Are You A Mom With No Time To Train?

By Susan Arruda

 Susan Arruda is a 5 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2. Susan Arruda is a 6 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

Kids are a joy as well as a challenge and because you are much more limited in your area of personal freedom and time, the demands surrounding time for exercise increases substantially (unless of course, you’re fortunate to have a nanny or available help from family or friends at your disposal, which I was not). Although you may be expending energy running after your children, this, unfortunately, does not fall into the realm of fitness, nor does it justify having no exercise program. This may very well be a time where you will have to adjust your mindset and expectations, as I did, and ultimately had to succumb to the massive lifestyle changes. 

  My bundles of joy in the earlier years!  My bundles of joy in the earlier years!

Sleep deprivation and fatigue can make for some seemingly insurmountable odds, but thankfully, our bodies are amazing when it comes to survival and making adjustments for getting through difficult times and challenges.  I can speak from personal experience here as my first child was very alert and never slept through a full night until well after a year followed by an extremely colicky second child.  My children were a mere 14 months apart and I did not have any help outside the marriage. If you don’t have a gym membership with a daycare option, you need to develop a firm mindset regarding getting some sort of activity in, not only for your body’s sake, but equally important, for your state of mind. You’ll undoubtedly be a better mom and wife if you’re happy with yourself, so don’t make the mistake of feeling guilty for taking some time out to make that happen. Dads may have to pitch in and devote some quality one-on-one childcare time in order to help their spouses in this area as it will also be beneficial for the men also.  Ladies, this is generally a period of time where you may have to settle with getting small bursts of activity here and there and realize that it is just a season.

Get creative in building physical activity into your day. Invest in a walking/running stroller, get physically active with your children when at the park or playground, (incidentally, we have a 2 part playground fitness video segment on YouTube) play tag and chase your children, purchase a time saver exercise DVD workout that gives you the option to target train in 10 or 20-minute segments (we have some).  Anyone and everyone can devote 10 targeted minutes to train, regardless of how tired you may be! This is literally the approach I took in getting back into training after having my children and coming to the harsh realization that life had completely changed and making adjustments was necessary in order to accomplish staying fit. I can still vividly recall my turning point; the day I made that conscious decision to start doing smaller bouts of activity and at the end of that day, at 1:00 A.M., I started back into it with 10 minutes of abs. A resource I am now looking to avail others of as I begin my journey of creating fitness workout DVDs for busy moms and others leading very hectic lives.

Bottom line: Exercise in concentrated bursts and sustain consistency and remind yourself that anything is better than nothing and don’t neglect the power of resistance training!  Resistance training shapes and firms loose, saggy skin and aids in naturally boosting your metabolism. You burn more calories simply by building and having lean muscle tissue on your body. Shift your focus onto body composition rather than scale weight as a pound of muscle is 3-5 times more metabolically active than a pound of fat and it is much tighter when compared to a pound of fat. (a Lb. of jello vs a Lb. of baseballs) Focus primarily on body composition – bodyfat percentage and measurements instead of scale weight.

Toss the “I’ve got kids” excuse to the curb and be determined to stay active, healthy and happy!

FOOD PUSHERS: How to deal with food overload and the mom, family member, or friend that wants to love you with food:

Article by Susan Arruda

Be wise and don’t regret the season!

Learn to say NO politely, of course!  It’s actually quite liberating and empowering once you get past the initial discomfort zone and you also get better with practice.  Get comfortable with declining food or not joining in with rounds of drinks (or bring a bottle of your own Perrier), and/or making the decision not to attend the invite for yet another party.

If you’re surrounded by a family whose love language is demonstrated through food, get ready for it and mentally prepare yourself ahead of time. Play out scenarios in your head. European families (I have personal experience here) are especially guilty of this. Recognize it for what it is and learn to deal with it tactfully, respectfully, and without frustration and dread. Remember they mean well and are just set in their ways and will not understand that you’re trying to make changes for the better. You will need to be firm and stand your ground. You don’t want to offend, so be gracious and polite. – “Thank you, but I’m going to have to say no to that.”
Prepare a series of scripts of what you can, say ahead of time: “I want to pace myself, I cannot eat that, I think I’ve developed an allergy to that, I got a really bad stomach ache the last time I ate that, I’m trying to watch what I eat more carefully, my stomach feels unsettled,” or whatever suits your individual situation and comfort level.

