Fitness Resources

Weight Management

Build Your Bicep Workout

Located at the front of the arm between the elbow and the shoulder, the biceps are perhaps the muscle most commonly associated with strength. Ask anyone to show you how strong they are and he or she will automatically strike the “strong man’s” pose. Strong and sculpted biceps not only look good, but also have practical uses for daily living skills. Strong biceps help you with any type of pulling movement, such as pulling weeds or raking, and also aid in lifting and carrying movements, such as carrying bags of groceries or assisting a child out of a car seat. 

Featuring dumbbells and a resistance band, you will actually create this workout yourself by mixing and matching the exercises. Your biceps will be challenged with every workout and the variety will keep you from getting bored.

Build your biceps workout by choosing one exercise from column A, one exercise from column B, and one exercise from column C. Perform each exercise, in order, for 15 reps; rest one minute and repeat this tri-set of exercises one to two more times for a total of two to three sets.

Here are three sample workout combinations:

  • Zottman Curl—Concentration Curl—Cross Body Curl
  • Drag Curl—Alternating Hammer Curl—Biceps Curl Switches
  • Zottman Curl—Alternating Hammer Curl-Cross Body Curl
Column A Column B Column C
Both Arms | Choose 1 Single Arm | Choose 1 Alternating Arms | Choose 1
Zottman Curl Concentration Curl Biceps Curl Switches
Drag Curl Hammer Curl Cross-body Curl

Zottman Curl | Both Arms | Dumbbells

Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides with palms facing forward. Keeping the inner arms close to your sides, curl both dumbbells toward your shoulders. Pause and rotate the dumbbells so the palms are facing downward and lower them back to your sides. Pause and turn the dumbbells again so the palms are facing forward and return back to the starting position.

Drag Curl | Both Arms | Dumbbells

Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides with palms facing forward. Pull your elbows back and drag the dumbbells alongside your torso until the dumbbells reach chest height. Pause at the top and slowly drag the dumbbells back down to the starting position.

Concentration Curl | Single Arm | Dumbbells

Sit down on a chair or bench while holding one dumbbell in your right hand; allow the dumbbell to hand between your legs. Place the back of your right upper arm against the inside of your inner right thigh. With the palm facing forward, curl the dumbbell toward the shoulder and slowing release back to the starting position, all while keeping the upper arm in contact with the inner thigh. Perform the suggested number of reps and then switch to the left arm.

Hammer Curl | Single Arm | Dumbbells

Stand holding one dumbbell in the right hand, arm by your side with the palm facing in. Keeping the inner arm close to your side, curl the dumbbell toward the shoulder and release back down to the starting position. Perform the suggested number of reps and switch to the left arm.

Biceps Curl Switches | Switching Arms | Resistance Band

Step both feet, hip-width distance apart, onto the middle of a light-to-moderate resistance band. Hold a handle in each hand, arms by your sides, with palms facing forward. Curl the right handle up toward the shoulder. Release the arm back down to the starting position while simultaneously curling the left handle up toward the shoulder. The arms perform a switching motion—when one arm goes up, the other arm goes down. 

Cross-body Curl | Alternating Arms | Resistance Band

Step both feet, hip-width distance apart, onto the middle of a light-to-moderate resistance band. Hold a handle in each hand, arms by your sides, with palms facing in. Curl the right handle up toward the left shoulder as the arms crosses over the torso. Lower back down to the starting position. Curl the left handle up toward the right shoulder as the arm crosses over the torso. Lower back to the starting position.

Post Author


Stephanie Thielen


Stephanie Thielen, BS, has a fitness career that spans over 24 years with experience in group fitness training and management in the community, corporate and collegiate setting. As an ACE Group Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer, two-time IDEA Presenter, NETA trainer, AEA Trainer, and BOSU National Master Trainer, Stephanie provides land and aquatic workshops that teach logical methods for class construction, providing the “tools of the trade” to assist fitness professionals develop their teaching skills. Find Stephanie on Facebook at Stephanie Thielen Fitness, LLC.

Salmon Tacos

Food for Thought



By Mary Saph Tanaka, MD, FAAP

Salmon Tacos

2 6-ounce salmon filets

8 corn tortillas

1 lime, cut into wedges

olive oil

Mexican Spice Marinade

1 t ground cumin

1 t dried onion

1 t ground oregano

½ cup of fresh cilantro

To prepare the fish: Mix all the spices in a large bowl and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cut the fish into ½-inch cubes and place into marinade. Let sit in refrigerator for 1 hour. When ready to cook, place 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat.

Remove the fish from the refrigerator and place in the pan. Cook for 10–12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fish has cooked through.

Serve with warm corn tortillas and mango black-bean salsa.

Mango Black-Bean Salsa

2 small mangoes or 1½ cups of defrosted frozen mango

1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained

¼ medium onion (any color), finely diced

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

½ cup of fresh cilantro, chopped

juice of 1 lime

If using fresh mangoes, peel the skin and slice off the fruit on either side of the seed. Cut mangoes into small pieces, approximately the same size as the diced peppers and onions. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, and serve with tacos.

Do Ketogenic Diets Work for Athletes?

by Sanna Delmonico, MS, RDN, CHES on Aug 23, 2017

Food for Thought

Question: What do you think about a ketogenic diet for athletes? Does it really improve performance?

