~ by Desiree Walker

Ever wonder why most gymnasts have 6-packs? … because they hang around bars! Well, I’m talking 6-pack abs of course, and as corny as it may sound, you can always find some truth in humor.

I was a gymnast for 12 years. My teammates and myself included – grew up with nice, lean defined, abdominal muscles, and in the world of high level gymnastics this is more the norm than the exception. It was not because we were all genetic freaks, or did thousands of crunches. In fact, we did NO standard crunches at all! But what we did do, strengthened our core and worked our bodies in such a way I believe contributed greatly to that to sculpted, quilted abdominal look.

Well, the great news is that you do not have to start gymnastics classes to get visible abs. But I do think every fitness athlete or enthusiast can learn something from their training and put to use a variety of these principles. So how does gymnastics core training differ from the standard crunch? The 3 major components that differ are:

1) full extension of abdominal muscle
2) isometric contractions
3) working the muscle in various planes of movement

Full Extension
– Muscles stretched with resistance through their entire intended range of motion (ROM), receive the most overload. I can remember way back to my gymnastics training days, where my coach would start and end every practice with 3 to 4 sets of hanging leg raises or leg lifts as we gymnasts called them. For these leg raises, we would hang from the high bar, with our body fully extended and lift our legs to meet our hands. Our coach was a stickler for form and – none of the reps would be counted if we used momentum and did not begin from a “dead” hang – with full extension. As young gymnasts, we knew it was harder to start from the “dead hang” fully extended position, but we certainly didn’t know “why” – but we did it anyway. You can incorporate the same movement into your own workouts – either grabbing onto a chin up bar or abdominal chair (Captain’s Chair), lifting legs (straight or bent). These devices can be found in just about every gym. The key is starting from that “dead” hang position – getting a full stretch in the abdominal muscles.

Isometric Contractionsof the abdominal muscle.  Isometric contractions are where tension is created in the muscle with no visible change (movement) in the joint angle. The muscle(s) is contracting without moving through a ROM. For this principle, the goal of course is not to achieve a full extension of the abdominal muscle but to hold and contract it in one position. So much of gymnastics is isometric in and of itself (balancing in a handstands, upside down or right side up positions with leg up/ leg down – you name it – we were probably required to do it)- so many of the drills we did to learn new skills isometric of isometric nature.

Planes of Motion is the third component vital to core training. In gymnastics, we flipped and twisted in all different directions. Even on the uneven bars, we had requirements in our routine for elements that contained a direction change. I remember really disliking this, because once you got going in one direction – you had to switch and go the other way – and have enough momentum, technique, and CORE strength to do so. Hanging windmills was one way we trained for this. It was an advanced version of the hanging leg raise, but instead of just going in one plane of motion- lifting your legs up to the bar and back down again, you lifted your legs in a circle in one direction, then switched directions the other way. It targets the oblique muscles, part of the abdominal core, responsible for rotation.

These powerfully effective “core training principles” will definitely produce results, however remember that nothing can magically transform your belly to a sculpted 6-pack – unless you are also lean enough for the abs to show, but that is another topic unto itself.  But hopefully it will give you some insight and ideas on building a better you. It was the American architect, Lois Sullivan who coined the phrase, “form follows function.” I am a wholehearted believer that quote is applicable to physique and athletic endeavors as well.  Just take a look at competitive gymnasts. We can learn a lot from them!

Desiree Walker is an IFBB pro fitness competitor and general dentist
practicing in Lumberton, NC. She shares her love for health and
wellness with her husband Ash and 2 crazy cats.
References: Abel, Scott. The Abel Approach. 2007

Business travelers often feel challenged to keep to their fitness routine and cleaner eating while on the road. But a few simple tips from can help you create travel routines that keep you feeling and looking good and less travel-weary.

1. Commit to Yourself
Do not leave your health and fitness to chance or whim. Decide it’s a part of your life and not optional, and fulfill your promise to workout. You would not think of missing a meeting with an important principle, so treat yourself with that same respect.

2. Plan Your Workouts
You schedule your important appointments and you don’t miss them. So, schedule your workout time into each day, then keep the appointment. Part of planning means surveying WHERE you can workout in addition to when. So check out the gym at your hotel or the area outside if you’re going running, then plan the what, when and where.

3. Pack Accordingly
Be sure to pack workout clothes, sneakers and of course your workout plan, such as books or 6-Pack cards. This keeps you focused, efficient and effective. Frequent travelers keep a bag packed by laundering and re-packing their travel bag so it’s ready to go.

4. Eat Clean
Clean eats to support your fitness lifestyle will help you to make the right choices while you are away. For snacks, pack some raw nuts or nutmix, or travel-friendly fruit, such as apples, and a few low sugar/carb protein bars to keep from indulging in junk-food. You can also find all of these at most airports and gas stops these days. For meals, decline the bread basket, (ask them to not leave it at the table so you won’t be temped to fill up on these carbs). Seek out salad bars, but avoiding the pre-mixed varieties with lots of fatty mayonnaise and dressings, and order the heart-healthy or “Lighter Fare” and lean items entrees generally found everywhere these days, including most fast-food places. Chances are it will be delicious, and you’ll feel better afterward.

