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Archive for the ‘Exercise’ Category


There is a great book out there called ¨Why zebras don´t get ulcers¨ by Robert M. Sapolsky, that I highly recommend everyone to read. This book describes perfectly what stress is and how our body reacts to it. Thanks to this book and it´s well done research I have learned a little bit more about what stress is and how it can affect us.  And I will try to explain this in the following blog.

First, let´s clear up some simple terms.

  • Stressor- is anything in the outside world that knocks you out of homeostatic balance.
  • Stress response- is how your body reacts to the stressor.

So let´s give an example to clarify things: Imagine you are walking down the street and a lion (stressor) comes out of nowhere and starts chasing you, so you decide, if clever, to run.  The body has to react to mobilize energy, so it raises the heart rate, as well as blood pressure and breathing rate.  Arteries are relaxed to let the diverted blood into your muscles (you are going to have to run), veins get more rigid because this causes the blood to return with more force. The body has to halt expensive building projects (you are going to need all the energy possible), so digestion is inhibited. Growth and reproduction are also affected (who cares about the future, you got to take care of the present), and immunity is also inhibited. The body has to mobilize energy so it secretes 2 hormones (it releases more than 2 but for simplicity reasons): GLUCOCORTICOIDS AND GLUCAGON.  These hormones cause triglycerides (where fat is stored) to be broken down into free fatty acids and glycerol, it also causes glycogen to broken into glucose and protein into amino- acids. So, now you got all these simple forms of ¨energy¨ in your bloodstream, so that you can use them to outrun the lion.

Now, all this is good if the lion chases you one day, but imagine if the damn¨ lion¨ is chasing you everyday of your life. Your heart would have to work more, blood pressure would increase, veins become more rigid, vessels have to work harder so they build a thicker muscle layer, they also have a greater change of  being damaged and inflamed since blood pressure is going up.  And on top of that you got the amino acids, glucose and free fatty acids flowing through your blood, meaning that if you add all that up you got a greater probability of clogging those veins up (atherosclerosis).

Also, insulin, which promotes storage of energy and stimulates protein synthesis, goes down. Because when faced with a stress we don´t want to store energy, we want to mobilize energy. So all those who want to build muscle and are under lots of stress will have a harder time developing muscle. And let´s not forget that mobilizing all this energy is ¨expensive¨, meaning you are using energy and that could lead to ¨chronic fatigue syndrome¨.

Now all this doesn´t mean that if you have stress you are going to get sick,  in fact, some people are stress all their lifes and never get sick, but it does INCREASE your risk of getting a disease that makes you sick. So what do we do about it?  We will talk about that in my next blog, but before I go, I do want to say that if the  ¨stressor¨ is really a lion, RUN,  as fast as you can :).

Hoped you enjoyed it!


Sapolsky M R, Why Zebras Don´t Get Ulcers. Third Edition, St.Martins Griffin, New York 1994.


I run and I run but I don´t lose weight!!

 Has this ever happened to you or have you ever heard this from someone? I sure have, I hear it all the time…. ¨I go running everyday 45 minutes and I´m still not losing weight, I must have a slow metabolism¨ (BIGGEST Bullsh%t out there). Well, as always, let me explain.

First, there is no such thing as a slow metabolism, I talked about that in one of my previous posts (, please watch the video attached to that post as it is GREAT!!

Second, you are probably not losing weight for a couple of reasons:
1. You do the same training over and over. You see, the body adapts and if every time you go running you do the same thing it´s not going to cost you as much as it did at the beginning and you will also be burning fewer calories. So change the training plan!!!
2. The intensity is always the same. When we do finally change the training plan we only change the time, forgetting sometimes that intensity is more important than time ( The higher the intensity, the more calories you will be burning after the training. Try incorporating series into your trainings plan.
3. Don´t just run, change activity. Go swimming, go bike riding, GO LIFT WEIGHTS. Yes, resistance training is great and not just for bodybuilders but for everyone. A recent study showed that 10 weeks of resistance training may increase lean weight by 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg (1).
4. Rest. Some people don´t know this but sometimes less is better. They body has to recover after a training. When you train everyday for long periods of time the body starts releasing cortisol. Cortisol is the ¨stress¨ hormone and can have negative effects (3-4). Cortisol isn´t always bad and is sometimes necessary but high levels of cortisol usually aren´t that good. A recent study thas shown that endurance athletes have higher levels of cortisol (2). So take a rest, don´t run so much!
5. Overcompensation. People sometimes eat more after exercise because they think they have burned so many calories but, you see, running really doesn´t burn that many calories. For example: 30 minutes of steady pace running will probably burn you in between 300-350 calories. That is not that much….. a simple cheeseburger in McD%& has 300 calories (5). So of course running is good and burns calories but don´t ruin it afterward by not watching what you eat.