Answer: A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, usually including less than 50 g of carbohydrate per day (Paoli 2013). Carbohydrate, which is stored in the body as glycogen, is the preferred fuel for muscle and the brain. When this fuel isn’t available, the body turns to fat for energy and produces ketosis. The theory is that since we store much more energy as fat than as glycogen, athletes have a reliable, steady source of energy if they burn more fat, and this should improve performance.

The ketogenic diet is successful for treating epilepsy in children and some adults and has shown promise for weight loss and type 2 diabetes (Chang, Borer & Lin 2017; Paoli 2013), but in the long term, this diet has risks. It increases the threat of kidney stones, elevation of blood lipids and bone fractures. Because it is low in fiber, it also leads to constipation (Retelny 2015).

Research shows that over time, an athlete on a ketogenic diet becomes more efficient at burning fat. That adaptation takes at least 3–4 weeks, during which the athlete feels fatigued (Burke et al. 2017; Chang, Borer & Lin 2017; Volek, Noakes & Phinney 2015). Benefits may be greatest for endurance sports requiring prolonged submaximal effort, including running and cycling, and perhaps also for field sports (Chang, Borer & Lin 2017; Volek, Noakes & Phinney 2015). On the other hand, a study of race walkers found that while a ketogenic diet led to more efficient fat-burning, there was no benefit to athletic performance. The higher-carbohydrate diet resulted in improved performance (Burke et al. 2017).

More research is needed to clarify potential benefits and risks for athletes on a ketogenic diet. The positions of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine are that current evidence doesn’t support the use of ketogenic diets to improve athletic performance (AND 2016).

Anyone considering a ketogenic diet should keep in mind that decreasing carbohydrate intake also decreases intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals from beans, whole grains, starchy vegetables and fruits. Before starting this diet, it is wise to discuss it with a doctor and meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RD/RDN) to make sure nutrient needs will be met.

Emotional Eating Begins Early

by Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP on Aug 23, 2017

Food for Thought

Emotional Eating: Parents Pass It On to Their Kids

A tendency to eat for emotional reasons—such as when worried, annoyed or anxious—is an important contributor to excess weight gain. While emotional eating is a known cause of obesity, what turns people into emotional eaters is not as well understood.

Norwegian researchers set out to better comprehend this relationship by asking a cohort of parents to rate the frequency of certain parental feeding practices (like giving a child something to eat to make him feel better when he’s upset) and children’s eating practices (like eating more when angry). According to the study, published in the April 2017 edition of Child Development, the researchers found that parental emotional feeding of young children was highly related to emotional eating in the children as they got a bit older.

In other words, emotional eating often begins in childhood, at least partly in response to a parent’s tendency to be an emotional feeder. In the study, the kids at greatest risk for emotional feeding scored high in a measure of “negative affectivity”—that is, they experienced higher-than-average levels of sadness, fear, anger and frustration and lower degrees of “soothability.”

Parents learn early on that food can be a calming agent. As an act of love and empathy, they offer food (usually highly palatable, high-sugar/high-fat foods) to soothe a crying baby, a fussy toddler or an upset school-aged child. The child feels better and begins to associate that sensation with eating food. This can start a cascade of emotional feeding and emotional eating. Parents can break the cycle by making a concerted effort to help children identify more useful ways to cope with stress, such as journaling, meditation, brief bouts of exercise, or talking with trusted family members or friends.

Were your parents emotional feeders? Are you? How do you cope with triggers to eat? What other strategies do you use to help your family cope with stressors? Send your responses to Sandy Todd Webster at

10 Minute Bicep Workout

August 18, 2015

The biceps brachii and the brachialis are the two main muscles responsible for bending the elbow. When these muscles are strong, they allow you to easily pick up, pull and carry objects. They even help you lift up your own body weight, as in the case of performing chin-ups. Repeat this circuit two to three times to fully challenge the biceps.


  • Mat
  • Barbell
  • Squat rack or Smith machine
  • Dumbbells

Incline Bar Chin-up

10–15 repetitions

With a narrow-width underhand grip (i.e., palms facing toward you), hold onto either a barbell placed in a low position in a squat rack or on a bar locked in place in a Smith machine and position the body at a 45-degree angle from the ground. Keeping the feet planted on the floor, perform biceps-focused chin-ups by pulling the chest up to meet the bar.

Bar Curl

10–15 repetitions

Holding a barbell in the hands with the palms facing forward, stand tall with the feet underneath the hips, knees slightly bent and the abs engaged. Curl the bar up toward the shoulders, keeping the elbows close to the sides of the ribcage.

Alternating Bicep Curl

10–15 repetitions

Holding a dumbbell in each hand with the palms facing the sides of the hips, stand tall with the feet underneath the hips, knees slightly bent and the abs engaged. Curl one dumbbell at a time up toward the shoulder, allowing the palm to rotate to face the front of the shoulder; keep the elbows close to the sides of the ribcage.

Plank Hammer

10–15 repetitions

Assume a plank position on the hands and toes (or hands and knees, if needed). Place each hand on top of a dumbbell in this plank position. While keeping the abdominals engaged and the spine and neck in alignment, perform an alternating hammer curl with the arms. Keep the elbows directly underneath the shoulders, even when curling. Work on keeping the hips fairly still and avoid rocking them side-to-side.

