March 2011

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Maximize gym time with a smart dumbbell routine like this one from Patrick Striet, C.S.C.S., owner of Force Fitness and Performance in Cincinnati. “Dumbbell complexes that target large muscle groups can stimulate more muscle fibers and speed up fat loss,” he says. 

The Workout

Do this: Perform the circuit four times. For the first circuit, do 12 reps of each exercise. Then do 10 reps for the second, 8 for the third, and 6 for the fourth. Rest only after each circuit; select weight and rest time by your experience level.

Beginner: 20-30 pounds, rest 60-90 seconds
Intermediate: 30-40 pounds, rest 45-60 seconds
Advanced: 40-50 pounds, rest 30-45 seconds

Straight-Leg Deadlift

Using an overhand grip, hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend at your hips to lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Pause, and raise back up.


Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells next to your shoulders. Squat so your thighs are parallel to the floor. As you stand up, press the dumbbells up. Then lower them back down to your shoulders.

Bent-Over Row

Holding a pair of dumbbells, bend at your hips and knees and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells to the sides of your torso. Pause, and then slowly lower them.

Squat Thrust

Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides. Squat and kick your legs backward into a pushup position. Then quickly return your legs to a squat, stand up, and jump.

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Perfect for kids (and adults too!), these delicious drinks will cool you down without giving you the heavy feeling you might get from a shake. Most are filled with the freshest summer fruits, and all of them are ideal for breakfast or as a snack. Plus, all the fruit makes for a healthy treat!

Summer Melon Smoothie – Drank almost daily in Middle Eastern countries, this recipe was adapted to taste exactly like the ones drunk in Israel.

• 2 C. cubed summer melon (such as watermelon, honeydew or cantaloupe)
• 1 C. ice cubes, crushed
• 2-3 Tbs. powdered sugar, if desired

In blender, combine melon, ice and powdered sugar. Cover; blend until almost smooth.
Tip: Use ripe, super-sweet summer melons or recipe will taste rather bland. If desired, alcohol can be added.
Yield: 2 servings
Per Serving: 85 calories, 0 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 15 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Starlit Summer Smoothie – This simple and unique smoothie is perfect for breakfast or snacking. Has a smooth, uniform flavor that makes it light and delicious.

• 12 red seedless grapes
• 1/2 C. milk
• 1 (6 oz.) container peach yogurt
• 2 Tbs. white sugar
• 2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 C. ice

In a blender, mix the grapes, milk, peach yogurt, sugar, vanilla, and ice. Blend until smooth.

Simple Summer Watermelon Smoothie – This is a very quick way to enjoy a smoothie in the summer. It’s refreshing and keeps you cool through the summer.

• 1 C. cut up seedless watermelon
• 1 or 2 Tbs. sugar
• Ice cubes

Combine watermelon, sugar and ice in blender and blend until smooth or well blended. Serve it up in glasses.

Cool Yogurt Smoothie – This refreshing summer drink can easily be adapted to your favorite fruit.

• 1 (8 oz.) container Smooth Strawberry Yogurt (or your favorite flavor)
• ½ tub Whipped Topping, thawed or frozen
• 1 C. chopped fresh or frozen strawberries or any other seasonal fruit (
• optional)

Place Yogurt, whipped topping and strawberries in blender; cover. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately. (For thinner consistency, add ice cubs as desired.)
Makes 2 servings.

Tropical Fruit Smoothie – The combination of fruits in this recipe is unbeatable!

• 2/3 C. milk
• 1 banana
• 1/3 C. fresh mango
• 1/3 C. fresh papaya
• 1/3 C. fresh strawberries
• 1/3 C. fresh peaches
• 1 tsp. honey
• 1/4 C. crushed ice

Remove skins and seeds from the fruit and cut into 1-inch cubes. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend on high speed until smooth and frothy.

Strawberry Lime Smoothie – This quick and satisfying recipe will easily become a summer staple!

