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Taking care of your core

Body’s ‘girdle’ maintains posture, enables weight training

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Core conditioning and functional training have become synonymous with an effective well-rounded exercise program. Although the concept may still be new to some, a program that omits these areas is severely lacking and risks postural imbalances, injuries and pain.

The core is the foundation and the center of support for the entire body. Most people historically thought the core was only comprised of the abdominals. But the core encompasses the entire abdominal wall, the obliques — or sides of your abs — the lower back, hip flexors and pelvic region.

Think of the core as the “girdle” of your body. The core includes the center of your body and provides stability, balance and agility. A strong core allows the body to move as a fluid functional unit and leads to greater strength throughout the body including the extremities. A strong core maintains appropriate posture and reduces strain on the lower back and joints.

By contrast, a weak core is much like a three-legged table: It will ultimately fall over. Without the solid foundation of a sturdy core, imbalances, mechanical idiosyncrasies and distortions throughout the entire body will occur. A weak core can wreak havoc on the body, leading to problems from poor posture to lower back and hip issues to a distorted gait. Moreover, the entire spine can be affected because several muscles that support the spine are compromised. Those muscles have become too weak and de-conditioned to sustain holding up and stabilizing the body.

Core Conditioning (CC) dictates performing a series of exercises that engage, stimulate and strengthen the core. CC exercises are multi-muscular and involve multiple plains of motion. They are more elaborate and encompassing than isolated movements and should be performed after a thorough warm-up. Keep in mind CC should integrate all the major core muscles.

Functional Training (FT) involves performing exercises and movements that are most conducive to everyday movement patterns. Functional training refers to useable strength — strength used to function every day and perform what is referred to as ADL or Activities of Daily Living. FT, like CC involves multiple muscles and muscle groups, often times integrating many muscle groups into one exercise or compound exercises at a time.

Functional training cannot be incorporated into an exercise program without first establishing a strong core through core conditioning. They go hand-in-hand and without core strength and stability, the rest of the body will crumble and any form of functional training will not be possible.

It is important to acknowledge also that without a strong core, you cannot begin to do isolated movements. If your goal is to develop bigger, more defined individual muscles, then you cannot achieve this without first building a strong foundation that will stabilize your body when performing isolated movements.

You need the strength of your abs, lower back, hip flexors and pelvis to sling and propel heavy weights around.

Where to begin? First and foremost CC and FT should be performed after a full body warm-up, never a cold body. Generally speaking, the warm-up should be a much less strenuous mirror image of the actual workout. You should perform full body movements that focus on all your major muscle groups without weights and certainly not on the limited movement of a machine or isolated muscular movements.

Start your routine with a light cardiovascular warm-up of 5-10 minutes to bring up the body’s core temperature. Follow this up with 5-10 minutes of light calisthenics and multi-muscular movements.

Light calisthenics could be jumping jacks, jumping rope, side shuffles, running backwards, knee smashes, running in place, butt kicks, kick-boxing or boxing simulations to name a few. Here is where you can be creative and think outside the box. When functionally training, think in terms of moving as many muscles as possible at once or in progression.

CC and FT have been around for longer than you think. Yoga and Pilates are classic core exercise modalities. Also, functional training equipment such as balance boards and stability balls have become the norm and are available in most up-to-date fitness centers.

I have survived and prevailed over two back surgeries and now am healthy with a relatively strong core. I believe a significant contribution to my back issues came from weaknesses in my core and in muscular imbalances. And while I thought I had a strong core, there was room for improvement, as there always is. To date, whenever I wake up with a sore back or suffer from skeletal and muscular aches and pains, I know it’s attributable to imbalances in the strength of my core and supporting muscles.

Add core conditioning and functional training to your exercise repertoire and you will be on your way to a solid body, greater overall fitness and a reduced risk of injury. With solid core and functional strength you will be stronger, faster, better balanced and far more stable.

Kevin M. Norris is a health and fitness columnist for the Washington Blade and owner of Mind Your Own Body, LLC. Reach him at [email protected]

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NEW YEAR NEW YOU 2020: Local VIDA master trainer on trends, tips and technology at the gym

Get good technique down first; you can always add weight later

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fitness, gay news, Washington Blade
Fitness experts say the best results from a new program start to appear 12-16 weeks into so tenacity is important. (Photo courtesy Beth Caldwell/VIDA Fitness)

Jesse Johnson makes his living working as a master trainer at VIDA Fitness (U Street location) but he agreed to share some of his tips and advice with us for free.