One approach that I’ve tried that seems to work surprisingly well with aggressive food pushers is, “I would love to have it, but just not right now. I’m so full! Would it be possible to set it aside and take it to go?” Reassure them that yes, you would love to have it; this is key for not offending. You can compromise and have half, perhaps and practice Marco Girgenti’s motto: “Halve it and have it.”  Make peace with the fact that they don’t understand and may not be supportive of your decision or the changes you’re making/made in your food and lifestyle choices.

Develop resolve, don’t cave in, and realize that you cannot control what others do, but rather, you can only manage your own actions and reactions. Be merry and enjoy the company as well as all the great food, in moderation and free from regret later on.

Say NO to weight gain! – Staying on track throughout the holidays

Celebrations and holiday get-togethers

Tips for offsetting disastrous after affects of the big feast!

Holidays, celebrations, family gatherings, and get togethers seem to be synonymous with an abundance of food, high calorie, tasty, tempting treats and alcohol.  There are several ways to approach the big event without suffering the consequences of guilt, regret, bloating, and serious disappointment in your lack of self-control! Some Tips:

First and foremost, you must decide ahead of time what your plan will be; whether you will make efforts to be wise and make moderate, healthy choices or whether you plan to indulge in some of your favourite treats. We strongly advise that you set some boundaries and refrain from going no holds barred and having no restrictions. If you are going to choose to indulge, try this strategy to help balance and offset the additional calories. 

Try to train for at least an hour, if possible, or up the intensity of a shorter training session if you’re short on time.  Aim to incorporate some of your training as cardio. Burn, burn, burn to earn! Want the ability to eat more without packing on the extra pounds? Then you need to balance it out (much like your bank balance) with greater energy expenditure to avoid the consequences of weight gain. Cut back on your eating throughout the day to allot for the unhealthy and greater caloric intake coming your way. 

Eat a healthy breakfast and hydrate well (we’re talking water and/or supplement with herbal teas) throughout your day leading up to your evening event and eat light, perhaps only vegetables or broth.

If your plan is to indulge, opt to fast for the day (unless you’re diabetic, or have any other serious medical condition) and save your eating for the party.  It’s not something you would normally do, but because it’s a few and far between practice, it’s not a bad idea. This helps you to keep your calories in check and balance your overall calorie intake, especially if you already know ahead of time that you’re going to indulge.  Drink water (flavoured with lemon, cucumber, etc.) or green and herbal tea throughout your day, and if you feel some serious hunger coming on, munch on vegetables such as broccoli or celery. 

DO NOT WEAR ELASTIC WAISTBANDS OR YOUR “FAT PANTS!” This practice just encourages an unhealthy amount of limitless eating and you will be unhappy with yourself after-the-fact.  Remind yourself that you will have the opportunity to eat those beloved treats or your favourite food again and instead, try to practice moderation. Telling yourself that it’s the last time you will eat your unhealthy food of choice will only encourage you to eat more of it and it is not realistic. Wear fitted clothing and this will help discourage overindulging.

MAKE THE FOCUS MORE ABOUT THE COMPANY, THE SOCIALIZING AND THE PEOPLE, AND NOT THE FOOD.  Catch up with family, friends and enjoy the interaction with people, not food.

Allot for Alcoholic beverage calories (if you’re choosing to drink) and don’t consume them on an empty stomach.  Be sure to spread them out throughout your evening and/or be a super slow drinker and make the drink last as long as possible (this tactic will also help discourage others from pressuring you to drink more)! Pre-plan a ride home and of course, don’t ever drink and drive!

If you really bombed with your eating at the party and feel bloated and unhappy with yourself the next morning, make some more adjustments the next day:

  • Perform cardio on an empty stomach within 15-30 minutes of waking up.

  • Drink coffee (minus the sugar and cream) on an empty stomach to jumpstart your metabolism prior to your exercise. 

  • Exercise for at least an hour. Try to also take an evening walk to rev your metabolism when it is generally slowing down.

