The first day

March 29, 2009

Today is the first day of my personal exercise challenge. My initial weigh-in statistics are:

Weight: 202 lbs
Measure point 1 (stomach): 40.92 inches
Measure point 2 (waist): 38.67 inches
Measure point 3 (groin/glute): 42.67 inches

In some ways, this isn’t a very good starting point (since it shows how far I’ve let myself go). On the other hand, it’s a good sign to see how far I can in the next six weeks. Hopefully I can shed at least a half-inch from each of those measure points in addition to the five pounds initially highlighted in my challenge.

I did Routine A this evening, and one of the first things I noticed was how difficult it was to hold a breath while clenching my abs. This is definitely something I will need to practice. Additionally, trying to keep my back straight during crunches wasn’t as easy as it was years ago. The routine took about 30 minutes to complete.


Exercise routines

March 28, 2009

I have worked out two exercise routines that I will alternate during the week to target all of the muscle zones as described earlier. The routines are as follows:

Routine A (week 1)
– (warmup stretches)
Basic crunch (20 reps)
Forward lunge (20 reps)
Crossover crunch (20 reps)
– Standing side bends (10 reps)
Chair squat (20 reps)
Reverse crunch (20 reps)

Routine A (week 2)
add:  Pile Squat (20 reps)

Routine A (week 3)
add:  Bicycle crunch (20 reps)

Routine A (week 4)
add:  Standing side bends (10 reps)
add:  Oblique twist (20 reps)

Routine A (week 5)
add:  Long arm crunch (20 reps)

Routine A (week 6)
add:  Forward lunge (20 reps)

Routine B (week 1)
– (warmup stretches)
Long arm crunch (20 reps)
Pile squat (20 reps)
Bicycle crunch (20 reps)
– Standing side bends (10 reps)
Oblique twist (20 reps)
Basic crunch (20 reps)

Routine B (week 2)
add:  Chair squat (20 reps)

Routine B (week 3)
add:  Reverse crunch (20 reps)

Routine B (week 4)
add:  Standing side bends (10 reps)
add:  Forward lunge

Routine B (week 5)
add:  Crossover crunch

Routine B (week 6)
add:  Pile squat

As you can see above, each week I will be adding an additional exercise to the routine. This will ensure that the body is not only receiving a full exercise targeting all the muscle groups, but also to ensure that I am challenging myself. While I might not have enough endurance at first to complete five exercises in a routine, by the end of the challenge I should be able to ten exercises a day.

For those of you who consider doing similar exercises, ensure to properly stretch before starting the exercises, and ensure you have water available to keep yourself hydrated. Also, remember to pace and not to overexert yourself. The point of exercising is to lose weight and build muscle, not to cause pain or damage. I have chosen these exercises because I have done them in the past and are comfortable with my ability to perform them now. If you are new to exercising, you should consult a physical trainer, and visit your personal doctor to ensure you are in proper medical condition before starting any exercise routine.


How to perform the non-crunch exercises

March 22, 2009

The following details how to perform the other five exercises that will be used during the six-week challenge.

Chair squat (20 reps): Whereas crunches work your abs, squats work your gluteus (also known as glutes). To perform this exercise:

    – Place a chair or some other seat behind you
    – Spread your feet 12 inches (approximately the width of your hips) apart
    – Contract your abs and bend at your knees, keeping your back straight
    – Lightly touch your backside to the chair and stand back up.

Remember to keep your knees behind your toes. This focuses the energy of the exercise on your glutes. Also, pull your knees inward during the squat for proper form.

Forward Lunge (20 reps): The forward lunge, or the drop-knee lunge as it is sometimes called, is the easiest form and most commonly known.

    – Start off with your right foot approximately 3 feet in front of your left foot
    – Tighten your abs and start to bend your knees
    – Keep your right heel flat on the floor, with your knee centered above your foot
    – Lower your left knee to the floor, while keeping your back up straight and your chin up

As with all exercises, do not rush the movements and don’t “bounce” on your recovery motions. When you lower your knee, “touch” it against the floor without resting on it. Resting on your knee will take the focus off of your glutes.

Pile squat (20 reps): A harder form of the chair squat is the pile squat and works the most muscles in your backside and thighs.

    – Position a chair behind you
    – Stand with your feet approximately 3 feet apart and your feet pointed slightly outward
    – Lower your backside till it touches the chair, keeping your feet flat on the floor
    – Maintain a straight back with your chin up, while centering your knee over your feet

This exercise can also be performed on your toes, if you choose to work on your calves as well. It is tempting to place your hands on your thighs to stable your motion. If you do this, do not push off with your hands as you recover back to an upright position.

Seated oblique twist (20 reps): Also known as the Russian Twist, the seated oblique twist works the inner and outer obliques in many ways as the bicycle crunch.

    – Sit on the floor with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet flat on the floor
    – Lean back to a 45 degree angle and contract your abs
    – Using a medicine ball or other object, rotate from side to side while touching the object to the floor

The twisting motion can be performed quickly, but make sure you are not bouncing and using the momentum from the bounce to perform the twist. The twisting action should come from the contracting of your oblique muscles.

