Archive for 'Exercise'

Can I Exercise While I’m Pregnant?

Posted on 16. Mar, 2013 by .


I know it’s been awhile since my last post but it’s for good reason. Maybe the title, “Can I exercise while I’m pregnant?,” can give you a clue…haha. Yes, it is true. Besides the fact that I’ve open a second fitness studio within the last few months, I am also now about 30 weeks pregnant. But, I had a little time today so I thought I would give you guys an update as to what’s going on in Anna’s world.

Maybe this post is more geared towards my women subscribers especially to those who are pregnant or planning to. To the guys out there who is reading this, maybe you can a tip or two for your significant other whenever that time comes.

Hereis a picture of me at 28 weeks (about 7 months):

As a fitness coach, I have worked with many female clients who exercised with me during their pregnancy so I already had knowledge on how to train them. But after I experienced a lot the changes that goes on in my body during pregnancy, I become an even better coach because of it.

So what I wanted to address is a common question I get a lot, “Can I exercise while I’m pregnant?.” You guessed my answer and that is a solid, “Yes!,” especially if you have a low-risk pregnancy. Low-risk just means everything is normal with your pregnancy and you are not experiencing any complications.

But even then, I always advise my clients to check with their doctor first before continuing their workout routine. Here are some guidelines:

  • You can whatever your body is used to before you got pregnant. For instance, if you have been running or used to strength training routines, you may continue doing them.
  • You will have to modify certain exercises the farther along you are during pregnancy and some exercises are completely off limits. For instance, you may have to do wall push ups during the third trimester as your belly gets bigger. Also, you will not be able to do any exercise on your belly (like Supermans) or on your back (like Bench Presses). I would do any exercise that requires me to be on my back on an incline bench.
  • You have to listen to your body. This is key. Some women can do Deadlifts all the way to their ninth month of pregnancy but I find that it was just too uncomfortable for me so I modify exercises to either go lighter, not go the full range of motion, or not do it at all.

Please note that some doctors will tell you not to lift more than 30 lbs which I think is way too conservative. My doctor told me that and of course I didn’t listen because I knew my body better. So to give you a better idea of my pregnancy workout experience so far, I would like to give you a progression of how my workouts have been throughout the trimesters.

  • First Trimester: I was going to the gym and doing full body strength workouts. I was basically doing everything I was doing before I got pregnant from Deadlifts to Bench Presses to Planks to Squats and so on. The only thing I stopped doing at this point is running but I walked my dog a lot or hopped on the Step Mill for extra cardio.
  • Second Trimester: My schedule got even busier at this time so I took home a 14 Kg (30.8 lbs) kettlebell from my studio and worked out from home. See below for more details on my workout
  • Third Trimester: I was doing similar workouts to the second trimester but with even more modifications. See below for more details on the modifications

Second Trimester Kettlebell Workout A

All my workouts were 20 minutes plus warm-up and cool down.

As with any workout, be sure to warm-up properly before the workout proper.

1) Set an interval timer like the Gym Boss to 20 second intervals with a total of 30 intervals. You can also download an app to your smart phone or Ipod by searching for “interval timer.”
2) Perform Kettlebell Swings or Snatches for 20 seconds then rest for 20 seconds.
3) Perform Goblet Squats for 20 seconds then rest for 20 seconds.
4) Perform Push Ups for 20 seconds then rest for 20 seconds.
5) Repeat steps 2-4 until you’ve finished all 30 intervals or time runs out.
6) Cool down by using a foam roller or stretch tight areas.

If you’re able to perform the whole workout, you would have done a total of 120 Swings, 50 Goblet Squats, and 70 Push Ups. Trust me, this is a complete workout that strengthens your core, works your whole body, and pumps up your heart for a wonderful cardio benefit.

This is also a great workout for pregnant women like me because it doesn’t require to do any jumping movement which leaves baby safe and sound. If you’re a beginner or you haven’t exercised in awhile, I would start with 10 intervals and work my way up with each and every workout.

Second Trimester Kettlebell Workout B

As with any workout, be sure to warm-up properly before the workout proper.

1) Set an interval timer like the Gym Boss to 20 second intervals with a total of 30 intervals. You can also download an app to your smart phone or Ipod by searching for “interval timer.”
2) Perform Kettlebell Push Presses for 20 seconds with your weaker arm first (usually left arm for most people) then rest for 20 seconds.
3) Perform Kettlebell Push Presses for 20 seconds with your other arm then rest for 20 seconds.
4) Perform Plank or Mountain Climber for 20 seconds then rest for 20 seconds.
5) Repeat steps 2-4 until you’ve finished all 30 intervals or time runs out.
6) Cool down by using a foam roller or stretch tight areas.

Third Trimester Kettlebell Workout

My Workout A is very similar to my second trimester workout except that I had to start doing my push ups against either the wall or something high and sturdy like the kitchen counter. I find that this relieves any pressure on my belly as well. I chose to perform swings because I find that it helps keep my lower back strong and the goblet squats help open up my hips to prepare for child birth.

By the third trimester, I couldn’t do KB Push Presses or Snatches anymore because I found that it put too much pressure on my core that I felt a bit of pain the next day. This is what I mean about listening to your body. You have to know when to stop doing an exercise by paying attention to how your body responds during and after the workout. I have since switched to Dumbbell Presses or Band Military Presses.

I am also consistently performing my Z-Health Joint Mobility Drills which I talked briefly about about in this post:

What Can Too Much Working Out Do to Your Body?

If you are interested in doing these joint mobility drills yourself (this is not just for pregnant women of course), I’ve prepared 3 videos for you to review. Review them carefully and perform as instructed and be sure to follow with as much precision as possible. The precision is needed for the drills to be effective. For best results, do these drills at least 2x a day with 5 repetitions per exercise, per direction.