  • Hydrate and drink  and drink lots of water throughout your day to flush toxins and waste out of your system faster. Regular flat water is best and/or carbonated (although it can add to feeling bloated) and you can choose to flavour it with slices of citrus fruit or cucumber, herbs, etc. to enhance flavour and add nutrients.

  • Natural herbal teas are another source of fluid can also help push things through your system faster. Fluids combined with the exercise will work synergistically to assist flushing toxins out faster.

If you hosted the festivities, have containers and doggie bags to give away the leftovers. Be sure to get the unhealthy treats out of sight or out of your house if you can’t exercise discipline and moderation with tempting foods. Don’t keep them in your home and risk breakdown.

 Susan Arruda - Holiday Shopping at Kensington Market
Susan Arruda – Holiday Shopping at Kensington Market

These measures and tips, when put into practice, can help you avoid eating overload and maintain your healthy weight. Implement them to avoid the inches and the scale from the slow and steady climb. 

Planning is vital for success. However, take heart in knowing that one day of feasting will not undo all your overall healthy habits. The key to long-term success is consistency!  Stay positive and make efforts to move forward to correct the damage done and avoid self-bashing; it accomplishes nothing and can actually set you further back. Take action with the above points to correct the damage swiftly! You can’t do anything about the past so strive to keep a sound, sane perspective and move forward in a positive and productive direction.

Remind yourself that health and fitness is a lifelong  journey so make it fun to be fit and make sure it also fits your lifestyle. 

Article written by Susan Arruda

Why You Are Not Losing Fat – Part 3

By Marco Girgenti

 Marco lost 160 Lb. and has maintained that weight loss for over a decade!
Marco lost 160 Lb. and has maintained that weight loss for over a decade!

This is a biggie, folks. Ignorance!

All roads that lead to excuses usually wind up in compromise and how we eat is no exception.

I have consulted people’s nutrition and exercise numbering in the thousands, let’s focus on food for a moment.

So we sit down at a table for your fitness consultation and you begin telling me everything you want to change about your body, how you have tried and made so many efforts and that you really want this, etc…

My first question will be: “how many calories do you average per day?’

“Oh, gosh, I don’t really know, but I try to eat healthy.”

Here is the deal; I do not advocate counting calories religiously, but you have got to at least know what your tipping point for losing/maintaining body weight is. So, what many people resort to is the commercial diet programs we see so many B-list celebrities endorse, because, after all, the program does it all for you and there is no thinking or weighing to do; and that, my dear yo yo dieter, is exactly where the problem lies. We do not think! So we go on some diet program with pre-fab boxed meals and are amazed at what happens when we come off the boxed food; BOOM, it all comes back and then some. Besides, can you actually commit to being on pre-packaged boxed food for the rest of your life?

I hear you: “I am just going to do this until I hit my target weight.”

Oh no, you’re not. You’re going to hit your target, come off the boxes and wind up with a whole new weight loss goal, but this time you will have to account for an additional 20-25% body weight.

Then of course, there are the famous, I call them infamous, point based programs. Ask yourself; what are you learning about the food you are eating? You may be staying within your prescribed point system, but what if 2-3 of those points are coming from foods laced with trans fats or lard? Are you really any further ahead, or is it just about a temporary dip of the scale? What happens when the food choices on vacation is not on the point system?

The bottom line is this, if you are not going to think about what you are eating, there are plenty of bogus food and diet programs who will do the thinking for you. You will pay them, they will continue to make billions and you will remain ignorant and on the dieting roller coaster.

Be prepared though; it’s going to cost you a lot more than just your health. Some of these programs run into the thousands of dollars.

What a price to pay for not having to think… actually, no; what a cost.

Why You Are Not Losing Fat – Part 2

By Marco Girgenti

 Marco lost 160 Lb. and has maintained that weight loss for over a decade!
Marco lost 160 Lb. and has maintained that weight loss for over a decade!

Great, You Are Exercising… I think.

In this second part of my 5 part series on “Why You Are Not Losing Weight,” I will look at exercising.

Let’s get one thing straight; everyone reacts to certain exercises differently. Just like a “one size fits all” diet will not work, neither will a generic approach to exercise. I used to tell people who were just getting started on their weight loss journey to simply “move.” 