Time needed
5 minutes preparation

• 1/2 C. 2% milk
• 2 to 4 Tbs. lime juice
• 2 C. fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
• 1 C. strawberry yogurt
• 2 Tbs. honey
• 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a blender, combine all ingredients; cover and process until smooth. Pour into chilled glasses. Serve immediately.

Banana Peach Smoothie – This fruit smoothie is a perfect way to start your day, an easy afternoon snack or even a summery dessert. The abundance of fruit in this recipe packs it with healthy energy.

• 1 can sliced yellow cling peaches, chilled
• 1 medium banana, peeled and sliced
• 1 C. low-fat milk
• 1 C. ice
• 1 can pineapple juice, chilled
• Fresh sprigs of mint to garnish (if desired)

Combine peaches and syrup with all other ingredients in blender. Cover and run on high until smooth.
Yield: 3-4 servings

Carrot-Orange Mango Smoothie – Start your morning with a huge dose of vitamin C and fiber. It’s so tasty that you’ll never even know it’s healthy!

• 1 to 1 1/2 C. carrot-orange juice
• 1 ripe mango, peeled and coarsely chopped
• 1 C. mango, peach or apricot low-fat yogurt or soy yogurt

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

Nutty Chocolate-Banana Smoothie – This smoothie/shake is great for winter or summer- it’s sweet and nutritious at the same time!

• 1 large banana
• 1 1/2 C. chocolate soy milk
• 1 heaping Tbs. of peanut butter or cashew butter

Combine ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Cashew Smoothie – This smoothie is full of important vitamins and minerals. And it’s dairy-free!

• 1 rip banana, peeled
• 2 C. frozen mango chunks
• 1 1/2 C. almond milk
• 1/2 C. cashew butter

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Cocoa Espresso Trainwreck Smoothie – A refreshing espresso smoothie containing cocoa, low fat frozen yogurt, and pecans.

• 1 pkg. instant cocoa powder mix, divided
• 2 oz. freshly brewed espresso, room temperature
• 5 oz. cold 2% milk
• 4 oz. low-fat pecan or coffee frozen yogurt
• 2 tsp. praline syrup
• 1 tsp. vanilla syrup
• 1/2 C. crushed ice
• 1 pinch instant espresso powder
• 1 tsp. chopped pecans

Reserve 1 teaspoon of the cocoa powder mix. Add the remaining cocoa powder, espresso, milk, yogurt, praline syrup, vanilla syrup and crushed ice to a blender or smoothie maker and puree. Pour into a tall glass and sprinkle with reserved cocoa powder, espresso powder and chopped pecans.

Raspberry Julius Smoothie – Raspberries and strawberries combine in this creamy smoothie.

• 1 C. low-fat raspberry yogurt
• 3/4 C. low-fat milk
• 1 C. fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
• 1/2 C. frozen unsweetened raspberries
• 1/3 C. powdered milk

Combine the yogurt and low-fat milk in a blender. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Blueberry Twist Smoothie – Very simple and healthy. Using yogurt and fruit juices keeps the calories down and the energy up!

• 2 C. fresh blueberries
• 1 C. pineapple orange juice
• 1 8 oz. vanilla yogurt
• 2 tsp. sugar or honey

Place everything in a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.
Yield: 2 servings

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The muscle-building ideal is 20 grams of protein, half before and half after your workout. Bring these convenient snacks to the gym to fuel growth.


Chicken, Turkey, or Tuna (3 oz)

14-22 grams protein
66-100 calories

Wrap one of these standbys in a piece of bread. Four slices of chicken or turkey provide 14 grams of protein, while half a can of tuna has nearly 22 grams.


Eggs (three)

19 grams protein
232 calories

They’re still incredible after all these years. Hard-boiled eggs are most convenient, but it’s also easy to scramble a few in the a.m. and scoop them into a microwavable container. Don’t sweat the fat: It’s healthy and filling.


Chocolate 2% Milk (16 oz)

About 17 grams protein
333 calories

Refresh and rebuild at the same time. A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition shows that chocolate milk may be the ideal postworkout beverage for building muscle.