How to Properly Perform Joint Mobility Drills at Home

If you’d like to get more kettlebell workout ideas, I suggest you check out Kettlbell Burn. For more kettlebell workout ideas during pregnancy, you may want to check out “Kettlebell Mommy.”

I hope you found today’s post helpful. If you have any questions, please post them below and I will respond to them at my earliest convenience.

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Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners

Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners

Posted on 06. Mar, 2012 by .


Kettlebells (KB) have swept the mainstream fitness media and they are gaining popularity more than ever. [If you did not already recognize who the guy is in the picture above, it is Lance Armstrong.] This is most likely because of the convenience, effectiveness, and time-saving it provides to anyone who wishes to get lean and strong in as little as 20 minutes a day. So, the common question I get asked is: what are great kettlebell exercises for beginners? or what is a good kettelbell workout? While Youtube is great for looking up videos to answer these questions, it may not be the best source unless you know what you’re looking for.

Being a Russian Kettlebell Certified (RKC) Instructor, I decided to put together a video demonstrating the most foundational kettlebell exercise which is the swing. In this video, I go over tips on how to protect your hand as well as the biggest mistakes when performing kettlebell swings and how to correct them.

Please watch this video before you read the rest of the article:

You may feel that I talk about too many technical points in the video but each of them matters if you really want to do kettlebell swings properly. Doing them wrong can 1) hurt you and 2) make your workout less efficient which means you will burn less calories. If you want to take your learning even further, you may want to look for a Russian Kettlebell Certified Instructor in your local area to critique your form.

One more thing to think about before you perform any kettlebell exercise are the shoes you are wearing. Typically, running shoes are not ideal when performing kettlebell exercises. The thick cushion which running shoes have will basically hinder your feet from making full contact with the ground which may throw you off balance. For instance, if I were to perform kettlebel swings with a thick heel, the heel will make me lean forward to offset the weight of the kettlebell as it reaches shoulder height. So, if the heels were taken out, having more contact with ground will also help us become more stable and more strong for any kettlebell lift.

I showed you several ways you have more variety in your kettlebell workouts even if you just now the beginner exercises like the swing and goblet squat. Now, I’d like to show you a few different set-ups you can do so you can do this at home.

3 Samples of How to Set-up Beginner Kettlebell Workouts

Workout 1: Ladders Style

20 Kettlebell Swings
10 Goblet Squats

Start at the top of the reps at 20 and 5 reps. For each set, you will do 1 less repetition for the swings and doing 1 less repetition for every other set of goblet squats. Do this until you reach 1 rep for each exercise. This is how it goes:

Set 1: 20 Swings, 10 Goblet Squats
Set 2: 19 Swings, 10 Goblet Squats
Set 3: 18 Swings, 9 Goblet Squats
Set 4: 17 Swings, 9 Goblet Squats
Set 5: 16 Swings, 8 Goblet Squats
Set 6: 15 Swings, 8 Goblet Squats
All the way to 1 repetition for each exercise

Workout 2: Interval Style

30 seconds of Kettlebell Swings plus 30 seconds of Jump Rope equals 1 set.
Do 10 sets for a total of 10 minutes.

Note: If you are completely new to doing swings, you may want to start at 5 minutes and work your way up especially because you may get too sore the next few days.

Workout 3: Mixed Style

One set consists of:

30 seconds Kettlebell Swings
30 seconds Plank
30 seconds Forward Lunges
30 seconds Rest

Perform 5 sets for your first workout and work your way up as your strength and conditioning improves.

Just by looking at the 3 workouts above, you can have an idea of how much variety you can have with your workouts even if you only know 1-2 kettlebell exercises. If you actually go and do any of these workouts, you will find just how intense they can get even for a simple set-up like the one I detailed above.

When you’re ready to learn a new kettlebell exercise, watch this video where I teach the Turkish Get-Up (TGU) which is another fundamental kettlebell exercise:

Turkish Get-ups are different from swings wherein you have to really focus on doing each step slowly and carefully. In the RKC community, we call swings as a grinding movement whereas TGUs are more of a strength exercise. So, if I were to add TGUs to my kettlebell repertoire, I would do this at the beginning of a workout separate from the swings when I am still fresh. Then, I would perform any of the above workouts as a finisher.

I hope this post on kettlebell exercises for beginners has inspired you to start working with kettlebells and add more fun, intensity, and variety to your workouts. If you have any questions about the videos or the workouts or about kettlebells in general, please post them below and I’ll answer them when possible.

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What Can Too Much Working Out Do to Your Body?

What Can Too Much Working Out Do to Your Body?

Posted on 25. Feb, 2012 by .


A lot of people report feeling really good after a great workout session. In fact, I have a sign at my bootcamp studio which says, “No matter how you feel walking in, you always feel great walking out.” That adrenalin pump people get from exercise sure does a body good. But, there comes a point when too much exercise can actually have negative consequences to our health and fitness. This thought came to me again while taking a certification course with Z-Health. Dr. Eric Cobb, creator and co-owner of Z-Health, said that exercise is a drug which means we have to find its minimum effective dose (MED) in order for us to get the benefit we’re looking for while applying the most minimum effort. In general, MED is defined as the smallest dose that will create THE desired outcome. This leads us to the question, “What can too much working out do to your body?”

Exercise Overload?

While I knew exercise works wonders for the body and our health, I never really stopped and thought about at what point it can start to hurt us. One good example Dr. Cobb mentioned while discussing exercise MED is from a study published in March 2011 in the journal, “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” (1). This study, which was done in Finland, enrolled 172 sedentary adults and put them in an exercise program for 21 weeks. At the end of the study, the researchers found that 30% of the participants improved by 42% whom they called high-responders, 35% improved by 17-18% whom they called average responders, and lastly 35% got worse by -8% whom they called non-responders. The researchers attributed the lack of improvement in the non-responders to genetics.

