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Posted on May 5th, 2020

One of the most common requests I have gotten over the years of fitness coaching is, "when can we do ab work?"  What this means to most people is a variety of crunches, side bends, leg lifts, etc. 

Typically people ask to do "ab work" because they look in the mirror and see some belly fat around their mid section and want it GONE!  They assume that doing crunches will magically melt away the fat.

What I can say with a high level of confidence is that doing this "ab work" is not an efficient use of your workout time. Not only is it a bad way to burn fat, it also consists of exercises that do very little to make your core more stable or functionally fit.  In fact, doing crunches can create unnecessary bending of the neck and spine which leads to other issues. 

Why "ab work" doesn't work well:
1) exercises are too isolated in nature and do not touch much muscle to be effective fat burners. You are better off doing large muscle exercises like squats.
2) building muscle in your mid-section does not magically reduce the amount of fat in your mid-section. Your body loses fat when you get into a calorie deficit (burn more than you eat) and it burns fat in areas determined by your gender and genetics. You cannot "tell" your body where to lose fat first. 
3) Ab exercises do not do a good job in developing functional fitness or core stability as they don't link your body together as one system. Again, too isolated. 
4) These exercises typically take your spine out of neutral position and can cause repetitive use injuries over time. 
5) your "six pack" muscles are your "show muscles" but do little for functionality and fitness. The only thing required to be an underwear model is to get your body fat low enough where we can see the six pack, or to hire a good air brush artist!
6) To be honest, your abs get way more work than you realize while you are doing all of our other key movements.  When you squat, lunge, deadlift, and do single arm presses/pulls, your abs are working a ton just to keep your core stable and straight.  It is just not the same isolated feeling that you do when crunching.

On the other hand, treating your mid-section as your "core" is a much better approach.  We define your core as the mass below your chest and down to your hips. Having a strong and stable core allows you to generate more power in your workouts, to be a better athlete, and to reduce your chance of injuries to your low back and elsewhere.  The core is the key link between your upper and lower body, so that your body works as one fluid system. 

The way we train the core is different than they way we train our arms, legs, and upper body muscles.  While we do something like a lunge and want good range of motion in our hips and knees, with our core training it is more about RESISTING movement in the spine.  

So with core training much of our work is centered around RESISTING movement in our spine. Exercises include a lot of Anti-Rotation movements such as Plank w/Bag Drags and various TRX/cable exercises that focus on bracing and posture rather than how much weight can be pushed or pulled.  These are more finesse movements, rather than brute strength. 

Finally, almost every exercise we program at Thrive has a core component to it.  This is why we do a lot of single arm, single leg, offloaded weight exercises. The farmer's carry is a perfect example - holding a heavy weight on one side while making sure your core doesn't tilt in that direction.

The moral of the story is to never ask to do extra "ab exercises" at Thrive Fitness!  You will just get a dirty look.  Focus your thoughts on core training and the reasons why that is a much better approach. 

Posted on May 4th, 2020

No matter where you stand on the spectrum of coronavirus fear - from those who will not leave their house until there is a vaccine to those who think we should all go about our lives as normal - we all must admit that this virus is more than just the common flu. It is easier to catch and for some vulnerable populations it can be more lethal.

So with regards to your fitness programming choices, what do you do? We all know that the vast majority of us DO NOT exercise as well at home. Distractions interrupt our focus and there is no one there to hold us accountable. But do we want to go to a high volume gym or fitness class where we have no idea who the person next to us is or what state their health is in?

In a larger gym or larger group fitness class, it is nearly impossible to police everyone's actions and keep enough space around you to limit your risk of catching a virus. There are just too many strangers in a small space to have confidence that all is well.

In contrast, our Thrive Fitness studio and workout program is designed to allow for a more stress free workout environment. Simply put, having fewer people in a session makes a huge difference in the level of risk for contamination.

Since all of our clients come to Thrive BY APPOINTMENT, we can easily control the volume of people in the facility at any one time.

Since your workouts are designed by us, we can easily control where each client is during each phase of the workout. No one will be randomly coming into your "space" like a normal gym.

And most importantly, since we have a tightly knit group of clients, there is more trust in each person doing the right thing and being aware of those around them. There are no strangers coming into the studio practicing different etiquette than the rest of the group.

It is a very controlled environment that ensures adequate spacing and cleaning protocols. The level of risk is most likely lower than going into your local HEB or sit down restaurant.

As you consider where to exercise in 2020, give Thrive Fitness a look. Not only is it is great fitness program, it is also a safe place to exercise.

Posted on July 30th, 2019

It has been a while since I explained the "whys" of our exercise program, so this is a review to explain our format and what we are trying to accomplish.