Reverse Curl

10–15 repetitions

Holding a dumbbell in each hand with the palms facing away from the front of the body, stand tall with the feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent and the abs engaged. Without moving the upper arms, bend the elbows and curl the dumbbells as close to the shoulders as possible. Emphasize the eccentric portion of the action by slowly lowering down the weights.

Sabrena Jo


SABRENA JO ContributorSabrena Jo, MS, holds 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry, where she has successfully developed continuing education and educational videos, and served as a speaker at fitness conferences nationwide. She is a Level 1 CrossFit Trainer and a long-time ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach. Sabrena holds a master’s degree in physical education from University of Kansas.

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The 7 Worst Foods for Heart Health


In the United States, heart disease kills more people than any other cause. But here’s some good news: There’s a lot that you can do to lower your risk of heart disease. In fact, seven of 10 risk factors for heart disease are things you can control. While you can’t control your age, genetics and gender (men are at higher risk), you can significantly lessen your probability of heart disease by not smoking, being physically active, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, and controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar (the last four risk factors are closely tied to what you put in your mouth). By rarely consuming seven of the most damaging foods for your heart, you’ll significantly lower your risk.

Keep in mind, however, that just because certain foods are bad for your heart, it doesn’t mean that you can never eat them. If you eat an antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy diet with health-promoting foods (like fruits, vegetables, pulses, lean poultry, fish and whole grains), occasionally eating a food that isn’t good for your heart won’t increase your risk of heart disease. As with all foods, the dose makes the poison. Would you gain weight from eating one small piece of chocolate every day? Not likely. What if you ate a whole bag of candy every day? Probably. The same is true for the worst foods for your heart—the role they play in your overall health depends on the overall quality of your diet.


1. Deep-fried Foods

Deep frying creates trans-fats, a type of fat known to raise the bad (LDL) type of cholesterol in the body, while simultaneously lowering the good kind. This means that all-time American favorites like French fries and fried chicken are a double-whammy for your ticker. Not surprisingly, fried foods have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease in a number of studies. Deep-fried foods often contain saturated fats and are high in salt, as well, which can also increase one’s risk of heart disease.

Instead: If you want to make a heart-healthy version of French fries, spritz them with a healthy oil, like olive or avocado oil, and then bake them. Here are some recipes to check out: Skinny Avocado Fries, Roasted Tarragon Sweet Potato Fries and Carrot Fries. And instead of frying your chicken, beef or tofu, dip them in egg whites, use a shake-and-bake bag and toss them in the oven to bake. For stir-fries, use a small amount of avocado oil, olive oil or canola oil and keep the heat on low.



2. Fast Food

It’s no secret that fast food is rarely healthy food and, in fact, can have a negative impact on the heart. That’s because the majority of fast food items are fried, high in salt (which can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for a heart attack) and high in sugar and calories (which can lead to obesity and diabetes and increase the risk of a heart attack), all of which put a strain on the heart.

Instead: At the beginning of each week, plan your meals in advance, focusing on lean proteins, pulses, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, eggs and low-fat dairy products. If you’ve planned and know what you’re going to eat in advance, it’s much easier to avoid making quick, last-minute fast-food pit stops when hunger strikes. When you do go to fast-food restaurants, choose healthier options whenever possible, such as grilled chicken breast sandwiches, salads, and bean and salsa wraps.



3. Margarine

Once believed to be better for your heart than butter because it’s made from plant oils, margarine has since proven to be the true villain when it comes to heart disease. That’s because trans fat is created when the plant oil is processed and made into a solid. Trans fats are associated with a 34% increase in death, a 28% risk in death from coronary heart disease and a 21% increase in risk of cardiovascular disease.

Instead: To avoid trans fat, choose a soft spread that doesn’t contain the word “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on the ingredient list.



4. Processed Meats

Processed meats include foods such as bacon, sausage, pepperoni, salami, cold cuts and cured meats. Harvard researchers found that those who eat processed meats daily (50 grams—that’s less than 2 ounces!) have a 42% higher risk of heart attacks. Researchers speculate that it may have to do with the extremely high levels of sodium and preservatives found in processed meats.

Instead: Limit processed meats to once a week, as researchers speculate this would pose only a small risk. Choose beans, eggs, fresh fish, poultry and lean red meat as an alternative.


5. Salt

Found in most packaged foods, chips, canned products and condiments, and added at the table and during cooking, salt intake has climbed in most people’s diets to a whopping 4,000 mg a day. This is significantly more than the recommended 2,300mg maximum, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, which combined data from more than 100 studies. The researchers concluded that there would be 1.65 million fewer deaths each year if average sodium intake was closer to 2,000 mg per day, and reducing sodium intake to 2,300mg daily would prevent 10% of deaths related to cardiovascular disease.

Instead: Use flavor-enhancing techniques to replace salt when you can—sprinkle spices, squeeze lemon and use flavorful vinegars. Limit packaged foods to once or twice a week, and read labels to determine the sodium content of foods so you can either limit them or choose no-salt-added or low-salt alternatives.



6. Sugar-sweetened Drinks

Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute more added sugar to the typical American diet than any other source. Sugary drinks are particularly harmful because they have a high glycemic load, contribute to inflammation, and raise blood glucose levels, blood triglycerides and small, dense LDL particles (which are much more dangerous than light, fluffy LDL particles), all of which increase the risk of heart disease. A large, two-decade-long studyinvolving 40,000 men found that those who had one sugary drink per day increased their risk of having a heart attack or dying of a heart attack by 20% compared to men who rarely drank sugary beverages.