While the researchers may blame genetics, it could be that the people who did not respond to exercise may have been given the wrong dose of exercise, either too much or too little, to a point where they actually became weaker or less fit. Whether we can blame genetics or not is still up for debate. I suspect the answer is more complex than just blaming genetics.

However, here are some known symptoms of too much exercise:


We all have heard of people getting injured due to over-training. Over-training may result from working out too often (frequency) at a higher intensity and longer duration. Sure, we have heard of professional athletes who have done this but it is not uncommon for regular exercisers to experience this as well. Part of the reason this happens is people may do too much, too soon. An example of this would be people who are gung-ho about starting a fitness program as part of their New Year’s resolution. The journal of American Medical Association cited that 85% of people stop exercising in the first six weeks because they get injured. When people start from being sedentary to going to the gym or playing a sport 5-6 times a week because they want to get quick results in less time, there is no doubt that injuries will start to occur. Of course, over-training is only one factor that can affect the probability of injury, another factor is…

Imperfect Exercise Form

Imperfect form can arise from improper posture, previous injuries, and simply not knowing how to perform an exercise with perfect form. Injuries can happen if a person has improper posture due to rounded shoulders because their chest muscles are tight. When this person starts to do military presses, he/she will not be able to perform this exercise efficiently. Then, when this person repeats this movement in the gym week after week in this position, the probability that they will pull or strain muscles in their upper body is high.

A previous injury can also cause people to not practice perfect form. For instance, a person who has limited mobility in their ankles due to a previous sprain or fracture may not be able to perform a squat well. This is because in doing a squat, the ankle joint also has to move in conjunction with the knee joint. If this does not happen during squatting, this person may compensate by using their hips or knees more causing either of the joints to have more problems, pain, or injury.

Here is a video of how not to squat for a little fun 🙂

Last but not the least, many people may not know how to perform an exercise properly. Some signs of imperfect form is holding your breath during an exercise, bending your neck when you’re not supposed to, and making faces or tensing your facial muscles just to lift the weight up. In other words, if it looks like you’re about to hurt yourself while doing an exercise, you’re most likely doing it wrong. If you need more of a visual, just watch any sporting event where professional athletes seem to make extraordinarily difficult things look like they are easy to do.

In contrast to the squat video above, here is a video of Michael Jordan making extraordinary moves look easy:

There are also effects on our hormones when we work out too much. But, that needs to be an article all by itself because it can be a little complex.

What to Do to Make Sure You are Achieving the Minimum Effective Dose with Your Exercise Regimen

There is no argument to the fact that physical activity and moving well is crucial to maintaining good health. Here is a good guideline to use during a specific workout session to avoid over-training:

#1 Check your posture: Your joints should be stacked right on top of each other. For instance, your ankle should be right under your knees, your knees should be right under your hips, and so on. Your head should also be in what is called as the neutral position where your head is always in line with your spine.

#2 Breathe in synchrony with the movement you are performing. If you feel you have to hold your breath during a lift, your weight is probably too heavy for you or you are doing too many repetitions.

#3 Balance your tension and relaxation. Most of the time, when our muscles get tired or we lift a weight that is too heavy for us, we tend to compensate by tensing our facial muscles or bending joints we are not supposed to bend. If you cannot imagine this, visualize a person who is doing barbell bicep curls who is training to failure. This person will most likely grunt, squeeze their eyes together, and bend backwards (bend their lower back) in an attempt to lift the barbell towards their chest.

The points above happen to be the signs of lifting or moving efficiently. If violated, we can get injured and we can develop bad posture through multiple repetitions of imperfect form. If we approach each exercise session or sporting event applying the above techniques, we should not have to worry about exercising too much because when one of them suffers, we cannot do any more repetitions. At the same time, we can expect to get stronger, faster when training this way because we’re not training our nervous system to fail. Remember, only perfect practice makes perfect. Train smarter, not harder.

1: Karavirta L, Häkkinen K, Kauhanen A, Arija-Blázquez A, Sillanpää E, Rinkinen N, Häkkinen A. Individual responses to combined endurance and strength training in older adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Mar;43(3):484-90. PubMed PMID: 20689460.

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Increase Bone Density through Strength Training

Increase Bone Density through Strength Training

Posted on 30. Jan, 2011 by .


The other day, I organized a health and charity event which benefited the local Food Bank. I had health vendors sign up for tables so people can find out more about their services. One such service was, Dr. Ken Howayeck who is a podiatrist performing bone density tests. I’ve never had such a test done so I was curious to see what my results would be. Being that my first reason for taking up strength training was to prevent Osteoporosis, I wanted to see how I was doing.


To my delight, I passed the test with flying colors! But, I didn’t know how great my results were until Dr. Howayeck told me I had 2 major risk factors going against me – I am a woman of Southeast Asian descent. According to him, with those 2 risk factors, I should not have the numbers that I got. He told me that I should be proud of myself and that I should show my results to my clients. So, I decided I’d share my results with you and share a little bit of what I learned about the importance of knowing your bone density and having dense bones.

After much research, the first obvious consequence of not having dense bones is Osteoporosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, Osteoporosis, which means “porous bones,” causes bones to become weak and brittle — so brittle that a fall or even mild stresses like bending over or coughing can cause a fracture. A mild case of Osteoporosis is Osteopenia. In many cases, bones weaken when you have low levels of calcium and other minerals in your bones. Before, women are the most likely to get Osteoporosis but some men can get it too.

A bone density test is the first step to find out if you are at risk for Osteoporosis. It is a fairly accurate predictor of your risk of fracture. Dr. Howayeck’s test which scanned my heel cost me $15 because it is what they call a peripheral test. Some tests that scan the hip bones and spine which they call central tests may be more expensive. I recommend at least getting a peripheral test done so you can get a good idea of your risk for Osteoporosis.