So, in conclusion: change your training plan, play with the intensity and time, change sport activity and, most importantly, sometimes more is not better. Keep running!!

  1. Westcott WL. Resitance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep 2012 Jul-Aug;11(4):209-16.
  2. Skoluda N. Dettenborn L, Stalder T, Kirschbaum C. Elevated hair cortisol concentrations in endurance athletes. Phsychoneuroendocrinology, 2012 May;37(5):611-7.
  3. Kanaley JA, Weltman JY, Pieper KS, Weltman A, Hartman ML. Cortisol and growth hormone responses to exercise at different times of day. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2001 Jun;86(6):2881-9.
  4. Heitkamp HC, Schulz H, Rocker K, DickHuth HH. Endurance training in females: changes in beta-endorphin and ACTH. Int Sports Med.1198 May;19(4):260-4.

Running shoes – are they really that important?

Running shoes can make a simple person go crazy. I went to buy some the other day, thinking it would be an easy task and, boy, was I wrong. First, they asked me if I was a pronator or supinator, I answered that I was more of terminator. Then they asked me about stability, I´ve always been afraid of that issue so I decided not to answer. After that scare, they put me on a treadmill and asked me to walk and run and when that was over they told me they had the perfect shoe for me, it was called the SUPERAXICS BALANCE NEUTRAL STABILITY POWER 1000  and it only costed 165€. I almost had a heart attack!!

Obviously, I exaggerated a little but I wanted to get the point across, buying running shoes can sometimes be a nightmare. But, does it have to be? Is pronation-supination really that important? Do you really have to buy expensive shoes to prevent an injury? What about those new stability shoes, do they really work? Let´s find out….

Running shoes were invented around 40-50 years ago, before that there were only normal shoes or something to cover your feet with and way before that we didn´t even have shoes, but we were still able to run.  And that´s what the book Born to Run talks about. It says that we were meant to run barefoot and that the invention of the shoes has altered our footstrike. You see, when you run barefoot you land with the forefoot because if you landed with your heel it would hurt. However, when you run with running shoes you tend to land with the heel, that´s why running shoes tend to have a lot of cushion in the back.  So now you see a lot of people running with these minimalist shoes, like the five fingers. And you may ask yourself what´s better? In my opinion, the best thing is to buy a normal shoe and alter your footstrike, meaning sometimes you land with the forefoot and sometimes with the barefoot. You see, in his book, Born to Run, the author states that humans were meant to run barefoot and I agree with that, but we were not meant to run MARATHONS or SEMI-MARATHONS. We ran to catch our food and that was it!! I know a lot of people who are running marathons and semi-marathons with minimalist shoes, heck I have a friend who just last month ran the MALAGA MARATHON in SANDALS, yes sandals (here is the picture to proof it). And he is perfectly fine, still runs with the sandals and loves them. He is also a trainer and a great physical therapist.


Still, I wouldn´t recommend people to run marathons with minimalistic shoes, 5-10km yes (that´s probably what we ran to catch our food), but 41km, hell no.  And do minimalistic shoes prevent more injuries than ¨normal¨ running shoes? Well, according to a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, they don´t (1). They found no difference in injury rates between runners who wore soft-soled shoes and those who wore firm-soled shoes. But, you can also read this the other way – RUNNING SHOES DO NOT PREVENT MORE INJURIES THAN MINIMALISTIC SHOES.

So with all this said, you can imagine that running shoes are really not that important and various studies have demonstrated that. For example, researchers have NOT found a strong link between pronation and injury, that is why stability shoes don´t seem to help people who have been diagnosed as ¨over pronators¨. Another paper in 2009 concluded that ¨prescribing cushioned, motion-controlled shoes to distance runners was not evidence-based (2).

