Strong Core = Strong Body

Three weeks ago, as I was cleaning out my closet, I found an old piece of exercise equipment; my ab wheel. It had been a long time since I had used it, and I was growing tired of doing crunches and leg lifts that would leave me looking bloated. So, I gave it a try. After doing 2 sets of 10 reps, I felt muscles in my abs and upper back I hadn’t felt used in a long time. It felt like I was actually undergoing a transformation rather than just a bit of maintenance work on my body. One week of doing 2 to 3 ab wheel workouts every few days had my body feeling stronger and rejuvenated.

Three weeks later, not only had I visibly lost inches in my waistline, but I noticed other drastic changes as well. My lower back fat had almost completely gone away, my love handles were shrinking to the point where I could wear light t-shirts and see the difference, and my overall torso was showing more muscle definition. Mind you, this was mostly centered around the ab wheel, but combined with other routine exercises, such as resistance training and daily walking, things I had already been doing up until that point.

The visual changes weren’t the only changes that I had noticed. I found that my cardiovascular endurance had improved as well; I had become capable of walking 1 mile within 15 minutes rather than 20, and running up flights of stairs was less physically taxing than it had been in the recent past. My overall energy levels had improved greatly, and I had even experienced less muscle fatigue after long days of work.

What was the difference between now and 3 weeks ago? I was taking care of my core muscles.

As much as some people don’t want to admit, core exercises are important for overall physical strength and health. Now, when I say the “core”, I don’t just mean the abdominal muscles. I mean every part of the torso: the chest muscles, the abdominal muscles, the lower and upper back muscles, the obliques, and everything from the lower neck down to the waistline, from front to back. We as people tend to only worry about the abdominal muscles, since most of modern media seems to be obsessed with six-pack abs. But let it be known: you don’t need to have a six-pack to have a strong core.

Why are core exercises important? In a nutshell, a strong core means a strong foundation for the rest of your body. A strong core takes pressure off of your spine and helps your posture. Also, having a strong abdominal wall helps aid your internal organs, especially your digestive system.

Perhaps the best asset of having a strong core is that it builds a mental and physical chain reaction to the rest of the body when it comes to exercise. When you strengthen your core with a full-motion workout, such as the ab wheel or leg lifts, you not only engage the core, but the limbs as well. In fact, having a strong core makes other exercises, such as push-ups and standing bicep curls, easier to perform. And as I mentioned from my personal experience above, having a strong core helps with overall endurance with cardio workouts, whether you’re jogging, kickboxing, or even cycling. The core is the nucleus of the human anatomy when it comes to motion.

If you’re looking for some basic core exercises, these videos are a good introduction to core exercises.

If you’re looking to start using an ab wheel, here’s a video on proper form when using one.

Meditating On The Go

For the past two months, I have been working on my first book, a guide to stress management. While I began and continued working on this book, I put several of the methods within it to use, the most prominent method being breathing and meditation. Why meditation? Because if you can close your eyes and breathe, you can meditate.

Many of us who face daily commutes and deadlines can use meditation to calm ourselves down and relax ourselves, easing the built-up tension that the day has heaped upon us. Sadly, not many of us have taken the initiative to learn about basic deep breathing exercises, let alone meditation. It has been said that the most successful people practice meditation, from famous actors to industry moguls. So there is a proven crowd on the benefits of meditating.

One particular challenge that I face during the day is finding time to meditate. While I do make time either after I wake up or before going to sleep, there are times throughout the day where I need to meditate to de-stress and re-focus myself. Being that a positive meditation can take only 5-10 minutes, it’s all a matter of strategy and opportunity. Here are a few key points I’ve adopted for on-the-go meditation that you can practice.

1. Download A Meditation App

This one may be the most convenient way to meditate on the go. Back when CDs were popular, meditation CDs were a go-to. However, the guided meditations on these CDs ranged from 20 to 30 minutes in duration, which leaves a large chance for a meditation to be interrupted. Now and days, meditation apps are a solid go-to for meditating on the go. The most popular meditation apps are Stop, Breathe, & Think, Headspace, and Calm. Each of these apps have a wide variety of meditations with durations from 3 to 10 minutes, allowing you to enjoy a quick meditation or guided breathing on the go, whether you’re riding in a cab or taking your 15-minute break.

2. Add Soft Music To Your Playlist

Before I went the app route for my express meditations, my method was simply to play some soft music from my phone’s playlist in order to get my deep breathing or meditation done. If you’re experienced in meditation, this may be the better route compared to using an app, which is mostly for beginners or people who are experienced but prefer to be guided. Soft music, such as jazz or classical piano, can take the mind to a calmer place, which makes the deep breathing required for meditating even easier. Try to use music without lyrics, so your focus can be on the calming sounds. Meditating to a soft music track can take as little as 4 minutes.

3. Just Do It!

While apps and music are excellent aids to meditating on the go, when all else fails, just close your eyes and breathe. That in itself is the primary key to meditation. As long as you’re able to breathe, you can meditate. Focus on your breaths, the rising and falling of your chest and abdomen as you take each slow, deep breath, and you will be in that deep calming state in no time.

In the end, the motivation for meditation should be the feeling of a calm body and a calm mind. No matter where or how you meditate, when it’s done right, you will feel it.

Going Semi-Vegan

As of today, it’s been 10 days since I’ve gone semi-vegan. It’s rare to hear someone refer themselves as semi-vegan, because in this day and age, either a person is vegan or they’re not. I use the term semi-vegan because while my diet is mostly plant-based, I’ll allow myself some leeway with animal-based proteins. I estimate that my plant-to-animal ratio is about 9 to 1. That way, I can stay committed to eating fruits, vegetables, and legumes without kicking myself when I eat something like fish or eggs on rare occasions.

My primary protein comes mostly from kidney beans, which I’ve developed a great fondness for. Along with being a great source of protein and fiber, they’re able to fill you up without weighing you down. My favorite method of preparing kidney beans is to simmer them in tomato sauce, then mix them with my favorite veggie pasta. The pasta itself is a rotini made from pureed broccoli and zucchini. It hits the spot every time.

I’ve found that since I had drastically decreased my intake of red meat in favor of legumes and vegetables, my health has improved greatly in only over a week. When I weighed myself four days in, my weight had dropped 3 pounds, from 285 to 282. When I weighed myself today, I dropped another 3 pounds, from 282 to 279. I had lost 6 pounds in 10 days. This is because of a combination of my diet changes, combined with my increased frequency of exercising. I went from relying only on strength training to combining strength training, core workouts, and cardio in the form of kickboxing. I’m recovering a lot faster from my workouts, facing less fatigue, and getting more rest at night. I can honestly say it’s a direct result of my increased consumption of plant-based foods.

After this test run, I’m definitely staying the course. This won’t be a seasonal “beach body” thing like most people adopt. This is a lifestyle change. I’ve felt stronger and healthier in one week than I have the past two years. While I doubt I’ll ever be 100% vegan, I’m happy with the diet and lifestyle changes I’ve made so far. After losing 6 pounds in 10 days naturally, I know I’m on the right track.