5. Make Up Your Mind
If you follow the first tip and commit and have made up your mind to stay fit and healthy during travel, it gets progressively easier. There’s no energy wasted equivocating on what you think you might want to have or how you may feel too tired to work out. Similarly, when you make up your mind to eat clean you realize that to indulge because it’s there, is not a good enough reason to break the contract with yourself.

If you try this on your next trip, whether business or vacation, we’re betting that at the end of it, you’ll be very glad you did. Let us know, and please share your travel tips.

So, you thought you would wear that little black dress from last year to your anniversary dinner tonight. However, after looking in the mirror it doesn’t seem to fit quite as nicely as it used to. 😦   Off to the mall…. again.

Of course a woman needs a new and fresh outfit now and then, but I’m speaking to those times when we try on an outfit we already own for a special occasion, only to end up disappointed that it doesn’t look or feel good. So we feel bad, panic, then rush out to spend hours looking for something new that often ends up in the back of the closet. Consider how much time and money we spent in this pursuit!

Try this: instead of going shopping, go to the gym or plug in your favorite workout DVD or My Trainer Fitness workout card and give yourself a solid and intense workout, drinking lots of water. Eat light and healthy today, high protein, low carbs, and ample vegetables–lightly cooked; salads, with little to no dressing, and low-sugar, high-fiber fruits for snack. Do NOT starve and skip meals, just eat light, lean, clean and healthy.

If you try this simple approach, I’m betting you’ll be a pound lighter tomorrow and already feel better in your skin and in that outfit. You will feel better about yourself; more confident and back in control of your life.

Prescription: Repeat the next day, and the next…

The power is in your hands. You are in charge, you can affect the change you’re seeking, and, it’s only a workout away!!!

To Your Victory!

Note: My Trainer Fitness workout cards place the power of the professional in your palm. Or, if you prefer a DVD at home, we recommend, Metabolic Effect’s DVD for the best results in the least amount of time.

We have gotten a few queries from MGT users whose gym does not have a Smith Machine, or they are unable to perform some of the movements because their machine does not reach the low height needed for certain exercises.

In our video, LeAura demonstrates 2 of our favorite Smith Machine exercises, the Donkey Kick and the Hamstring Pull-back, both featured in the MGT 3 (Advanced) book. She also demos an alternative to these movements if you need them, by doing a Hip Thrust with a plate. Other alternatives include using the Hamstring Curl Machine or the Hamstring Ball Pull-in using a large Swiss ball. Check it out and let us know if you have come across a movement that your gym does not support and we will offer alternatives. Besides, My Gym Trainer was designed to be a DIY Fitness Program, so we want to make it as easy as possible for you! Contact us!

Photo © John Lund

1) Regular weight training is a must. Leanness in the legs comes about as a result of several factors: strengthening the underlying muscles, burning the layer of fat on top of the muscles and then finally, tightening the skin and shedding water. Weight training not only helps tone the underlying muscles, but signals the release of certain key fat-burning hormones like testosterone and the anti-aging human growth hormone, the latter of which also helps to tighten and firm skin. Best movements are lunges, squats, step-ups and leg presses.

2) Do interval cardio for overall fat loss. Doing short, but intense cardio intervals (push hard for 1 min, followed by a 1 min rest) helps speed up the metabolism for hours after the workout is over. We love hill sprints and stair climbing to hit those key troublesome areas for women, particularly the glute-hamstring tie-in where many women store fat.

3) Increase fruit and veggie intake. Most vegetables are natural diuretics, which can help shed water under the skin, leaving legs (and arms and tummies!) looking leaner with more definition. Also, fruits and vegetables help produce a more alkaline environment in the body, which helps create a more favorable condition for fat burning.

4) Drink lots of H2O! Though it seems counterintuitive, the more water you drink, the more water you will shed, creating more of that coveted “defined” look. Staying hydrated with at least 3 liters of plain water per day helps speed the metabolism, and keeps you feeling fuller and more satiated for longer.

5) Skip the dairy and sodium. Dairy is an insulin-producing food, a hormone that directly impacts the kidney to increase water retention. Sodium will drastically increase water retention also, though through a slightly different mechanism. So try to limit cheeses, milk, cream and of course ice cream (!) as much as possible if the goal is to lean out the legs and bring out more definition. Finally, check the sodium content on any processed food labels and aim for less than 200 mg per serving.

No Equipment Needed!

