Walk the plank, Thai style

I love the plank because of the combination of simplicity and difficulty. It’s simple in terms of equipment needed (read: none), but it’s not easy. And depending on the variation and your level of fitness, it can be quite a challenge.

Try Thai
Try Thai

This version, called the Thai Plank, changes your position to focus more on the oblique muscles on the sides of the body that are responsible for resisting lateral flexion. 

As an example of lateral flexion, imagine yourself carrying one heavy grocery bag with one arm using the handles. You pick up the bag and start carrying it, but you drop to that side and walk unbalanced. 

That’s lateral flexion. 

Strengthen your core and you’ll be better able to support that weight.

Unlike traditional static planks, the Thai Plank introduces movement, which changes your balance point and increases the challenge even further.  

If you find this version a bit too difficult, regress it by lifting the arm and leg straight up rather than out in front of you.  If that’s still too tough, eliminate the movement until you’re confident enough to take it to the next step. 

Stability balls get a bad rap

Stability balls get a bad rap. 

Pick up a magazine from the grocery store and you’re likely to see someone doing crunches on the ball. But for many, the program ends there. 

Stability balls aren't just for wimps
Stability balls aren't just for wimps

The stability ball can be used many ways to help you develop those stabilizers, develop better balance, and improve functional movement. 

The ball can also be used many ways to develop core stability and strength. As an added bonus, you can change between exercises quickly because you’re only using one piece of equipment. That means you can get more work done in less time, leaving more time for your life.

Here are three of my favorites:

  1. Hamstring curl: Lie face up with your heels on the top of the ball. Lift your hips off the ground to create a straight line from your feet to your shoulders. Draw your feet in toward your butt while driving the hips upward. Don’t flex at the hip, maintain that straight line from the knees to the shoulders. 
  2. Rollout: Start on your knees with your hands touching the side of the ball about 12 inches from the floor. Roll your hands forward and follow the ball with the rest of your body. Make sure your hands, hips, and shoulders are all moving at the same time and at the same rate of speed. If your hands and/or shoulders are moving, your hips should be moving forward as well.
  3. Reverse hyperextension: This one requires a great amount of control, so try this one with a friend standing beside you with their hands on the sides of the ball. Place the ball on top of one end of a weight bench. Stand at one end of the bench facing the ball and drape yourself over the ball. Plant your chest on the ball and grasp the sides of the bench. If you can’t reach the bench, this one might not be for you unless you have a smaller ball.  Maintain a strong grip on the bench and be prepared to manage the side to side movement of the ball as it wants to skate from side to side. Lift your feet off the ground to create a straight line with your body from your head to your toes while balancing on the ball and holding on to the bench.  

Dumbbell Oblique Touch

Control is a very important part to your training.  Anyone can pick up a weight and move it around, but doing so with control takes thought, skill, and awareness of your body’s abilities. 

Today’s featured exercise requires you to exhibit a great degree of control to remain safe and to get the most benefit from the movement.  The Dumbbell Oblique Touch forces you to stabilize a weight is an unstable position and then adds further complexity by changing your body’s position.  Your shoulder isometically stabilizes the weight in the overhead position while your core engages to slowly lower and raise your body.

Although it may look simple, I would consider this to be a more advanced exercise due to the control required to perform it correctly.  Use a light weight, or even no weight, to start while to figure out the form and gradually increase from there.

What’s on your bucket list?

I ask people all the time to pick a goal.  I hear some big hairy audacious goals and I hear some pretty small and manageable goals. 

I like big goals and it’s time to think big. 

Here are a few things that come to mind for my adventure bucket list, in no particular order.  Take a read through them and leave me a comment below to let me know what’s on your bucket list. 

To supplement or not to supplement…that is the question

What supp'?
What supp'?

There’s a lot of debate on the topic of nutritional supplements. 

When many people hear supplement, they often think one of two things: “Magic pill” or steroids.

There are a crazy number of products on the market today promising all type of weight loss and performance benefits without any effort on your part.

