Build an Amazing Six-Pack


Here’s a soundbite I would never use:  “Let me show you how to build an AWESOME six pack.”  Ironically, I sport a nice set of abdominal muscles.  Maybe I should use them to market my services?  After all, I’m no spring chicken.  Not only have I birthed two babies, I’m post-menopausal.   If my abs cause envy, shouldn’t a twenty-something get the same results if she does exactly what I do?   Unfortunately, as all things fitness and wellness related, it’s not that simple.

Just like many men have a hard time building their calves, many people will struggle to get six pack abs. Obviously body fat needs to be low, so diet and exercise play a huge role, but trying to eat right and exercise in order to look a certain way is a lousy reason to make a lifestyle change and usually leads to failure.  For most of us, trying to move more and eat less processed food, will make you feel better and then maybe you’ll be motivated to work hard enough to get that six-pack (any maybe even become a physic competitorJ Unfortunately, a majority of American’s eat crappy food, don’t move and then want a magic pill that will allow them to keep these behaviors, while they sport a six pack.

I would be happy to who you how to get great abs, but the secret is in your mind not your body.

Most people who embark on a journey to eat healthy and exercise fail.  As someone who is trying to help people live healthier lives, this makes me sad.  Why am I failing to help you??? You tell me you’re motivated and you like any motivation quote I send you, but your mind-set isn’t there.  Your head is NOT in the game.   Before you worry about getting six pack abs, you need to find out why you keep sabotaging yourself.  Most people who are unhappy with their bodies are almost resigned to that fact.  This behavior doesn’t just apply to body-image.  Others do it with work or relationships.  Sometimes you have to accept something.  Maybe you don’t like your job, but your partner is sick and unable to work or kids are in school and you’re supporting them, but with fitness you control those choices.  You decide to eat the cake in the break room.  You opt to come home and sit on the coach watching TV instead of exercising.  Why?  You need to be aware that you can either accept this behavior, develop the awareness of what needs to change, set accountability standards and then adapt your behavior.

I do have a few tricks to keep you lean.  Luckily they also tend to make you healthier:

  • Exercise in the morning in a fasted state (coffee or tea is fine). Doesn’t have to be hard-core. Fast walk, easy jog, Flow Yoga or light weight training all work well.
  • Don’t be afraid to go hungry. You can easily survive a day without eating. If you find yourself “crashing” at 11 a.m., you might have extreme sugar swings. Check your blood sugar with an inexpensive glucose monitor.  Here’s one that costs less than $15 on Amazon and talks to you,   If you find that your daily breakfast of oatmeal and a banana (which is fine for many folks) is spiking your blood sugar and giving you a crash at 11 a.m., you might be better off with scrambled eggs and spinach.
  • Move as much as possible throughout the day. Track your movement:  Fitbit, Apple Watch, etc. Aim for 10,000 steps a day.  I’m in massage/esthetics school at the moment, which means I don’t get as much activity as I’d like.   I make it a point to do squats over the toilet in the bathroom, push-ups against the massage table and volunteer to fold laundry. Anything to keep me active.  I always have 10,000+ steps/day.
  • Weight train.
  • Do abdominal exercises, crunches and planks, to strengthen your muscles, NOT to make those abdominal muscles “pop”.
  • Lean out using HIIT or long-steady state cardio, the latter ideally in a fasted state.


In Conclusion

Let your six pack, abdominal strength be a by-product of your healthy living.

Musings on a Fitness Convention



I attended over 15 sessions and learned a ton of excellent programming, nutrition and motivational hacks at last weekend’s SCW Florida Mania Convention.   I’m always humbled and inspired by the speakers at these conventions.  They are top-notch fitness professional who have a deep understanding of exercise physiology, nutrition, business and psychology.  Many people assume fitness professionals get into the business so they can work out all the time.  The truth is we get into this business because we have a passion for helping people.  Compassion is in every successful trainers tool box.