Here are some facts I found about Osteoporosis:

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends bone density testing if:

  • You’re a woman age 65 or older
  • You’re a postmenopausal woman under age 65 with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis
  • You’re a man age 70 or older
  • You’re a man between age 50 and 70 with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis
  • You’re older than age 50 and you’ve experienced a broken bone
  • You’re a postmenopausal woman and you’ve stopped taking estrogen therapy or hormone therapy

Note: It seems that the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends the test for people who are 50 and older but as with everything, knowing what your risks are early in life so you can prevent getting the disease is a lot better than taking care of the symptoms when it’s too late to do anything about it. When you think about $15 is small change compared to the cost of hip surgery.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Getting older, which increases your risk of osteoporosis because bones become weaker as you age
  • Ethnicity — for instance, women who are white or of Southeast Asian descent have the greatest risk of osteoporosis, and African-American and Hispanic men and women have a lower, but still significant, risk of the disease
  • Low body weight, or under 125 pounds (56.7 kilograms) if you’re of average height
  • A personal history of fractures after age 40
  • A parental history of osteoporosis or hip fractures
  • Using certain medications that can cause bone loss, especially steroids

Dr. Howayeck gave me a copy of my results so I scanned it and posted it below (you may click on the image to make it bigger):


As you can see from my results, my numbers are way above what the average is for my age and ethnicity. A T-score of above -1 is considered normal. If you’d like to find out what T-score and Z-score mean in more detail, please go to the Mayo Clinic web site. Please note that I’m not putting my numbers here so I can brag about it. Rather, I wanted to spread the word on the importance of strength training and how it can help you lower your risk for Osteoporosis.

How Strength Training Helps Increase Bone Density

As your muscles become more toned and get bigger, your bones also have to get bigger so they can support your bigger muscles. I’m not saying you have to look like Ms. Olympia with huge muscles. Any sort of muscle growth will help lower your risk for this disease. As I said earlier, this is my main reason for starting strength training in the first place and I can see that my efforts are paying off. I hope you do the same as well.

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How to Get a Bigger Buttocks

How to Get a Bigger Buttocks

Posted on 31. Oct, 2010 by .


Okay, maybe the title, “how to get a bigger buttocks,” may seem a little funny but a little Google keyword research made me think that this is a popular question a lot of people ask. Being a woman not originally blessed with Kim Kardashian-like buttocks, I can definitely relate to this question since, thanks to certain weight equipments and exercises, I now have a decent pair of buttocks I can be proud of. (They’re still not Kim-Kardashian-like but I’m not complaining…haha). So, I would love to give an answer for those of you out there who may have this question.

Before I go into detail about how to build a better butt, I want to tell you why most people seem to have a “flat” looking butt. If you are like me, I sit on my butt for most of the day. Whether you’re working in front of the computer, eating, watching television, etc. most of us spend a lot of time on the chair. This eventually leads to weakening of the glute muscles and also reduction in muscle size. Just like the old saying says, “use it or lose it.” This becomes a problem because our buttocks muscles are the biggest and strongest muscles in our body which serve several functions such as stabilizing our pelvis and aligning our spine. In short, having stronger glutes helps improve our posture and prevent back pain. In athletes, they train the glutes so they can jump higher or sprint faster. This is due to the fact that gluteus muscles are a part of the core muscles as I discussed in this article, Top 2 Reasons Having a Strong Core is Important.

So, the quick answer to getting bigger buttocks is to use it more often. You may have heard personal trainers or group fitness instructors say, “squeeze your glutes,” and they are right. During lower body exercises like squats, lunges, step ups, etc., doing this gives you that extra opportunity to get more contractions from your glute muscles. I always emphasize this in my bootcamps and as a result I have been called by my clients as the “butt patrol.”

How to Squeeze Your Glutes

Many people might think that squeezing your glutes is easy but what I find from training clients regularly is they do not seem to do it enough. What I mean by that is they just do not squeeze all the way. So, I correct this by using an analogy I learned from Pavel Tsatsouline when I first learned how to peform kettlebell swings. Pavel says, “when squeezing your glutes, imagine you’re squeezing a penny with your butt cheeks so that it does not fall out.” This usually helps my clients understand how hard they should squeeze 🙂

We got the “how” out of the way, let’s now discuss “when” to squeeze. The timing of the squeeze is usually intuitive. During squats, deadlifts, lunges, and swings, you should squeeze at the top of the movement when you are completely standing up. For instance, during squats, you squeeze your glutes as soon as you return to standing position before you do another repetition. During swings, you do this when the kettlebell is at shoulder height. To give you an idea, here is a video of me doing kettlebell swings:

Squeezing your glutes at the top of lower body movements also prevents you from leaning back therefore protecting your lower back from any possible injuries.

When I Found My Glutes…

For me, the first time I ever found out I actually possess a decent pair of buttocks was after a few weeks of performing kettlebell swings consistently. Swings help you get a lot more repetitions and therefore more glute contractions in less time compared to squats or deadlifts. Because swings are also done in a fast paced manner, you are also getting strength training and cardiovascular training at the same time. So, my advice for those of you out there who wants to get a bigger buttocks, start incorporating leg exercises into your routine and end with kettlebell swings for your cardio routine instead of running or heading to the elliptical.

For a sample kettlebell and overall body workout which revs up your metabolism in as little as 20 minutes, check out the end of this post, What is a Kettlebell?.

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Top 2 Reasons Having a Strong Core is Important

Top 2 Reasons Having a Strong Core is Important

Posted on 10. Oct, 2010 by .


