Practical Fitness

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Does That Actually Work?

"Ab LoungeĀ® is a revolutionary new ab machine that tightens and tones upper abs, lower abs and obliques faster than you ever thought possible! Ab LoungeĀ® helps to transform flabby abs into sensationally sexy swimsuit abs!"
~ Ab Lounge

"Great results are easy with the new extreme!"
~ Bowflex

"There is no better way to get in shape"
~ Total Gym

I hate infomercials. There are products that I am repulsed by simply because they were in infomercials. I've often wondered just how accurate the claims are.

In my multi-dollar desktop laboratory I'll attempt to get to the bottom of the question: does it work? Stay tuned for my n-part series on what actually works and what is crap with a metallic paint job.

I guess now I've obligated myself to watch infomercials. Oh well.

Cubicle Gym

Spending untold hours stuck in your cubicle doesn't have to be productive for just your employer. A good workspace workout program can do wonders for your stamina and for controlling your waistline.

Here are a few ideas to get you started. Don't worry, all eyes won't be on you while performing these.

  • Bicep curls: Leave a set of small hand weights in your work space. If no weights are availabe to you, a filled one liter bottle weighs approximately two and a half pounds.
  • Seated calf raises: Lower your chair until your feet are resting flat on the floor. Press the balls of your feet into the floor and lift your heels as high as possible.
  • Contractions: Sitting up straight, simply tighten your abdominal muscles for ten to fifteen seconds. Perform ten contractions. The same can be done for your buttocks. Remember to breathe while contracting, or you might wake up on the floor.
  • Body lifts: Grab the armrests of your chair and using only your arms, lift your body out of the chair. Make sure your chair is stable, or once again you may wake up on the floor.
  • Stretching: Stretches reduce muscle tension and help prevent some work place injuries. As a side benefit, a good stretching routine can temporarily relieve muscle tension.

A cubicle workout is no replacement for a dedicated workout program. But, when time is scarce it can prove itself invaluable. Be creative. There are countless exercises and combinations. Find what works for you.

Choose the Right Trainer

2006 is almost here and I'm sure that like me, there are many of you resolving to hit the gyms hard. I have one word for you, maybe two: Be careful. There are many hazards that you may run into. One of the most deceptively dangerous is a confidently inept personal trainer.

There are many trainers who have put in the time and effort to become well rounded experts in their fields. A good trainer can save you countless hours of trial and error and lead you down the path toward self sufficiency. Then there are also the hangers on who may look and sound like experts, but are truly accidents waiting to happen.

Unfortunately, there are many trainers floating around who are a danger to you. At best they can set you back months on your workouts. At worst, they can cause lifelong damage to your body. Below I have a few tips on how to find trainers you can trust.


Do you want the Incredible hulk or the laid back coach? A personality match can enhance your gym going experience. A missmatch will almost assuredly throw you off of your goals.

Determine what training method works best for you, then search for the trainer who's methods match that criteria.


Picture this: you're bench pressing more weight than you've ever imagined. You bring the bar to your chest, but you can't push it up. Your trainer is supposed to be spotting you. Instead, he is ogling the hot girls over in the corner. That leaves you doing all you can to not choke yourself.

I've had it happen to me. It is a deeply disturbing experience. Do not let it happen to you. If you have a gym membership and plan on using one of their trainers, observe the trainers with other clients for a few days. It will give you a feel of how they'll behave with you.


For a profession that requires biomechanical knowledge the barriers to entry are relatively low. In fact there are no standard minimum criteria. A formal education doesn't ensure competency, but generally it will ensure a more than rudimentary skill set.

Certifications can demonstrate the level of knowledge and skills that your trainer has attained. Some certifications tend to carry more weight than others. The American College of Sports Medicine, Aerobics & Fitness Association of America, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine all have top tier certification programs.


Check those references. Its amazing how many people don't check their trainer's references. If there is ever a hint that your trainer is a danger to you then this is where you'll find it.


It goes without saying that your trainer shouldn't shoe horn you into a one size fits all fitness program. Your fitness program should be customized to your needs. If you are expected to perform like Lance Armstrong from day one, your trainer is inept. A good trainer may be able to intuitively determine your fitness level. So don't be surprised if there is no test.

Muscle burn and a moderate soreness are inevitable side effects of a good work out. A workout shouldn't be excrutiatingly painful. If it is and your trainer keeps pushing you fire him on the spot. It is your body listen to it, not him.

Lastly, if you have an experience with a bad trainer, don't give up. Hire another. If you feel confident enough, go it alone. Just don't quit. And, as with anything strenuous, go check with the doc before proceeding.