Stadium Smarts:

Summer is a great time to escape the gym and head outdoors for a great workout.  To shake things up or bust through a plateau, head to a local outdoor stadium with lots of steps, perhaps at a local high school for a great stair climbing circuit.  Here are some tips for how to get the most out of your My Gym Trainer stadium workouts:

  1. Intensity trumps duration: Because running stadiums is so intense, the workouts contained here are shorter, but will generate a bigger metabolic boost than long, slower workouts. By nature, running stairs is an innate interval-training workout.  Intervals alternate high-intensity bouts (runningup the stairs) with low-intensity recovery periods (walking back down the stairs).  This varying of high and low intensities several times within the workout pushes us to breach our anaerobic threshold; the point at which we are breathless and our muscles are burning.  Hitting this point (but notstaying there) in a workout increases the intensity and after-burn effect of the session, so that you continue burning greater fat and calories after the workout is over.
  1. Shape and sweat: Stair climbing is one of the best cardiovascular activities for muscular endurance and shaping.  Especially long strides up the stairs (two steps at a time) mimic the movement of a lunge, first stretching the glutes, quads and hamstrings, and then contracting all 3 muscles together in one big muscular effort to reach for the next step.  If done right, this movement creates a muscular burn in the glutes, quads and hamstrings that cannot be generated in other cardio activities like jogging.
  1. Up your metabolism with weights: We know cardiovascular exercise is great for our heart and helps shed pounds, but without weight training, we will see little definition or “cuts” in our newly trimmed physique.  These circuits created integrate cardio along with weight-training exercises to hit all the major muscle groups, while increasing the metabolic effect of the workout.  If you want to target a troublesome lower half, incorporate this leg circuit up to 3x/week.  Need a little tone in the arms?  Try this upper body circuit 2-3x/week.  Complete both circuits on days that you want a total body blitz, resting a couple minutes between upper and lower body circuits.

The workouts are to be done circuit-style, which means that you move from one exercise to the next with little rest.  Continue cycling through all the movements within the circuit until the 15 minutes is up.

Want more?  To increase your intensity, bring some dumbbells with you to the stadium! Place them at the top of Aisle #1 before you begin, and hold them during your squats, squat jumps and squat thrusts for added burn in the legs.  During your upper body circuit, use them at the top of the aisle to do rows and shoulder presses.

Be sure to perform a proper warm-up for at least 5 minutes, incorporating jogging, a few light run-throughs on the stairs and some dynamic stretches like high knees, side-to-side lunges and spinal twists.

Cardio & Lower Body Workout – You will need 2 adjacent aisles for this workout

Perform this circuit, rotating through as many times as possible in 15 minutes

Begin at bottom of Aisle #1, and sprint up steps, 2-at-a-time

Perform 10 squats at the top

Perform 10 squat jumps at the top

Perform 10 squat thrusts at the top

Perform walking lunges across the top until you reach Aisle #2

Walk down Aisle #2 – recovery time

Run back to the starting spot at the bottom of Aisle #1 and repeat circuit

Cardio & Upper Body Workout – You will need 1 aisle for this workout

Perform the circuit, rotating through as many times as possible in 15 minutes

Begin at the bottom of Aisle #1

Perform 10 incline push-ups with hands on the 5th step and feet on the ground level

Perform 10 dips with hands on the 1st step, feet on the ground level, knees bent

Perform 10 moving planks, bringing the hands from the bottom of the steps up to the 1st step and back down while in push-up position

Sprint up the steps, 2-at-a-time

Walk back down the aisle, recovering

Sprint up the steps, 2-at-a-time

Walk back down the aisle and repeat circuit

Once your workout is completed, perform a 5-minute cool-down, focusing on bringing the heart rate back down and incorporating static stretches for the hamstrings, quads, glutes, shoulders, cheat and back.

For many women the back of the arm or the triceps region is considered a trouble spot.  This is considered a “testosterone point” which means that the higher the levels of testosterone in the body, the less likely fat is to be stored here.  That means that exercises targeting this area must utilize a challengingly heavy weight, and work to the point of failure.  Some great exercises to include in your triceps arsenal include:

  1. Triceps Dip: This is an exercise staple and should be performed at the beginning of a triceps workout. Advanced trainees should attempt to complete a few repetitions with no assistance, for a guaranteed failure.  Once you get there, add some assistance and rep them out until failure is reached again.
  2. French Press:  Also commonly known as “Skull-Crushers”, if you have ever attempted a heavy set of these, you probably know the name of the exercise rings all too true, so be sure to use a weight you can manage on your own, starting lighter and working your way up if you’re not sure.  Check out My Gym Trainer for instructional photos on this technical exercise, which is one of the best for isolation of the triceps and will guarantee soreness for days.
  3. Heavy Squats: Squats for triceps?! Believe it or not, incorporating other exercises that use multiple muscle groups across several joints are huge generators of testosterone release which can also benefit the triceps.  Though it sounds counter-intuitive, getting to failure using a heavy weight on squats is a great way to prevent fat storage in the triceps!  Other exercises include Cleans and Presses, Push Presses and Deadlift Rows.

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