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Crunches are a Pain in the Neck

Question of the Month: Kayla, why does my head and neck hurt when doing crunches?

Crunches make my head hurt for so many reasons. As a trainer they hurt my head because I know that so many people think that doing more of them will get them the flat tummy they are after and also because so many people do them in a way that undermines those intentions. So many people complain when they hate situps and crunches because they hurt their necks or lower back.

The main form issues I see are folks tucking their chin to their chest and pulling down on the back of their head as they lift the shoulders off the floor.  Instead, to reduce neck strain, allow your head to be cradled by your hands and focus on keeping the elbows open. Exhale as you find a place on the ceiling to look at and as you raise your shoulders off the mat place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.  Also know that your neck strength is similar to other muscles- it gets stronger when you use it..but use it properly to avoid injury.

Another thing to think about is abdominal hollowing rather than bracing. When we brace sometimes we place pressure from the inside to the outside- in effect, poofing out the belly rather than pulling it in. This can exacerbate any weakness in the abdominal wall and even cause more major issues if there was a separation of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy. So instead, practice abdominal hollowing by exhaling your bellybutton to your spine. NPR did a wonderful guided abdominal hollowing routine you can download for free that is even safe for use during pregnancy and is very similar to what I do with clients to prepare them for proper crunch/situp form.

Speaking of situps, if you are doing old-school full situps you may be placing undue strain on your lower back. Consider instead the crunch with abdominal hollowing as described above or plank/modified plank which is like a girdle inside for your entire core not just the upper abs the way crunches focus.

If you have any questions about fitness or would like hands on help or coaching feel free to give me a call. I can even help with this via facetime/skype.

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Help, I’ve fallen off the Exercise Wagon

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If you just spent the last month like I did:(A) With a piece of honey cake in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. (B) Doing an exercise routine exclusively made up of balancing hot dishes on one arm while walking laps in and out of the house. (C) Where relax and restore included multiple hours seated in meaningful contemplation or reading.. or (D) All of the above..AND/OR each week contained moments of forlorn looks in the mirror with concerns about your lack of energy and expanding waistline…Then you will want to read on about how to bounce back into working out.

First: Lets get real about expectations. You will want to pick up where you left off. This generally means you will want to return to the couch (Remember a body at rest tends to stay at rest from physics class in High School?!?) or You will want to jump headlong into cardio and double sessions in the gym. I want to take this moment to help you pause and do neither of those instinctive but completely unproductive impulses.

Instead, follow my

5 tips for getting back into exercise and fitness in a sustainable way:

1.Prepare for success. Lay your workout clothes and sneakers out before you go to bed. Schedule the workout in your planner and block out interruptions. Do that workout before you have time to think about it…because thinking during the next two weeks (your break back in period) will only get in your way.

2.Begin the way you mean to go on.  Plan on ONE thing you can stick with consistently FOREVER. Maybe that’s a 10 minute walk. Maybe that’s a 10 minute walk three times a week. Maybe that’s a 10 minute walk plus 20 setups and 10 modified pushups and a stretch. Maybe that’s eating a breakfast consisting of a carb and a protein for stable blood sugar. Pick that one thing you could reasonably stick with for the rest o yer life… and do it consistently for the next two weeks. If you don’t think you’re doing the keto diet for the rest o your life.. then you are not doing the keto diet— not today not next week, not ever. That means I want you to resist the urge to give 110% these first two weeks. You want to work out to a point where you notice there was something happening but not so sore you can’t move (and sometimes you can’t tell because soreness doesn’t kick in until 24-48 hours after).  This is NOT the time to push your limits. You do not want to miss a workout these first two weeks. You want consistency and consistency IS success. Soreness is not the indicator of success. Begin the way you mean to go on. I’m fairly certain you didn’t plan to go on needing to hold onto the walls easing yourself onto the toilet because …leg day. No. Nobody wants to live like that forever.

3.Read my post on SMART goals. Figure out your WHY and write that down. Why do you want to get fit? Wanna not die so soon? Write it down. Wanna look awesome for your niece’s wedding. Write it down. Wanna get up the stairs without passing out? Whatever that is figure it out now and write it down. Read this often. Put it in your phone. Do whatever you have to do. You’re in charge.

4.Have Fun. The more fun you have while doing the workout the more you will stick with it. Maybe you fell off the wagon because you were bored. Then try something new- a new class, a new sport, something which used to make you smile but you gave up years ago like dancing in your bedroom like Madonna to show tunes.

5.Get support. Need a sports bra, get it. New kicks, get it. Need to dial a friend, a counselor, a coach, a trainer? You can’t do this alone. You need support so plan that out. Register for a class or take that walk Wednesday with a friend. Always getting hurt on week two- call a trainer or a sports med doc or a physical therapist so you can move better and more.

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The Food Police

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I am NOT the food police. If you see me at a wedding, a kiddish, or a charity banquet and you are holding a pastry, you do not owe me an explanation or an apology. I didn’t ask and I wasn’t judging…That was all YOU.

I hear you. You “don’t always take a second helping of the beef stew”. You know you “shouldn’t really eat cold cuts because of the nitrate and cancer link but you have a taste for them right now”. You have been “really good all week and are limiting yourself to this one pastry and then you’re back on” your restrictive diet. You “know this food is bad but”… But nothing. You don’t actually owe me an explanation.

All of us make decisions.. a million decisions it seems about what we eat, how much we eat and when and where we eat it.  We don’t always comment about it to others. We aren’t always distressed about these choices… or maybe we do and we are?!?

After an especially long period of holidays, banquets, celebrations and community events I suspect I could tally more ladies commentaries about their food choices than other people. I know this because when  I explain in response to the comment about your food choice that I wasn’t thinking about it, or that I preferred the chocolate one, its usually followed with “yes but well you are a trainer..”

I’m gonna let you in on a secret. I’m trained to know about metabolism and some basic nutrition and unless you’re living under a rock, you also know a lot about foods and metabolism. I’m also a female who was raised in America reading the same magazine and watching tv and shopping at the same stores as you. I also want to look good in my clothes and I also know what I put in my mouth has some sort of effect on that. There’s a point at which some of this distress/concern about food can interfere with one’s joy in life though and it can snowball off of others and its important to keep an eye out or tune in about that.

Most of us are worried to some degree what others think of us, but I figure, while we’re worried what they are thinking of us, they are busy worrying about what we are thinking of them. It’s a wash. The other part of the time while you are concerned about looking gluttonous eating that second pastry they are probably thinking what you are thinking the rest of the time.. something mundane and completely unrelated like, “cute shoes but they really hurt my feet, maybe I should have gone with flats.” This is probably what I was thinking since I can’t manage heels with grace.

You, however, are the expert of You. Consider the function that choosing these foods or needing to justify choosing these foods serves for you. Is this respecting and listening to your body?  Are you able to eat that food with enjoyment and mindfulness or is your mind elsewhere?  If you find this distressing, or these types of decisions consume you, maybe book an appointment with the appropriate mental health professional for a session or two to discuss further. Trainers expertise is in movement and muscles. We are not the food police.