So what do we do……. well, I guess each person is different and has to find their shoe in which they are comfortable.  But the point I´m trying to get across, is that we really don´t need expensive shoes to run, heck, we don´t even need shoes to run.


(My friend Chema again, but this time WITHOUT SANDALS)

And I also wouldn´t bother too much about pronation, supination and stability, I don´t think the sandals my friend ran with had any of those features. So, until next time keep running!!!

I leave you with a nice article that talks about pronation and a video that talks about ¨Born to run¨.


Theisen D, Malisous L, Genin J, Delattre N. Influence of midsole hardness of standard cushioned shoes on running-related injury risk. Br J Sports Med.2013

Richards CE, Margin PJ, Callister R. Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based. Br J Sports Med.2009 Mar;43(3):159-62.


The magic pill

Imagine I had something that could make a lot of your daily problems go away. Would you take it?  I think most of us would. I surely would, but guess what? That ¨pill¨ is already out there and it´s easy to get.

I´ll admit it. I have experimented with that ¨pill¨ and let me tell you something, it´s some gooodd shit, if you know what I´m talking about. This ¨pill¨ is so good it relaxes me, it makes me feel happier, it takes stress and anxiety(1,2) away from me, it makes me feel less tired and it makes me remember things better (well, that has to be a side effect).

Truth be told, sometimes I don´t feel like taking that pill, but when I do, I feel so good  that afterwards I ask myself why the hell was I even doubting to take it. But, the days that I really don´t feel like taking it, I just read the prescription. And that usually does it for me. I mean, come on, this pill has been DEMONSTRATED  to be effective against low back pain, cardiovascular disease, arterial hipertension, osteoporosis, colon cancer, breast cancer, managing your weight, knee arthritis, heart attacks, prostate cancer, hip fractures for menopausal women, depression, and most importantly ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION (not that I have any problems with that, but I´m just saying, you know, in case one of you does)(1-9). And the list goes on.

But it gets even better, this pill is not racist or sexist. Doesn´t matter if you are rich or poor, or where you live, because this¨pill¨ is free and you can take it whenever you want. If you take this ¨pill¨you will live longer and yet some people don´t take it. They complain they are too tired, or have no time, or that their knee or back hurts, not knowing that the ¨pill¨improves all those symptoms.

By now you have probably guess that the ¨pill¨ I´m talking about is called EXERCISE. I highlighted the word because a lot of people don´t know what it is, to be exact 5,3 million people, that´s the number of people that will die in 2014 from inactivity ( So let´s try to move a little bit more in 2014!!

This will be my last blog of the year,hopefully you have enjoyed it.  I wish you all happy holidays and a happy new year!

P.S. To all my spanish followers, here is a facebook page for all those that love sport and want to keep up with the latest information. It´s in spanish!/saludando





  1. Martines EW. Physical activity in the prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression. Nord J Psychiatry,2008;62 Suppl 47:25-9.
  2. Hammer M, Endrighi R, Poole L. Physical activity, stress reduction, and mood: insight into immunological mechanism. Methods Mol Bio, 2012;934:89-102.
  3. Warburton DE, Nicol CW, Bredin SS. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ, 2006 Mar 14;174(6):801-9.
  4. Penedo FJ, Dahn JR. Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Curr Opin Psychiatry,2005 Mar;18(2):189-93.
  5. Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, Powell KE, Blair SN, Franklin BA, Macera CA, Health GW, Thompson PD, Bauman A. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2007 Aug:39(8):1423-34.
  6. Blair SN, ChenY, Holder JS. Is physical activity or physical fitness more important in defining health benefits? Med Sci Sports Exerc,2001 Jun;33(6Suppl): S379-99.
  7. Sculco AD, Paup DC, Fenhall B, Sculco MJ. Effects of aerobic exercise on low back pain patients in treatment. Spine J,2001 Mar-Apr;1(2):95-101.
  8. Cooper R, Kuh D, Hardy R; Mortality Review Group; FALCon and HALCyon Study Teams. Objectively measured physical capability levels and mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 2010 Sep 9;341.
  9. Pohjantähti-Maaroos H, Palomäki A, Hartikainen J. Erectile dysfunction, physical activity and metabolic syndrome: differences in markers of atherosclerosis. BMC Cardiovasc Disord,2001 Jun 27;11:36.