The U Street location is one of five of the gay-owned chain’s D.C. locations. A sixth is slated to open this spring in Ballston (Arlington, Va.). Johnson is 33, gay and left a career in corporate staffing to join the VIDA team in 2011. He averages between 50-60 clients in mostly 30-minute sessions per week. Find out more at vidafitness.com. Free introductory classes are available this month. The offerings are listed at vidafitness.com/uniqueclasses. 

Johnson’s comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How much does the coaching you give your clients vary from year to year as new studies and findings are made available? And how do you know if something is just another fitness fad vs. something we should really heed?

JESSE JOHNSON: There are always going to be fitness trends, that’s a given. However  before we alter what we tell our clients, we look to peer-reviewed literature. One or two studies doesn’t give much evidence — that’s not enough proof. We definitely pay attention to what is trending and we try to stay as current as possible, but we don’t incorporate it until it’s been through a more rigorous review process.

BLADE: What trends have you seen of late?

JOHNSON: In the collective big picture, there’s been a big uptick in group training. The term that’s thrown around is fitness cocktails where somebody may do a couple classes back to back, some cardio, maybe some core body work, different muscle groups — there’s been an uptick in that. And also more of what we call functional training. People want to be pain free and strong. Sure, there’s always the aesthetic benefit of lifting weights, but what people really want is to be functionally strong into their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

BLADE: Anything else?

JOHNSON: I think workouts are becoming more mindful as people use technology — apps and wearable tech to be more aware of what they’re doing. From a metric-tracking standpoint, it’s easy now to tell your heart rate, number of calories burned, number of steps taken in the course of a day with Fitbit, Myzone, the Apple watch, to the apps themselves like the Peloton apps are pretty innovative and help people be more aware of what they’re doing, how frequently. There’s more mindfulness in working out. Also people see going to the gym as more of a club or social space among millennials and Gen Z. They work out with friends, it’s seen as more social, not punishment after a weekend of drinking. 

BLADE: How much does the industry really change? For instance, would you say there’s anything significantly different you’re telling your clients today vs. what you might have said when you started at VIDA nine years ago?

JOHNSON: Well, knowledge has increased dramatically and a lot of it is due to the fact that this industry didn’t even exist 40-50 years ago. People didn’t have the same needs then they do now. But a lot of the basic fundamentals are the same — keep moving, stay active, eat purposeful and do things you enjoy doing. If you enjoy doing it, it’s easier to make it a habit. I’d say we take more the sniper approach today vs. the machine gun approach. We target more instead of just spraying a bunch of bullets hoping something hits.

BLADE: So often with nutrition it seems you’ll hear one thing, then five years later the exact opposite is what experts are saying: don’t eat eggs, no eggs are good. Stuff like that. Does fitness advice change that drastically as well?

JOHNSON: Not as much. A lot of it has to do with whether people are already moving or not. We don’t take them right out of the gate to a high level of intensity. We let them work up to it. But no, I can’t think of any particular exercise we were advising a few years ago we’re saying, “No, don’t do that one anymore” or anything like that.

BLADE: What do you do if you see people working out on their own using improper technique? Can you really hurt yourself with bad form, like lifting with your back and that kind of thing?

JOHNSON: Well we try to be as polite as possible. We’ll only approach someone if we thinkg they’re about to injure themselves. But knock on wood, I haven’t seen very many injuries at VIDA and I like to credit that to the large staff of personal trainers we have on the floor. There is an inherent risk to working out — you can hurt yourself, but it doesn’t happen very often.

BLADE: Is it better to stay at a weight level at which you can maintain excellent form or push yourself out of your comfort zone with heavier weight even if your form suffers a little? 

JOHNSON: Numerous studies have found if you take a lighter weight and do more reps but push yourself to your failure threshold vs. doing fewer reps of a heavier weight to failure, the outcome is the same. And there’s a higher risk of injury with heavier weights. We like to focus on form and technique before we progress, especially if somebody is just joining the gym and they may not know much about resistance training. You can always add weight later. 

BLADE: How many of the New Years resolution folks really stick with it? Do you see many of those same faces by March or April? 

JOHNSON: Almost all my new clients stay with me for months, sometimes years. However statistically within the industry, the number is very low. The honeymoon period on average is about six weeks and it’s a shame because often you see your best results 12-16 weeks into a program. You’ll see more immediate results sooner but that’s when it starts to get really spectacular.

BLADE: How bad are the wait times for machines at VIDA? Is it pretty crazy at peak time? 

JOHNSON: I’m not gonna lie, the gym is very busy and there are peak times. But the U Street location is more residential and we have between 50,000-60,000 square feet of space so there’s not a lot of wait time for many of the machines. And people tend to be pretty aware. They’ll let you work in with them.

