find if I maintain on my ‘meal plan’ during the week, throwing in a couple of ‘off the plan’ meals is just fine.”

    Kinback’s daily diet looks something like this and he encourages others looking to get into shape or maintain peak physical fitness to following a similar plan:

    Morning:

    • Wake up and enjoy a morning drink of lemon detox water - including cayenne pepper, lemon and ginger - which is good for hydration and clears out the system before a workout
    • Take daily supplements, including magnesium, fish oil, zinc, vitamin D and a probiotic
    • Workout
    • Have a cup of coffee
    • Have a post-workout smoothie of protein powder, almond milk, kale, frozen fruit, almond butter, and ice
    • Have a work snack of gluten free oatmeal or rice cakes with more coffee

    Afternoon:

    • Make a salad with protein (typically chicken) for lunch
    • Have a snack of raw carrots, apples with almond butter, turkey on wheat bread with spinach or a shake with almond milk

    Evening:

    • Make dinner, including a protein (chicken or fish) with a vegetable (spinach, broccoli or squash) and a starch (either sweet potato or brown rice)

    Kinback also drinks plenty of water throughout the day and tries to avoid sugars and white starches, but doesn’t cut carbs entirely out of his regimen.

    “Many people believe in a Paleo Diet, which cuts out all carbs,” he says. “I find this hard and my body doesn't respond well to this, especially when training on a daily basis.”

    Monitor your routine.

    “Now that you have gotten into your routine, it's important to maintain, and test out what is working for you and what is not. What better way to do this, than gathering personal data on yourself -- monitoring your heart rate and other vitals! I recommend monitoring calories burned and your activity with some type of activity monitor,” Kinback says.

    Although there are several activity monitors available, Kinback personally uses and recommends the VivoActive by Garmin, which monitors steps taken, calories burned, and sleeping patterns among other data and allows you to track your stats and compare yourself with others. And don’t forget to track what you’re eating, Kinback advises. There are many options for people who want to log their intake on their smartphone. And, soon, you’ll probably have a pretty good idea of how much you are eating and how many calories you’ve consumed before you even log your lunch.

    “In addition to watching your calories burned, until you get into a comfortable routine, it’s very important to monitor the calories you're taking in! Some great apps that I recommend for your smartphone include: MyFitnessPal, Lose It or Google Fit.”

    While your own trainer has probably offered similar advice a thousand times, sometimes it’s good to get confirmation from other CrossFit coaches. And, if you’ve come across something new here, consider implementing it during your next WOD.

    We won’t tell your trainer.

    What is the best advice you’ve heard from a CrossFit coach? Share it with all of us here at Kill Cliff by leaving a comment below!

  • Shortcut to Six-Pack Abs: 7 Exercise Hacks You Need to Know

    Who doesn’t want six-pack abs? For most of us, they’re the visual representation of the pinnacle of fitness and - let’s be honest - sex appeal. And yet they seem so difficult to attain. What’s the secret? What’s the path to sweet six-pack success?

    Well, I’m not going to BS you. It takes hard work, first of all. It takes getting your ass to the gym, and it takes willpower to not shove a bunch of crap food in your face when you’re done.

    But you’ve probably figured that already. You’ve worked yourself near to death in the gym, you’ve been successful in losing weight and getting strong and fit, but those six-pack abs are still oh-so-elusive.

    If you’ve taken the major steps towards six-pack abs, little tweaks might be all you need to hack your way towards a rocking core. Here are seven exercise “hacks” that’ll help you reach that next level and unlock your coveted six-pack abs:

    Hack #1 - Get Your Abs Involved

    Netting a six-pack isn’t all about working your abs directly. In fact, one of the major keys to unlocking the potential of your abs is getting them involved in everything you do.

    This applies especially to the gym. Doing squats? Flex your abs in each rep. Deadlifts? Same thing.

    The reasoning behind this is two-fold. First of all, your core muscles (which include your abs, your obliques, and your diaphragm) are absolutely critical to the stability of your spine. Actively engaging those muscles during exercise will help you stay stable and strong, reducing your chances of injury and keeping you strong through the entire exercise.

    Second, actively engaging your abs and core during these exercises helps strengthen all of those muscles I mentioned earlier - and that’s key to getting a great six-pack.