Instead: Choose water, seltzer or unsweetened beverages. If you have a hard time drinking unflavored water, get creative and spritz lemon, orange or lime into your water, or try these water infusions: Watermelon Cucumber ACV Detox Water Infusion, Vitamin C Infused Water and Pineapple, Lemon Ginger Detox Drink.



7. Baked Goods

Pies, cakes, cookies, donuts and other baked goods can be especially bad for the heart because they contain both saturated fat (found in butter and other full-fat dairy products) and trans fat (found in partially hydrogenated oils used in vegetable shortening, margarine, packaged snacks, coffee creamers and fried foods). They can also raise LDL cholesterol levels, while also lowering HDL (the good) cholesterol levels. These treats also are high in sugar, which intensifies the damage they can do to the heart.

Instead: Choose healthier dessert options that don’t contain trans fat (make sure ingredient lists don’t contain the words “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated” and are very low in saturated fat. Here are some tasty treats to try at home: Chocolate Drizzled Granola Balls, Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Guac-Chocolate Mousseand  Skinny Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

The Nutrition Twins
THE NUTRITION TWINS ContributorTammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse (“Lyssie”) Lakatos, The Nutrition Twins®, share a passion to teach people how to eat healthfully and exercise so they’ll have energy to live happy lives. The twins have been featured as nutrition experts on Good Morning America, Discovery Health, Fox News, NBC, Bravo, CBS, The Learning Channel, FitTV, Oxygen Network, and Fox & Friends. They co-wrote The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure: Expert Advice and Tantalizing Recipes for Health, Energy and Beauty, The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat and the 4-Week Plan to Drop A Size & Get Healthier with Simple Low Sodium Swaps. The twins are both ACE Certified Personal Trainers, and members of the American Dietetic Association and several Dietetic Practice Groups.

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Weight Training for Weight Loss

March 25, 2015

As a female in the exercise science field for the past 12 years, I have learned a thing or two about the importance of weight training. When the end goal is weight loss (or pretty much any end goal), a weight-training program is a must.

Let’s get real. Sure, you can cut your calories in half, or spend your morning or evenings doing cardio to lose some pounds, but I can promise you both will not last nor will they give you a healthy looking and functioning body.

When it comes to weight training for weight loss, it is important to put a few key points out there. First, you will not get BIG from lifting weights. You get “big” from overconsumption of energy (calories), which can be converted into fat or muscle based on the types of foods you eat and the exercise you do. Second, you can lift more than you think—and you should (with the help of a spotter, if necessary). And finally, if weight training is done properly you will likely be sore the day or two after your workouts (especially if you are new to resistance exercise). This is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, and it is a normal response to weight training. Be sure to stretch, drink plenty of water and incorporate sound nutrition to help your body recover quickly between workouts.

Here are five key points to keep in mind while working toward your weight- or fat-loss goals. After all, weight is just a number and doesn’t say a whole lot about your body. I’m 5’2” and weigh about 135 pounds, while my mom is 5’2” and weighs around 113 pounds—the biggest difference is the amount of muscle we each have. Keep that in mind as you work toward your goals.

1. Lift heavy weights. I have trained a lot of individuals over the years and I cannot tell you how many have sold themselves short. You won’t get results lifting the same weights you’ve been lifting (if you’ve been lifting). You have to go up in weight. Increase weight and you’ll increase your strength and muscle mass. Increase your muscle mass and you’ll increase your metabolic rate. Increase your metabolic rate and you will burn more calories. Burn more calories than you consume and you will lose weight. If you want to lose weight and not look “skinny fat,” you need to lift HEAVY weights.

2. Intensity. You don’t have to spend more than 30 to 45 minutes on your weight workouts. In fact, you could cut this down to 20 minutes. I love training with my powerlifting friends, but I do NOT have the focus or the time to lift weights for more than two hours. The key is to work hard throughout the entire workout, minimizing rest and keeping your heart rate elevated.

3. I want you to fail. If you want your body to change, you have to push past your comfort zone. You can’t expect results doing the same thing you’ve always done—that’s called insanity, right? So when I say I want you to fail, I mean I want you to have to rest. I want you to not be able to finish that last rep or two, because you picked up the heavier weights. By pushing your body out of its comfort zone, you are forcing it to respond and to change. Your body has to use energy to repair and recover. Make your body work for you, and don’t be afraid to fail.

4. Do supersets and hybrids. A superset involves doing two or more exercises that target the same muscle group, back to back with minimal rest in between. For example, doing a set of 12 heavy squats followed by a set of 12 heavy lunges is a superset. A hybrid involves combining two or more movements into one movement. Combining a squat with a shoulder press or a lunge with a squat followed by a lunge are examples of hybrid exercises. Incorporating these into your weight-training workouts can increase the intensity of your training, which is ideal for losing weight.

5. Circuit Training. Circuit training is a great way to get in multiple exercises. You can focus on your upper body, lower body, or total body, all while keeping the intensity up. Of course, you still want to focus on using heavy weights. Below is a sample total-body, circuit-training workout. Move quickly from exercise to exercise and rest for a minute at the end of each round. Don’t be afraid to rest during a set, recover quickly, and then get back after it. 