Though many of the sessions were Group Ex and choreography based, I did take a few exercise science, nutrition and mindfulness classes and I wanted to share my top favorite take-aways  with you.  Please enjoy the read my friends.

Keynote Address

Irene Lewis-MCCormick Key Note Speaker

Irene Lewis-MCCormick
Key Note Speaker

The Keynote speaker was Irene Lewis-McCormick, a fitness veteran with an impressive resume:  author, educator, Master Trainer, etc.  Her keynote was on promoting “The Attitude of Gratitude”.  Though she directed the address to fitness professionals, her overall message is applicable to everyone:  Attitude and Gratitude go hand-in-hand.   Here are the highlights of her message:

  • Smile, It increases your face value
  • Interrupt anxiety with gratitude. Even if you are having a really rough day, find one thing to be thankful for, e.g. at least the weather is nice today.
  • Learn people’s names and use them. It’s a skill and can be learned.  She didn’t go into detail, but I always try to repeat the name of the person I’m introduced to, use it at least once, e.g. “What a lovely sweater, Julia”, and try to associate her name with something, e.g., Julia has red hair, just like my neighbor, whose also called Julia.
  • Engage with people. Say “hello”, hold a door open, help someone with their packages etc. Also, don’t fake caring. Be interested when someone talks about their weekend.
  • Journaling has been scientifically proven to create positive feelings, help you sleep better, improve health and lengthen life.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, just write down what you did that day or your thoughts and feelings.  Entries can be long or short.  The reflection forces you to pay attention to good things in your life.

Joint Friendly Strength Training

This session was presented by Nick Tumminello,

Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello
Performance University

owner of Performance University, author and fitness expert.  The jest of the message is that people often go to trainers because they want to improve their fitness and look better.  Unfortunately, if they have pain they are often unable to do standard exercises.  Today’s trainers are well versed in postural assessments and often focus on trying to fix their clients pain and create more efficient movement patterns rather than provide clients with effective workouts to meet their fitness goals.  Though the trainers are well-intentioned, this “corrective exercise trap” leads to frustrated clients who aren’t meeting their fitness goals  Mr. Tumminello said, “Studies do not support the claim that posture relates to pain patterns”.  Furthermore, people who are in pain, generally improve regardless of the exercise format they start.  (I mentioned something similar to this in my blog    Mr. Tumminello wrote an article called the “Corrective Exercise Trap” for Personal Training Quarterly.    Article appears on page 6 of this PDF:

This session hit home with me as  I do FMS (Functional Movement Screening, reference link if you are unfamiliary with this assessement

with my clients and it made me wonder if I was getting into  “paralysis by analysis” when I spend so much time trying to correct imbalances that I lose sight of increasing their fitness.  It comes from a caring place, but sometimes “you just need to move”.  Since my clientele consists primarily of woman from 30 to 60, there are often issues with knees, back and shoulders. Mr. Tumminello gave some excellent takeaway exercise alterations for some common gym movements:

  • Lunges: Either reverse lunges (one of my favorite lunge modifcations) or a modifield forward lunge with a small step to the front and a forward lean to activate more posterior muscles and fewer quad (pic 1).

    Modified Lunge

    Pic 1 Modified Forward Lunge

  • Squats: If you have a bad back, single legged squats allow you to increase the load on the legs without increasing load on spine.  For example, if you squat holding two 25 pound DB’s, the load on each leg is 25’s and 50’s for the back.  If you go to one leg, the load on the leg is 50 pounds, and the load on the back stayed at 50 pounds.    Another hack is to do a single leg half squat/half deadlift.   (Pic’s 2 & 3). Avoid forward leans, like you would do to alleviate knee pain.

    Pic 2 Single Leg Deadlift

    Pic 3 Single Leg Squat

  • Presses: For people with shoulder pain, tubing chest presses usually work well and don’t produce pain. (Pic 4)

    Pic 4 Tubing Presses

  • Other: Mr. Tumminello is a huge fan of Sled Pushes (Pic 5). It’s an effective strength and conditioning exercise for anyone who has knee, back or shoulder pain.

