Sunday, June 27, 2010

Falling off the Bandwagon

It is a shame that most of the African teams in this World cup always seem to start a match out well, and then let the other team carry the match halfway through. Unlike the African football teams we’ve seen, we don’t have to give up all hope when we fall out of our exercise and nutrition routine and back into our old habits. There’s always the option to dust yourself off and try again.

Most people that are on a strict diet program tend to demonize food, and so when they backslide for a moment and eat that slice of birthday cake, it’s like they’ve sold their soul to the enemy. They get affected psychologically and start to think “I’ve already made a mistake, so I can go ahead and eat the whole cake and it won’t matter.” And then that one mistake leads to binge eating.

My opinion is that in order to stay healthy and fit, we need to change our relationship with food. If we treat cake as a complete no-no when we know we do love cake, do you know what happens? Our minds would constantly remain on cake. Thinking about cake 24/7 will inevitably lead to stuffing our faces with cake at some point because we feel so starved of something we enjoy. I was reading an article in SELF magazine the other day, where the True Blood actress Anna Paquin was interviewed. My love for her immediately grew when she said (and this is paraphrased), “I won’t feed you the lie most actresses do. I have to watch what I eat to stay fit. But I also believe that one dessert a week won’t kill me.” If we can have this type of relationship with food, we’d avoid the yo-yo effect caused by demonizing food and then bingeing on it.

This relationship is not only true of food. We also do the same thing with our exercise program. If we can’t make it to the gym one day, we think “I’ll make up for it tomorrow.” When we are too tired to go the next day, and the next day, we start to feel really guilty. Knowing we cannot make up for a few lost days, we turn our guilt into nonchalance and just stop going. Or as one of my readers felt this week, we may feel intense pain when we start working out, and that could drive us to wait a few days or weeks before going back to the gym. Our exercise routine could get so spaced out that our bodies don’t get used to exercising and we feel pain every time we work out. What happens then? We say “To hell with it!” and just quit.

Therefore, we also need to change our relationship with exercise. Exercise comes with pain, no doubt. But let’s not rest in the ‘now’, but the future. It will hurt for a few days or weeks, but as our bodies strengthen, we’ll see an increase in our endurance for pain, and a decrease in the pain itself. With these compounded, and as we see the effects of exercise on our bodies, we’ll be driven to do even more.

Now, let’s back up a little. We’ve talked about changing our relationship with food and exercise. But we also need to be a little softer on ourselves sometimes. Recognize that we may backslide just because that’s the way the human mind is wired. If we do backslide, how should we deal with it? We deal with it by realizing that a small mistake does not change our whole lives. So you missed one workout session? Jump back on the horse tomorrow and don’t dwell on today. You ate 5,000 calories in one meal? Oops! There’s always tomorrow. Continue controlling your portions then.

If you have a ‘falling off the bandwagon’ story, or have any questions, please leave a comment.

I’d also like to point out two things:
  • The Nigerian Blog Awards group B nominations end today (May 27th). Please go and nominate Eights & Weights today before it’s over! Click on this link to nominate: Group B nominations.
  • Starting next month, the Eights and Weights page will have a segment called ‘What I Want to Know Is…’ Please click here to send me a message about a question you have or a topic you’re concerned about, and it may make it to next month’s pool of questions!
Again, thanks for your support! Cheers!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Series: Abs Like Whoa!

It’s still summer! Yes, we can’t all have packs that you can literally count, but we can work to get some abs to show off our bellies on the beach this summer. Mostly, when we speak about abdominal exercises, we envision the regular crunches or sit-ups. But in my experience, these can get boring pretty fast, and can also put a lot of strain on your lower back and neck. So I thought it would be fun to talk about some of the non-traditional crunches that don’t necessarily involve our fingers entwined at the back of our heads or our elbows taped to the sides of our ears. There are so many abs exercises, so it was pretty hard to narrow it down to a few of the best ones.

Abdominal hip lifts or raises: This exercise is great because it works both the front and sides of your abdominal when done right. It’s pretty easy just as the name implies, but it’s also easy to make some mistakes with the posture here. So how does it go?