Weight training circuit


Squat + Curl

squat and curl

Push Ups

push up

Dumbbell Row + Fly

Dumbbell Row and Fly

Bench Step Ups

bench step ups

Lunge + Front Raise

lunge and front raise

Renegade Rows

renegade row

Incline Dumbbell Press

incline bench press

Bench Dips

bench dips

Plank Shoulder Touches

plank shoulder touches

Ultimately, weight-loss occurs due to a combination of factors—sleep, nutrition, mindset and physical activity all play key rolls in initiating and maintaining weight-loss. Be sure to check in with a physician before jumping into a weight-training regimen and don’t be afraid of failure. Failure is the point at which growth and change occur. Aim for three total-body, circuit-training workouts a week. If you decide to split your workouts, try to do two workouts focusing on your upper body, two workouts focusing on your lower body, and one total-body workout per week. Remember, these workouts can be as little as 20 to 30 minutes—the key is keeping the intensity high.


Kelley Vargo
KELLEY VARGO ContributorKelley Vargo, MPH, MS, CSCS, ACE Health Coach is a recent graduate of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University where she received her MS in Exercise Science with a concentration in Strength & Conditioning and her MPH in Communication & Marketing. Ms. Vargo has contributed content to Discovery Health as well as the ACE Fitness Journal. She is a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Delta Omega Public Health Honors Society, and a Metabolic Effect Instructor. She enjoys sharing her passion and energy with others, helping them create healthier and happier lives. Follow Kelley on twitter @kelleyvargo or contact her at or

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The Key to Healthy Aging

September 18, 2017

September is nationally recognized as healthy aging month, a time to focus on encouraging personal responsibility for health and well-being in all dimensions of life (physically, socially, mentally and financially). There may not be a tangible fountain of youth that promises eternal life and continuous health, but we hold more power than we may realize in the daily choices we make and the habits we adopt and maintain throughout our lives.

Living an active and balanced lifestyle that includes a combination of aerobic, muscular strength, and flexibility exercises helps ward off a range of diseases, slows the rate of muscle tissue loss and improves activities of daily living. Here are some of the cardiovascular and cognitive benefits that come with living a healthy lifestyle.

The Cardiovascular Benefits

The heart and lungs naturally experience a reduction in efficiency and strength over time; this is especially true in sedentary populations. With advancing age, the heart must work harder to accomplish the same amount of work, both at rest and during activity. Resting heart rate also declines at a rate of one beat per minute each year (Murray and Kenney, 206). Similarly, the lungs lose some of their ability to supply adequate amounts of oxygen to the working tissues and organ systems. Regular exercise, however, helps increase systemic blood flow and oxygen supply.

Becoming and remaining physically active and incorporating aerobic exercise (walking, aquatics, cycling, etc.) can lower and control blood pressure, which reduces the overall stress on the heart. Activity also can help lower cholesterol levels and prevent atherosclerotic build up in the arteries. Further, individuals who remain active reduce their risk of all-cause mortality and premature death from preventable diseases. So, while you may not be able to outlast Father Time, you can certainly walk far enough ahead that it makes it difficult for him to catch you.

The Cognitive Benefits

The brain is a truly remarkable puzzle. In fact, modern medicine could study the brain indefinitely and still not learn everything there is to know about its mysterious network. The brain is continually changing in size and functionality. Typical age-related changes include a decrease in brain weight and size (not significant, but still a reduction), network size and blood supply. The aging brain also experiences memory loss, a decrease in inductive reasoning skills and mental acuity, a decrease in spatial awareness and the development of balance issues.

No one is immune to changes in the brain, but exercise and physical activity (along with proper diet) significantly slows the rate of cognitive dysfunction. Think about it in these terms—what’s good for the heart, is also good for the brain.

Overall, exercise improves memory, enhances thinking and problem-solving skills, boosts brain supporting hormones, enhances blood and oxygen flow to the brain, acts as a natural anti-depressant and stress reliever, and it improves focus, allowing you to concentrate on difficult or challenging tasks. In short, keep on your toes to keep the mind sharp.

The Truth of the Matter

Exercise is and will always be one of the primary keys to living well across the lifespan. We cannot stop or reverse the circle of life, but we can influence how we experience that journey. And it’s never too late to start making healthy choices to better your future.


Murray, R. and Kenney, W.L. (2016). Practical Guide to Exercise Physiology . Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.

Learn a holistic approach to working with active agers that goes beyond the physical aspects of movement. In addition to incorporating appropriate modifications, the ACE Senior Fitness Specialist Program explores building rapport, behavior change, motivation and adherence, and nutrition. 

Dr. Erin Nitschke
DR. ERIN NITSCHKE ContributorDr. Erin Nitschke, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist & NSCA-CPT, is a Health & Human Performance college educator and fitness blogger. She has over 14 years of experience in personal training, education, and instructional design. To Erin, being fit means finding an equilibrium between all dimensions of wellness. Erin is personally and professionally dedicated to teaching students and clients how to achieve such balance through learning and focused skill development.

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The word “core” gets thrown around a lot, and there is a lot of variation in exactly what most people mean when they use the term—and how to properly train it. As a health and fitness professional, you know the importance of core strength, but are you completely clear on what muscles make up the core and how to train to avoid imbalances? And are you following a safe progression of exercises when it comes to core strengthening?

