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Working Strong

Avigail wrote a great post yesterday about the importance of training your core not for appearance’s sake but because it is the source of your power.  In that spirit, here are some exercises that work multiple muscles in and around your core.  Trust me — these exercises will not give you a washboard six pack by themselves.  Doing endless ab exercises won’t reduce fat on your stomach.  Only a balanced diet and steady exercise will reduce fat all over your body.  But a six-pack shouldn’t be your goal.  The goal is to be a STRONG, confident Barnard woman!  So let’s get STRONG!  To get your power revved up, here are 10 exercises:

Selected exercises are a compilation from Runner’s World, Shape, and Fitness magazines.

1) Superman

Face down on the floor, raise your head, your left arm, and right leg five inches off the floor.  Hold for three counts and reverse, raising the other arm and leg for three counts.  Do 10 reps on each side.  Then do 10 additional reps on each side at a fast, fluttering pace.

Muscles: transversus abdominis and erector spinae

2) Metronome

Roll over onto your back with your feet in the air at 90 degrees, arms extended outward.  Rotate your legs to the left side, bringing your knees as close to the floor as possible without touching.  Return to the center, then move your knees to the right side.  Do 20 reps per side.  Control the movement from your hips, without swinging or using momentum.

Muscles: internal and external obliques

3) Wide Crunch

Bend knees at 90 degrees, shins parallel to the floor, with hands behind the head.  Lower bent left shin out to left side about 12 inches to 10 o’clock position.  Keeping legs still, crunch and lower.  Maintaining knee bend, tap left foot to floor, then raise it again to complete one rep.  Do 15 reps and then switch sides.

Muscles: internal obliques and rectus abdominis

4) Fly Crunch

Lie with legs together and extended at a 45 degree angle.  Hold a 5-10 lb weight in each hand, arms out to sides, palms up.  Contract abs as you lift shoulder blades off the floor, bringing arms together above chest and lifting legs to a 90 degree angle.  Return to start.  Do 30 reps.

Muscles: pectoralis major and rectus abdominis

5) Wiper Blade

Keeping bent legs in the air, put left hand behind head and extend right arm to ceiling.  Crunch and lower.  Bring right arm between knees as you crunch up.  Return to start.  Next, bring right arm by left leg as your crunch.  Return to start to complete 1 rep.  Do 15 reps.  Switch sides and repeat.

Muscles: transversus abdominis, internal obliques, and external obliques

6) Side Slimmer

Sit on floor with knees bent.  Hold a 5-8 lb weight at chest level, arms extended, a hand on each end.  Lift feet a few inches and hold as you twist your torso and bend elbows to bring weight towards the floor behind your left hip.  Bring back across your body and to the floor behind your right hip (this is one rep).  Do 20 reps.

Muscles: rectus abdominis and external obliques

7) Plank Lift

Roll back over onto your stomach.  With your elbows under your shoulders, lift your torso, legs and hips in a straight line from head to heels.  Hold for 20 seconds.  Raise your right leg a few inches, keeping the rest of your body firm.  Lower and repeat with left leg.  Repeat leg lifts 20 times.

Muscles: transversus abdominis and erector spinae

8) Plank Twist

Get into push up position, hands slightly wider than shoulders.  Place lower legs on stability ball.  Draw your belly button in and bring left knee toward chest.  Draw it to the right, twisting hips.  Return to starting position.  Do 20 reps, switching sides.

Muscles: rectus abdominis, pectoralis major, and trapezius

9) Overhead Squat

Stand with feet wide, toes turned out.  Holding a dumbbell in each hand, extend arms overhead, palms facing upward.  Squat as your bend right arm and twist slowly so that elbow points down between legs.  Stand up while extending right arm overhead, then repeat with left arm on next rep.  Do 20 reps, switching sides.

Muscles: deltoids, glutes, internal oblique, and transversus abdominis

10) Standing Seesaw

Stand on step or bench with right foot, left foot hanging off the side.  Hold a dumbbell in right hand by your side, left hand on your hip.  Keeping abs engaged and back straight; lift left leg straight out to the side as high as possible while raising right arm straight out to shoulder level with palm down.  Return to start.  Do 15 reps and switch sides.

Muscles: deltoids, transversus abdominis, and hip abductors

These exercises will strengthen your core muscles, which prevent shallow breathing and fatigue so that you can exercise longer and with greater intensity.

Now, I exercise regularly and eat healthily, but I still have a nice cushion on my belly.  And I am okay with that!  My body is strong.  I recovered from a stress fracture!  I can run more than 9 miles!  I overcame a history of unhealthy eating habits and soothing loneliness with junk food!

We all should all be proud of the ways our bodies are built.  We have full hips, bountiful breasts, and buoyant bellies.  We are petite and tall.  We are curvaceous and compact.  Let’s work to be strong and be proud of what we achieve!  Post a comment about how you are strong.


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In celebration of winter’s end–which judging by the recent weather may be closer than I’d previously assumed–I’d like to dedicate this article deconstructing the infamous abdomen. With Spring Break less than a week away, I’ve noticed more gym patrons down on the mats, trying to get their midsections in shape for their poolside vacations. Fitness magazines have rolled out their spring issues, filled with advice on how to burn belly fat fast, but here at Barbelle, we prefer to discuss fitness as a lifetime habit rather than a short-term fix.