  • Lie flat with your back on the floor and your eyes looking up to the ceiling. I specify the part about the eyes because when you have your eyes to the ceiling, you probably won’t unconsciously lift your head off the floor.
  • Lift your legs up while keeping your butt on the floor. Your legs should be straight up to the ceiling so the bottom of your foot is facing the ceiling.
  • Put your palms on the floor on either side of your body for balance.
  • While keeping your knees and ankles together, lift your hips off the floor (only your hips; not your head, and not your palms). Make sure you are using your stomach muscles here so don’t bend your legs towards your body because that works your lower back more than your abs. Again, try to lift only your hips off the floor while keeping your legs in their original position.
  • Bring your hips back down to the floor and repeat. I found this great picture of how it looks at the Alaska Stars website.
Plank: The plank is also as simple an exercise as any, but here, posture also matters very much. So pay special attention to holding your butt and stomach muscles tight. It does not involve motion so it can be pretty hard to focus and maintain this position for an extended period. Here’s how it works:

  • Assume the upper push-up position, with only your palms and toes on the floor.
  • Transitioning one arm at a time, move your body to rest on your forearms (part of the arm from your elbows to your wrist). Most people prefer to clench their fists in this position.
  • Try to keep your body as parallel to the ground as possible. This is where you need to tighten your stomach and butt muscles to prevent your butt sticking out or an extra curve in your lower back.
  • Look down to the ground. This helps to maintain the position because if you look up, you could wreck your posture.
  • Just hold this position for as long as you can. I like to do about 20 second holds. Hold for a while, break, and then repeat. Another good picture showing this exercise can be found at the Abs Like Stone website.
Belly Blaster: This is a variation of the plank. Here, rather than maintain the plank position, we turn it into a motion exercise.

  • Assume plank position.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles, and lift your butt up. As you lift up your butt, don’t let your stomach sag forward.
  • Come back down to the plank.
  • Repeat as many times as you can. Here is a picture showing a great belly blaster from Fit Yummy Mummy. I know, the name of the website was what got me too.
Side plank: This one is best done in front of a mirror because it’s a little difficult to feel if your body is straight or not.

  • Assume the plank position above.
  • Using only one of your arms, lift your other arm and your body off the floor, and let your body face the opposite side of the room resting only on one of your forearms, and the side of one of your feet. For example, if you are resting on your right forearm, your body should be facing the left side of the room. Only your right forearm and the right side of your right foot should be on the floor.
  • Make sure your body is in a straight line from your head to your feet.
  • You can put your other palm on your waist so it doesn’t get in the way.
  • Release the fist of the forearm on the ground so the palms are facing the floor. Turn the forearm on the ground so that the fingertips are facing the same direction as your body (which would be the left side in our example).
  • Repeat on the other arm.
  • Make sure your body does not sag in this exercise so that you get the most out of it. Your hips should not be heading towards the ground, and your stomach and butt muscles should be tight. Looking forward also helps to maintain this position. Click the website name below for a picture showing a good side plank from the Abs Like Stone website.
V sit: This position is also relatively easy to describe, but it is something you have to build on because most people don’t have the necessary core strength to hold this position for long periods when just beginning an exercise program. However, it is a great strength exercise for the stomach muscles.

  • Lie flat on the floor on your back with your arms at your sides.
  • Lift up your legs so they are around a 45 degree angle to the floor.
  • Slowly lift your shoulders and extend your arms so your body is in a ‘V’ shape with your arms extended forward parallel to the floor.
  • If you cannot keep your legs straight in this position, you can bend your knees, but make sure your feet stay off the ground.
  • Hold the position and repeat like we did with the plank.
  • Here’s an example of the position from Vibra Body, and here’s a variation with bent knees from Hamilton Spectator.
Well, there you go. If you didn’t know you could get abs without crunches, I hope that has helped to provide you with some useful information. But as I always say, remember that you cannot lose fat in your stomach with strength training alone. You need the three steps: cardio, weight training, and stretching. And you also need to maintain a healthy diet.

Disclaimer: I have to mention though that any exercise advice given here is just that: Advice. I am not a personal trainer or trained fitness instructor, and so I simply give suggestions from my experience. If you are uncomfortable with any advice given here, please seek a second opinion.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Summer Series: See My Muscles

Ever notice how some people’s arms never seem to sag no matter how old they get? Those are arms that boys pray for, and women only dream of. We're still in our summer series and we're talking about killer arms today. You can get one step closer to your ideal arms by incorporating some of these exercises into your routine. Here goes!

Arm circles: Well, I like to call it swimmers’ circles. It involves circling your arms like a swimmer does in water. This exercise looks and sounds pretty easy, but when you get into it, you’ll feel that your arms are getting a pretty good workout. Stand up straight, and stretch your arms out on both sides of you, so you form a ‘T’. Make sure you stretch your arms, not have your elbows sagging down. Slowly circle your arms forward repeatedly. Note that you need small circles, not large ones, so a circle as big as your head is perfect. Do as many repetitions as you can, and then reverse the direction of the circles, so you can hit all muscles in your upper arms and shoulders. Do the same number of repetitions as you did for the forward motions. Here’s a picture that shows the position: Fitness Magazine.