BLADE: How gay is it?

JOHNSON: I’d say 50-60 percent of our clientele is gay.

BLADE: Some lesbians and trans folks as well?

JOHNSON: There are lesbians. I don’t personally have any trans clients but we have 30 trainers on staff so there may be some but yeah, it’s mostly gay men. Obviously everybody is welcome. 

BLADE: Has that ebbed or flowed much over your years there?

JOHNSON: No, D.C. is a pretty good city to be a gay person in. I haven’t seen any major change. 

Jesse Johnson (Photo courtesy of VIDA)
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Why a personalized diet can help you achieve better results

One size fits all is not the best approach when it comes to eating and fitness

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Research has found that not all diets and bodies work together the same way. (Photo courtesy Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

From custom-designed sneakers to tailor-made sunglasses, the trend of personalization is going head to toe, and for good reason, making its way to the world of weight loss and wellness.

Specifically, researchers have been studying two converging topics in recent years. One is the importance of body type in determining the combination of fats, carbohydrates and protein that will provide the best results for a given individual. The other is the variability of results associated with a single diet — the idea that if two people start the same diet at the same time, their results could be drastically different.

On top of that, consumer research shows that people overwhelmingly prefer personalized experiences. Sixty percent of consumers agree that personalization is essential to weight loss and overall wellness.

Here’s what to know about why personalized diets are becoming so popular and how to find the right diet for you:

The importance of body type

The places your body stores excess fat may be the single greatest predictor of health outcomes. This is the concept behind Nutrisystem’s assessment of the four most common body types: “Apple,” “Pear,” “Hourglass” and “Rectangle.”

“We’re going a bit old school here, because these categories have stood the test of time for a reason. They provide crucial information on how you respond to food intake and can help you to adjust what you eat based on your goals,” says Courtney McCormick, corporate dietitian at Nutrisystem. 

Body type can also influence how macronutrients like fat, protein and carbs are processed. To fulfill your individual needs, first determine your body type, food preferences and goals, then look for a weight loss plan that takes these important factors into consideration, such as Nutrisystem.

One size does not fit all

The DIETFITS study, a large, randomized research study comparing low-fat versus low-carb dietary patterns found no difference in weight loss between them. But drilling down into the data, one can see great variability. Some dieters gained weight while others lost a lot. But it’s not always about weight outcomes, as recent research has shown that factors such as body shape may play a bigger role in the determinants of health risks than body weight alone.

For instance, a woman who is apple-shaped tends to carry her extra weight in the mid-section. She would see best results on a lower-glycemic nutrition plan that is lower in refined carbs and higher in healthy fats and protein.

“Research shows that one size does not fit all when it comes to weight loss and disease prevention,” McCormick says. “That’s why we’ve created a unique, personalized approach that’s easy to follow and designed to help participants lose weight and get healthy.”

For more insights on how to personalize your diet and maximize results, visit leaf.nutrisystem.com.

While it’s no secret that achieving one’s weight loss goals is challenging, personalizing your plan can help make things easier, ultimately providing you a greater chance of success.

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Al Roker blasts Jillian Michaels for criticizing Keto diet

The fitness trainer says the ‘personal attacks’ were ‘bizarre’

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Jillian Michaels, gay news, Washington Blade
Jillian Michaels, gay news, Washington Blade
Jillian Michaels (Photo by Don Flood; courtesy True PR)

Jillian Michaels revealed she “hates” the increasingly popular Keto diet but “Today” show weatherman Al Roker slammed the fitness trainer for dissing the high-fat, low-carb diet.

Speaking with Prevention, Michaels says she doesn’t like the diet because “There’s no calorie restriction;” “You may miss out on important nutrients;” and “It could shave years off your life.”

In response, Roker, who is a fan of the diet, called out Michaels for her aggressive reputation as a fitness trainer on “The Biggest Loser” on Twitter.

“So @JillianMichaels says #Keto is a bad idea. This from a woman who promoted on camera bullying , deprivation, manipulation and more weekly in the name of weight loss. Now those sound like bad ideas,” Roker tweeted.

Roker further defended the Keto diet, which he says he has been on since Sept. 1, on “The Today Show.”

“My point is, what works for you, works for you,” Roker explains. “There’s science on both sides that says it’s not a great idea and science that says it is a good idea.”

Michaels responded by posting a video on Twitter saying she didn’t appreciate Roker’s “personal attacks”

“It’s bizarre, it’s unnecessary, it’s beneath both of us,” Michaels said. “Read my book, ‘The 6 Keys.’ I’ve extensively researched everything in that, and nutrition is about way more than weight loss.”

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