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.

Balancing My Diet

(Personal note: I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. Between work, life changes, and friends getting married, I rarely had a moment to sit down and give you an update. I’m glad to be back on here, and I hope to keep this blog updated on a regular basis.  –D.T.)

In the past few weeks, I made small changes to my daily diet to reflect my renewed insight to health, especially after recovering from a shoulder/chest injury. (How did I end up injuring my shoulder and chest? Well, I learned the hard way not to do hindu pushups and overhead presses on the same day.) In the world of exercise and fitness, everyone is trying to follow one diet trend or another. Either they’re following the Paleo Diet, going vegan, or some other fad like eating 30 bananas a day. To be honest, recovering from an injury taught me something important: balanced nutrition is essential.

During my recovery process, I made a quick hospital trip to get examined. I had my blood pressure taken, and, to my shock, I was at 161/110. Thinking that it was because of my sodium intake (in spite of getting a decent amount of fruit in my diet and drinking water regularly), I made the resolution to go vegan. For 3 days, I kept my diet strictly plant-based, and in 3 days, I dropped from 289 lbs to 280lbs. That may sound good, but I was becoming easily irritable, and developing a case of insomnia on top of that. Also, my lack of protein was making it harder for my body to repair itself. The rapid weight loss wasn’t worth it.

The day I ended my vegan streak, the first thing I ate was a lean beef burger. I could feel the pain in my aching muscles melting away, as if that beef was the missing link from my recovery. Within 3 days, I put on 3 pounds, moving up to 283 lbs. Deciding to balance my plant-based nutrition with a small amount of animal-based protein (mostly chicken or fish), I kept a steady routine of eating at least 2 bananas and a salad (with a small cheat food like oatmeal cookies) during the day, and at night after work, indulging in a salad with a meat of my choice. By the end of one week, I had dropped 1 pound to 282 lbs. Keeping the regimen up, I dropped another pound, and as of today, I weigh 281 lbs, 8 pounds lighter than I was 3 weeks ago, and only 1 pound heavier than when I ended my vegan period. Keep in mind, this is combined with a steady exercise regimen that includes boxing, kickboxing, bodyweight exercises, stretching, and moderate resistance training.

With all the fancy gimmicks out there and people punishing themselves by denying themselves their favorite foods, the best way to eat is just by getting more fruits and vegetables in their diet, not forsaking pizza and burgers completely, but balancing their intake. In fact, the more I got into eating salad and fruits on a daily basis, the less I needed to eat pizza or burgers on a regular basis. And on that occasional cheat day, make sure you eat some fruit to keep your system craving healthy food. My last cheat day before my most recent weighing, I indulged in Taco Bell and Little Caesar’s pizza. I still ate a banana after my indulgence, and it kept me from getting too hooked on junk food. And I still managed to keep my weight going down.

So in the end, you don’t need gimmick diets to lose weight. Get plenty of fruits and vegetables along with a bit of protein, and you’ll be just fine. 😉

(End note: Btw, if you’re wondering why my blood pressure was so high that day, it was an effect of my body recovering from the chest/shoulder injury. Once I recovered, my BP dropped down to a healthier rate. 🙂 )

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.

2 Weeks of Pushups = Breaking A Plateau

2 weeks ago, I went on an outing with my younger brother in hopes of buying a new wallet. The T.J. Maxx that we went to had no wallets in stock, but something else had caught my eye: a P90x Pull Up Bar for $25. Now, I’m not the most keen on using a pull up bar at home, but the fact that it could also be used as a pushup bar and a dip station also caught my eye. So, for the mere price of $25 ($27.11 after tax), the bar was mine.

It took about 10-15 minutes to assemble, but once I had put it together, I immediately dropped down, gripping the padded grips of the bar, and churned out 15 wide-grip pushups. After 60 seconds of rest, I pumped out another 15 pushups, and after another minute of rest, I pumped out 15 more. 3 sets of 15 pushups. I kept it up for the week, with a rest day in between, keeping up with my other exercises, and by the time Friday came around, I felt awesome. My chest muscles were in great shape, my biceps and triceps had gotten some solid symmetry, and my lats had gotten huge and thick. The bar was making pushups fun for me, a smooth combination of a wide-spread pushup and a bench press, and I ALWAYS made sure my chest touched the bar with every rep.

As I started my second week, I kept up my regimen, eventually mixing 15-rep and 10-rep sets, which resulted in my muscles not only getting bigger and harder, but earning a nice soreness between workout days that only a good workout could be the cause of. Every other day, I’d notice more shape and development every time I took off my shirt. Then today, I managed to break one of my biggest plateaus: doing diamond pushups.

As long as I could remember, I always had trouble doing diamond pushups. I was always a strong man, but perhaps the specific muscle fibers or what not weren’t capable of sustaining a diamond pushup, no matter how many regular pushups I could churn out. That all changed today. After doing 2 sets of 10 wide grip pushups on the P90x bar, I switched to a narrow grip. Expecting my arms to give way, I started to perform the narrow grip pushups. First one, then two, and before I knew it, I had churned out five narrow grip pushups. Five! To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I pushed the bar aside, putting my hands in the diamond position, and churned out five diamond pushups until my inner chest muscles were as sore as can be. Mind you, I’m a hefty 285 lbs of muscle and some fat, and I managed to do a form of pushups that people half my size have an easier time trying to do. I felt like Captain America.

I’m going to keep up this regimen and enjoy the benefits, slowly crossing one plateau after another. Maybe one day, I’ll find myself doing some of those crazy pull up exercises you see those calisthenics experts do on YouTube. If there’s anything I learned from this experience, it’s that patience and consistency pays off if you keep at it.