[Photo by – Laird Hamilton, Big Wave Surfer]

The latest buzz word in fitness is core training. You probably hear these words thrown around by your personal trainer, yoga instructor or during news casts and weight loss infomercials as being an important part of our training for overall health and fitness. Before I became a fitness professionally, I didn’t really know what that meant. Okay, I thought it meant doing tons of ab exercises to get six pack abs. Wait, are you telling me I was wrong?

Well, maybe I was a little bit right about that way of thinking but really there is more to having core strength than just having six pack abs.

The Top 2 Reasons Having a Strong Core is Important

Reason #1: Transfer of Movement and Energy

The core muscles are at the center of our body. Hence the name. A lot of people tend to think that this only pertains to the the ab muscles but the core actually also includes all the muscle groups that stabilize the spine and the pelvis (hip area) like our gluteus muscles (butt muscles) and erector spinae muscles (one of the major spine muscles), to name a few. Because of the location of these muscles, we transfer energy through each muscle in the core every time we move. From simple movements like walking, running, sitting, getting up, getting down, jumping, to lifting objects such as in weight lifting, you can bet we are reliant on our core to generate energy and facilitate movement.

Having a weak core can be detrimental to our overall health and fitness but having a strong core can give you many benefits such as:

  • Greater efficiency during movements
  • Increased strength and power output during weight lifting exercises where we use our core such as squats, deadlift, chest presses, jumps, etc.
  • Improved body control, balance, and stability

The benefits of having a strong core can benefit us not just at the gym but more so in real life situations like unexpected falls or turns where balance is important. Using our core during jumping and running can also protect our back and joints by acting as shock absorbers from the impact generated from these types of activities upon hitting the ground.


[Back Muscles are a part of your core]

Reason #2: Stabilize Spine and Pelvis

Our core muscles help keep our spine erect and our hips in the neutral position. Our abdominal muscles especially protect our lower back by stabilizing our spine during movement. Many back problems happen, when our spine gets out of aligment because of a movement done with weak core which can also result to even more problems down the road. This is due to the fact that the spine is our central nervous system’s main pathway of communication to other parts of our body including our brain. Messing up the spine is like closing the major roadway in a big city – a lot of things will not get done and pretty soon, big problems will occur.

What You Can Do Today

The most common and beneficial core training exercises you can start doing today are plank, side plank, and hanging leg raises just to name a few. Doing push ups is another great way to strengthen abdominal muscles even though it is more thought of as a total body exercise. In all the exercises above, a lot more muscle groups are involved instead of just the abdominals. This is a good sign of an appropriate core exercise which is also the reason I didn’t include crunches in the list.

When doing any static exercise like the plank and side plank, start by holding the position for 20 seconds up to 3 times each time with a rest in between and work your way up as you get better at it. As for push ups, you can start doing a modified version on your knees if you’re a beginner and progress to doing regular and advanced push ups as you get stronger.

Doing these exercises for your core will help you get stronger in a lot of weight lifting and body weight exercises and will help you prevent any injuries you may get from every day movement or playing sports.

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A Fool-Proof Guide to Building Muscle

A Fool-Proof Guide to Building Muscle

Posted on 01. Aug, 2010 by .


Note: Today’s article is a guest post from JC at JCDFitness

Building muscle; it’s a fairly simple concept. Really, it is. However, due to the advent of the internet, mass media, opposing viewpoints, exercise elitists and just plain garbage, we’ve been left with a ton of options and endless confusion.

The good news is there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Now before we get into the process, I must preface that building muscle, despite what many might tell you, is not an easy process. It requires lots of hard work, adequate nutrition, ample amounts of rest and dedication. However, it doesn’t have to take over your entire life. In fact, I wouldn’t like you to spend any more than 5 hours per week training.

The ultimate goal, when training for hypertrophy, is to get the most bang for your buck. Now how do we make such an effective approach so efficient?

Easy. We simply focus on what works and keep things simple.

Training for Muscle Gain

As I said earlier, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of craziness when it comes to knowing exactly what to do when muscle gain is your goal. First of all, let’s just establish the fact that there are many training programs which produce results. There are also a slew of training programs which are subpar and far less optimal for the average person looking to build their physique.

The goal here is to take a look at what’s worked for the masses and then develop something similar or do exactly what they’ve done.

Many popular training programs are full body, a push/pull scheme or an upper/lower split. What many will notice immediately with these types of training protocols is frequency. Without even going into what’s involved with each style of programming, we know that if one is training 3-4 times per week, each muscle group is being worked at least twice per week – sometimes more.

Higher frequency weight training, especially for the natural athlete, is crucial to optimal gains in muscle mass. The reason being is due to neural processes as well as adaptive processes. Neurally speaking, the more you do something, the better you become at it.

Want to learn how to dribble a basketball with your non-dominant hand? Practice. Interested in becoming good at juggling fireballs whilst riding a unicycle and peeling an orange with your eyelids? You must practice – a lot. The same applies to weight training. The more you perform certain movements, the better and more efficient you become at them. Now this is not to say one should be doing heavy bench presses or squats every single day but a few times per week and even 3-4 times for the beginner is usually a good thing.


As far as the adaptive component goes, each time you train a muscle, it gets broken down. Now, if you created an anabolic effect via your training methods, you have the chance to produce growth in said muscle groups, assuming your recovery and nutrient intake are both up to par.

Each time you train is an opportunity for growth – if you play your cards right.

The stimulus responsible for muscle growth is progressive overload. Simply, this means your goal should be to become stronger over a given period of time. A good way to measure progress is be recording your training in a journal and noting each time you are able to improve the weight you lifted or the reps you performed. Over a period of six months to a year, substantial progress can be had assuming the trainee is relatively new to strength training. Heck, even seasoned vets can make considerable progress assuming their training protocol is optimal for their experience level.