Now, I don’t mean to discourage you from focusing on your abs. The muscles in your trunk (your abdominal muscles, transversus abdominus, obliques, lats, and other smaller stabilizer muscles) may be referred to as your core for their central location, but more importantly they are the source of power for your body’s movement. According to Elizabeth Quinn at About.com (apparently, all of their articles are reviewed by a panel of health professionals), a strong core stabilizes your spine and allows you to more powerfully transfer movement into the extremities. So, rather than focusing on the often-unattainable aesthetic apex of the six-pack, reorient your fitness goals to a more long-term outlook. To do this, you need to move past the superficial rectus abdominus to the transversus abdominus.

According to the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma (NISMAT), the first hospital-based facility dedicated to the study of sports medicine in the country, “the transversus abdominus is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and is also a stabilizer of the spine. Support by this muscle is considered to be the most important of the abdominal muscles and has also been found to be in a weakened state in those who have chronic back pain or problems. ” Strengthening your core thus not only stabilizes the body and powers the movement of the extremities, but it also prevents the back pain you probably experience after hours sitting hunched over your computer.

Interested in learning more about the transversus abdominus, I turned to Caitlin Trainor, who teaches in the Dance department at Barnard and who also owns her own fitness business:

The TA wraps around your waist like a belt. Visualize this wrapping while you stand in line, ride the train, or are practicing your posture.

The TA wraps around your waist like a belt. Visualize this wrapping while you engage your TA as you stand in line or ride the train.

A question: why does anyone want to do anything involving “crunching” in the body? Spinal flexion can be conceived as curving, bending, folding, hollowing, scooping, and so on. But seeing that crunches are so wildly popular, I will explain why crunching is not adequate core conditioning. Firstly, it is worth mentioning that people spend much of their lives positioned in some degree of forward flexion (bent forward). Humans are very ventral beings! Sitting in general is a forward bent position (at the hip joint), and since most people do not sit erect, they are also bending forward at the spine. It is a natural for a person to stick her head out or down (more forward flexion) to peer at the computer screen, read, text, or drive. Too much forward flexion is problematic because it creates imbalance and stress on the muscles and discs of the spine. Crunches are also spinal flexion, and, especially if they are done with poor form (yanking the neck up with the arms) can be less than beneficial.

When engaging the TA, imagine you are zipping up your center line. Tilt your pelvis up towards your belly button so that your tailbone points to the floor and your pelvic floor is points down right between your ankles. You shouldn't be able to see a hip crease while wearing spandex!

When engaging the TA, imagine you are zipping up your center line. Tilt your pelvis up towards your belly button so that your tailbone points to the floor and your pelvic floor points down right between your ankles. You shouldn't be able to see a hip crease while wearing spandex!

Assuming that freedom of movement, length, and stability are desirable, I would recommend a core program of spinal extension exercises and strengthening the deep abdominal support muscles. Maybe crunches have become so popular because they target the most superficial abdominal muscle, the “rectus abdominis”, known for creating the appearance of “six pack abs”. However, crunches alone do not make a strong core. Performing crunches fails to engage the deepest abdominal layer, the transverse abdominis (TA). The fibers of the TA run horizontally, and tighten like a belt around the waist when engaged. Unlike spinal flexion exercises, the TA is worked by stabilizing the spine while moving the limbs. This explains why a person can do 500 crunches a day and still have a very weak TA, leaving even an experienced athlete vulnerable to spinal injury and subpar performance. Check out Caitlin Trainor’s TA strengthening exercises after the jump! (more…)

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Interested in becoming a better runner? Runner’s World magazine offers great advice in an article available on their website about the importance of strengthening the core muscles — the muscles in your abs, back, and pelvis.

Working your core doesn’t just give you flat abs like the ones plastered on most of the magazine covers at Hudson News.  Core exercises can also extend your stride and quicken the rate of your leg and foot turnover, allowing you to run faster and react more quickly.

Runner’s World reminds runners that strong lower abs helps you generate more force and speed as your foot pushes off the ground.  When you swing your leg forward, the hip-flexor muscles, such as the rectus femoris, pull on the pelvis.  As you push off the ground, the glutes and hamstrings are engaged.

When running dowhill, you need strong gluteal muscles to help absorb the impact and counter the momentum of the forward motion.  Without the core strength to control your movement, your quads and knee joints bear the extra pressure of your body weight, which can lead to fatigue and injury.

A solid core helps you maintain proper form and run efficiently, even through fatigue. With strong lower abs and lower-back muscles, such as the erector spinae, it’s easier to stay upright.  If your core is weak, you may end up slouching and putting too much stress on your hips, knees, and shins.  Whenever you have to suddenly move to the side to turn the corner, dodge a pothole, or navigate trails and hills, the obliques provide the stability to keep you upright.

Check back next week for a rundown of the best exercises to strengthen your core to maximize your running workouts.


					

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