An exercise program should exist to make you feel better, move better, and look better.  It should not be so insanely tough that you feel beat up for 24-48 hours afterwards. Exercise is not a competition about who can go the longest or the hardest, instead it is about you and what works for you.
As I get older and more experienced, the more I am learning about the importance of BOTH movement AND exercise. These two things must compliment each other.
Movement is what you do daily to go about your life. If you are sitting too much, then your body and health will suffer. Movement is taking the dog for a walk, it is cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, playing with your grandkids, or whatever else comes your way. People who move a lot through their lives, have an easier time with their fitness programs because their body is more mobile and less stiff.
Exercise, on the other hand, is a focused fitness workout, where you have a goal in mind, a plan, and an area of focus. A good exercise program will allow you to move better all day long;  free of pain, with better posture and with more energy. If your workout program makes you hurt or saps your energy, then you need to re-evaluate your program’s intensity, frequency, or content.
With the Thrive Fitness program, I take much care to design the workouts to be a long term solution, rather than a frantic attempt to get in great shape overnight. I design our workouts to enhance your normal active routine. Other programs out there, like outdoor bootcamps or Crossfit are based around working “all out” every workout and tend to include more risky movements than I like to program. When choosing exercises, duration, or intensities, I always take a look at the risk:reward equation. If something gives good reward but is also very risky, I will choose another option. In my mind, there is no worse thing than to induce an injury in a client or to have other aspects (work, family, etc) of the clients’ life suffer as a result of an overly ambitious workout routine.
Our program design covers many different components of fitness each week. First of all, most of our exercises have the goal of making your core stronger and less likely to be injured outside the gym. This is the reason why I stress proper posture during all of our exercises, to engage the core and not slouch. This is why I program exercises like ball rollouts, core sliders, and some of the TRX moves; by keeping your core engaged and stable, you are building up a more robust network of muscles around your spine. With our core focus, technique always takes precedence over the amount of weight used and having body control is more important than going “100%”. Our focus is much like a professional athlete would train -- focused and under control, rather than full effort and less attention to technique.
The other components that I try to touch each week are:  1) Power - the ability to move yourself or an object quickly, 2) Strength - squat, lunge, push and pull to build muscle and slow down the aging process, 3) Mobility - the ability to move freely and without pain, with better range of motion.  Much of our warmup process addresses this component. 4) Cardiovascular fitness - in the form of interval training as well as steady state cardio activities to exercise your blood pumping system and to ensure that you can take on life activities without being out of breath so easily.
A good fitness program is also balanced, in that it doesn’t overuse one area of the body to the point of injury, and also so that there is a mix of hard days and easy days to allow for joint and muscle recovery.  Blasting your body day after day doesn’t make sense, as this would actually stress your body - aging your body and making it feel worse than not exercising at all.

On an individual basis, I also take into account each person’s fitness level, injury history, age, and personal interests/goals when designing the workout formats. The good thing about our Thrive format is that there are always great alternative movements to give you similar results without the downside or risk of pain.

Posted on July 30th, 2019

This is an example of our larger group "cardio" workout.  We include a lot of different movement types so that we don't get overuse injuries.  Our goal is to condition our cardiovascular system through a series of short work periods followed by recovery periods.  So we might get your HR up to 85%, and then recover back to 70%, and repeat.

Posted on July 14th, 2019

Rowing 101.

At Thrive, we utilize the Concept2 rowing machine because it provides a great total body cardiovascular workout with very little wear and tear on your joints. With good rowing technique, you can burn a ton of calories each workout and lose those stubborn inches around your waistline. 

There is one downside to rowing though; it is a little tricky to teach good rowing technique!  Unlike the treadmill where you simply turn it on and keep up with the belt, with the rowing machine, YOU provide the speed and the stroke cadence. The harder you push, the more resistance you will feel. 

Each time you get on the rower (for at least the first couple of months), you should start out for a few minutes of practicing proper stoke sequence without pushing real hard. Eventually it gets somewhat automatic, but you don’t want to develop bad habits. Be patient! 

Great rowing technique makes your workouts more efficient, (burn more calories each minute) more effective (better cardio fitness, better core strength, more power) and safer. (less lower back aches/pains)

Here are a few key teaching points:

Foot straps -- you want to align the strap with the ball of your foot, or the top lace in your shoe.

Sit tall w/lats engaged -- As you start your rowing session, remind yourself to sit tall with your butt (tail) sitting behind your torso. No slouching! It is also key to engage your lats (back muscles) by pulling shoulder blades down and together. 
On each rowing stroke, your legs will drive the seat backwards but your core/lats must be engaged to bring the chain/handle back at the same speed.  Good posture will limit the chance of wearing out your lower back!

Stroke Components -- Drive and Recovery.  The DRIVE is what provides the pace or speed of the “boat/machine”  The faster and harder you complete the drive, the “faster” the boat will go. You push (legs) and pull (upper) the handle away from the console during the drive.
The RECOVERY is the relaxed slide back to the front where you started the drive. There should be no rushing the recovery unless you are in an all-out sprint. Typically, the recovery takes twice as long as the drive.

Stroke sequence:   The key is to emphasize the power in your legs.  Your legs should provide about 70% of the drive power, and should be engaged first in each stroke.  Your core/torso will go from 11:00 at the start, to 1pm at the end of each drive. 

Drive:  Legs push first, then Core swing, then arms pull 
Recovery:  Arms release first, then Core swing, then Legs/bend knees

Handle grip:  Most recommend a loose/overhand grip and keeping the shoulders/elbows down and relaxed.  There is no need to pull UP on the handle, it should hit you in the stomach area. In general, you don’t want to waste any energy with your rowing stroke, so keeping your body as relaxed as possible will help.

Cadence (strokes per minute):  Sliding back and forth fast on the rowing machine is not ideal. Remember, what makes the workout tougher/more efficient is the force or speed of your DRIVE, NOT the RECOVERY. Take your time on the recovery portion of the stroke to breathe, save energy, and get ready for the next DRIVE.  For most people - unless they are in a hard sprint - the cadence should be between 22 and 28 strokes per minute. 

If at anytime you feel a need for a rowing technique refresh, please talk to us.  There are also a ton of great information videos online at Youtube. I especially like the “Training Tall” page on Youtube, as it has a lot of great content.

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