Whey Powder (30 g scoop)

24 grams protein
110 calories

This milk-derived product continues to rule the gym. Mix it with milk instead of water if you want a bit more protein. Try Nitrean; it has whey isolate for quick absorption, and casein, which is digested slowly.


Greek Yogurt (5.3 oz container)

15 grams protein
80 calories

Greek-style yogurt is a lifter’s dream: It’s easy to carry and packed with protein. Skip yogurts with fruit and sugar; to add flavor, drop in a few berries or nuts.

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Start conquering obesity and sedentary behavior at an early age. Your kids will thank you later

By Maria Masters and Adam Bornstein 

Parenting has never been easy. Since the beginning of time, men have tried to keep their children safe and healthy. But instead of protecting kids from, say, starvation and predators, like our cavemen ancestors, these days we’re up against a modern batch of challenges: obesity and sedentary behavior—two equally formidable enemies. And since these are fairly new problems, your parents and grandparents might not have all the answers. Well, we don’t either. Follow these 10 rules to keeping your kid active, though, and you’ll have a great head start.


Rule 1: Don’t Rely on Organized Sports

Just because your kid is in T-ball doesn’t mean that he’s active enough. A new study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that less than 25 percent of student athletes receive the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise. Plus, the researchers found that the kids spent about 30 minutes of their practice sessions being completely inactive.

Coaches need to make sure everyone is participating in the game, so some children might have to wait their turns to head onto the field, say the scientists. They suggest that adults should take a more active role in the practice sessions, even if that means monitoring children with a pedometer. And for ideas on how to boost your kids’ exercise habits, read The Fit Family Activity Plan.


Rule 2: Keep Play Fun

Don’t worry too much about the rules. “Making a game or activity too rigid is the best way to guarantee that a kid won’t want to be active,” says Men’s Health FitsSchools advisor Jim Liston, C.S.C.S. “Your job is to facilitate play, not dictate it.” So if kids stop playing an organized game and start chasing a butterfly, just go with it. “As long as young kids are running, jumping, and having fun, they’re improving their health and athletic ability.”

Find out more about FitSchools—and find out how you can help fight childhood obesity.

Rule 3: Turn off the TV…

If you want your kid to get off the couch once in a while, you have to do the same. Case in point: A 2010 study by British researchers found that 6-year-old girls were nearly 3.5 times more likely to watch more than 4 hours of television a day if their parents similarly stared at the tube for 2-4 hours a day. As for boys, the scientists found that the little guys were about 10 times more likely to watch TV for 4 hours a day if their parents did as well.

Luckily, the solution is simple—turn off the tube. But what about “educational TV,” you ask? Fact is, only 1 out of every 8 shows for children are real learning opportunities. Read The Truth About Educational TV to find out which shows your kids should be watching.

Rule 4: …Unless You’re Playing Wii

We’re not saying that your child should start spending more time in the living room than the backyard, but kids can have a good workout by playing certain video games. Recently, the American Heart Association officially stated that Wii Fit Plus and Wii Sports Resort games are legitimate ways to stay active. And a recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that kids (aged 10-13) who played Dance Dance Revolution had an exercise session that was comparable to walking at a moderate-intensity pace.

For more quick tips on how to make your child healthier, happier, and smarter, read The Princess Diatribes.


Rule 5: Never Reward Kids with Food

It’s no wonder childhood obesity is so prevalent: “We tell our children to eat healthy, but then we reward their good behavior with junk food,” says Liston. No, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat. But to consistently reinforce a kid with ice cream and candy for a job well done—such as finishing his homework—delivers the wrong message. In fact, you should use caution in rewarding kids with any kind of food, including healthy fare. “This practice can teach them that it’s good to eat even when they’re not hungry,” explains Liston. Instead, give them another kind of reward—like extra playtime outside. And to send your kids off with the fuel they need to learn (and play), check out how to Pack the Perfect School Lunch.