    Pic 5 Sled Push

  • He also likes doing HIIT (Hi-intensity interval training) on a bike to build leg strength.  In my experience the best bike HIIT protocol is 80 to 100 RPM at a very high resistance for twenty to thirty seconds, with recovery of 10 to 30 seconds, repeated for up to ten minutes.

Graceful Strength and Dancer Body Sculpting

This was a Barre class presented by Kelli Roberts,

Keli Roberts

who like Ms. McCromick, is an industry icon with multiple Master trainer credentials and a deep knowledge of Group Exercise programming.  I teach Barre, so I took the class to learn some new moves, I could take back to my students.  I was not disappointed and if you take my Barre class, you are in for some fun, new programming.  Ms. Roberts, also clarified a few points about strength training, especially as it applies to females:

  • A strong muscle is a toned muscle.
  • Muscle length is genetic. You can’t sculpt long muscles.
  • Muscle tissue is lean, so when you build muscle, you become leaner.

She also discussed mobility and stability.  Uncontrolled mobility is a liability.  You need to balance stability and mobility.  From the foot to the head, you have joints that need to be stable and joints that need to be mobile.  This is the pattern:

  • Foot: Stable
  • Ankle: Mobile
  • Knee: Stable
  • Hip: Mobile
  • Lumbar: Stable
  • Thoracic: Mobile
  • Scapular: Stable
  • Glenohumeral: Mobile

Make sure your exercise programming promotes mobility in the mobile joints and stability in the stable joints.  For example, if you are doing an overhead press, you want the the Glenohumeral (shoulder joint) to be initiate the move, but you want the scapular to stay hugging the ribs.

Random Quotes

Elain Haan talking about Taichi:

Not meditation in motion, but medication in motion.”

Melanie Yoshida (me):

Subjects to controversial to talk about in casual conversation: politics, religion and anterior vs posterior pelvic tilts in Pilates style exercise protocols.

Nick Tumminello:  

“Fit exercises to individuals not individuals to exercises.”


Next month I’m going back to Orlando for an International Beauty Conference called “Premiere” as I’m currently in school to become a licensed Esthetician and Massage Therapist.  This will  be my first time at a Cosmotology Conference.  I’ll be avoiding the hair and nail seminars (sorry beauty aficionados), but I’m looking forward to learning more about esthetics, wellness, anti-again and massage therapy.

Stay hungry for knowledge my friends.





What’s the Perfect Exercise?


Few things get me more riled up than advertisements for an exercise program or piece of workout equipment with the verbiage: Best, Only, Complete, etc.

Another pet peeve is studies, usually done by the manufacturers or developers of a program, touting amazing benefits on unconditioned people.  ANY moderate exercise will benefit a deconditioned person.  The only risk would be too high-intensity of a training.

Want the truth: The best exercise for you is the one you are currently NOT doing.

Components of Fitness

There are three basic components of fitness:

  • Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Strength
  • Flexibility (or Mobility)

The goal is to be efficient at all of these.  If you only run, your cardiovascular fitness will be excellent, but the other elements will be lacking.  If you are passionate about lifting heavy weights, you’ll have a hard time hiking up a hill. Both of these modalities will result in a lack of flexibility.  However, if you’re only doing Yoga or Pilates, you might be missing muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance.

Role of Exercise

If you go back 100-125 years, the idea that we would be going to a gym to exercise would be ludicrous.  The vast majority of the populous engaged in physical labor.  Even if you were wealthy, activities of daily living were much more strenuous than they are today.  You don’t even have to go back that far.  Look at life in the1960’s:

  • There was one phone in the house; often downstairs.
  • Most typewriters were manual.
  • Most cars were stick shift.
  • You had to get out of the car to open the garage door.
  • And yes, kids played outside.

