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Muffins and Muffin Tops

Posted Sep 09 2010 12:00am
When baked appropriately, muffins can be a relatively healthy addition to almost any diet. But if you eat too many, you might develop a muffin top. Otherwise known as excess fat around your waist, particularly at your hips. And while excess fat of any kind isn't the best addition to your physique, it can be particularly taxing when it sits around the waist and on the hips. Multiple studies indicate that it can increase your risk for developing heart disease and/or diabetes (among other things).

That alone means you should do everything possible to keep your waist-to-hip circumference ratio (WHR) in the low-risk bracket. To calculate
1) Find a tape measure that records inches.
2) Measure your waist, starting at your belly button.
3) Measure your hips, including the fullest part of your butt.
4) Divide the circumference of your waist by the circumference of your hips.
5) The resulting number should be below 0.9 for men and 0.8 for women.

If you don't fall in the low-risk bracket, please do not despair. Let your WHR motivate you. Assess your current diet and exercise plan and decipher what the problem is. Then, adjust accordingly. To help you, I've included a list of abdominal exercises that specifically target that so-called muffin top area (internal and external obliques).

1) SIDE LEG LIFTS: Lie on your side with your hips and shoulders stacked, legs straight and feet slightly forward. Prop yourself up on your bottom elbow, slightly roll off your hips, then lift and lower your legs about a foot off the ground until your desired number of repetitions are complete. Repeat on your other side.

2) DUMBBELL SIDE BENDS: Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and place your left hand behind your head. Keeping your shoulders to the front so as not to twist your spine, bend toward the dumbbell. Return to start, performing all reps on one side before switching to the other.

3) CABLE TWISTS: Set a cable machine at chest height, then attach a single handle. Choose an appropriate weight, then position yourself with one hip toward the machine. Grab the handle with both hands, then pull until it is positioned in front of your chest. This will create tension, and will be your starting/stopping point. With straight arms, continue to twist the handle away from the machine until it is line with your outside hip. Return to start, perform all repetitions, then switch to the other side. (If you're working out with a friend, simulate the cable machine using an elastic band. Sit on an exercise ball to increase the difficulty.)

4) OBLIQUE CRUNCH: Lie down in crunch position, crossing your right ankle over your left knee. With your hands behind your head, rest your right elbow on the ground and crunch toward your right knee—but don't let your left elbow fold across your face! The movement is in your abs, not your shoulders or arms. Do all repetitions on one side before switching to the next.

5) MEDICINE BALL CHOPS: If you don't have a medicine ball, a weight will do. Stand in with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Hold the medicine ball above your head and slightly to the right so that your arms are at an angle. Squat while bringing the ball across your body and down to the floor by your left ankle. Keep your abs tight throughout, and really control the movement so that you don't hurt your back. Bring the ball back across your body and repeat. Complete desired repetitions, then switch the movement to the other side of your body.

6) SIDE PLANKS: Get into a plank position, elbows bent at 90 degrees. (If this is too difficult, start with straight arms.) Keep your hips, shoulders and head in line as you shift your weight onto one arm. Your hips will be perpendicular to the floor, and you'll be balancing on the outside of your bottom foot. Keep your obliques tight to prevent your hips from sagging. Hold, then switch to the other side of your body.

These exercises can be added to your current abdominal routine—even if your WHR is already in the low-risk bracket. Choose two, and start with two sets of 12 repetitions per exercise.

Question: Lemon Poppy Seed muffins will always be my favorite, however the Peanut Butter Banana muffins shown above were quite delicious. I'm curious—what is your favorite muffin?
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