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Posts Tagged ‘Love Your Body’

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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In honor of Love Your Body Week at Barnard and Columbia this week, I interviewed Leslie Lipton, BC ’08 about her experience in recovery from an eating disorder and how she experienced college during and after her recovery process. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, disordered eating, or simply would benefit from talking to someone, stop by Furman Counseling Center in Brooks to make an appointment or get a referral. College can be a stressful, emotional, tumultuous four years, and Barnard is more than willing to help. Also, look for the final event in Love Your Body Week this afternoon from 4-6 in Lewis Parlor, a discussion about the effect the foods we eat have on the planet, and how to have a more positive conversation about our bodies.

Barnard Barbelle: What would you say were the most important factors/things you encountered during your recovery process that helped you to re-evaluate?

Leslie Lipton: The most important thing that I did to help my recovery was to get back into my life.  I had to find things that I was passionate about (animals, writing, helping people).  I had lost touch with a lot of things that I had previously enjoyed and I need to find those things again.  Writing and getting involved in the local animal shelter (the ASPCA) were both essential components of my recovery.  None of this could have happened though, without the hard work that I had to do in therapy (dealing with the underlying anxiety and depression) and learning how to eat again so that physically my body was healthy enough to partake in life.

BB: To what extent was writing your book, “Unwell” a cathartic process?  Was it at all?  How did you go about it?

LL: Writing my book was certainly a cathartic process.  If I hadn’t written the book, I don’t know where I would be in my recovery.  It was important for me to be able to put down all my feelings and put them away—which was what the book was originally.  It wasn’t until later (at the suggestion of a publishing agent) that I began to believe that what I had to say might be valuable to other people, and that I might actually have a shot at publication.  At that point, the book became incentive to stay healthy, because if I wanted to be able to make an impact in this world, then I had to be able to stand up in front of people and represent health as opposed to sickness.

BB: Coming to Barnard, how would you describe the community in terms of willingness to discuss eating disorders/openness to the conversation?  Did it change over the course of your time, for better or for worse?

LL: I have found the atmosphere at Barnard challenging to say the least.  When I first arrived here, I felt like there was very little discussion (if any) about anything mental-health related.  My savior was Susan Quinby at ODS who embraced me during my first semester and showed me that I was not alone at Barnard—that there was someplace where I could go if I needed help.  Over my time here, I have seen the community come around.  With the appointment of an official outreach coordinator (Giselle Harrington) at the Furman Counseling Center, it is clear that Barnard is making an effort.  Marissa Mazek BC ‘10 also had an column in the Spec last semester that focused on mental health issues—thereby opening up the conversation; and this week is the second annual Love Your Body Week to hit the Barnard/Columbia campus.  I believe that we, as a campus, are getting better.  That being said, as evidenced by some of the comments that my recent article in the Spectator go, there are still people who resist the open discussion.

BB: You founded SEED (Students for Ending Eating Disorders) on campus.  What were the terms that led to its creation?  What are the primary goals?

LL: SEED was born out of a vision for a Love Your Body Week where we could unite as a campus in a movement to feel good about ourselves: physically and emotionally.  Two years ago, I had been at the National Eating Disorder’s Association annual conference in San Diego and had heard about colleges doing wonderful things; I wanted to bring a bit of that back to Barnard.  Eating disorder awareness and prevention are important issues and they need to be discussed on ALL college campuses.  As long as people continue to die from these illnesses, it is important that we talk about them.  The goals of SEED, as I see them now, are to continue to grow: to bring in new members and to spread the word that we exist.  We hope to continue this tradition of Love Your Body Week and we hope that with each year our events will grow and prosper.  We want to encourage people to embrace their natural sizes and to feel good about themselves and their unique gifts (because we all have them).

BB: What changes would you like to see at Barnard in terms of dealing with eating disorders and physical/mental health, if any?  What, if anything, do you think Barnard does particularly well?

LL: Barnard has come far in the four years that I have been here, as I mentioned earlier.  From a campus that seemed to be almost in the dark about these issues (in as much as I was aware of them), they have stepped up and made it clear that they are willing to put in as much effort as is needed by the students.  Giselle Harrington from Furman Counseling Center has worked tirelessly with SEED this year and it is because of her help that Love Your Body Week succeeded.  I would like to see eating disorders and self-esteem continue to spark discussion.  I would like to see us, perhaps, take a leading role within the broader community, but I think that that may come in time.  I have been particularly pleased with Barnard’s responsiveness to students’ needs; as we demanded more, the administration stepped up to match us.  And, for that, we are very appreciative.  If I could ask for one thing more (if I get to have everything I want) I would find it interesting to have a group (run through Furman Counseling) for people who are further along in recovery.  Sometimes we focus so much on the initial process of recovery and not enough on what it is like to navigate the world with this illness in the recent past.

BB: Are you pleased with SEED’s progress?  Are you going to continue your involvement post-graduation?

LL: I am immensely proud of SEED’s progress.  I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to work with and I couldn’t have expected more in our first two years.  We have had a number of events, ranging in topic from “cultural perceptions of beauty” to book readings by Barnard alums and authors.  Since my graduation, Marissa Mazek ’10 has taken over the running of SEED as the new president and she will lead this group to do wonderful things.  We will continue to form new relationships with people who we hope to bring to campus, and we will continue to force positive body image and self-esteem into the spotlight at Barnard/Columbia.  I will continue with my involvement in as much as SEED would like to have me.  At a certain point, it must continue on without me but I will certainly still return to campus for some meetings and will show up whenever I can be of use; I care deeply about these girls and about the need for the message that they are spreading.

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