    So how do you do it? Some people have a tendency to suck their abs in - don’t do that. This actually weakens your core, making you more vulnerable to injury. Instead, flex your abs. Think about how your abs engage when you laugh or cough, and do that consciously. You can even place your hands on your stomach and intentionally laugh to get a sense of what it feels like.

    Plus, everyone can use more laughter in their life, right?

    Make a conscious effort to engage those abdominal muscles during any exercise that requires balance and stability (basically, pretty much every exercise that involves you standing on your feet). You’ll be on your way to a six-pack while also protecting yourself from injury. It’s a win-win.

    Hack #2 - Perfection in Posture

    There are a ton of benefits to this technological age, but one major drawback to our reliance on new tech tools is that we’re all sitting a whole lot more. That has an effect on your posture, as it’s very easy to slouch forward when sitting for long hours - especially if you spend those hours working at a computer.

    When you slouch like this, everything to dips forward - making even strong and lean abs sag a bit. But not only is good posture associated with stronger abs, it also plays into perceptions of your confidence, attractiveness, and authority. And let’s not ignore that better posture protects you from injury.

    So what is proper posture? Well, it changes based on whether you’re standing or sitting. Let’s break it down:

    When sitting…

    • Keep your feet on the floor if possible, and don’t cross your legs
    • Keep your ankles in front of your knees
    • Your knees should be in line with your hips or below them
    • When possible, use a chair with arm rests so that you can keep your forearms parallel to the ground

    When standing…

    • Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart
    • Keep your shoulders back, standing tall
    • Tuck your abs in (don’t suck them in - slightly flex them)
    • Keep your head straight, as if you could draw a vertical line from ears to shoulders to hips to knees

    These recommendations are just for sitting and standing still, but when walking, the same principles of proper standing apply. It all boils down to standing tall and confident. The minutiae of posture will fall into place if you just focus on that.

    Hack #3 - Work It from All Angles

    Now, let’s get into some actual ab exercises and workouts... When it comes to getting a great six-pack, crunches alone just aren’t going to cut it. That’s because really making those abs pop comes down to more than just the surface-level front muscles.

    Your entire core is involved in getting a sexy six-pack. You have your obliques - or “side abs” - and the transverse abdominis, a layer of muscle running behind the “six-pack” muscles. Your hips and lower back are also heavily involved in the strength and stability of your entire midsection.

    What does all that matter? Basically, it means you’ll need a variety of exercises that work your core from different angles and through different planes of motion to score the Baywatch abs of your dreams.

    Crunches do have a time and a place, as they’re a great isolator of your main layer of abdominal muscles. But you’ll also want to work in twists and rotation moves that hit your obliques, in addition to working your abs through different types of motion. Lower back exercises - from deadlifts to back extensions - are also a big help.

    Whenever possible, combine different types of movements as well. Spend some time on the floor with crunches and hip raises, get on your feet for twists and side-to-side moves, and then get off your feet for hanging leg raises and twists. Working a wide variety of core exercises will help get that six-pack to finally pop.

    Hack #4 - To Move, or Not to Move?

    Crunches, full-body twists and other exercises are great, but movement alone isn’t the key to great abs. There are also plenty of effective ab exercises that don’t involve much movement at all. Planks, which involve holding a single position for a set time, are an extremely effective exercise for your abs - especially the transverse abdominis.

    Exercises where you move are called isotonic exercises, while those that are all about holding a position are called isometric. Use both in your workout to build stability and strength, and to ensure you hit all the different muscles that make up your core.

    You don’t just have to use planks (or side planks) either. You can work isometric “squeezes” into different exercises. Doing hanging leg raises? Every other rep, hold your position at the top of the movement, holding it as long as you can before lowering your legs. With crunches and Russian twists, you can do the same, holding at the top, or most “flexed” part of the movement for five to ten seconds, and then lowering back down.

    Hack #5 - You Can Rest When You’re Out of the Gym

    “You can sleep when you’re dead!”

    Ever heard that phrase? Well, you can use a similar strategy when training your abs: you can take those big rest periods once you leave the gym.