Rest Interval – How much time should you rest in between sets

¨When I´m doing an exercise, how much time do I have to rest in between sets?¨, it´s probably one of the questions I get asked most often. And the answer to this question depends on a lot of factors, but first, let me explain what repetitions and sets are. Repetitions are the number of times you  are going to perform an exercise. So, if I tell you to give me 10 push-ups, 10 are the repetitions. Once you are finished with the 10 repetitions, that would be called a set. So, if you did 3 x 10 repetitions, that would mean you have done 3 sets and each of those sets consisted of 10 repetitions. Ok, now that we got that out of the way let´s answer the question.

Well, the answer is ….it depends on your objective (also intensity and volume are very important but I will not get into that today). You see, depending on what your objective is (losing weight, gaining muscle, gaining strength) you will rest more or less. So, resting too long or too short can negatively affect your results.

Rest intervals can be classified into 3 categories: (Resistance Training)

  1. 30 seconds or less,
  2. 1-2 minutes,
  3. 3 minutes or more.

Resting 30 seconds or less – is beneficial for endurance and size because  metabolic accumulation increases and this enhances the body´s anabolic (building) environment.  The bad thing is that short rest intervals do not allow enough time to regain your strength. And according to different studies, a loss of 50% in strength in the following sets is seen when rest intervals are limited to 30 seconds. Meaning, it is difficult to build a lot of muscle(1-2).

Resting 1-2 minutes – allows you to recover most of your strength and according to different studies, is the best way for developing more muscle. In other words, this is best for hypertrophy (1-3)!!

Resting 3 minutes or more – allows your muscle to completely restore its strength on a given exercise. Full recovery allows you to train with the heaviest weight. On the other hand, any metabolite buildup that may have been created disappears over the course of the rest period, this is good for strength but not for size(1-3).

So to summarize:

  •  I would rest 30 seconds or less if I wanted to build up endurance and gain a bit of muscular size. Resting 30 seconds or less keeps your heart rate up and will lead you to burn more calories. High Intensity Interval Training bases itself a little on this method (
  • It´s been scientifically proven that for muscle building the best is to rest in between 1-2 minutes(1-2).
  • And if I wanted to gain strength I would rest 3 minutes or more.

Rest Interval is very important to obtain your goal, but it´s only a small piece of the puzzle. Intensity (the amount of weight lifted), volume (the total amount of repetitions), effort (the energy you expend during a set), tempo (the velocity in which you do the exercise), frequency (the number of exercise sessions you perform in a given period of time), and exercise selection (the exercises you decide to do) are equally important! Work on all these pieces and you will obtain your goal!!


  1. Willardson J. A brief review: Factors affecting the length of the Rest Interval Between Resistance Exercise Sets. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2006;20(4):978-84.
  2. de Salles BF, Simão R, Miranda F, Novaes Jda S, Lemos A, Willardson JM. Rest interval between sets in strenght training.Sports Med.2009;39(9):765-77.
  3. Schoenfeld B. The Max Muscle Plan. Human Kinetics.2013

Stretching – is it useful?

Anyone who has ever played any sports has probably heard, or knows, that stretching is good for you. That you have to stretch before a game to warm-up to prevent injuries and to perform better. And we also have to stretch after the game to try to avoid the muscle soreness. It´s something everyone has done, it´s sacred and it works……….. or doesn´t it?

Well, I hate having to do this again but stretching has not been proven to do ANY of these!! Stretching before a game does not prevent injuries, does not warm you up, does not make you perform better (it actually does the opposite) and it does not avoid muscle soreness (1-12)!!

Researchers have discovered in recent years, that static stretching can lessen jumpers heights and sprinters speeds without reducing people´s chances of hurting themselves. They also found that static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent(5-6)!! So, for all those that lift weights and want to lift and train harder, you may want to stop stretching before a lift from now on.

But, what about stretching after the activity, that helps for sure? You have to stretch after an intense work-out, if not, you are not going to be able to move the day after. But, that is not true!! Evidence suggests that stretching is completely useless for  preventing muscle soreness (8,9). In fact, studies show that almost nothing can prevent muscle soreness (8-10).