Today we go to the gym to exercise because our lives have become too sedentary.  As a species, humans are meant to engage in moderate physical activity (movement) during most of their waking hours with brief bouts of aerobic (running) or anaerobic (heavy lifting) thrown in.  Unfortunately, in today’s advanced societies, we lead very sedentary lives and some of us try to make up for that by “hitting the gym” most days of the week.   Often we then do exercises that are virtually contra-indicated for us.  One of the most glaring, in my opinion, is cycle classes.  Though I’m a lifetime certified Mad Dogg Spin Instructor, and regularly sub spin classes, the format bothers me for the following reasons:  People are coming to the class after sitting on their butt’s for eight plus hours.  Their hip flexors are tight and their shoulders are rounded forward, now they get on a bike to exercise and those same movement patterns are exacerbated.  I do think the classes have a purpose;  they are great for cardiovascular work and nowadays many cycle classes incorporate some upper body strength with light weights, but for most  “desk jockeys”, doing a cycle class twice a week is plenty.

Exercise Today

The best exercise program involves movement throughout the day, so here’s what you do:

  • Stand up and walk around every 30 minutes.
  • Go for a walk before work, at lunch and after work.
  • Be the office geek who volunteers to replace the water cooler tank.
  • Clean your own house.
  • Mow your own grass.
  • Hit the gym most days of the week and MIX. THINGS. UP.

This will hold true even if you are competing FOR FUN in an obstacle course race, triathlon, road or trail race, etc.  If you are a serious competitor, you are probably not reading this blog. If so, get of the internet and get a sports specific coach.

My Training Philosophy

None of my clients are professional athletes.  Though some regularly place in amateur 5K, triathlon or obstacle racing, the majority are professionals who are trying to keep their quality of life high, reduce illness and keep the pounds off.   This is my focus for these folks:

  1. Multi-joint exercises with weights that are heavy, for key moves such as Squats, Deadlift, Overhead Lifts and Pull-Ups.   All of these movements are performed with the utmost integrity. Weight is only added after the movement patterns are properly performed.
  2. There are components of Yoga and/or Pilates with each workout, but  I also encourage my clients to take these classes apart from our training sessions.
  3.  HITT sessions (Hi Intensity Interval Training). The modality can be rowing, running (treadmill), biking (stationary), etc.  If they’re training for a specific event, e.g. a half-marathon, I would obviously encourage running.  Format can be Tabata (20 seconds all-out and 10 seconds recovery for four minutes) or something like a quarter mile run as fast as possible.
  4.  I arrange for my clients to compete in road races as they are so accessible to everyone.  I can get 15 clients out for a 5K and everyone can enjoy it.  Some will win their age groups and others will walk the route.  Everyone gets a beer and food at the end.

There’s No Best Exercise, But There Are Ways to Make Your Exercise Better

Two things that will help you get more from your exercise program are getting out of your comfort zone and using your brain while exercising.

Don’t Do What You Like

People are often told to find an exercise that they like and focus on that as they are more likely to do it.  I agree with that up to a point, but I also think we should do things that we don’t like. Our continued efforts to stay comfortable all the time do not serve us well.  Our ancestors crossed continents by walking and we are upset when our plane is delayed in an airport with conveniences our forefathers could only dream of.  Fortitude with physical discomfort carries over to fortitude in activities of daily living. Instead of doing all your exercise in a climate controlled gym, break out of the comfort zone:  swim in cold water; run or bike in the heat (bring water) and lift a little heavier (with good form) than you normally do.


Brain and Body Connection

Learning new things that involve both mind and body helps keep your brain young via a mechanism called neuroplasticity.  Forget about electronic games to increase brain function, they don’t work: 

What does work is combining movement with memory.  I heard that Spartan races used to have you memorize a number at an obstacle and you had to repeat it a few obstacles later.  If you forget, burpees or some other punishment was assigned.  If a Spartan race is too intimidating, try Zumba or Ballroom Dancing. Learning the intricate moves will help neuroplasticity.

If you have physical limitations, try to memorize a phone number, address or poem while doing bicep curls.  These types of activity increase neuroplasticity and keep your brain and body young.