Like many of your clients, you may have a few questions about this all-important area of the body. Well, here are some much-needed answers…


The core is divided into two separate units, each of which has its own unique purpose. Knowing the function of each unit and what muscles make up the core as a whole will help guide you in designing safe, effective exercise progressions for your clients.

“The inner unit is mostly used for fine segmental stabilization of the spine,” explains Eric Wilson, a personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist based in Apex, N.C., “whereas the outer unit provides more mobility, gross stabilization and motor control during high-intensity exercise, such as deadlifts, throws or sprints.”

While some experts differ on the exact muscle groups included in the core, there is a general consensus. According to Wilson, who was named the 2016 Biomechanics Method Corrective Exercise Specialist of the Year, “The inner unit is composed of the transverse abdominis, [the posterior fibers of the internal] obliques, diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, and lower back muscles, including the multifidus, longissimus and illiocostalis. The outer unit is composed of the rectus abdominis, spinal erector muscles, external and internal obliques, quadratus lumborum, and technically even extends down into the glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings.” 


It is not uncommon for the outer core unit to be stronger than the inner unit.

“The inner-core muscles in many people are weakened for several reasons,” explains Samantha Clayton, owner of Samantha Clayton Fitness and a former Olympian. “A sedentary lifestyle of sitting at desks all day means that these essential muscles are no longer being challenged with activities of daily living as they were in the past. Secondly, people training for recreation in the gym often neglect these muscles and train the ‘mirror muscles,’ [which leads to] creating imbalances over time.”

Clayton, a mother of four, including a set of triplets, cites another cause of core unit imbalance: pregnancy and childbirth. “The outer core is affected, too, but the pelvic floor is especially a problem area. I can share from personal experience that the inner-core muscles are especially weakened with pregnancy and require rehabilitation post-pregnancy in order to regain their former strength. You just have to say ‘jumping jack’ to a new mom and the thought alone will have her running to the bathroom.”

Wilson believes that there is another reason for inner and outer unit muscular imbalances. “I have also found through a lot of personal experience that it is not so much the strength that can be the issue, but the lack of neurological recruitment of inner-unit muscles,” she explains. “The brain is not used to needing to fire the muscles as rapidly or efficiently and this can cause more injuries to people than just the lack of strength itself, as the spine is not quickly stabilized when movements are initiated.”


As Clayton points out, many people tend to work the “mirror muscles”—the ones that can be seen on the outside of the body—and often the anterior muscles more than the posterior, especially where the core is concerned. There is also a tendency to progress through core strengthening faster than the exerciser may be ready for, introducing advanced exercises too soon. In this case, because the outer unit is stronger or more advanced neurologically, it takes over and the inner unit is neglected, further exacerbating the muscular imbalance between the two units.

“Your core is [made up of] muscle,” says Dustin Raymer, M.S., fitness director for Structure Housein Durham, N.C., “and like any other muscle, it needs a starting point and then you can work your way up to heavier or more intense training. If not, this could lead to tears or even hernias.”

Wilson agrees. “I see many people who are progressing into extremely difficult ab exercises, such as sit-ups, ab rollouts and hanging leg rises without having an understanding of form or coordination of the exercise,” says Wilson. “While I understand the allure of wanting great-looking abs, it is usually done at the cost of spine health.”

Clayton echoes the assertions of both Raymer and Wilson, saying that while attempting advanced ab work too soon may not be a problem initially, it will catch up to your clients over time.

“It’s a catch-22 for many trainers. The stabilization work that is essential for building a balanced body is quite often the least exciting and less ‘sexy’ part of a workout. Because of this, trainers don’t want to bore their excited new clients by having them do exercises that don’t really feel like exercise—or, to be more precise, what they perceive exercise should be based on the media’s depiction. It takes almost a deconditioning process of the mind to get someone on board with doing the little things that will make a big difference in the long run.”


One of the first lessons you can teach your clients is that they can actually work the core muscles all day long—and should.

“One of the most effective ways to train the inner core,” explains Raymer, “is to constantly think about bracing the core while doing other exercises that require higher stability, such as squatting or overhead pressing.” 

“My mindset for the core is that your core is always working,” agrees Clayton, “even when you’re doing the fun stuff like squats, step-ups and lunges, so make your clients aware of how to maximize their efforts.”

Clayton uses the mantra “Locate, Activate, Move” to help her clients understand how to activate their core muscles. For example, she has a client stop and “locate” the transverse abdominis muscle, “activate” by pulling the belly button through to the spine, and then finally “move” and perform the exercise.

You could also encourage your clients to perform a Kegel—a contraction of the pelvic floor muscles—before doing a jump squat. “It’s simply a ‘tighten your safety belt’ approach to movement,” Clayton explains. “I encourage trainers to think of creative ways you can encourage this new ‘body aware’ training method of using good form and starting all movement in your mind before taking a single step.”

As far as actual core exercises, think of the inner unit as the core’s foundation, which must be strong before progressing to building on it. “My favorite progression,” says Wilson, “is to start with coordination, then stabilization and then strength.”

As an example, Wilson teaches every client the cat/cow exercise from yoga. “I want to make sure they can feel the muscles that control their pelvic position,” he explains. “This is a huge foundation exercise that carries over into a large majority of the exercises we do in the gym. Once they have mastered the pelvic control, I then work on segmentally controlling the spine, making sure they can tilt the pelvis, lumbar spine and thoracic spine independent of each other [while] in the quadruped position.”