So what the hell is stretching good for? Well, it makes you more flexible but, remember, more flexible doesn´t mean anything in the sense of preventing injuries(11-13). And it feels great! Also, stretching could affect the peripheral and central nervous system. Meaning, the novel stimulation (stretching) may help the brain downregulate the perceived threat of current stimuli and thus decrease the muscle tension that may be causing you pain.

Ok, then what should we do before we engage in a physical activity? Warm-up, by trying to imitate the activity that you are going to perform but a lower level. For example, if I´m going for a light run, walking can be a good warm-up. Do mobility drills, move  the extremities you are going to use for that physical activity, for example if I´m going to play tennis, I would do mobility drills for the shoulder and arm area. In simple words: warm-up dynamically by moving the muscles that will be called upon in your workout.

In conclusion, stretching feels great and improves flexibility, and if those are your goals then you should be stretching. But if you are stretching because you think you are going to warm-up, prevent injuries, perform better and prevent muscle soreness, then you are mistaken.

Hoped you enjoyed it. Until next time.

  1. Shrier.Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of local muscle injury: a critical review of the clinical and basic science literature. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.1999
  2. Herbert et al. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. British Medical Journal. 2002
  3.  Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM, Andersen LB. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and mata-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J SPorts Med 2013.
  4. Costa PB, Ryan Ed, Herda TJ, Walter AA, Defreitas JM, Stout JR, Cramer JT. Acute effects of static stretching on peak torque and the hamstrings-to-quadriceps conventional and functional ratios. Scand J.Med Sci Sports, 2013 Feb;23(1):38-45.
  5. Pope et al. A randomized trial of preercise stretching for the prevention of lower-limb injury. Medicine Science in Sports Exercise.2000.
  6. Kay et al. Effect of Acute Static Stretch on Maximal Muscle Performance: A Systematic Review. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.2011.
  7. Gergley JC. Acute effect of passive static stretching on lower-body strength in moderately trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Apr;27(4):973-7.
  8. Lund et al. The effect of passive stretching on delayed onset muscle soreness, and other detrimental effects following eccentric exercise.Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 1998.
  9. Cheung et al. Delayed onset muscle soreness: treatment strategies and performance factors.Sports Medicine 2003 .
  10. Weber et al. The Effects of Three Modalities on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 1994.
  11. Hart. Effect of stretching on sport injury risk: a review. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. 2005
  12. Beckett et al. Effects of Static Stretching on Repeated Sprint and Change of Direction Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009
  13. Sandler R, Sui X, Church T, Fritz S, Beattie P, Blair S. Are flexibility and muscle-strengthening activities associated with a higher risk of developing low back pain. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport: April 2013.


I think by now we all know how good exercise is and the benefits we receive from it, like for example, reducing most people´s risk of developing diabetes and growing obese, but still people don´t do it. So how can we change this? Maybe by giving them more information and making them realize that exercise is not only going to improve their quality of life but also help them in their job.

For some people their job is everything, so if we can show that exercise will help them in their job, then maybe this will make them live a more active lifestyle.

A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience has seen that physical activity reorganizes the brain, so that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function. What this study did was to compare two groups of mice. One group was given unlimited access to a running wheel, while the other group had no running wheel. Usually, a normal mouse will run up to 4 kilometers any given day. After 6 weeks, the mice were exposed to cold water for a brief period of time. And what the scientists were able to see is that the brains of active and sedentary mice behaved differently almost as soon as the stressor (cold water) occurred. What happened is that in the brains of active mice there was a spike in the activity of neurons that shut off excitement in the ventral hippocampus, a brain region shown to regulate anxiety, while in the sedentary mice this did not happen.

This basically means that physical activity reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function. This is very important and something we should not forget, but something almost as important is that the brain can be extremely adaptive!! What I mean by this is that the brain may create anxiety in less physical fit people for a reason. Anxiety often manifests itself in avoidant behavior and avoiding potentially dangerous situations would increase the likelihood of survival (Remember that the last 10,000 years only represent 1% of human evolution). So from an evolutionary point of view, maybe anxiety was good to protect the less physical fit people, but now in age we don´t really need it.

So in conclusion:

  1. Exercise reorganizes the brain to be more resilient to stress.
  2. The people who exercise will usually have less anxiety.
  3. Anxiety, from an evolution stand point, was good to protect the less physical fit people, but now in age we don´t really need it.
  4. The brain can be extremely adaptive.