  • Take this pill and watch the fat magically melt off. 
  • Drink this shake 2 times a day and lose 10-60 pounds in 90 days. 
  • Use this powder and pack on the muscle (this product is often accompanied by pictures of a pre-shake overweight out of shape man and a post-shake ripped dude and a disclaimer reading “results not typical”).

If it were that easy, everyone would be lean and cut.  But, when taken for the right reasons supplements can be very beneficial.  There are a few primary types of supplements:

  1. Substitution of nutrients not found in our normal diet
  2. Performance enhancement
  3. Fat burners
  4. Meal replacements

1. Substitution of nutrients not found in our normal diet. The best option is to get all of the nutrients we need from real food.  Unfortunately, that’s not possible for most people.  Much of today’s food is stripped of fundamental nutrients.  Our white bread society wants convenience and food manufactures are happy to provide it.  As much as we want to blame “the corporate machine”, it comes down to demand. 

The best option is to favor organic growers and unprocessed foods.  The closer a food is to it’s natural state, the better it’s going to be for you.  However, even foods produced in sustainable ways with very little to no processing can still have a hard time providing everything we need.  Organic foods might not have the chemicals used to treat other foods, but that lack of chemicals doesn’t mean they’ll always have more essential nutrients.

For example, take two farms growing spinach. Farm A uses pesticides to treat the plants. Farm B doesn’t. Farm A rotates the soil each year. Farm B doesn’t.  It’s likely that Farm A’s product will contain more nutrients from the growing process due to that rotation, but contains added chemicals.  Farm B, no chemicals, but fewer nutrients from the soil.  I’d choose Farm B’s product first, but I’d still have to supplement to get those lost nutrients. 

Reduce your caloric intake to reach a weight loss goal and now you have even fewer nutrients coming in because there’s less food.  Therefore, you need to add those nutrients to your diet in the most calorie-efficient method possible and that’s where nutritional supplementation is valuable.

Good examples here would include a daily multivitamin, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, fish oil, or protein powder to provide nutrients not present in high enough quantity in your normal diet.

2. Performance enhancement. Not that kind.  We’re talking about supplements that can help you reach muscular development and athletic performance goals. 

An example here would be a creatine supplement. Creatine naturally occurs in the body and it aids in the production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which is used for energy during anaerobic activity.  More creatine and more ATP means you have the ability to generate more power for a longer period of time. 

If you’re lifting heavy for muscular growth, squeezing those last reps off and getting everything you can from your body is critical and creatine can help you get there.

Will creatine by itself make you bigger and stronger, no. You still have to do the work. 

Can you get to your goals without it? Possibly, but it will take you much longer. 

3. Fat burners. These are thermogenic aids, which means they help increase your body’s normal metabolic rate by increasing heat within the body.  Caffeine, green tea, capsicum, and ginger are a few of the more common metabolic stimulants that have been shown to have value for fat metabolism.   Some, often those with outrageous claims of miracle weight loss, can be quite dangerous.  Others, usually the products that claim to be derived from a recently discovered plant only growing in a remote corner of the South American jungle (that’s so they can justify the high cost), usually aren’t of value and are only dangerous to your wallet.

Do thermogenics work? Yes, they do have the effect of increasing your metabolic rate.  Some more than others, but when it comes down to it, the drawbacks, and often the price, more commonly outweigh those benefits.  The added caloric burn is often just a few hundred calories and you can get the same benefit by adding a little more basic movement to your day. 

There are a couple of other products in this category that have been shown to have some merit.  Choline is reported to help the liver properly use fat and reduce absorption.  Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is also reported to reduce the size and number of fat cells in the body. 

4. Meal substitutes like bars and meal replacement shakes can provide nutrients that you’re not getting from real food.  I’ll always prefer real food, but in absence of real food with the right nutrients, these can be of great value.  The two biggest benefits in my eyes:

  • They’re pre-measured so you’re not guessing how many calories and how much of each nutrient you’re taking in. 
  • They’re going to provide more nutrients than the snack alternative in the vending machine at work.

As long as you’re supplementing for the right reasons and with the right expectations, I have no problem.  When you begin relying on the supplement to do the work for you, that’s when you’ll be disappointed.