Although movement is important, like in any other area, people define this differently.

“I went for a walk today.”

I hear that a lot from people. Fully remembering that for me just over a decade ago that was big news, we always want to progress. So I am suggesting you still do move, but do so with purpose. Your poodle will probably not pull you along quickly enough to generate a metabolic shift, but pushing a stroller uphill, might. A leisurely walk around the block might be a great thing to do following dinner, but a vigorous walk will yield better results.

At the gym, if you are training for weight loss, doing a set of exercises with medium to challenging weights followed by 3 minutes to get to a water fountain will not get it done, but circuit training in 3 minute intervals at 80-90% intensity and a 1 minute water break will.

What will definitely not get it done is you doing things incorrectly. This is where I have to stop, no, stomp all over the objections “I can do it myself/I can’t afford a trainer.” Most of us have had financial challenges, but I encourage you to closely examine where your money is going. Are you spending a lot of money, and calories, on expensive “designer” coffees? Weekly visits to the salon? Guys, the beer nights with your buddies and just eating out in general? That social outing drink(s) or buying lunches and snacks at work?  Your monthly VIP movie channel packages… these all add up.

It all boils down to one thing; what is important to you? The amount of overweight people I consulted who refused to get a trainer, nearly all had perfect hair, Michelangelo level nail detailing and $500 Gucci glasses, and not just the guys 🙂
Nice things are wonderful to enjoy, I am just challenging you to examine where you might be putting money that could better be used to help you on your fitness journey.

What costs more than anything is doing things incorrectly, which can lead to injury and then you, sitting back on the couch thinking, “wow, I am never going to lose this weight”, and being in a very discouraging place. If you have been hurt in the gym or still don’t know what kind of cardio to do and whether or not you should be doing it before or after weights, do yourself a favor; stop wasting your time just moving, and move with purpose instead.

Why You Are Not Losing Fat – Part 1

By Marco Girgenti

 Marco lost 160 Lb. and has maintained that weight loss for over a decade!
Marco lost 160 Lb. and has maintained that weight loss for over a decade!

Okay, there can be many reasons as to why that fat won’t let go.

You are exercising, eating “right” and making an effort. So what gives?

In my debut series I will touch on several areas from food planning, mindsets and other pitfalls and successes.

After losing over 150 Lb and keeping it off for a decade, I can say with meekness and surety, that I “get” weight loss. What I am working on these days is the sculpting, so to speak. Those last 15-20 Lb. are fighting for me because they “love” me. Which brings me to my first point:

Your Fat Loves You

Have you ever hard of what happens when a mother bear senses her cub is in danger? Well, God help the cause of that danger, because momma will put herself between it and her baby, defending it to the death, if necessary.
That is how our fat works. It is a strange type of love hate relationship, but maybe looking at it this way will make it a little clearer.
When our bodies are underfed, especially when we have been at a particular weight for a long time, our “weight set point” senses a shift and, like momma bear, perceives this as danger and then it’s fat to the rescue! Fat exists for a number of reasons and one of them is to be our protector. If you were stuck in the wilderness without food or water, your body’s metabolic rate (the speed at which you process and burn calories) would slow down to “save” you, so to speak. The result? Our systems go into a protective mode and the body begins to resist weight loss and store fat. I like to say it does this because “our fat loves us.”

The Fat that Fought Back

So, how do those low cal diets look now? Just ask anyone that has ever been on one, because invariably the body rebelled and the fat fought back. Hey, I did call my book “Starving to be Fat,” for a real reason folks! At my heaviest weight, I was barely eating. It was not until I began to understand the concept of stoking my metabolism through regular intervals of eating, that the fat came off and stayed off.
Now, I am not saying we should get stuck on a rigid number of calories, but consider this; do you haveany idea at all as to how many calories you consume daily and from which food groups? Don’t you think you should? A guideline, at the very least is essential. Find a facility, perhaps a nutritionist that can calculate your BMR, Basal Metabolic Rate. The BMR is an equation based on a number of factors, such as percentage of lean tissue etc…that will tell you at what rate your body burns calories. Go over that amount without being active and you will gain weight, go under it dramatically and you will lose, then gain.