Rule 6: Instruct by Showing, Not Telling

Forget the phrase “Keep your eye on the ball.” Why? Because the first time most a kid hears it, he (or she) has no idea what you’re talking about. Instead, show him how to hit a baseball with these 6 steps:

1. Stand a few feet away and tell your kid to look at the ball.

2. Move toward him with the ball in your hand while continually instructing him to keep looking at the ball. (This way, he’ll learn to track it.)

3. When you approach the strike zone, tell him to slowly try to hit the ball with the bat.

4. Go back to the starting point, then toss the ball into the strike zone and allow him to swing.

5. Review what he did well and give him instruction for improvement.

6. Repeat.

 Rule 7: Know When to Praise

Kids aren’t stupid. Say your son whiffs at three pitches in a row. The modern parent often says, “Good try.” But that type of hollow praise doesn’t console him, or help him the next time he steps up to the plate. “Praise should be specific and authentic, as in, ‘Good job juggling the ball 10 times. I see you’ve been practicing a lot. Your efforts have paid off,’ ” says Liston. “You should also mix instruction and encouragement when your child makes a mistake.” Look for a teaching point, even on a strikeout. For instance, you might say, “Good eye on that second and third pitch. Keep swinging at pitches like those, and the hits will come.”

Want to join in on the fun? We’ve compiled a list of 28 trips that are custom-made for a child (of any age) and his dad.

Rule 8: Make a Play Date with Friends

Remember the days of running around with the neighborhood kids from dawn until dusk? Wasn’t that fun? Well, it’s also an essential way to keep your kid in shape: UK researchers found that children who have an active, neighborhood playmate are 2-3 times more likely to be physically active themselves when compared to kids who don’t live near a buddy.

Rule 9: But Don’t Compare Your Kids with Others

Kids develop the coordination to run, catch, and throw at different rates, says Liston. The trouble is, they’re often expected to perform at certain levels based solely on their ages. As a result, a child whose development is slower than average may never have the opportunity to catch up with his peers. “If a kid tries to catch a baseball on the run before he’s able to catch a beach ball while standing still, he won’t have the tools he needs to be successful, says Liston. Unfortunately, many parents and coaches think the solution is for the child to try harder, when the real secret is backing up to a simpler task that the kid can improve upon.

Rule 10: Give Them Your Blessing

Encouraging your kids to participate in “vigorous” sports—like basketball and soccer—can cause your children to become more active, according to research in the journal Health Psychology. In the study, kids who received support from their parents were more likely to sign up for team sports (and less likely to spend their time sitting around) than the children who’s parents didn’t give them a push.

Obvious—and simple, right? Then what are you waiting for?

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If you think doing crunches, crunches, and more crunches is the best way to build your abs, prepare to be enlightened. Every exercise in this routine, based on the science in our book, The New Rules of Lifting for Abs, strengthens your core—yet you won’t find a single crunch. Or side bend. Or situp. What you will discover is the most effective way to train your abs from every single angle while burning off the fat that hides them. There’s nothing complicated. In fact, revealing your abs has never been simpler.

Directions: Perform this total-body workout 3 days a week, but be sure to rest at least 1 day between each session. This workout is separated into two sections: core and strength. Use the directions below, making sure you perform the core exercises first before moving on to complete the two strength supersets.


The Core Workout

Do the exercises in the order shown, completing all the prescribed sets of each exercise before moving on to the next.

Half-Kneeling Cable Core Press
Attach a D-handle at chest height to a cable machine. Kneel alongside the machine with one knee (the knee closest to the machine) bent 90 degrees and the other knee on the floor. Grab the handle with both hands, hold it in front of your chest as shown, and brace your abs. Slowly press your arms in front of you until they’re straight, hold without letting your body rotate, and bring them back to your chest. Turn around and work your other side.

Complete 1 set, holding for 30 seconds each side.


Elevated-Feet Plank

Place your feet on a bench and assume a pushup position; bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms instead of your hands. Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Contract your abs as if you were about to be punched. Hold this position for the recommended time.

