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Cardiovascular Exercise

  • How to Get a Six Pack or a Flat Stomach with Crunches

    Crunches can be a very effective tool in developing abdominal muscle tissue. The rectus abdominus is your "six pack" muscle, which is the outer most abdominal muscle group that is visible when you have a very low body fat percentage. The better developed your abs are, the more prominent your six pack will be.

    The same is true for people wishing to obtain a flat stomach, rather than a well defined six pack. Apart from lower your body fat, if you develop the rectus abdominus, you will have a far more toned midsection.

    Abdominal work targeting your six pack muscle can come in a range of forms. You can perform floor crunches, ball crunches, cable crunches, cable ball crunches, decline crunches and a variety of other exercises. It's important to note two major things:

    1. Crunching work is effective for rectus abdominus development. Sit-ups are not. The difference lies in your motion - with crunches you go from a straight back to a curved back. With sit-ups, you keep a straight back and pivot from the hips.
    2. Crunch work is effective for muscle development, not fat loss. You cannot spot reduce fat from the midsection specifically. For fat loss, you should consider a combination of weight training, cardio training and smart nutrition (I have a link to an article of interest at the end of this post).

    So, the question remains:

    How to Get a Six Pack or a Flat Stomach with Crunches?

    You may be surprised to find out the answer:

    Keep it short and intense.

    In fact, performing too many sets can induce an endurance response. This is great if you are trying to perform hundreds of crunches for a particular reason (fitness test, competition, personal goal etc.). But if you are trying to develop the abs, this is going to be a big waste of time.

    As a very general rule of thumb, 3-4 high intensity sets can be more than enough to stimulate a strength and hypertrophy (or muscle development) response. Aim to keep the repetitions low, below 12, so you are overloading the abdominals with a fair degree of load.

    If you are inexperienced, then this would probably not be the best approach. You do need to have a good foundational abdominal and core strength before you can begin lifting heavy loads without an unncecessarily increased risk of injury to your spine. If this is the case, aim for around 15-20 reps under the guidance of a professional personal trainer.

    The key is this - the rectus abdominus is just like other muscle groups - it is a functional muscle responsible for movement and is capable of significant growth. Whilst the muscle fibre composition of the rectus abdominus may vary from other muscles, the abs grow in the same manner as all other functional muscle groups. For example, many people will perform a few heavy sets on chest because this has been shown to be quite effective for hypertrophy. However it baffles me why those same people perform 10 sets of crunches with a total rep count of 50 or more!

    I hope this helps in your quest for a six pack. Keep it simple and stick to scientifically proven methodologies, rather than following what everyone else does.

    Because obtaining a six pack or a flat stomach is often the result of weight loss (as fat tissue will cover the outer layer of your rectus abdominus), I strongly recommend that you have a read of my article, "How to Lose Weight". This article will explain the basic principles behind weight loss, which will help you in significantly reducing your waistline.

  • Cardio and Weight Loss. A Match Made in Heaven...Or Not?

    Cardiovascular exercise, or commonly termed "cardio" is an excellent way to increase your daily calorie expenditure. If you're after weight loss, then cardio will be an integral part to your exercise regime. The more intense the cardio, the more calories you will expend and thus the greater degree of weight loss that will be incurred. I have written about this extensively in previous posts.

    BUT READ ON!

    Cardio is not the "be all and end all" of weight loss! Actually, cardio is just one tiny bit to the fat metabolism puzzle! If you rely solely on cardio, without taking note of any other aspect to your lifestyle, then you will only obtain minimal results.

    Resistance training, or weight bearing exercise has a significant effect on weight loss! This is contrary to popular belief, considering that it is generally accepted that weight lifting necessarily only results in muscle gain and cardio necessarily only results in weight loss. Not so! The combination of weight based exercise in conjunction with cardio exercise is far more effective than performing cardio in isolation.

    Why is this? Well, there are three primary reasons in relation to weight loss specifically:

    1. Following a weight training workout, your muscles are in an intense state of repair due to the microscopic damage caused during your workout. Thus, when you have completed your workout, your body is working away intensively to repair these muscles. During this period of time, your body breaks down fat tissue in order to source the energy necessary to accomplish this "restoration" task.
    2. Once your muscles have repaired themselves, if you have exercised in an effective manner, you would have developed a little more muscle mass (we are not talking about getting bulky, but rather more minor muscle development). Muscle is very calorie dependent - the more muscle you carry, the more calories you naturally expend when resting. More calorie expenditure can mean a greater rate of weight loss!
    3. Weight training expends calories while you are working out - it's another form of exercise!

    The latest research confirms the notion that cardio and weight training is far more effective for weight loss than cardio alone.

    BUT (yes, another but), there is another big piece to the puzzle. You guessed it - nutrition!

    What goes in your mouth constitutes your "calories in". So, your diet is a vital component to your weight loss endeavours. The less calories you consume, the greater the calorie deficit you can generally create. Of course, you need to eat sufficient calories from a variety of whole-foods to ensure that your diet is well-balanced and healthy for you. After all, it's no use losing weight and being awfully sick!