Standing side bends (10 reps): This exercise is more for warming up and cooling off than for fat burning. It will be interjected periodically during the exercise rotation before moving on to different exercises.

    – Stand upright with your feet placed at shoulder width apart
    – With your arms down along your side, bend to your right-hand side until you cannot bend any more
    – At your furthest deflection, inhale and then rise back to an upright position, then exhale
    – Repeat reps to one side before switching to the other

Do not force your body too far over to the point where you hurt your back. As with the other nine exercises already listed, jarring motions do not add anything to the workout.

Other than the seated oblique twist, perform all motions in a slow, controlled manner while tightening the muscle groups that you are working on at the time. As you build muscle, your body will burn the fat in the focused area. This muscle growth comes from repetition and not forceful actions.


How to perform the crunches

March 21, 2009

Here are the proper ways to perform the five crunch exercises listed in the last post.

Basic crunch (20 reps): The basic crunch is the exercise many of us are familiar with, either from our days of physical education during gym in school or because of infomercials trying to sell us a new gadget. Unfortunately, many of us perform this exercise incorrectly. Here is the proper method:

    – Lie flat on your back with your fingertips pressed against the side of your head
    – Contract your abs while flattening your lower back against the floor
    – Keeping your chin up, lift your shoulders 2 inches off the ground
    – Exhale on your way up, and then hold the position for a few seconds
    – Lower your shoulders back to the ground while keeping your abs contracted

The reason for your fingers to be on the side of your head is so you do not pull up on your head while raising your shoulders. This is a mistake many make (including myself) when you begin to become fatigued after a few reps.

Bicycle crunch (20 reps): The bicycle crunch is a perfect exercise to work all of your abs muscles, including the inner and outer obliques. The starting position is similar to the basic crunch, as follows:

    – Lie flat on your back with your fingertips pressed against the side of your head
    – Contract your abs while flattening your lower back against the floor
    – Raise your legs to a 45 degree angle with the floor
    – Begin a standard bicycle peddling motion
    – Keeping your chin up, raise your left shoulder till the left elbow touches your right knee.
    – Lower your left shoulder and then raise your right shoulder until your right elbow touches your left knee

The alternating motion is what targets your obliques, something that is missed by performing basic crunches alone. This exercise will be found more often in the exercise regime during the six-week challenge than some of the others. Remember to perform the motions slowly while keeping your abs contracted.

Crossover crunch (20 reps): Mimicking the bicycle crunch, the cross over crunch focuses the exercise on your inner and outer obliques. The proper form for this exercise is as follows:

    – Lie flat on your back with your fingertips pressed against the side of your head
    – Contract your abs while flattening your lower back against the floor
    – Bend your legs until your knee is at a 90 degree angle, with your feet flat on the floor
    – Cross your right leg over your left so your right ankle is resting against your left knee
    – Keeping your chin up, raise your left shoulder till the left elbow touches your right knee
    – Complete your reps before switching legs

Remember to exhale as your lift your shoulder off the ground, while inhaling on your way back down. Proper breathing is important with these exercises.

Long arm crunch (20 reps): Going back to focusing on your rectus abdominis, this advanced form of the crunch provides added resistance in the crunch motion. The proper form is:

    – Lie flat on your back with your arms extended over your head and your hands clasped
    – Bend your legs until your knees form a 90 degree angle, with your feet flat on the floor
    – Contract your abs while flattening your lower back against the floor
    – Keeping your chin up, lift your shoulders 2 inches off the ground
    – Exhale on your way up, and then hold the position for a few seconds
    – Lower your shoulders back to the ground while keeping your abs contracted

With your arms being over your head, the urge to pull up on your neck is minimized. However, try not to swing your arms forward to gain momentum for your body. Instead, try to keep your arms straight with your upper body.

Reverse crunch (20 reps): Why let your shoulders have all the fun? Your hips need to get into the game as well. The overall motion is the same as the basic crunch, except that you keep your shoulders on the ground while raising your hips. As follows:

    – Lie flat on your back with your arms stretched out along side your body, with your palms facing up
    – Contract your abs while flattening your lower back against the floor
    – Bend your legs until your knees form a 90 degree angle, with your lower legs parallel to the floor
    – Keeping your chin up, lift your hips off the floor about 2 inches
    – Exhale on your way up, and then hold the position for a few seconds
    – Lower your hips back to the ground while keeping your abs contracted

The reason for your palms to be facing up is so you do not push down against the ground during the routine. Again, the purpose is to exercise your abs, not your arms.

These five crunch exercises will focus on the three major ab muscle groups. It will not be easy the first few days, since we don’t focus our efforts on the muscles during everyday life. But even as the muscles develop, remember to perform the motions slowly to maximize your workout potential while reducing the risk of injury.

The next post will over the “non-crunch” exercises.


Exercise methodology

March 19, 2009

There are so many different exercises out there that I can choose from, targeting anywhere from my neck down to my ankles. Since my arms and my legs are in good shape and toned, I want to focus more on the trunk and waist areas. The goal is to lose five pounds, and these two sections are where men tend to carry more non-muscle weight.