Scoenfeld T, Rada P, Pieruzzini P, Hsueh B, Gould E. Physical Exercise Prevents Stress.Induced Activation of Ganule Neurons and Enhances Local Inhibitory Mechanisms in the Dentate Gyrus. Journal of Neuroscience. May 2013.

Abdominal part 2

Last week we talked a little about certain myths that exist around the abdominal and about what the abdominal really is. This time we will talk about how to properly train the abdominal and things you shouldn´t be doing, like for example sit-ups.

Before talking about sit-ups, I first have to talk a little about the lower back, so that everyone understands what I will be saying later on in this blog.

As most people know, the back is made up of vertebrae and in between these vertebrae we have discs. A herniation occurs when a disc comes out posteriorly (it can also come out anteriorly but this is very rare). The bad thing of a herniation is when it ¨pinches¨ a nerve, this can lead to the terrible ¨sciatica pain¨. Well, recent studies have shown that a herniation is almost impossible without full flexion of the back, to be exact you need a compressive load and flexion (1). This is where it gets interesting: a compressive load doesn´t have to be produced by an external weight, like for example carrying a backpack, but compressive load is also produced by our own muscle!!

Every time a muscle contracts, it produces a compressive load somewhere in the body. That is normal but some exercises produce more than others and the traditional full sit-up imposes approximately 3300 N of compression load on the spine (2), you might think this is not a lot but the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set the action limit for low back compression at 3300 N (3); repetitive loading above this level is linked with higher injury rates in workers!! So if you take into account that when performing a sit-up you are in flexion, and then the compression force produced by the exercise, you realize just how bad sit-ups really are. A curl-up, for example, produces a compression force of 2009 N (2) but the good thing is that with a curl-up you don´t really flex your back. But even a curl-up really doesn´t work the abdominal the way it is supposed to. So how do you really train the abdominal? Let´s first explain what the abdominal really does.

The main purpose of the abdominal is not to flex the body, most of  us think that is the main purpose and that is why we have always done curl-ups and sit-ups and other flexion exercises, but it really isn´t. The main purpose of the abdominal is to transmit forces produced in our hips to our shoulder, or the other way around, and it does this by preventing as little movement as possible and maintaining a stiff torso. For example, if a sprinter didn´t have a stiff torso he would lose energy, that is why most sprinters run with very little motion in the spine (Michael Johnson, Usain Bolt) and have a great abdominal. There are of course exceptions, if your job or your physical activity requires a lot of flexion then maybe you should train with curl-ups and sit ups, but very few people have those kinds of activities. So to train the abdominal we should be ¨straight¨. For example, most people don´t know this but, when you are doing push-ups your abdominal is working and it only produces a compression force of 1838 N on the back (2).

With this information you should be able to think of some good abdominal exercises, but just in case I will name some. These exercises are not for everybody because some of them are quite hard, but even the hard ones can be made easy. You just have to remember that in all the exercises there should be spine stability, meaning there should not be any movement in the spine. Let us take an example of a hard exercise that can be made easy: the plank on the ground. This is quite hard but can be done on the wall standing up, which is much easier and for beginners. So let´s start listing a couple of good abdominal exercises. I will just mention four. These exercises are quite hard and are not for beginners.

  1. Planks: You are in a typical push-up position but instead of resting on your hands, you rest on your forearms. In that position, squeeze your ass as hard as possible, and at the same time try to bring your elbows back towards your legs. You are not actually moving your elbows, you are just producing a force without movement. You should really feel it in your abdominal.
  2. Side bridge: this one is hard to describe so I add a link so that you can take a look at it.
  3. Stir the pot: this is a very hard exercise. You are in a plank position but your forearms are on a fitball. From this position you make circles with your arms. The important thing here is that there should not be any movement in your spine. Everything comes from your arms and shoulders:
  4. Medicine ball tosses are an excellent progression to power and speed strength. Quick catch and throw sequences are a form of plyometric training to enhance the elastic energy storage and recovery system of the abdominal wall. The important thing with medicine ball tosses is that the hip and the shoulder move at the same time. This video explains 3 medicine ball tosses perfectly:

And to finish off, I will recommend this video where Dr. Stuart Mcgill explains different exercises and basically everything I have written about in this blog:  I highly recommend you guys watch this one, it´s only 5 minutes long!!