Complete 10 sets, holding each set for 10 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest.


Elevated-Feet Side Plank

Lie on your left side with your legs straight. Place your feet on a bench, and prop your upper body on your left elbow and forearm. Raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Brace your core by contracting your abs. Hold this position for the recommended time. Then turn around so you’re lying on your right side and repeat.

Complete 5 sets on each side, holding for 10 seconds. Alternate back and forth until you’ve finished all the sets.


The Strength Workout

Do 1 set of 12 reps of exercise 1A, and rest for 45 seconds. Then do 1 set of 12 reps of exercise 1B and rest for another 45 seconds. Repeat until you’ve completed 3 sets of each exercise. Then move on to exercises 2A and 2B and follow the same instructions.

1A: Single-Leg Dumbbell Straight-Leg Deadlift
Using an overhand grip, hold a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length next to your sides. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Raise your right foot off the floor and, without changing the bend in your left knee, bend at your hips and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Pause, and return to the starting position. Do all your reps, switch legs, and repeat.


Alternating Dumbbell Overhead Press

1B: Hold a pair of dumbbells just outside your shoulders, your arms bent and palms facing each other. Set your feet at shoulder width and bend your knees slightly. Press each dumbbell up, one at a time, until your arm is straight. As you lower one dumbbell, press the other one up, in an alternating fashion.


Reverse Dumbbell Lunge

2A: Hold a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length next to your sides, your palms facing each other. Step backward with your right leg. Then lower your body until your front knee is bent at least 90 degrees. Pause, and push yourself back to the starting position. Do all your reps, switch legs, and repeat.


Inverted Row

2B: Using an overhand, shoulder-width grip, grab a bar that’s been secured at about waist height. Hang with your arms completely straight, hands positioned directly above your shoulders, and heels touching the floor. Your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your head. Pull your shoulder blades back, and continue to pull with your arms to lift your chest to the bar. Pause, and lower your body back to the starting position.

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Check out these relatively painless ways to cut back on your expenses and start saving more money.

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Workout by: Cameron McGarr, C.S.C.S.

Few men believe it, but you don’t need barbells, dumbbells, or machines to build muscle; in fact, weight-training equipment often inhibits the process. That’s because it requires you to be in a specific location, which might explain why more men consider themselves runners than lifters. After all, running is the most accessible form of exercise—anywhere you go, there’s your gym. But learn a little bit about physics and the same can hold true for your muscle workout.

Consider the pullup: It’s the standard by which all body-weight exercises are measured. And even the most hard-core lifters will agree that there’s no better muscle builder for the upper body—with or without weights. The reason for its effectiveness: It takes full advantage of the scientific laws of motion and leverage, placing your body in a position that forces your back and arms to lift your entire body weight. Call it applied science at its finest.

Now imagine if all body-weight exercises were as challenging as the pullup. You’d be able to build muscle anywhere, anytime—at home, on the road, or even in a public park. Physical science makes it possible. So with that said . . . the Five Laws of Body-Weight Training. 

The Longer Your Body, The Weaker You Become

The science: By increasing the distance between the point of force (your target muscles) and the end of the object you’re trying to lift (your body), you decrease your mechanical advantage. Think of it this way: An empty barbell is easy to lift off the floor if you grab it in the middle. But try moving a few inches in one direction and it instantly seems heavier—even though its weight hasn’t changed. The same is true of your body: Lengthen it and every exercise you do becomes harder.

Apply it: Raise your hands above your head—so your arms are straight and in line with your body—during a lunge, squat, crunch, or situp. If that’s too hard, split the distance by placing your hands behind your head.

The Farther You Move, The More Muscle You Work

The science: In physics, “mechanical work” is equal to force (or weight) times distance. And since your muscles and bones function together as simple machines—they form class 1, 2, and 3 levers—the same formula applies to your body. It’s the most basic of principles: Do more work, build more muscle. Of course, in a weight-free workout, you can’t increase force (unless you gain weight). But you can boost your work output by moving a greater distance during each repetition.