    A major key to training abs and getting the most out of your core workouts is taking short rest periods. These come in two forms - rest between exercises and rest between sets. Let’s create a sample ab workout that puts this concept into action:

    Start with four exercises, back to back:

    • A: Bicycle crunches - 30 seconds
    • B: Russian twists - 10 reps per side
    • C: Hanging leg raises - 8 reps
    • D: Plank - 45 seconds

    Work in the following rest periods:

    • 15 seconds between exercises
    • 30-60 seconds between sets (between exercises D and A)

    Basically, between exercise A and B, you rest 15 seconds; same between B and C, and between C and D. Then, once you finish D, you rest for up to a minute and start over at A. Repeat the whole circuit 2-4 times.

    These short rest periods are integral to getting the most out of your abs. As I said earlier, your core muscles are postural muscles - key components of posture, balance, and stability. They’re frequently used even when you aren’t actively engaging them and, as a result, they recover quickly.

    Take advantage of that quick recovery time and work your abs hard with short rest periods, a variety of exercises, and multiple sets. Don’t settle for a few sets of crunches at the end of your workout. Work your abs and core just as hard as you do every other muscle group.

    Hack #6 - Eliminate the Middleman

    One thing you might notice as you get closer to that coveted six-pack is that you tend to get the top “four-pack” before anything else. The lower abs just don’t want to cooperate.

    There are some exercises that put a greater emphasis on your lower abs, like hanging leg raises, lying leg raises, and hip thrusts. But even if you’re doing a ton of them, you still might not be getting the last portion of your six-pack. Why is that?

    Well, you may have a middleman getting in the way of your abs actually being activated and engaged. That middleman - technically, middlemen - are your hip flexors. These muscles are the key to raising your legs and bending at the waist - two major movements involved in ab exercises.

    If you’re working your abs early in your workout, your hip flexors may be blocking the way for your abs and core to get the most out of your workout. Here’s how to cut out the middle-man:

    • Start your workout by stretching your hip flexors. Use stretches like the seated butterfly and hip bridges to engage your hip flexors and prime them for activity.
    • Then, work your hip flexors with exercises like lunges, squats, and deadlifts. Do those early in your workout, after stretching, and you’ll be able to exhaust your hip flexors early.
    • Work your abs near the end of the workout. With your hip flexors engaged and exhausted, many of your core exercises will be more challenging, but you’ll also actually engage your core and lower abs more effectively - training the muscles you want instead of the middlemen.

    Keep these tips in mind, and you should start seeing those lower abs pop into definition, finally filling out your four-pack into a six-pack.

    Hack #7 - Exhale Completely… and Then Exhale Again

    It sounds crazy, but one final aspect of your ab and core training you may be falling short on without even realizing it is breathing. I mean, we’re all pretty much pros at breathing, right? How could something so simple be messing up our ab workouts?

    While breathing is important for all exercises, it might be the most important for your ab exercises. Since your abdominal muscles are located in front of your diaphragm, lungs, and rib cage, your breathing has a huge impact on the way your abdominal muscles contract during exercise.

    So, how should you breathe during ab workouts? Let’s break it down:

    • Exhale at the start of each rep
    • Exhale throughout the rep, but breathe out forcefully, as much as possible
    • At the “top” or most contracted portion of the rep, hold for a second, and breathe out even if you think there’s no air left in your lungs
    • Lower back down to your starting position, inhaling as you go

    This type of breathing serves two purposes. First of all, it protects you from injury by keeping your rib cage down and protecting your spine (an important function of your core muscles).

    But it also helps activate your abdominal muscles better. Since these muscles sit in front of your diaphragm, having a full tank of air when trying to contract results in your stomach pushing out - limiting the amount of engagement you’ll get out of your abs. The more you exhale, the less air there is behind your abs, letting them flex and contract more completely.

    So there you have it - seven high-level tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts to give you the edge you need to attain that sexy six-pack. Don’t just use one or two of them - take advantage of the entire set. From rest periods to exercise variety to breathing to posture, all of these strategies work together with your diet and exercise plan to get you the abs you’ve always wanted, faster than you ever thought possible.

    Put these strategies to the test, and then let me know: what’s been most helpful for you in pushing your abs to the next level? Leave a comment below with your thoughts and recommendations:

    Images: Wikimedia CommonsFlickrWikimedia Commons, Flickr

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