  1. Callaghan JP, Mcgill S. Intervertebral disc herniation: Stuides on a porcine model exposed to highly repetitive flexion/extension motion with compressive force. Clinical Biomechanics 2001, 16(1):28-37.
  2. Axler C, Mcgill S. Low back loads over a variety of abdominal exercises: Searching for the safest abdominal challenge. Med Sci.Sports.Ex 1997,29(6):804-11.
  3. The National Institude for Occupational Safety and Health 1981.


Abdominal, I don´t think there is a more popular muscle group than this one. Everyone is obsessed with it. But why this obsession? And are they really that important?

First, let me describe what the abdominal muscle group is. The abdominal muscle group is composed of:

  1.  Rectus abdominis:  this is a muscle that goes from your sinfisis pubis, pubic crest and pubic tubercle, to the xiphoid process and costal cartilages from the 5th to the 7th (1). So in other words, this is the famous ¨6 pack¨ or ¨8 pack¨ muscle we sometimes see people have at the beach. Important note: although the muscle seems like it is divided, it actually is not. Meaning it is just one muscle, and a upper rectus and a lower rectus does not exists. (2) Thus, training the rectus for nearly everyone can be accomplished with a single exercise. So all that raising the legs, lowering the legs, and other stuff we usually see when we go to the gym, is BS. If we want to train the rectus abdominis one exercise is sufficient to activate all portions of the muscle. So a simple curl up would work.
  2. Obliques:These are the muscles which some of us see to our sides. There is an internal oblique and an external oblique. The external oblique is more superficial than the internal oblique. The upper portion and lower portions of the obliques are activated separately, meaning, here it would be useful to have an exercise for the upper portion and another for the lower portion of the obliques (2).
  3. Transverse abdominis: This is the muscle that is under the rectus abdominis. So it is quite deep inside. You cannot see this muscle. This is a muscle that became very popular especially thanks to pilates, where they would teach you to  ¨hollow¨ (drawing in the abdominal wall) to activate the muscle. Let me explain that you don´t need to hollow to activate the transverse, the transverse can be activated when you activate the other abdominal muscles. For example, imagine someone is going to punch you in your stomach, what do you usually do? You brace, which is a contraction of all the abdominal muscles. This bracing is much more effective for stability than hollowing, and this is the technique you should be using whenever you want to pick up something heavy (3,4). To demonstrate this, let us do an experiment. Sit on the edge of a chair and hollow (draw in the abdominal wall), and while maintaining that position try to get up. Then sit on the edge of a chair again, but this time brace (just a little), and  try to get up. You see the difference?

Ok, now that we know a little about the ABDOMINAL, let´s try to clear up some of the myths that exist.

  1. First myth: ¨By having a strong abdominal you won´t get back pain ¨ or¨ you have back pain because of your weak abdominal or because of your weak core¨. That is the biggest BULLSHIT there is (and something I used to say, I´ll admit it) !! The only thing that consistently prevents low back problems is exercise (5-6). Doesn´t matter what you do, just move and the chances of having back pain will diminish. And when you have back pain, specialized exercises like targeting the ¨core¨ will do no better than for example going for a walk (7-8).
  2. Second myth: ¨Do abdominal exercises to lose the fat¨. If you are overweight, you want to burn as many calories as possible. Doing curl ups or other abdominal exercises doesn´t really burn up that many calories. And even if doing curl ups would burn a lot of calories, it probably wouldn´t burn the fat that you have around your belly. So if you are overweight you should be doing more important things than ¨curl ups¨.
  3. Third myth: ¨Do a lot of abdominal exercises and you will get the 6-8 pack¨. We all have the 6 or 8 pack, the problem is that there is a lot of fat that is preventing us from seeing it. Lose the fat and you will see the abdominal muscle. This doesn´t mean you should not be working out your abdominals, of course you should! But you should not be obsessed with them. The best way to get a 6-8 pack is eating properly and doing exercise. Most people who have a 6 pack is thanks to the fact that they have an incredible active lifestyle that makes them burn a lot of fat. They have that 6 pack because of their way of life, not because they exercise with that specific goal to have a 6 pack.

