Archive for January, 2012

Health Watch: Sit-ups alone don’t work. Your core matters, too

January 4, 2012

Many people set out to make healthy changes for themselves, especially as part of their New Year’s resolution.  As a result, gymnasiums see a spike in memberships around New Year’s Day.  However, it may have been years since someone has exercised to any extent, let along set foot inside a gym.  Not only are these people out of shape, but they maybe rusty in technique, as well.  Attempting their first sit-up in years, for instance, they will find it much harder to do than when they last did it.  In fact, according to recent studies in biomechanics, what they learned about sit-ups and crunches years ago maybe flat out wrong.

If doing a bunch of sit-ups has not taken any inches off your waist, you may be doing it wrong. Before doing any abdominal exercises, you must work on core strength training first.Researchers have found out that the full motion of a sit-up puts an unhealthy strain on your back at its weakest point.  The back of the spine contains the most nerves, which is the very part that bends and strains during a sit-up.  Excessive flexing of the spine over time, doing just one type of sit-up or crunch repeatedly, could lead to disk herniation, resulting in back and leg pain, weakness, and tingling.  Trainers working closely with new clients have observed that the excessive flexing of the client’s spine is due to their focus on just one muscle group, the rectus abdominus, with little regard to other abdominal muscle groups such as the transverse abdominus or obliques (internal and external), or other “core” muscles.  People must understand that core strength training and abdominal exercises complement each other, and that the latter cannot be done instead of the former.  The core muscles that are involved include:

  • Rectus Abdominus
  • Erector Spinae
  • Multifidus
  • External Obliques
  • Internal Obliques
  • Transverse Abdominis (TVA)
  • Hip Flexors, which include the psoas major, illiacus, rectus femoris, pectineus, and sartorius
  • Gluteus medius and minimus
  • Gluteus maximus, hamstring group, piriformis
  • Hip adductors

Why must we focus on these core muscles?  The muscles of the core make it possible for us to stand upright and walk around by controlling movement, shift body weight, and move in any direction.  The goal of core stability is to maintain a solid foundation and transfer of energy from the center of the body out to the limbs, thereby protecting the back.  What are the exercises required to strengthen the core muscles?  The following exercise equipment, as demonstrated in these YouTube videos, work very well towards developing your core strength:

Consider these pieces of equipment tools that can assist you in your core strength development.  However, you can also develop your core strength without them, relying on your body weight alone.  Body weight exercises involve abdominal bracing, or the contraction of the abdominal muscles, and focus primarily on the transverse abdominis.  This, along with ten other equipment-less exercises, can be done to develop your core strength and include the following:

These exercises will ensure that you develop core strength in the transverse abdominis, the deepest muscle of the core, so that you can maintain trunk stability and keep your waist tight.  It should not be surprising, then, that you would reap from the benefits of core conditioning when you work on abdominal conditioning concurrently.  Conversely, you maybe disappointed at the results of your abdominal conditioning should you do little core conditioning alongside it.

Abdominal conditioning focuses on two muscle groups: the rectus abdominus, often referred to as the “six-pack” , and the obliques (internal and external), which are located on the front and side of the abdomen.  These two muscle groups are on top of the aforementioned transverse abdominis, which is adjacent to your vital organs.  The abdominal muscles are special because they provide postural support, which contributes to a healthy back.  As long as you work on core conditioning, as well, you will be pleased with the results of your abdominal condition.  The number of abdominal exercises to choose from, however, raises another concern: what are the most effective abdominal exercises? The Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University answered that question by measuring the muscle activity of a number of test subjects as they performed 13 12 different ab exercises.  Using the traditional crunch as the baseline of muscle activity, this is what they discovered for the rectus abdominus:

Activity in Rectus Abdominus
Ranking Exercise Activity, mean %
1 Bicycle Maneuver 248
2 Captain’s Chair 212
3 Exercise Ball 139
4 Vertical Leg Crunch 129
5 Torso Track 127
6 Long Arm Crunch 119
7 Reverse Crunch 109
8 Crunch with Heel Push 107
9 Ab Roller 105
10 Hover 100
11 Traditional Crunch 100
12 Exercise Tubing Pull 92
13 Ab Rocker 21

as well as for the obliques:

Activity in Obliques
Ranking Exercise Activity, mean %
1 Captain’s Chair 310
2 Bicycle Maneuver 290
3 Reverse Crunch 240
4 Hover 230
5 Vertical Leg Crunch 216
6 Exercise Ball 147
7 Torso Track 145
8 Crunch with Heel Push 126
9 Long Arm Crunch 118
10 Ab Roller 101
11 Traditional Crunch 100
12 Exercise Tubing Pull 77
13 Ab Rocker 74

What does this mean for your workout?  Think about your workout in three steps, in order:

  1. Stretching (as always)
  2. Core strength training (to maintain a solid foundation and transfer of energy from the center of the body out to the limbs)
  3. Abdominal exercises (to strengthen your abdominal muscles)

When you go to the gym or work out in your garage, do not start with abdominal exercises.  Always work on core strength training first so that your abdominal exercises thereafter produce the six-pack abs you have wanted in the first place.

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Francis Unson

Downloads for Your Computer: the Essentials

January 3, 2012

The majority of people, like me, just cannot wait to use their new computer once it is removed from its box, especially if that computer is replacing an older, slower computer.  However, as a person trained in network administration, I would make a list of the applications and plug-ins I have been using on my old computer so that I can download the same items on the new computer, making the switch feel transparent.  From our standpoint, while the switch to faster-performing hardware is welcomed, the case is not the same for software applications, where retraining may be required, an added cost that businesses and organizations are, more likely than not, do not welcome with open arms.  Whether we are upgrading our own computer or the PCs in a computer room at a university, we feel much more comfortable using the same software we had always been using.

