What is the one BEST workout move?

One would be amazed how many times I am asked "What is the one best thing I can do for _____." (insert your injury/painful body part here). While that is an impossible question to adequately answer (because there is no "one move" to cure all pain and injury) I do have an option... PLANKS! 

Planks are one of the best things you can do for total body strength and more importantly, stability. That being said, I will always recommend variation in workout routine, frequency, duration, mode, etc for injury prevention and recovery. But, for those who are looking for 1-2 easy things to do every day in order to get them on the right track, planks are it. Here are a few reasons:

1. It's a Total Body Workout. The plank exercise uses multiple different muscle groups, starting with the shoulders. You must engage your shoulder and scapular muscles by pushing the mid back towards the ceiling and putting the humerus "in the socket." This creates stability in the shoulder joint and shoulder blade, and can help increase strength for other weight bearing upper extremity movements (ie. pushups). While performing planks, many people will say, "I just feel it in my shoulders!" which means...you have weak shoulders! 

The abdominal muscles are activated by keeping your pelvis tucked and trying to take the natural curve out of the lumbar spine. The key thing here is to not let your belly bottom drop towards the floor. Pull it in toward your spine. 

The lower extremities should be very active here as well, which is easy to forget. By engaging your glutes (squeezing your butt) and quads (pulling your knee caps towards your nose), as well as pushing your heels towards the opposite/back wall, you will be fulling engaging your lower extremity muscle groups.

2. Progressions for Beginners to Advanced. Many of us think of planks in one position only - on our toes and elbows. However, there is a beginner stage and ways to add variation to make planks more challenging. By starting on your knees, you are engaging the same muscles from your hips up. This puts MUCH less strain on your upper extremities, but still challenges your abdominal muscles and shoulders in the same way, just less intensely. Then, once you have mastered the true "plank" for 2 minutes, you can add in things like: alternating touching one knee down at a time, lifting one leg, followed by one arm at a time, stepping one foot out and back in, or adding jumping apart. To challenge the upper body more, army planks are great - you go up to your hands one at a time and then back to the elbows. To make the plank easier on your shoulders if you need, go onto your hands instead of your elbows. 

3. You don't need ANY equipment. Activation and endurance of our "core" or abdominal musculature is much more important than power or strength. If you think about it, we need to maintain our core activation for longer periods of time (endurance), not necessarily having so much strength that we need to lift heavy things. Therefore, planks can always be increased in difficulty by increasing duration. Because you don't need to add weight to make it more challenging, planks can be done anywhere, anytime. Heck, you can even do them during lunch at your desk! Plus, plank competitions can be a great way to get your team at work active and moving. 

Expanding a bit, try incorporating side planks. All the same progressions and modifications apply, like going onto your hand instead of your elbow, starting on your knees, or lifting one leg to make it more challenging. If you want to incorporate these moves into your routine at home, I like to call it the rotisserie =) Get the front/back and each side! 

What the heck am I supposed to eat??

In trying to decide what to write about for my very first blog post, I thought, what is something I am concerned with at the present moment? Something that is relatable to my physical and mental well-being. It seems that food is a constant concern: what can I grab thats easy for lunch (and won’t make me want to stop at Jimmy Johns because I’m still hungry). Or what can I make for dinner that is healthy and different. This is especially a challenge coming from a family where a steak-that-filled-your-plate-leaving-no-room-for anything-but-a-baked-potato was a weekly dinner. 

The other reason my interest in this topic was sparked is because of a documentary I watched recently called “Food Choices.” It takes an unbiased, scientific look at what we should and shouldn’t be eating. The biggest thing I took away from the video as well as my own studies was this: Our bodies can only process so much protein. So eating a ridiculous amount of protein and forgetting about carbs is not the answer! It is recommended that we get .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight in a day. For a 130 lb. female that is 46g of protein. Did you know that a small, 3 oz piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein!!? Even if we are exercising and trying to build lean muscle mass, we don’t need much more protein then that; our bodies simply can’t process it and it can be extremely hard on our kidneys. The other piece of this information that is key is that all animal proteins are created equal. I clearly thought that eating salmon was MUCH better for me than a large steak. The truth is, is might have a tiny amount less of fat, but not much. The amount of protein is what matters, and anything that comes from animals has a lot.

Now what? Not eating meat let alone all animal foods and going to a strictly whole food, plant based diet is out of the question for me. If anything, I am taking a more “laid back” approach to eating. It is somewhat freeing to not worry about counting calories or the grams of protein I am trying to get in day. And I can eat whole grains and carbs?! The best news yet. And my message to anyone else trying to figure out the best diet for their body is to DO YOUR RESEARCH. Don’t listen to the news or advertisements because they are all biased and not scientific. Read a book written by a nutritionist who has studied these things for a long time. Not someone’s opinion. and bottom line, do what works for you. Don’t restrict yourself or torture yourself because you think thats what you should do. Eat when your hungry, and everything in moderation. (easier said then done=) GOOD LUCK!