Exercises that increase flexibility and tones multiple muscle groups are what I am looking for, especially if they are low-impact. Doing some research, I have identified ten exercises that I believe meet my needs. They are:

    Basic crunch – exercises the rectus abdominis
    Bicycle crunch – exercises the rectus abdominis
    Chair squat – exercises the hamstrings and gluteus maximus
    Crossover crunch – exercises the rectus abdominis, external obliques, and internal obliques
    Forward lunge – exercises the gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, and the hamstrings
    Long arm crunch – exercises the rectus abdominis, external obliques, and internal obliques
    Pile squat – exercises the hamstrings and gluteus medius
    Reverse crunch – exercises the rectus abdominis
    Seated oblique twist – exercises the rectus abdominis, external obliques, and internal obliques
    Standing side bends – exercises the quadratus lumborum muscle

I will create a daily schedule identifying which exercises I will be performing per day, making sure to change the sequence to ensure that each muscle group is targeted. Muscle burns fat, so targeting these muscle groups will help achieve my goal. However, as I am burning away the fat, the muscles are increasing in density, possibly leading to my weight remaining the same (even if my clothes fit better).

This is why I will be recording my weight each week as well as measuring three points of my body. The first point will be around the stomach in line with the belly button. The second point will be around the waist. The last point will be at the top of the adductor longus (groin) muscle. Measuring in these three points should identify where the weight loss is occurring. Since this is only a six week challenge, the changes might be only a quarter or half inch, so I will measure each point three times and take the average diameter to account for any discrepancies in the measuring process.

My next post(s) will explain how to properly perform the ten exercises listed above.


Personal history

March 17, 2009

There was a time in my life where I could run three miles in under 24 minutes and then step into a rowing shell and do two practice 2000 meter races in one day. Those were my high school and early college days. Many years passed, and I traded my athletics for academic studies and then employment. Those were excuses. Periodically, I would dust off my bike and strap on my knee brace and cruise through my community, but that wasn’t real exercise.

Years passed, and then one day a coworker of mine informed me of her workout schedule with her personal trainer, and encouraged me to join her at the gym. While knowing that it would be good for me, seeing how exhausted she was every morning (not to mention sore) kept me from taking her up on her offer. However, the idea stuck with me, and in October of 2007 I started attending a gym near my office.

I was never a “gym” person. Even back in my rowing years, strength training for me was more about carrying items rather than using gym equipment. The gym I went to was relatively small, but it was private (something I was looking for so I could get back in the habit without feeling too self-conscious). There were five treadmills, four ellipticals, two stationary bikes, and a handful of traditional weight machines to focus on your upper and lower body. I chose to start with the ellipticals since it was low-impact but was great for the heart. The fact that it had cable TV might have been a reason to, especially when Ninja Warrior (Sasuke) was playing.

For seven months, I attended the gym almost every Tuesday and Thursday. I would start with an hour on the elliptical, running up to six miles during the first hour. After that, I would rotate through the various arm and leg machines until I was exhausted. And then at the end of May 2008, my time at the gym came to an end.

I was on vacation in rural America when I was bit by a brown recluse spider. The little critter climbed up my pant leg while I was driving and bit me on the calf. Even though they are one of the most poisonous spiders in North America, they usually are not aggressive unless they feel threatened. While the bite did not hurt, I was spooked by the fact something scurried up my leg. I quickly smacked my leg, hoping to crush whatever it was underneath my jeans before it climbed any further. Arriving at the place I was staying a few minutes later, I quickly changed clothes and examined the bite. It didn’t look bad initially, but things changed after a few days.

By the third day, the infection from the bite started to spread around the wound (see picture if you are interested). The local doctor gave me a prescription to fight the infection, but advised me to visit the hospital when I returned home. On the fifth day, I flew home. I felt very uncomfortable the whole day, so once I landed I drove straight to the hospital. It was a good thing that I did, as the infection traveled up my thigh (see picture if you are interested). The doctors kept me in the hospital for a week while they flushed my system with more powerful medication until the infection started to recede and the fear of necrosis subsided.

The doctor told me I could return to the gym after a few weeks, but since I was self-conscious about the appearance of my leg, I decided to hold off on returning. Unfortunately, this became an excuse. I still have a scar, even though it isn’t as visible as it once was (see picture if you are interested). The seven months I spent to get back into shape and lose weight was undone by a few weeks of inactivity and excuses. That brings me to this website and this challenge. This challenge is to end the excuses.


Welcome to the six-week exercise challenge

March 16, 2009

During a six-week period, I will be performing an exercise routine based on alternating techniques focused on the abdominal and hip region of the body to see if I can lose five pounds. Since this is a controlled experiment, I will not be incorporating a change in diet. Measurements will be made and posted on a weekly basis, along with commentary on how challenging the exercises are to perform, initial discomfort related to the exercise, and any other observations that I might find interesting.

The experiment will begin on March 29th (Sunday) and end on May 9th (Saturday). Details on the exercise regimen will be posted this week. If you are interested in sharing your experiences on exercising or the routines I will list soon, feel free to post your comments at any time.