Apply it: Each of the following three methods increases the distance your body has to travel from start to finish, increasing not only the total amount of work you do, but also the amount of work you do in the most challenging portion of the exercise.

Hard: Move the floor farther away. For many body-weight exercises—lunges, pushups, situps—your range of motion ends at the floor. The solution: Try placing your front or back foot on a step when doing lunges; position your hands on books or your feet on a chair when doing pushups; and place a rolled-up towel under the arch in your lower back when doing situps.

Harder: Add on a quarter. From the starting position of a pushup, squat, or lunge, lower yourself into the down position. But instead of pushing your body all the way up, raise it only a quarter of the way. Then lower yourself again before pushing your body all the way up. That counts as one repetition.

Hardest: Try mini-repetitions. Instead of pushing your body all the way up from the down position, do five smaller reps in which you raise and lower your body about an inch each time. After the fifth mini-repetition, push yourself up till your arms are straight. That counts as one repetition.

As Elastic Energy Decreases, Muscle Involvement Increases

The science: When you lower your body during any exercise, you build up “elastic energy” in your muscles. Just like in a coiled spring, that elasticity allows you to “bounce” back to the starting position, reducing the work your muscles have to do. Eliminate the bounce and you’ll force your body to recruit more muscle fibers to get you moving again. How? Pause for 4 seconds in the down position of an exercise. That’s the amount of time it takes to discharge all the elastic energy of a muscle.

Apply it: Use the 4-second pause in any exercise. And give yourself an extra challenge by adding an explosive component, forcefully pushing your body off the floor—into the air as high as you can—during a pushup, lunge, or squat. Because you’re generating maximum force without any help from elastic energy, you’ll activate the greatest number of muscle fibers possible.

Moving in Two Directions is Better Than Moving in One

The science: Human movement occurs on three different geometric planes:

1. The sagittal plane, for front-to-back and up-and-down movements
2. The frontal plane, for side-to-side movements
3. The transverse plane, for rotational movements

Most weight-lifting movements—the bench press, squat, curl, lunge, and chinup, to name a few—are performed on the sagittal plane; the balance of exercises—for instance, the lateral lunge and side bend—occur almost entirely on the frontal plane. This means that most men rarely train their bodies on the transverse plane, despite using rotation constantly in everyday life, as well as in every sport. Case in point: walking. It’s subtle, but your hips rotate with every step; in fact, watch a sprinter from behind and you’ll see that his hips rotate almost 90 degrees. By adding a rotational component to any exercise, you’ll automatically work more muscle—since you’ll fully engage your core, as well as the original target muscles—and simultaneously build a better-performing body.

Apply it: Simply twist your torso to the right or left in exercises such as the lunge, situp, and pushup. You can also rotate your hips during movements such as the reverse crunch.

The Less Contact Your Body Has With the Floor, the More Your Muscles Must Compensate

The science: The smaller the percentage of an object’s surface area that’s touching a solid base, the less stable that object is. That’s why SUVs are prone to rolling, and tall transmission towers need guy wires. Fortunately, humans have a built-in stabilization system: muscles. And by forcing that internal support system to kick in—by making your body less stable—you’ll make any exercise harder, while activating dozens more muscles.

Apply it: Hold one foot in the air during virtually any exercise, including pushups, squats, and deadlifts. You can also do pushups on your fingertips or your fists.

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If you haven’t mastered this move, you have some work to do

Posted Date: March 8, 2011

There’s a saying: If you’re not rowing, you’re muscles aren’t growing. And there’s no better way to start doing both than with an exercise called the inverted row. According to top strength coach Michael Boyle, it’s the most underrated, underused movement there is—and it’s also one of the simplest.