To initially work the spine stabilizing muscles, Wilson focuses on the pelvic floor muscles and transverse abdominis. These exercises can include prone ab vacuums, birddogs and wall sits with arm raises. “Once they can perform these correctly, we can progress to plank, first starting on the knees and then progressing to on the toes, eventually adding some weight onto their hips.”


Beware of making a client hold a position, such as the plank, for a designated length of time. For example, if you tell a client to hold the plank for one minute, but after 10 seconds, the abdominal muscles are no longer engaged, you’re defeating the purpose of the exercise.

Wilson urges trainers to work their way backward. “For instance, if you know that in three months, your client wants to be able to hold a two-minute plank, you can work your way backward and set out a game plan to get there. Have certain thresholds and goals along the way, such as making sure the client can hold a plank for 30 seconds on her knees without the spine buckling. The first time she tries to progress, watch her form like a hawk,” Wilson urges. “As soon as you see her back start to buckle or the shoulders sink, stop her and explain what happened and ask if she could feel when the abs gave out or when her form broke. This not only helps the client understand what improper form feels like, but also reinforces the principle that you never want to perform an exercise with improper form.”

Clayton suggests you ask yourself the following questions when deciding whether or not to progress a client to the next level of difficulty with core work:

  • What is the standard for this exercise?
  • What is the client’s goal?
  • Can he or she do the exercise safely?
  • Is the client stable when doing it? Do you detect instability?
  • Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
  • Is the exercise comfortable for the client or is it too difficult? If so, do you need to choose something else that accomplishes the same goal?

Don’t forget that it is your responsibility as the health and fitness professional to help your clients build a strong foundation of stability, mobility and strength—and not just develop “mirror muscles” that look good, but result in poor functioning.

“Inspire, motivate and be creative,” encourages Clayton. “Get your clients to where they want to be by building confidence with layered movements.” And take the time to educate your clients about the reasoning behind your approach, so they understand the progression and why it’s important to build a strong foundation before moving on to other, more advanced exercises.



Bad Form, Good Opportunity

Perched on the dip bars between sets, I was afforded a panoramic view of the activities unfolding in my gym.

It was not a pretty sight. On this recent Monday morning, it was almost as if someone had decided to orchestrate a clinic on bad workout form and poor gym etiquette, for my benefit.

To my left, a man in ‘70s-era fitness gear (think tightly cinched weight belt, cut-off sweatshirt) sat in front of the curl machine, staring into space. Fifteen minutes later, when I was several exercises past dips, he hadn’t moved an inch…or, for that matter, a muscle.

Near him, a young lady had practically camped out at the leg press machine: She had her water bottle, towel and bag arrayed next to her—all that was missing was barbed wire and a guard tower to proclaim this machine as her turf and that everyone else should stay away.

In the cardio area to my right, a guy ran at top speed, his legs flailing away in a circular motion like a cartoon character while he grasped the console for dear life. A few treadmills over, a woman had her machine on maximum elevation, pointed skyward as she too clutched the console with both arms like a snowmobiler going uphill, out of control.

Meanwhile, weights were slammed and jerked; a junkyard-like pile of dumbbells grew on the floor near the racks because no one was bothering to put them back; benches and seats dripped with sweat from hirsute guys who couldn’t bother to clean them off when they were done.

In the midst of it all, an ocean of calm and focus in this maelstrom of gym-goers behaving badly, a personal trainer stood overseeing his client as she did lunges, correctly.

Of course, his focus was where it should be—on his client. But it made me think what, if anything, could be done about all this fitness malpractice around him? There was no staffer working the floor. The only other employee in the gym at that time was the reluctant receptionist at the front desk, cowering under her hoody and avoiding eye contact at all cost.

This raises a larger question: While there are certainly many who perform exercises on their own, safely and effectively, much of what I witnessed that morning is hardly unique to my gym. What is the responsibility (if any) for trainers in clubs and facilities everywhere? ACE Certified health and fitness professionals know how to guide their own clients through safe workouts, but to what extent are they obligated to be the gym police? What is their responsibility to correct bad form or to set inconsiderate exercisers straight?

“Fitness professionals have a responsibility to correct form for participants in their own classes or with their own training clients,” says Amanda Vogel, M.A., a fitness instructor and blogger at “Apart from that, it’s a judgment call.”

That judgment, and your call, however, will depend on several factors.


You’re a trainer with a client and a gym member comes up to you and complains that some member has been hogging the leg extension machine for half an hour.

Your response to this, according to master trainer Pete McCall, depends on your status in the gym. “If you’re an independent contractor, essentially renting space from the gym to train your clients, you have no role as an employee,” says McCall, who is also an adjunct professor in exercise science at Mesa College in San Diego. “So, in that case, it’s literally not your business.”

That doesn’t mean, however, you should just turn a blind eye. Directing the dissatisfied member to the club manager, McCall says, or speaking to management yourself would be an appropriate response.

It’s a different story if you are a staff trainer. “Probably in that scenario I would approach the person,” says legal expert Mark Nagel, a professor at the University of South Carolina who has also written the legal chapters in many of ACE’s professional training manuals. “When you’re acting as an independent contractor and you’re not a formal employee under the supervision of gym hierarchy, in most cases you’re not going to have a formal expectation to interject in the situation.” That’s a very different scenario, he adds, than if you show up to work for that gym regularly, you’re wearing the gym shirt, and you’re clearly identified as being with the gym. “In that case,” Nagel says, “you clearly have a duty to step in.” 