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you received a new computer for Christmas or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download the following items.

Web browser

Mozilla Firefox (download from Mozilla | CNET), Google Chrome (Google | CNET), or both

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.Even though the latest versions of Internet Explorer (IE9 and IE10) are much more secure, earlier versions (IE7 and earlier) have been plagued by many security vulnerabilities and concerns: much of the spyware, adware, and computer viruses across the Internet were made possible by exploitable bugs and flaws in the web browser’s security architecture.  Firefox and Chrome, meanwhile, deployed different security models seemingly in response to the vulnerabilities found in the older versions of IE, giving the perception of greater security, at least until IE was updated with a much improved security model.  Unfortunately, the number of security vulnerabilities found in all versions of Firefox and Chrome combined pales in comparison to the large number of vulnerabilities found in IE, which is why I strongly recommend Firefox or Chrome as your default web browser.

Add-ons and extensions

Web of Trust (for Firefox, Chrome et al.)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.I cannot begin to stress the importance of using an Internet website reputation rating tool such as Web of Trust (WOT), which shows you which websites you can trust for safe surfing, shopping and searching on the web.  With the WOT add-on, you can see the website’s reputation based on other users’ experiences and carefully chosen trusted sources, such as phishing and spam blacklists.  You can also rate websites yourself based on your own experiences.  Whether you are looking at search engine results, links in your news feed on Facebook, or links in your timeline on Twitter, WOT indicates to you right away if the link posted is safe or not.  WOT is indispensable if you have young web browsers in your house.

Adblock Plus (for Firefox | Chrome)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.If you want to improve your web surfing experience, install Adblock Plus (ABP), a content-filtering extension that allows users to prevent page elements, such as advertisements, from being downloaded and displayed.  Once installed, you will notice right away how much faster websites load without the burden of extra images or flash files for animated ads.  If you are still using a 56K modem, or if you live with a bunch of bandwidth hogs, you will be able to view your content more quickly with this extension installed on your web browser.

Anti-malware and virus protection

Malwarebytes (from Malwarebytes | CNET)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.Highly effective at finding malware such as rogue security software, adware, and spyware, Malwarebytes is the software that people turn to as soon as their computer begins to show possible signs of malware infection.  I find it unfortunate that people turn to anti-malware software only when an infection is discovered instead of installing it early on as a preventative measure.  I am telling you right now: install Malwarebytes as soon as possible, and run it once a week.  You may catch malware that was downloaded but, thankfully, wasn’t installed onto your computer yet.  Best of all, the free version is fully functional and will delete any and all malware, should any be found.

Microsoft Security Essentials (from Microsoft)

Why do I recommend Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE)?  Like Malwarebytes, MSE is also highly effective at finding malware.  However, features such as real-time malware prevention and automatic updates are not included with the free version of Malwarebytes, where they and other features are bundled with MSE.  Indeed, MSC is freeware.  From the school of thought that no single anti-malware product can find and remove all malware, MSE is a highly recommended complement to existing anti-malware and anti-virus software you have already installed.

Utilities

CCleaner (from Piriform | CNET)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.I recommend CCleaner very highly for its simple task of cleaning potentially unwanted files and invalid Windows Registry entries from a computer.  The applications we use daily generate lots of temporary files, especially web browsers, and CCleaner, when used weekly, will help your computer run smoothly without getting clogged and overburdened with files the computer no longer needs.  When using the program with client computers, I was shocked at the amount of junk files that remained on the hard drive.  It’s one thing when your computer is running slowing because you’re running out of free disk space, but quite another when the daily usage of that computer is the reason for that clutter.  Use CCleaner regularly so that gigabytes (yes, GB) of junk files do not accumulate over time.

Defraggler (from Piriform | CNET)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.The best you can do after running CCleaner is to run Piriform’s other product, Defraggler, which defragments individual files on a computer system.  Why?  Removing gigabytes of junk files creates a lot of gaps between legitimate files on your hard drive.  Some files, especially large files, may be fragmented, or spread out all over the drive partition.  Opening that one file may take longer than it should because your hard drive has to go to different parts of your hard drive just to read it.  Running Defraggler effectively reunites all those parts of a file as best it can so that reading the same file after defragmentation will be much faster, since the majority of that large file is physically in the same location on the hard drive.

Readers

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage?  Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.Adobe Reader (from Adobe)

If you work in an office, you probably work with an office suite, compiling documents in, say, MS Word or Excel and later converting them to a format that is generally read-only to most people, such as Portable Document Format, or PDF.  Adobe Reader is part of the Adobe Acrobat family of application software developed to view, create, manipulate, print and manage files in PDF, although Adobe Reader itself only allows you to view and print PDF files.  For most people, that capability is all they need when coming across a PDF file on the Internet.  When you install Adobe Reader, an Adobe Reader plug-in for your web browser is also installed so that the application itself does not need to be opened if, for example, a PDF file link is clicked in Firefox or Chrome.

Players

Adobe Flash Player (from Adobe)

What applications should you install on your computer to maximize its usage? Whether you just bought a new computer or own a four-year-old computer that is showing its age, you should download these applications, add-ons, and extensions.If you watch streaming video and audio, play online games with animation, or go to graphics-intensive websites with GUIs embedded into the site, you will need to install Adobe Flash Player, which executes and displays content from a provided SWF file.  Flash Player supports vector and raster graphics, 3D graphics, an embedded scripting language called ActionScript and streaming of video and audio.  Like Reader, the installation of Adobe Flash Player also includes plug-in support for your web browsers.  Despite HTML5 as a possible replacement, Adobe Flash Player, emerging as the de facto standard for online video publishing on the desktop, will be around for years to come.

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Francis Unson

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