    The latest research suggests that the most effective means of losing weight is by combining an effective cardio, weights and nutritional approach specifically geared toward weight loss. These three major pieces of the weight loss puzzle work extremely well together, so be sure to use all of them to your advantage!

    If you would like to read more on the topic of weight loss, I would strongly recommend you have a read of my comprehensive article How to Lose Weight. I wrote this article to discuss exercise and diet in far more detail, and to show you how to develop a sustainable and enjoyable approach to achieving your fitness goals.

  • Choosing the Best Cardio Machine for You

    There are so many choices at the gym today! It seems like almost every week a new aerobic exercise machine is added. All of them have some great benefits for fitness and weight loss. But how do you know which cardio machine is best for you and your body?
  • How to Boost the Intensity of Your Cardio Workout

    It amazes me how many guys (especially) don't do cardio. Cardio can be so effective for health, fitness, fat loss and muscle development, which I discussed in an article I had published entitled Cardio & Bodybuilding - Good for Muscle Growth?

    With so many benefits to high intensity cardio, you might as well get the most bang for your buck. Assuming that high intensity cardio is suitable for you and your goals, the key is going to be in getting the intensity of the cardio as high as possible. The primary limiting factor to the intensity of your cardio session is your mind. Even though your body may be whining because it is fatigued, it is ultimately our mindset that determines the final outcome.

    Many elite athletes have sports psychologists to assist them in enhancing the intensity of their performances. For, there is no use to compete if the body is in top condition, yet the mind is weak.

    So coming back to your cardio session, how do you get the intensity up so high that you have an outstanding session? You could hire a sports psychologist, but I am assuming that you're not quite that serious about setting personal best's each workout!

    So, I thought I'd share the three most prominent tips that have helped me to boost the intensity of my HIIT cardio workouts:

    Boosting the Intensity of Your Cardio Workout Tip 1: Listen to Music

    Music that pumps you up takes your mind off the physical and mental pain that you are enduring when you subject yourself to super-high intensity training. Listen to something that gets your adrenal glands pumping for maximum effect!

    Boosting the Intensity of Your Cardio Workout Tip 2: Race Against Someone

    Studies have shown that by competing against someone, you can significantly enhance your output. This is partly due to the fact that you have a far greater sense of accountability - you are no longer just competing against yourself!

    You can do this running outdoors or using gym equipment. Set an appropriate handicap if there is a significant difference in fitness level.

    Boosting the Intensity of Your Cardio Workout Tip 3: Tell Yourself You LOVE the Pain!

    This actually works really, really well. Instead of having an internal negative mindset such as "Please stop, this hurts and I'm tired!", go for the complete opposite such as "C'mon, give me more pain, I can handle it - that's what I'm here for and NOTHING can stop me!". Ultimately, it's only a few minutes of your life, so why not take the opporunity to really test yourself to see how strong you are mentally?

    This final tip does sound a little crazy...telling yourself that you love the challenge and essentially "taunting yourself" to up the intensity. But it can be a very effective method of encouraging peak performance.

    A while back, I wrote an article on this topic which was subsequently published in both Australian Ironman Magazine and Fighting Fat Magazine. It expands on this topic and you may be interested to read in further detail, Taking HIIT to the Next Level!

  • The Dangers of Exercising Too Vigorously

    Today I have been inspired to write on this topic by an incident that occurred at my gym. As I was walking out of the gym, there were three paramedics monitoring a middle-aged lady who was lying on the ground (possibly unconscious, or semi-conscious at the best) with an oxygen mask attached.

    Whilst I'm not sure as to the cause of this particular incident, I have witnessed many people in the past who have exercised so vigorously that they have caused more harm than good. So whilst it is often true that "you get in what you get out" - you need to ensure that you are "putting in" to a smart, safe, suitable and effective exercise regime for you specifically.

    You'll notice that intensity is a recurring theme of many of my blog posts and articles that I have written. The science does strongly suggest that higher intensities of exercise are going to be far more effective for weight loss. However, it is more important to consider your safety and health before you consider putting 100% effort into your workout.

    The body can only handle so much physical stress. Exercise is exactly that - physical stress. If you are considerably out of shape, unfit, injured, inexperienced or have medical concerns, without question, do not begin exercising vigorously. It is far too risky - you could injure yourself, become sick easily, have an asthma attack, experience a sudden drop in blood pressure (resulting in fainting or even organ damage), fall over and hit your head or even just spend a week recovering because your body is not equipped to handle that level of intensity!

    The key is to introduce intensity gradually into your workout repertoire over a period of time as your body adjusts to the increased demands.

    The dangers of exercising too vigorously can be quite profound. Whilst intensity may be very important in your training programme, it is more important to ensure that your body can safely handle the prescribed exercise programme. Remember always, train smart!

    You may be interested in reading a recent blog post I made, Should I Exercise Like They Do On The Biggest Loser?

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