Basic push-up: Presumably, we all know how to do a basic push-up/press-up. But again, it’s not so simple. Females tend to do it different from males because females tend to have less upper body strength. Here’s how it goes. Lie flat on your stomach. For the starting position, prop yourself up on your palms and raise your body off the floor. Your palms should be about shoulder-width apart. Keep your body as straight as possible (so your butt should not be sticking out or in) and tuck your stomach in. Your hands should be straight as well. Look to the ground because looking up can put unnecessary pressure on your neck. Slowly drop to the floor with control. Note that that weight of your body is still in your palms even in the down position. So you’re not dropping so far to the floor that your body touches the floor. Ladies, you can perform this exercise with your knees on the floor, but I encourage you to at least attempt some full push-ups. For a picture of the right starting and ending positions, visit

Bench dip: This works out your triceps. Although they are called bench dips, you can use a low chair or even your couch. Here’s how it goes. Sit on a bench with your palms on either side of you on the bench, fingers facing forward gripping the bench. Plant your feet on the floor. Slide your bum forward until it is off the seat. Keep your arms straight in the starting position. Slowly (with control) lower yourself down and bend your elbows. Lower yourself down until your elbows are level with your shoulders, and then raise yourself up again. Try to keep your body straight during this exercise as we have a tendency to slouch or raise our shoulders to our ears. Do as many repetitions as you can. Here is the starting position: Trainers Aid1 and the down position: Trainers Aid2.

As always, don't forget the three steps: cardio, weight training, and stretching. The fun thing about our bodies is that we serve as weight too. So we just need to find ways to utilize our body weight.

Disclaimer: I have to mention though that any exercise advice given here is just that: Advice. I am not a personal trainer or trained fitness instructor, and so I simply give suggestions from my experience. If you are uncomfortable with any advice given here, please seek a second opinion.

Till next week readers. Cheers!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Summer Series: Tone Your Behind

Summer is here. Yay! Well, when the rain ends. And it’s about time to start working on those beach bodies. Over the next month, we will be talking about toning up for the sun.

Do you plan to rock those short shorts this summer? I know you bought them in the winter and thought “I’ll tone up. I have six months.” And then, here you are six months later. That’s okay. We’ll talk about a few of the best exercises you can do to tone up your bum.

The Squat: This is the quintessential butt exercise because you can really do it anywhere. If done properly, the squat really works out your body, especially your butt area. So how do you do a proper squat? There are so many different kinds of squats, but the most common is the chair squat. Here is the basis of the exercise:
  • Push your bum back like your aiming for a seat
  • Keep your feet planted on the floor either about hip width apart or slightly wider
  • Keep your knees right above your feet, while making sure they don’t go forward beyond your feet. In other words, don’t over-squat where you can’t see your toes when you look down. Your knees should be right above your toes so that if you look down, you see your knees, then your toes.
  • Keep your head straight
  • Squat and then come up, squat and then come up. The repetitions expand and contract your muscles.
Lifting dumbbells on both sides of your body can help to intensify the squat a little bit. Here's a great picture that shows proper squat technique at Do several repetitions until you feel it in your butt. The amount you do depends on your body.

The Lunge: I love lunges because they work your bum and your inner thighs. You may need some space to do lunges to get the most out of the exercise. Again, there are many ways to do this, but the basis is:

  • Step one of your feet back, and stay on the ball of that foot.
  • Make sure your front foot is planted on the ground.
  • Just like the squat, you should be able to look down and see your knee, then your toes. So don’t over-extend your knee.
  • Keep your body straight.
The lunge is really about switching from one foot to the other, so you need balance to be able to get the most out of this exercise. Check out for the basic lunge. Again, holding weights on either side of your body intensifies the lunge to get even more out of the workout.

Glute Kickbacks: This is one exercise that focuses entirely on the butt area.

  • Go on your knees with your elbows on the floor. Your knees should be at around a 90 degree angle
  • Make sure your spine is straight. We tend to curve our lower backs in this position.
  • Extend one of your knees back and up so your foot is towards the ceiling, Make sure you extend with your knee so your leg retains its 90 degree position. Don’t move your leg or foot around.
  • Bring your knee back down to the floor
This exercise is also about switching from one side to the other, but it is very important to keep your leg position as you raise and drop your knee. A good example of the kickback in the upward position is here: The downward position just has both knees on the floor.

There are so many other butt exercises, but I thought I’d stick to the most popular ones today. Please remember my three steps as you work out: cardio, strength training, and stretching. These exercises serve as strength training, but you should still incorporate cardio and stretching to get the most out of your workout, and to prevent injury.

Disclaimer: I have to mention though that any exercise advice given here is just that: Advice. I am not a personal trainer or trained fitness instructor, and so I simply give suggestions from my experience. If you are uncomfortable with any advice given here, please seek a second opinion.

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