Remember; fat will always fight back, it is engineered to adapt to varying circumstances and to protect you. Don’t starve your body into gaining fat!

Fit People Have ‘Fat’ Days Too

By Susan Arruda

 Susan Arruda is a 5 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

Susan Arruda is a 6 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

Having a fit and healthy body doesn’t necessarily correlate to always feeling the part. As individuals, we set a precedent and a standard for ourselves to succeed and excel in many different areas of our lives.  

   “Self-esteem is more than a number on a scale; that number can often fluctuate. Your self-worth must be rooted and grounded in something far more substantial.” – Susan Arruda

If you’re a perfectionist, continually striving for excellence and progress, that is an often enviable trait, (Essential for a surgeon!) however, it does present a double edged sword, in some instances.

When pressure to maintain a standard exceeds the point where balance and enjoyment of our everyday lives is seriously affected, we need to take a step back and re-evaluate. Perception and outlook are directly associated with how we feel, which can impact how we act.  Negative feelings implicate our mood, no question about it!

In my case, If I have overindulged and missed the mark on a particular day, the next day can present very negative consequences if I don’t steer my mind into thinking the right thoughts. This scenario is a perfect set-up for a ‘fat feeling’ day. “I feel fat. I feel bloated. I feel gross.” These feelings can also just seemingly surface for no apparent good reason. (Time of the monthly cycle can trigger these emotions as well as just having a ‘bad’ day.) Many of us have heard the above phrases uttered by someone we know, or have indeed, spoken them ourselves, no matter what our fitness level.  

Missing the mark, whether it be in the eating or exercising department, can negatively affect our mindset and make event the fittest person feel like the fattest person in the room.
Been there, done that. Do it more often than I want to, actually.

Body dysmorphia is a term often used to describe this condition and it basically refers to having a distorted perception of one’s own body and it can affect both men and women. What you see in the mirror doesn’t line up with what is truth.  In serious cases, this can cause severe stress and result in a highly diminished quality of life and  can even lead to requiring professional help. Societal pressures may often have a large impact here.

Let’s get a reality check; one bad day doesn’t undo all the good you generally put into practice on a consistent basis. Ask yourself, “are you really all of a sudden fatter today, or just feeling the part?” The healthiest thing you can do for yourself in these circumstances is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on track ASAP.  Don’t beat yourself up and lament about the past. You can’t change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about it. Clean it up and balance the damage by doing more exercise, adequate hydration and eating right. Move ahead and get beyond the incident.

You can never get away from yourself, so practice being a best friend to yourself instead of your own worst enemy.  Make a decision to move forward and stay in a positive mindset, despite the slip up. 

Nobody is perfect and fat days happen to fit girls too!

The Everyday Overlooked Abdominal Workout – Posture

By Susan Arruda

 Susan Arruda is a 5 Time Figure Champion  and mom of 2.
Susan Arruda is a 5 Time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

Abdominals are at the ‘core’ of it all and as a result, involved in everything we do.  Refer to the article, The Deep Truth About Abs which discusses the four different abdominal layers. Strong abdominals are necessary for maintaining good alignment and having a strong healthy back.  Did you know that the first muscle to fire when almost any limb movement occurs (according to Australian research) is the deepest abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominis (TVA/aka TA) and that the muscles of the TVA are connected to the lower back?  My TnT Ab DVD, Core Galore – Fit Foundations, discusses this more in depth as well as provides you with three effective workouts to develop and strengthen your abs to become stronger stabilizers and challenges all the muscles of the core. I’m very passionate about this as I am keenly aware of the importance of solid foundational building principles for long term health and injury prevention.

Keeping good posture is a crucial and overlooked component of overall good health and the longterm consequences of poor posture runs a very lengthy list; from weak muscles, tight and stiffness that may be highly predominant upon waking, muscular imbalances, leg pain with numbness, tingling and weakness, breathing problems, spinal dysfunction, joint and disc degeneration, decreased quality of life, and more!  Yes, somethingso seemingly simple and insignificant as posture can really amount to big trouble long term. Some of the more serious health problems people experience can very well be the simple result of poor posture and the effects of erosion on the body over time, but we’re often in search of a more complex reason. In observing adults and working with students ranging from 11-14 yrs. old has brought fourth a strong awareness on the mass proportion of poor posture as an epidemic and the lack of knowledge surrounding it.