So in conclusion, the abdominal muscle is important and everyone should train it but you should not be obsessed with it. Everyone has a 6-8 pack, the problem is that it is hidden under our ¨fat¨. Burn that fat and you will see that 6 pack. There is no point in trying to train the upper and lower abdominal because, as I have stated before, there is no such thing. What you feel when you raise your legs is another muscle called the psoas iliacus. A simple curl up is good enough to activate the whole rectus abdominis. With all that said, there are still exercises that target and make the abdominal work in a much more effective way than the simple curl-up or sit-up, which by the way I wouldn´t recommend anyone doing. That is something I will talk about in my next blog, why you shouldn´t be doing sit-ups and what exercises are the most effective for the abdominal. Stay tuned and until next time.


1.Mcgill S. Low Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. Human Kinetics. 2007.

2.Mcgill S. Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, Fourth Edition. Backfitpro Inc. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada 2009.

3.Brow S, McGill SM. Transmission of muscularly generated force and stiffness between layers of the rat abdominal wall. Spine 2009, 34(2): E70-E75.

4.Kavcic N, Grenier S, Mcgill S. Quantifying tissue loads and spine stability while performing commonly prescribed stabilization exercises. Spine 2004. 29(20):2319-29.

5.Kavcic N, Grenier S, Mcgill. Determining the stabilization role of individual torso muscles during rehabilitation exercises. Spine 2004. 29(11): 1254-65.

6.Bigos SJ, Holland C, Webster JS, Battie M, Malmgren JA. High-quality controlled trials on preventing episodes of back problems: systematic literature review in working-age adults. Spine J 2009 Feb;9(2):147-68.

7.van Middelkoop M, Rubinstein SM, Verhagen AP, Ostelo RW, Koes BW, van Tulder MW. Exercise therapy for chronic nonspecific low-back pain. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol.2010 Apr;24(2):193-204.

8.Mannion AF, Caporaso F, Pulkovski N, Sprott H. Spine stabilisation exercises in the treatment of chronic low back pain: a good clinical outcome is not associated with improved abdominal muscle function. Eur Spine J.2012 Jan 24.

The myth of high repetitions. Do you really tone up by doing more repetitions?

Everyone who has ever gone to the gym probably has heard that ¨if you want to tone up or lose fat you have to do more repetitions¨, but is this really true? Well, in principle it is, but most people do it wrong, let me explain.


It´s not the repetitions that make you lose weight, it´s the time that your muscles are under stress, which it turn will make them burn more calories and at the end cause you to tone up or lose fat. So when the trainer at the gym gives you a training plan and tells you to do certain exercises, and tells you that you have to do 12-25 repetitions, you have to have certain things in mind:

  • First, you should chose a weight that allows you to perform 12-25 repetitions at a slow controlled tempo. Meaning chose a heavy enough weight, but a weight that you can control.
  • Second, like I said before, the most important thing is TIME. It makes no sense to do the exercise fast,  that is the mistake most people make.
  • Third, the object of high repetitions is to increase the time our muscles are under stress to burn more calories.
  • Fourth, when you do the exercise your muscle should be under continuous tension for 60-120 seconds.

So now, let us imagine you have to do 20 repetitions for an exercise, every repetition should at least take you 3 seconds to perform, to reach the minimum objective of 60 seconds. The American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine usually recommend a tempo of 2 seconds up, 2 seconds hold and 2 seconds down.


Also, something very important and that people usually forget is that, after you are done with your ¨set¨ or exercise, you should only rest in between 30 to 60 seconds. We don´t want our heart-rate to go down and we need to keep moving to continually burn calories.


A good training that is effective for this type of workout is a circuit training. A circuit training consist of for example 6-8 machines or exercises. You do one machine and go right to the next one. After you are done with all the machines (that´s called a set) then, and only then, you rest 30 to 60 seconds. You do can do that 3 times and that would be an effective training for weight loss.


In my next blog I will talk about the abdominal. Why are we so obsessed with this muscle? Is it so important? What´s the best exercise for the abdominal and is there such a thing as upper and lower abdominal? I will try to answer all this questions in my next blog. Until next time.




Clark M, Corn R. NASM OPT Optimum Performance Training for the Fitness Professional, 2nd Edition. National Academy of Sports Medicine.2001


Baechle T, Earle R. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 1994 National Strength and Codition Association.2nd Edition:2000.



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