I’ve written about losing weight and getting in shape a few times because, like many people, I’ve started life changes like giving up sugar, exercising, and eating better with the best of intentions, many times, but never followed through with the programmes.
Then, this week, something strange happened.
I’ve been talking to my wife for a while about the need for me to get in shape before I hit my fifties. It’s a well known medical fact that the state of health that you take into your fifties shapes the remainder of your life and I don’t want to spend the remaining years I have fighting declining health.
So, just over a week ago, I pulled my dumbells from under the bed and started using them. I thought I’d just do a set here and there to get back into weight training. Then I made a commitment to do some sets every day. Now, over a week later, I’m still doing it but I’m trying to organise my efforts to target specific areas on specific days as I used to do, years ago.
This week, I noticed something. I’d suddenly stopped wanting to eat many of the items that have haunted my diet for years. Chocolate, cream cakes, even biscuits (my nemesis) have suddenly lost their appeal.
Instead, I’ve been craving healthy food. I even made a cheese sandwich stuffed with salad for lunch yesterday (as opposed to skipping lunch or throwing a pizza in the oven).
As I was thinking about how I can use my free weights more effectively and started to ponder how I could make sure I included the dreaded leg day (you should never skip leg day) I had an idea. Why not do the squat challenge? That would certainly fulfil the needs of leg day – every day would be leg day!
The other issue I was trying to figure out is how I could target my core without injuring myself. I can’t currently do squats or sit ups so I need an exercise that will gently strengthen my core without doing me further harm.
That’s where squats come in. 🙂
The core muscles and why they matter
The core muscles are the major muscle groups in the abdominal part of your body, your lower back and your bottom. They’re responsible for just about every thing you do so they’re essential for long term health.
A strong core helps you do just about every other exercise, improves your balance and co-ordination and helps to prevent back injuries and things like hernias.
It’s common for people to think the core is just the abdominal muscles known as the Rectus Absominus or the “six-pack”. They focus on working them because they think they look good and neglect the supporting muscles at the sides and back of the body. This will almost certainly lead to injury later in life.
Speaking of injury, there’s another good reason for building the core. Those core muscles keep your insides, inside.
Improving diastasis recti
I have a weak core at the moment which has led to a condition known as diastasis recti – when I try to do a crunch or sit up, I get a bulge between the muscles in my abdomen. For men, this can be caused by a number of things – bad form when lifting weights, a build up of visceral fat behind the muscles or the intestines themselves pushing up between the muscles. I suspect, given my poor lifestyle in recent years, that it’s a combination of these things.
When I used to attend the gym regularly I was a lot younger and inexperienced and I didn’t pay as much attention to correct form as I do now so I would not be surprised if lifting the wrong way has led to a poorly developed core.
In recent years, my diet has been horrific – there’s been periods where I’ve lived on junk food (pizzas, ready meals, anything quick and easy) that have included little or no vegetables. This will have probably led to a build up of visceral fat around my organs and behind my abdominal muscles.
I have already noticed, in the couple of weeks that I’ve started doing free weights again, that the bulge isn’t as pronounced and smaller. This suggests that just engaging my core while lifting weights has helped to strengthen those muscles but I doubt I’ve shifted much of that nasty internal fat yet.
I’m looking forward to being able to do more targeted core exercises but that can’t happen until I’ve fully resolved the condition or I risk a full hernia that might require surgery to fix and that won’t help my health aims!
Improving posture and health in later life
Developing a strong core before you hit your fifties has been shown to improve health in later life.
People that develop that core and keep it maintained experience less issues with weight management, falls, and mental health as they age.
I’ve learned enough about the way I think to know that this stuff isn’t going to happen when I’m in my fifties unless I get back into a healthy lifestyle now. If I left it until I actually needed to improve my health it would probably be infinitely harder to establish the kind of exercise and diet regime that would make a difference.
That’s why I want to do it now.
The Squat Challenge
In case you’re wondering what the squat challenge is (and sometimes it seems you can’t go on the Internet without tripping over it, especially in the post-Christmas exercise fad period) it’s about doing squats. Every day. That’s it.
Okay, it’s a bit more than that.
Basically, the challenge requires you to do sets of squats every single day for thirty days but you increase the number you do by five each day. Oh, and to make sure you don’t do yourself a mischief, every fourth day is a rest day (so you do squats for three days and take a day off before doing another three).
I’ve stuck to increasing the squats by five a day for consistency but other versions (e.g. the Livestrong one) have varying increments to meet a target number on day 30. I don’t think it really matters which way you do it as long as you’re doing the squats each day.
Here’s my chart – you’re welcome to use it if you want to join in the challenge:
Squats are considered to be an awesome exercise for a number of reasons:
- They use just about every one of the core muscles, leading to a stronger abdomen
- They strengthen the hips and knees by building the muscle groups there
- They can improve overall co-ordination if you focus on doing them correctly (form)
- By strengthening the core and lower legs, they help prevent future injury
- They support “functional fitness” – exercises that make doing normal things easier (like carrying shopping)
- Using multiple muscle groups in an exercise triggers anabolic fat burning
The right way to do a squat
Lots of people think they know how to do a squat (I thought I did) but apparently it’s really easy to do squats badly.
As it’s a functional exercise, it’s not going to do you a lot of damage if you do it wrong unless you’re also holding a heavy weight or you do a lot of them. If you do a lot of them with bad form, you’re doing to over-exercise muscles and under-use other muscles, potentially causing you problems later on.
This happened to me years ago – I had to have six months of physio to correct a walking trait that was seriously affecting my knees.
Not doing a squat properly can put strain on your joints or muscles, leading to injury or abandoning the routine.
So, here’s how to do it.
- Stand with your feet apart, about inline with your hips and shoulders.
- Your feet should be pointed straight forward.
- Either cross your arms over your chest or point your arms straight out
- Look forwards – never look up or down (well, apart from to check your form)
- Lower you bottom slowly as if you’re sitting down in a chair but keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Try to keep your lower legs (below your knees) straight until you’re in the lowest part of the squat
- Keep going down, as far as you can. At the lowest point your lower legs will naturally lean forward slightly, taking your knees slightly forward of your toes.
- Slowly return to standing position but don’t lock your knees at the highest point.
- Keep your back straight at all times. You’ll need to lean forwards as you lower but your back must always be straight.
I’m excited about the 30 day squat challenge
I’m currently really excited about my mental-shift towards a healthier lifestyle so I’m trying to monopolise on it to really motivate myself to make those lifestyle changes now.
I’m trying to make sure I have a healthy breakfast every day (right now that’s a Plenny shake as I had a box from last year that I need to use), cut out sugar (but I’ve not gone all out on that one yet) and I’m looking at different diet ideas to adopt to replace my awful eating habits. Right now I’m leaning towards peleo or a low carb diet.
I’m using the 30 day challenge to establish a daily exercise habit that I hope will keep me motivated to lose weight (currently 83kg / 183lbs), feel more positive about life, feel better physically, and prepare me for a healthier future.