In Conclusion

We have gone from having to “exercise” as a daily part of our life to “fitting it in”.   Ask anyone if exercise is important, and they will say “yes”.  So keep moving my friend. But don’t just rely on that gym visit and when you do hit the gym, be mindful of your workout and make sure you are addressing the following:

  • Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Strength Training
  • Mobility
  • Cognitive Function

Stay well my friends!


Psychology of Getting out of Your Comfort Zone


For some people fitting in exercise is more about building a habit and making time.  However, for others the barriers are more psychological.  Whether they had bad experiences in gym class or always felt bad when sweating, they truly dread physical activity.

There is a psychology to doing things outside of what makes you feel comfortable.  Your comfort zone is a state where you feel at ease, in-control and experience low anxiety.  Behaviors are set and there is no sense of risk.  Leaving your comfort zone can produce panic and angst, but it is the only way to change a constant, e.g. your waistline.

Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

The Learning Zone

When I meet clients for the first time, many are very nervous about working out.   It takes them out of their Comfort Zone and, unfortunately, many jump straight into the Panic Zone. My job is to get them into the Learning Zone, where growth occurs. I love fitness, but I’m sympathetic to the fact that being in a gym, running, biking or other strenuous activities is scary to some folks.  I can totally empathize with this as I feel the same way about arts and crafts.  I am the least crafty person you will ever meet and the thought of game of Pictionary sends chills down my spine.   I remember offering to help cut out snowflakes with some other Moms when my children were little.  My snowflakes were super lame and looked like a 5 yr old did them.  The other ladies had beautiful and intricate designs.  The good news for me is that science has not linked longevity to crafting ability, unfortunately for my clients; there is a direct correlation between fitness and longevity.  Though I can dodge my “fear” of crafts and it won’t affect my physical and mental well-being, it is pretty much a unanimous consensus that physical activity is a requirement for a long and healthy life. However, if I embrace my fear of crafts I will probably add value to my cognitive function, which I will discuss later.

Why Are People Uncomfortable Exercising

Fear of Looking Ridiculous

If you, or someone you know, is afraid of looking ridiculous, but Plankingseriously wants to start an exercise regime that requires skill, e.g.: weight lifting, Yoga, Pilates, etc., the best bet is to go to a private studio and hire a trainer for some one-on-one sessions.  Once you have the basics, you can try small group settings or larger group exercise classes.

Anxiety About Perspiring and Redness

I have no problem becoming a sweaty, red-faced mess, but this look can be embarrassing for some people.  Try to focus on what your body can do: run faster, lift more, etc., and less about how it looks.

Woman Exercising

Bring it On!

There are also ladies who pay lots of money for weaves, blow-outs, peels, etc. and they don’t want to ruin them.  If you get a weekly blow-out, save your sweatiest workout for the day before.  If you have peels, just avoid heavy workouts right after, then return to normal. Wearing your hair up and with a hairband around your hairline will wick a lot of sweat.  Dry shampoo is a savior.

Intensity Anxiety

Many new exercises believe that exercise intensity has to be EXTREME.  This is total nonsense and a great way to break down your body.

Intense Exercise

Beast Mode

Around 150 years ago, people would have been astounded that their ancestors would be hitting a gym to exercise.  They got plenty of movement throughout the day. Ideally we should strive to move at relative low intensities throughout the day, with brief bouts of intense activity. For example, walk kids to school, do your own house-cleaning, yard-work, etc.   Hit the cycle class a few times a week.  If someone does like to exercise daily (and I most certainly do), make sure to add easy Flow Yoga or meditative Tai Chi classes into the mix.

Learning Zone Benefits

Researchers believe the secret to active aging is to challenge your mind and body.  Having a positive attitude, a strong social network and a purpose are keys.  I suggest you visit the Learning Zone often and continue to grow your mind, body and spirit as you age.  Personally, I’ve discovered the joys of “Adult Coloring Books”.

Stay vital my friends!