Guidelines For Program Design

A general rule is to train for strength gains and ensure caloric needs are met. While popular strength training programs (very heavy loading with weights in the 3-6 rep ranges) are popular and produce great results, most will find the most success when training each muscle group 2-3 times per week with anywhere from 6-12 reps per set.

Strength training, in this sense, simply means getting stronger over time, despite what rep ranges you’re using.

Regardless of whether you’re training 3 times a week using a full body routine or an upper/lower split over 4 days, here are your guidelines:

  • Pick one primary movement per muscle group and perform a total of 25-30 reps per movement (not including warm-ups). When you do the math, this leaves you with a few options: 3×8-10, and 4×6-8.
  • Stick with compound movements in the form of barbells, dumbbells and machines. Isolation movements have their place but shouldn’t ever be a primary movement. Leg presses, squats, chins, bench presses and rows are good movements.
  • Pick a weight you can do in a given rep range and try to maintain that weight for all sets and reps. If you are unable to, just drop the weight by 5-10% for the subsequent sets.
  • 1-3 minute rest periods depending on your personal work capacity and conditioning.
  • Don’t go to failure every single session. Only go to failure one workout every 3-4 weeks or so and of course, only do it when a spotter is present.
  • Try to increase weight or reps whenever possible and make note of increases in a journal to track progress.
  • Don’t train heavy every single session. Always take a break from heavy training once every 6-8 weeks. An easy way to do this is to reduce the loads by about 20-25% for a few workouts or take a couple days off completely.

One common myth I’d like to dispel before I go any further is how some feel about how a female should train. There is no reason women should not be doing the same movements and routines as men. Our bodies are built the exact same way, despite differences in hormones and sex organs. Our anatomy is practically identical and the same rules that apply to men also apply to women. So ladies, enjoy pushing yourself and continually getting stronger!

Sufficient Energy Intake Is The Only Way To Grow

Despite what you may hear or read about one being able to magically gain slabs of muscle and torch their body fat simultaneously, someone’s got to bear the bad news. In most cases, the reports are extremely over exaggerated and the only time a person achieves both goals at the same time is usually when they first start out. After a few months of training, losing fat whilst gaining muscle becomes almost impossible.

So, forget everything you’ve heard about being able to accomplish both goals at the same time and make sure your efforts are focused and consistent. If you want to build muscle, you’ve got to train sensibly and eat enough to fuel those gains.

For starters, if you’re a complete beginner and have never been in the weight room, you’ve likely lots of room for growth. As one advances, the gains become slower and some dietary changes will be in order to ensure progress is continually made.

Calculating Your Intake

The general rule thrown out most of the time is to eat a surplus of calories every single day whilst training anywhere from 3-6 times per week. Now this is usually pretty practical advice assuming the trainee has some common sense and objectivity. However, I’ve seen many guys go on a “bulk” that results in rapid weight gain, most of which is fatty tissue that has to be dieted off at some point – no fun.

So, it’s important to make note of your intake and ensure you’re consuming enough to grow. Enough is not synonymous with eating everything in sight.

Since your goal is muscle gain, first you should set your protein intake.

Let’s say you’re a 150lb, skinny male who wishes to put on 20lbs. First you will agree to eat at least your body weight in protein. After you’ve set your protein, you should then determine your caloric intake. A good rule of thumb is to consume 400-600 calories over your maintenance intake daily.

In theory, this should net about a 1 pound increase in body weight per week. If you’re a bit conservative in your approach, afraid of getting too fat or are well past the beginner phases, it’s perfectly fine to consume your surplus on training days only while eating less (around maintenance) on your rest days. Just don’t go too low on your off days so that you inhibit the recovery process.

Quick Calorie Guidelines:

Calories – Maintenance + 400-600 calories
Protein – 1xBW in grams
Fat – 20-30% of your total calories
Carbohydrate – fill in the rest to meet calorie goals

For women and intermediate to advanced trainees, consuming a surplus of calories everyday will likely result in unnecessary fat gain; therefore it’s advisable to consume your extra calories on training days only. Also, since women can expect to gain about half the muscle mass of a man over her lifetime, naturally without drugs, I always advice them to cut these numbers in half. So your goal for surplus calories should be around 200-300 over maintenance on training days. This can equate to simply adding a shake and some extra carbs around your workouts.

Pre/Post Workout Nutrition

As the esteemed Alan Aragon once told me, landing your macros day in and day out is far more important than meal timing will ever be. I am of the same mindset and in general, I tell clients to focus on enjoying their food, hitting numbers but never having a set meal plan.

For most, it’s beneficial to sandwich your workouts with a nice dose of protein and carbs. An example would be a few bananas, a spoonful of peanut butter and some lean protein 2-3 hours before training and then follow it up with a similar meal post workout (lately, I’ve been hung up on drinking chocolate milk and devouring a bowl of white rice smothered in honey for my post workout meal). As long as you take care of your pre/post workout intake, I could care less when you eat your other meals – just make sure to eat them.

Wrapping Up, Finally

I know I can get wordy. However, when you put the pieces together, building muscle can actually become a fairly simple equation when you break it down.

All you have to do is commit to a solid program, take the time necessary to build strength on your primary movements and eat enough to fuel your recovery. While it’s not easy, it is a simple process. All it merely takes is some commitment on your part.

JC is the author of JCDFitness; where he writes about muscle hypertrophy, fat loss, and his relaxed approach to all things fitness. He is also the co-founder for which is a site that allows you to bookmark, share, discover and discuss the best fitness articles, workouts, photos and videos that the web has to offer all in one convenient place. Be sure to check out his free eBook, A No-BS Approach to Looking Great Naked and follow him on Twitter.

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Jake Gyllenhaal’s Workout Transformation Into Prince of Persia

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Workout Transformation Into Prince of Persia

Posted on 23. May, 2010 by .