The literal meaning of posture means to put or place.  Keeping our body position in the most favourable anatomical position to avoid undue stress and muscle imbalances is crucial for long term health, not to mention, it’s aesthetically more appealing and yes, looking good in addition to feeling good, go hand in hand.  Engaging the abdominals is required to keep proper upright alignment and more specifically, learning to recruit and engage the deep transverse abdominals.

The TVA/TA works as stabilizers to support our back and pelvis and provide us with good torso alignment.  The transversus abdominis is involved in every single movement we perform; it’s the first muscle to fire when almost any limb movement occurs. When we are not in the practice of actively engaging our abdominals with the abdominal draw in (aka, abdominal brace, abdominal hallowing) while maintaining a neutral spine, it puts extra strain on our lower back and contributes to poor posture.  We need to actively practice this isometric abdominal contraction throughout your day by consciously pulling your navel into your spine and holding this contraction for 20-60 seconds intermittently throughout your day. Make sure you don’t raise your rib cage as that engages other muscles other than the TVA.  This draw in or vacuum exercise becomes easier with consistent practice and ultimately, you want to do this co-contraction with every exercise. It also automatically sets you up for having better posture.

Sitting in your car is an ideal time to capitalize on putting this into practice. You want to strive to maintain natural alignment of all three curves in your spine (cervical, thoracic, lumbar). Sit as upright as possible, press your head back against your car headrest to counter the common protruding chin, have your butt all the way to the back of the seat while keeping your shoulders down and back and tighten and draw in the abs. In maintaining the natural curve of the spine, there will be a curve at the neck and lower back. Good standing posture requires engaging the deep TVA muscle (this supports and stabilizes the spine) along with alignment and positioning of the pelvis. Cue an imaginary line that aligns the shoulders over hips, and knee to ankle alignment. Standing for prolonged periods can produce fatigue and put undue strain on the low back. To alleviate this stress, raise one foot up onto a platform (the very reason for a bar stool) which automatically shifts the pelvis forward to reduce this strain and/or shift your pelvis forward by contracting your glutes and resetting your posture. Do a visual posture check as well as perform the draw in along with scapular retraction (press shoulders down and squeeze shoulder blades together to counter stooping and rounded shoulders) to reset your alignment. Having strong, more defined abs are a result of training them consistently (30% training, 70% diet) as well as eating right. This will not only yield a sleeker appearance, but will provide you with a solid strong core and healthier, better looking posture.

Get in the habit of training your abs around the clock; you’ll be amazed at the results!

I Know What To Do To Lose Weight, I Just Have to Do It

By Marco Girgenti


 Marco lost 160 Lb. and has maintained that weight loss for over 10 years!
Marco lost 160 Lb. and has maintained that weight loss for over 10 years!

One proclamation that we repeatedly hear is “well, I know what to do, the problem is doing it.” Well, I am going to challenge you on that, because the truth is most people actually think they know what to do, but they don’t!

To help gauge how accurate your statement is, here are a few questions that will quickly tell us if you really do know what to do, and are just not doing it.

  1. What is your Basal Metabolic Rate? (Basically, at what rate does your body store or process its calories?)
  2. How many calories did you take in today and from what food groups?
  3. At what heart rate (beats per minute) should you exercise in order to burn fat and preserve muscle?

The list goes on and on, but if you do not know the answer to these three questions, here is some tough love; you really don’t know what you are supposed to be doing. What you have is the general 98% failure rate de-facto mantra : “I just need to eat better and exercise more.”

Okay, let’s say I give you the part about exercising more. Can you tell me how many of the foods in your kitchen right now are laced with trans-fats, have hidden sugar or contain more chemicals than they do nutrients and whether or not those labels like “fat free, low in sugar, or part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle” actually help or sabotage your weight loss and health goals? If you do not know, then again, you simply think you know, or you cannot be bothered to take the time to know. If that is the case, I must ask you the golden question; who are you going go trust to give you the information you need to succeed? Who do you trust to feed your children? Take it from a single dad who coached his son to a 17 LB weight loss; the responsibility falls solely on you.

