To Your Health
May, 2011 (Vol. 05, Issue 05)
5. Focus on the Core
For most people, your workout is motivated (at least to some degree) by the drive to improve your appearance. A prime target related to that goal invariably involves the elusive abdominals.
Most people target the midsection
with crunches or sit-ups. Although these are good examples of isolation exercises for the abdominals, you should also integrate alternative exercises that develop strength within all
muscle groups of the core. This will provide you with the best foundation to push through the tough workouts in pursuit of your best body.
When you focus exclusively on the abdominals by performing isolation exercises such as crunches, you compromise your core's true strength and maximum performance potential; which doesn't make it any easier to get lean for summer. A great exercise to maximize your core strength is the chop and lift. This is a great core exercise because it targets basic movement patterns that rely on the synergistic efforts of the abdominals, the back extensors and the hips. It also involves upper-body muscle groups during the torso and arm movements. The chop and lift is best done using a high-low cable machine (you've seen it in your local gym; it's usually on either "post" of an exercise rack, can be raised or lowered by pulling a pin and lets you attach a handle, bar, etc., and adjust the amount of weight) or resistance bands. The chop and lift may be performed in a variety of lower-body positions for variable intensity purposes.
How to do it: The chopping movement is downward movement of the cable or band across the body from high to low; the lifting movement is upward movement across the body from a low to high position. You're pulling the cable / band across the body and then returning it to the start position. The progression from beginner to advanced is as follows: tall-kneeling (i.e., both knees grounded), half-kneeling (i.e., one knee grounded), squat stance (i.e., standing with both feet in the same plane), and scissors stance (i.e., standing in lunge position). Your doctor can explain exactly how to perform the exercise correctly.
Progressing the chop and lift from the kneeling to standing position develops core strength at the hips without interference or compensation from the legs. Legs that are too powerful and dominant over the hamstrings may compensate for hip weakness, negating optimal core strength. The progression from a symmetrical to an asymmetrical stance (tall-kneeling to half-kneeling, etc.) highlights strength imbalances between the sides of the body. The chop and lift helps develop cross-body patterning movements, facilitating symmetrical muscle tone and balance.
6. Don't Fear the Deadlift
Deadlifts are by far one of the best exercises for producing overall strength and lean muscle. There is no reason to be afraid of performing a proper deadlift; the operative word being proper. When done correctly using the hips, glutes and thighs, rather than the lower back, deadlifting is probably the most effective exercise for toning muscle. And believe it or not, women, this is the most powerful exercise for toning and shaping your rear end, period!
Deadlifting is a great exercise to use even if your only goal is to lose weight and look better. The reason is because it stimulates a lot of muscle, which helps to jack up your fat-burning metabolism and build more lean muscle. Machine movements such as leg extensions, leg curls and the inner and outer thigh machines could never compare to a good set of deadlifts.
Deadlifts allow you to build muscle in your upper and lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Why waste your time working through countless other exercises when you can get such amazing results with a single one? Long story short: If you want to transform your body and/or get stronger, then you should be deadlifting.
How do you do a deadlift? It's easy: With a barbell or a pair of dumbbells on the floor in front of you, grab the weight(s) with both hands, stand up straight and then lower it back to the ground. Remember, use your hips, glutes and thighs (keep your hips down, butt out); don't rely on your arms or round your back. You're working the lower body, not the upper with this one. Again, ask your doctor about proper performance of this important exercise.