The “Prince of Persia” movie, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, comes to theaters this week. When I saw the trailer for the movie, I can’t help but notice that his physique has changed greatly. So, I set out to research what he did look like the Warrior Prince h e’s portraying.

A Little Background on Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake has really come a long way in his acting career. With parents both in the film industry, his father is a director while his mother is a produce/screenwriter, it’s no surprise that Jake has been acting in films since he was 11. But, my first exposure to his acting was in Donnie Darko which came out in 2001. The movie was about a disturbed teenager who had visions of a gigantic bunny rabbit encouraging him to commit crimes. Even though this movie was a little on the weird side, it gained a cult-like following when it was released on DVD. Of course, I wouldn’t do Jake any justice if I didn’t mention “Brokeback Mountain” where Jake plays a gay farmhand who gets romantically involved with Heath Ledger’s character. Surprisingly, I saw this movie with my two, male college roommates who were into film arts of all sorts. Yes, they totally date women. But, I digress.


One of my favorite Jake films is “Jarhead” which came out in 2005. This film really made me take notice of him because he filled out his Marine uniform nicely not to mention his acting skills…haha. Judging from his physique back then which you can see from some pictures taken in between takes in Jarhead, he must have gained 15-20 lbs of muscle in preparation for Prince of Persia.

On a more serious note, Jake really did go all out in terms of physically preparing for his role as the Prince of Persia. This movie was based on a Ubisoft videogame of the same title and features a warrior prince who, together with his princess, fight against dark forces who are after a dagger which is capable of turning back time. This movie was made by Disney which means we can expect some amazing effects. When Jake talked about his role in “Prince of Persia” with Entertainment Tonight he said, “I over-prepared myself [physically] because I never knew how much they were going to ask me to do, so I just made sure I’d be hopefully able to do anything.”

I’m sure that it’s not coincidence that Ubisoft is releasing a sequel to “The Sands of Time” which is the first Prince of Persia game. The sequel is entitled “The Forgotten Sands.” Here is a short preview of the new game:

The trailer for this video game really take me back to when I used to watch my brothers play their role playing games(RPG) like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. It amazes me how true to life these trailers look thse days.

The Role of Prince of Persia

In 2009, Jake started training with Simon Waterson to turn himself into the “warrior” that he needs to look like for this movie. Waterson, who is a trainer to the stars and also a former Royal Marine, is responsible for training the lead actors for the previous five James Bond movies, including Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan. When asked about Gyllenhaal’s training, Waterson responded, “There’s an increasing fusion between the worlds of fitness and film. Most actors are athletes nowadays. Their fitness is a big factor in whether they get cast or not,” he says. “Jake has to look like a warrior capable of sword-fighting, not like he’s been hitting the gym. He is working out twice, sometimes three times a day, six days a week, for three to four months on top of stunt rehearsals before filming begins.”

Here is the Trailer for the movie if you haven’t seen it already:

Jake went through Parkour style training to prepare for his stunt moves. If you haven’t seen or heard of Parkour before, it is basically people jumping or running from building to building or from different physical outdoor structures. Since he needed a lot of relative strength to lift his body and perform his stunts, this type of training was ideal. Here is a good video of people performing Parkour to give you a better understanding of the sport:

When Gyllenhaal was asked about his stunt training at Wondercon, an annual comic book, science fiction, motion picture conference in San Francisco, he replied, “Well, I’m going to stress this – I tried everything, but I didn’t always succeed at everything. So what I didn’t succeed at, someone else had to pull it off. But it was difficult, but also really fun. I mean when you get parkour down, or the essential idea of parkour, it really is an extraordinary sport because there’s an ease to it and it ends up not feeling that hard.” He worked out two to three times a day along with Parkour for 4 months to achieve his warrior-like physique. If you can see from his picture from Prince of Persia, Gyllenhaal does not look as ripped as Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2 but this is most likely planned. He had to have the effortless look and not forced to look a certain way with a gym workout. Of course, proper nutrition also plays a role in creating his rugged look.

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3 Best Cardio Exercise Equipments

3 Best Cardio Exercise Equipments

Posted on 17. May, 2010 by .


Whenever I walk into my local gym, I notice a bunch of different cardio exercise equipment to the left side of the entrance. Not surprisingly, they are almost always taken and there’s usually a line of people waiting to use it. So, I wondered if these people actually know how to effectively use these cardio machines to their advantage. Unlike other fitness experts, I don’t consider certain cardio equipments to be bad. How much benefit you get out of them will just depend on whether you know how to use them effectively or not. Additionally, one cardio equipment can help you burn more calories in less time compared to others.

Cardio exercise equipments are not made equal. So, I’m going to categorize them into their level of effectiveness. Here they are:

#1 The Treadmill

The treadmill is at the top of my list of cardio exercise equipments. But, not everyone knows how to use them to their advantage. We all know running would burn more calories compared to walking so if you already run on the treadmill, you’re half way there. The common mistake that a lot of people make when they’re on this machine is to either run at a steady, medium speed or hold on to the side handles while walking on an incline. Most people I see commit both mistakes. There’s probably other mistakes out there but these two are very common.

To use the treadmill more effectively, you’d have to give yourself a little bit more challenge by running at different intensities. For instance, you can warm-up at 3 mph for 3 minutes. After warm-up, you can run at a faster pace at 5 mph for 20 seconds then increase your speed to 7 mph for another 40 seconds. You can then repeat this sequence, besides the warm-up part, 4 more times then end with a cool-down.

running_children[I have fond memories of playing and bathing in the rain as a child. This photo of children running reminds me of them.Photo by Neloqua. Above photo by Omsel. ]

This protocol is called high intensity interval training or HIIT and the intensity you will get from doing them will help you burn more calories during and after your workout. Beginners can usually follow these intructions without a problem. After you’ve been doing this for about 2-3 weeks, you can progress your workout by changing your speed, increasing the time that you run at a high intensity, perform more intervals, or decrease your recovery time, etc.