All that we can do is educate you, but you have got to want to take matters into your own hands. If you don’t I will give you a list of commercial diet programs and “health” food manufacturers who are making billions of dollars on our blind faith.

I challenge you to educate yourself and stop handing your health and the health of your family over to brands and convenience.  Do you remember that exam you had to pass? How about that job you wanted so badly or that sporting event you wanted to excel at? What did these require in order for you to succeed?

Like anything worthwhile, proper nutrition and weight maintenance require knowledge, discipline and action.

Know what to do and do it!

The Deep Truth About Abs and Training Them

By Susan Arruda

We’re all too familiar with the traditional abdominal exercises that involve variations of forward curls and crunches but many people are simply performing these incorrectly. The focus seems to be on quantity rather than quality. It’s a busy life folks, and I’m all about efficiency of movement and making it count. I’m surprised when I encounter people who are still resorting to doing 100 repetitions of full/old style sit ups. My question is, “when you’re performing this exercise, where are you feeling it most? What exactly are you trying to target? What is your goal?”

The full sit up actually places a lot of stress on the lumbar spine (unless you have really strong abs and can articulate every movement of the vertebrae), involves a lot of the hip flexors/iliopsoas, and there is usually momentum involved.  If the muscular fatigue or stress is felt in parts of the body other than the abs, that’s an indicator that you may be doing it wrong, or the primary working muscle is not actually what you’re hitting, and it may simply be the wrong exercise selection for you. The fact is, you need to isolate and concentrate on the muscle you’re trying to work.  

In a crunch, your head is along for the ride so try to keep it as relaxed as possible. A cue to help you with this is to ensure you keep space between your chin and chest (imagine a baseball under your chin) and allow your head to rest back onto your hands like dead weight and keep your elbows as far back as possible.  When we perform a crunch, that move which targets the superficial, rectus abdominis only occurs when we’re lying on our back and the abs are working as prime movers. The fact is, our abs spend more time acting as stabilizers to support our back and pelvis in all movements of everyday life. 

 Susan Arruda pictured at 38 yrs. young!
Susan Arruda pictured at 38 yrs. young!

We’re missing a vital component of abdominal training which targets the deep transversus abdominis (I refer to it as the TVA/ aka the TA). Your ‘deep’ TVA is involved in every movement you perform and in fact, the TVA is actually the first muscle recruited when almost any limb movement occurs!  (Reported by Australian researchers, Richardson, Jull, Hodges, and Hides) This muscle is involved in flattening the abdominal wall and acts like our natural ‘weight belt’ or ‘girdle’. If you overlook strengthening this muscle, it can set you up for back pain and injury. Many people also don’t realize that the abdominals can be developed to push out or to pull in (DVD workout with detailed “how to” and breakdown of all the ab muscles, now available!) and clearly, we want to train them to pull inwards.

Learning how to recruit the deep TVA is the first step. The challenge is to do so without getting other neighbouring muscles involved and to breathe naturally through the process.

To activate the TVA, pull your belly button in towards your backbone to narrow the waist without expanding the chest and recruiting other muscles. The next challenge is to maintain that draw in contraction for a few seconds (start with 10) and continue to breathe naturally; not so easy! Visualization is helpful in getting this point across: Imagine putting on a pair of very tight jeans, zipping them up and yes, of course, breathing. That’s the gist of it but it’s a training practice that requires a great deal of mental focus when you’re first learning it.  Start slow and gradually progress over time to increase the draw in to 20 and 30 second holds intermittently throughout your day, whether sitting (car time) or standing as this will also assist in achieving better posture as well as a stronger TVA. Ultimately, the goal is to perform the abdominal draw in as a co-contraction to any/all exercises. The bottom line is, we need to train the abs to become better stabilizers and ideally, we need a combination of both; exercises that train our abs as prime movers (crunch variations) and deep abdominal training (draw in)  for stronger stabilizing abdominal muscles for a balanced core.

Integrating movement with ease while maintaining the ‘deep’ TVA draw in contraction is ultimately, your long term goal.

Consistent and conscientious practice will help you achieve that!