Besides being a great pure muscle-builder, the inverted row is valuable because it strengthens your rear shoulders and upper back. These oft-neglected muscles directly complement the muscles used in the bench press—a benefit that can help prevent a slumped posture. Think of it this way: If you can bench-press far more than you can row, the stronger muscles on the front side of your upper body will overpower the weaker ones on the back. It’s like a tug-of-war in your torso—with your upper back ending up in the mud pit. This type of strength imbalance also shows poor shoulder stability, a key predictor of injury and chronic pain. 

Take Boyle’s test: If you can’t do 10 perfect repetitions of the inverted row with perfect form, chances are you have a serious imbalance. His advice: start doing two sets of the inverted row for every one set of bench presses (or other chest exercise) that you perform. Use this approach until you eliminate your weak spot.

Ready to try it? Watch the video to see the movement—you might just find it’s the best exercise you’re not doing.

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By: Mike Zimmerman

Say anything nasty about sugar and folks will swallow it. Sugar caused the recession. Sugar makes your nipples grow. Sugar keyed your car. Sugar’s crazy—it knifed my cousin down at the corner bar last Saturday night. Somebody should drop a safe on sugar.

Well, maybe. It’s true that sugar is insidious—diabolical, even—and hidden in countless processed foods. It certainly contributes to the obesity crisis. It makes people fat and diabetic. These claims are correct—to a limited and oversimplified extent. But sugar doesn’t point a gun to our heads and force us to eat it. It’s only as big a bogeyman as we make it out to be.

We need some truth about sugar. It’s too important. The sugar in our bodies, glucose, is a fundamental fuel for body and brain, says David Levitsky, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and nutritional sciences at Cornell University.

The health threat to the vast American public arises from a very personal level, Levitsky says: “It’s that sugars taste good. Sweetened foods tend to make us overeat. And that threatens the energy balance in our bodies.”

Read this and learn a few facts about the sweet stuff hiding in some of your favorite meals and drinks. Then, the next time some uniformed punk says sugar’s out of line, you won’t be tempted to drag sugar behind a dumpster and kick the crap out of it. The fact is, you may be the one who’s out of line.

Sugar and Diabetes

Sugar Doesn’t Cause Diabetes
Too much sugar does. Diabetes means your body can’t clear glucose from your blood. And when glucose isn’t processed quickly enough, it destroys tissue, Levitsky says. People with type 1 diabetes were born that way—sugar didn’t cause their diabetes. But weight gain in children and adults can cause metabolic syndrome, which leads to type 2 diabetes.

“That’s what diabetes is all about—being unable to eliminate glucose,” says Levitsky. “The negative effect of eating a lot of sugar is a rise in glucose. A normal pancreas and normal insulin receptors can handle it, clear it out, or store it in some packaged form, like fat.”

What matters: That “normal” pancreas. Overeating forces your pancreas to work overtime cranking out insulin to clear glucose. Eric Westman, M.D., an obesity researcher at the Duke University medical center, says that in today’s world, “it’s certainly possible that the unprecedented increase in sugar and starch consumption leads to pancreatic burnout.” But researchers can’t be sure; everyone’s body and diet are different, so generalization is iffy. One thing that is sure, Dr. Westman says, is that the rise in sugar consumption over the past 100 years is unprecedented.

Your job: Drop the pounds if you’re overweight, and watch your sugar intake. Research has shown for years that dropping 5 percent to 7 percent of your body weight can reduce your odds of developing diabetes.

Sugar and High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Simply Avoiding High-Fructose Corn Syrup Won’t Save You from Obesity
In the 1970s and 1980s, the average American’s body weight increased in tandem with the food industry’s use of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a staple because it’s cheap. But it’s not a smoking gun. “This is a correlation, not a causation,” says Levitsky.

“Obesity is about consuming too many calories,” says Lillian Lien, M.D., the medical director of inpatient diabetes management at the Duke University medical center. “It just so happens that a lot of overweight people have been drinking HFCS in sodas and eating foods that are high on the glycemic index—sweet snacks, white bread, and so forth. The calorie totals are huge, and the source just happens to be sugar-based.”