So, the next time, you’re at the gym, use this protocol on the treadmill if you plan to run and want to run more effectively.

#2 The Stairmaster

The stairmaster is a great equipment and it can give you a workout as effective as running on the treadmill. When you’re tired of running, this is a great alternative because climbing stairs is also very easy on your joints. This is also a great equipment for people who have need to watch their knee health due to a previous injury.

To use the stairmaster, think in terms of doing high intensity intervals again. Make sure to warm-up for a few minutes and climb at a faster speed for your intervals. You can start with 4-6 intervals at 20-30 seconds and go up from there. Remember to always cool down by slowing down your speed or move on to the Elliptical as detailed below.

#3 The Elliptical

The elliptical is probably the most popular cardio machine in the gym especially amongst the ladies. A lot of people tend to like it because they don’t have to lift their foot off the ground and they can still watch the television while they’re using it. I put it as the #3 machine because it has its place in a fat loss program. But, it definitely shouldn’t be your #1 choice if you want to lose stubborn fat.

To use the Elliptical more appropriately, I suggest using it after you’re done with your intervals on the treadmill or the stairmaster. Head to the Elliptical for another 20 minutes after your interval session. This helps you burn the fat that was released by performing intervals into your blood system so you don’t end up storing it again. Doing it in this sequence is an efficient way to burn more fat in less time. This strategy is particularly helpful when you’re really close to your ideal weight and want to lose a few extra pounds.

In summary, you can use the treadmill or the stairmaster for your high intensity intervals then use the elliptical only after you’ve done your intervals. Keep in mind that using the elliptical in this way is completely optional. The rule is to only use the elliptical as a complementary device to add to your cardio routine. If you use these cardio exercise equipment as directed in this article, you will see that even your most stubborn fats will melt away.

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How to Get Your Pre-pregnancy Body

How to Get Your Pre-pregnancy Body

Posted on 13. May, 2010 by .


Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about soon-to-be mothers and they ask me how they can get back to their pre-pregnancy body. The common question I get asked is how soon can they start exercising after giving birth. While I do not have any personal experience about this topic yet, I went ahead and researched the subject. During my research, I came across a program called, “Post-natal Body Fix,” by Kaisa Tuominen. I first heard of Kaisa after joining a online forum for personal trainers. She has been a trainer since 1998 and has degrees in Exercise Science and Public Health from Oregon State University. Her gym is currently based in Spain. Her specialty and passion is in working with expectant mothers and helping them recover after childbirth.

Note: This article is mostly for women but if you are a guy, this will most likely help you when you are about to have a baby with your significant other.

Without much thought, I went ahead and bought Kaisa’s latest program to help with my research. From reading the books, I was in awe at how knowledgeable she was about this topic. Since she works with moms at her gym daily, I’m really not surprised that she is. In her book, she goes into detail about the what is going on in new moms’ minds and all the emotions that they are feeling. She then discusses ways to live a balanced, enjoyeable life during a time when moms can be very busy, overwhelmed, and stressed.


[I’d like to envision that this is how having a new baby feels.]

The part that I like the most about Kaisa’s book was when she discussed the cost of doing nothing after pregnancy. These costs come from the weakening of the core/abdomen area and the pelvic floor. The weakening of these muscles happen when the ab muscles have to naturally separate to make space for the growing baby inside and when your pelvic floor muscles have to pull away from each other to make the baby pass through during childbirth. Two of these costs that really stood out for me. The first one was neck and back pain that wouldn’t go away. My sister and a close friend have been complaining about back pain since they gave birth and now I know how pregnancy can alter your spine alignment to cause this pain. The second cost is having a weak pelvic floor that causes sexual difficulties and incontinence. The thought of using diapers when I get older gives me the motivation I need to do this program so that I do not have to wear them.

Post-natal Body Fix has 3 phases with each phase lasting 6 weeks. The phases 1-3 are called Post-natal Core Fix, Fitness Fix, and Fat Loss Fix, respectively. The biggest misinformation that I learned from Kaisa is women do not have to wait for 40 days before they start to exercise after pregnancy. In fact, the sooner women start, the faster they will recover. Having said that, you can start phase 1 on day 1 which is designed to strengthen your pelvic floor and core muscles. When you move on to phase 2, you will be working on gaining strength and training your body to work as a whole. You will also be working on improving your cardiovascular health during this phase. The last and final phase will probably look like something you would do before you got pregnant. This phase is designed to help you lose the baby weight and improve your overall fitness.

Of course, no fitness program is complete unless you talk about nutrition. Kaisa’s approach is a lot similar to Dax Moy’s Elimination Diet. If you have not read my post on it, you can read it here: Elimination Diet Day 1. I totally support and highly recommend this diet or way of life since I have seen great results with it and so have my clients.

During a Google search for Kaisa, I also came across a free e-bok she gave away sometime ago. This e-book called, “Pregger Fit,” will teach you how to do exercises during pregnancy that will help giving birth easier. You can download your copy of Pregger Fit here: Pregger Fit Download.

If you’d like to get a copy of Kaisa’s book, simply click on this link: Post-natal Body Fix. When you sign up for her newsletter, you can get a copy of her free report, the 7 Secrets of Getting Your Pre-baby Body Back. Lastly, I will get a small commission if you buy Kaisa’s report through the links in this post. But, I bought her product with my own money and no rewards from Kaisa. I promise that I would never recommend any product to you if I have not bought it for myself and/or if it will not help you in staying healthy and fit.

I hope you enjoyed this post and let me know what your thoughts are especially if you’re an expecting mom.

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