Okay, but how? And in what situations?

Here again it depends. In the case of the machine-hogger, it might be wise to start (or ask club management to start) a document chain, to see if this is a chronic behavior. If so, then it might be time to have a chat with that member about gym etiquette.

Still, while it is certainly inconsiderate, it’s important to remember that the person who insists on doing five sets on the only leg extension machine is not putting him or herself or any other members in danger.

Let’s consider another case.


Some years ago, when she was working as a trainer and assistant manager in a New York City health club, Liz Neporent, co-author of Fitness for Dummies, recalls hearing an incessant banging noise on the gym floor. She went searching for the source. “It was a tiny woman on a decline bench,” she says. “She was doing flyes with 5-pound weights. She’d bring her arms out all the way until they touched the floor, then bash them together at the top. Set after set. At the end of each set, she’d throw the weights on the floor, and they’d bounce. People were having to duck to get out of the way. Besides being a terrible way to do that exercise, it was very disruptive to the whole gym.”

Neporent could finally take it no longer. “I went over, scooped my arms under her, and I literally carried her over to a proper bench. I said, ‘You cannot do this for the following reasons…’” The woman, not surprisingly, looked shocked and angry. “I thought for a second, ‘what am I doing? This could be bad,’” continues Neporent. “But then she said, ‘You know what, you’re right? Show me the right way.’ And we became friends after that.’”

Neporent is not recommending that any trainer lay hands on a member, much less carry them around the gym. But she does believe a distinction should be made between bad gym etiquette and dangerous gym behavior. “For me, the question of whether to intervene in someone else’s workout is always on a case-by-case basis,” Neporent says. “But if something bad is imminent, then I would.”

Consider this time-honored scenario, familiar to anyone who has spent time in the free weight area: A lifter is about to perform a squat or bench press without a spotter and with a bar that’s groaning with 45-pound plates. The reps are shaky, limbs tremble and quiver. The lifter—let’s face it, most likely this is a male—is about to perform one more rep that you know they aren’t going to be able to do. Here, the decision isn’t necessarily to intervene and correct, it’s simply to save someone from serious injury—with perhaps a friendly reminder about the dangers of trying to lift too much weight without a spotter.


When McCall was a staff trainer at New York Sports Clubs, he taught the young trainers the right way to approach clients on the gym floor.

“When people work out, their adrenaline’s up,” he says. “If I say, ‘You’re doing something wrong,’ I’ve created a confrontation. People get defensive!” Instead he says, “The first thing I’d say is ‘Hi, how you doing? I’m Pete. What’s your name? If you have any questions, let me know.’ Or, ‘Can I show you another exercise that might be better for what you’re trying to do?’”

So when someone is throwing the weights down like they are hot potatoes, or hangs on to the treadmill as if it’s a lifeboat in shark-infested waters, and you feel that you should approach them—try to make it a positive. Choose your words carefully. Smile.

Even then, it’s risky. “If the member is doing an exercise in such a way that it’s less effective but it’s not necessarily putting them at risk for injury, it’s a judgment call as to whether to say anything,” says Vogel. “A new exerciser might be grateful for the guidance. Other members might find it insulting.”

Ultimately, though, it’s important to remember that your primary duty is to your client—especially if you’re an independent trainer. “We don’t take Hippocratic oaths as trainers,” Nagel says. “It’s not like doctors. You’re not morally obligated to rush in. I hate to say, from the pure legal side, unless you have a specific relationship as an employee of that facility, you probably do not have a duty to interfere on the other side of the gym, even when someone is doing something unsafe.” (That said, Nagel acknowledges that most trainers, regardless of their business relationship with a facility, would want to help maintain a safe environment.)


There is another way to look at this: While someone who is using the four-way hip machine for neck exercises or slamming the weights after every set might not want to be told they’re wrong; while the guy at my gym zoning out on while performing biceps curls might not want to be told that his workout would be more effective if he picked up the pace—others would. In fact, they might be hungry, even desperate, for a little guidance.

“I find the majority of these things involve people new to the gym, and they’re literally sitting on the machine backwards or don’t know how to pull a pin out,” Neporent says. “A lot of times they’re grateful to be shown what to do.”

So could my nightmare scenario—a gym full of people who didn’t know what they were doing—represent an opportunity for a trainer? “Absolutely, if the trainer approaches them the right way,” says Stefanie Lujan, content project manager at ACE and a long-time fitness professional. “A lot of people who go to the gym think trainers are going to be mean and yell at them. You can approach a person in a nice way, with empathy.”

Spend a few minutes with these people, Lujan recommends, and give them some pointers. You might even offer a free session. “That way you can give them your undivided attention, and maybe they become a client.”

Most people would call that a win-win, don’t you think?



John Hanc

John Hanc is a long-time contributor and columnist for Newsday, a contributing editor for Runner’s World and a frequent contributor to The New York Times. He is the author of 14 books, the latest of which is The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion’s 8 Core Principals for Success in Business, Sports, and Life (Da Capo, April 2015), which he co-authored with ultra-distance running champion Travis Macy.