Dr. Westman notes that the effect of a high-glycemic food can be lessened by adding fat and protein. Spreading peanut butter (protein and fat) on a bagel (starch, which becomes glucose in your body), for example, slows your body’s absorption of the sugar.

What matters: We can demonize food manufacturers because they produce crap with enough salt and sugar to make us eat more of it than we should—or even want to. But it comes down to how much we allow down our throats. “A practical guide for anyone is weight,” says Dr. Lien. “If your weight is under control, then your calorie intake across the board is reasonable. If your weight rises, it’s not. That’s more important than paying attention to any specific macronutrient.” Still, skinny isn’t always safe. (Keep reading.)

Sugar and Fat

Too Much Sugar Fills Your Blood with Fat
Studies dating back decades show that eating too much fructose, a sugar found naturally in fruit and also added to processed foods, raises blood lipid levels. And while the relatively modest quantities in fruit shouldn’t worry you, a University of Minnesota study shows that the large amounts of fructose we take in from processed foods may prove especially nasty: Men on high-fructose diets had 32 percent higher triglycerides than men on high-glucose diets.

Why? Your body can’t metabolize a sweet snack as fast as you can eat it, says Levitsky. So your liver puts some of the snack’s glucose into your blood-stream, or stores it for later use. But if your liver’s tank is full, it packages the excess as triglycerides. The snack’s fructose goes to your liver as well, but instead of being deposited into your bloodstream, it’s stored as glycogen. Your liver can store about 90 to 100 grams of glycogen, so it converts the excess to fat (the triglycerides).

What matters: By maintaining a healthy weight, most people can keep their triglycerides at acceptable levels. “If you’re overweight or gaining weight, however, they’ll accumulate and become a core predictor of heart disease and stroke,” Levitsky says.

If you’re one of those overweight people, your first step is to lay off sugary and starchy foods, beer, and sweet drinks. Your body wasn’t built to handle all that sugar. Consider this: You’d have to eat four apples in order to ingest roughly the same amount of fructose in one large McDonald’s Coke.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test

Too Much Sugar Stresses Your System
Doctors use the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes. For an OGTT, you consume 75 grams of glucose to see how your system processes sugar. It’s a kind of stress test—downing that kind of sugar load is not something you should normally do.

And yet a 24-ounce soda often contains more than 75 grams of sugar, most of it likely HFCS. Roughly half of that 75 grams is fructose, so that soda shock may be worse than the doctor’s test is. “The way people eat and drink these days, unintentional stress tests probably happen quite often,” says Dr. Lien.

What matters: Maybe you figure your body can process a big sugar load without damage. But that’s like pointing to a man who smokes until he’s 90 and dodges emphysema or cancer, Dr. Westman says. Why gamble?

Severe hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can cause blurred vision, extreme thirst, and frequent urges to urinate. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is easier to spot: You feel weak with cold sweats and anxiety, blurred vision, or tiredness a couple of hours after a sugar binge. Sound familiar? Ask about an OGTT, which is more accurate than the simpler fasting glucose blood test.

Avoid Blood Sugar Spikes

Fewer Blood Sugar Spikes Help You Live Longer
If you live large—big meals, lots of beer, little moderation—you may be shortening your life even if your weight is okay. Repeated blood sugar spikes stress the organs that make up the metabolic engine of your body. That takes a toll.

And you might not notice. “People can live symptom-free for years in a prediabetic state even though they’ve lost as much as 50 percent of their pancreatic function,” says Dr. Lien. “And they don’t even know it.” People with prediabetes share the same health risks, especially for heart disease, that haunt people with full-blown diabetes.

What matters: Moderation. It’s simple, yet difficult. Think about what you put in your mouth. Sugar is diabolical; it tastes great and is less filling. Back off on the high-impact glycemics: beer, sugary soft drinks and sport drinks, potatoes, pasta, baked goods, pancakes. “The less sugar stress you put on your system, the longer it will function properly,” says Levitsky. And stop blaming sugar for all the world’s problems. Even if it is diabolical.

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