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Work That Core!

Photo by: Leslie Hassler

Photo by: Leslie Hassler

Believe it or not, this Motivation Monday brings us three weeks into 2017. Know what that means? We’ve also reached the halfway point for those New Year’s healthy resolutions to start feeling like second nature. So whatever you do, don’t give up now!

The extra good news is there’s still time to tweak your routine to make this your strongest year yet. I couldn’t let this building phase of January pass without an important reminder about one area of training all of us need to incorporate into our routines regardless of where we are in our fitness journey. Whether your passion is power walking; running; cycling; dancing; swimming; weight training or boot camping, there is one area of the body no one should ignore: the core. My repeat readers already know I’m probably one of core training’s biggest cheerleaders. Why? It’s simple: without a strong core, the rest of your body can suffer. Seriously.

The core is much more than just those “six-pack abs.” It’s actually the part of the body made up of the:

  • Lumbo-pelvic-hip-complex
  • Thoracic spine and
  • Cervical spine.

The core is where all movement begins and where we find our center of gravity. The muscles in the core are broken into two categories: the stabilization system and the movement system. If the stabilization system doesn’t work properly, then your body will make compensations to move, and those compensations can ultimately lead to injury. For example: you could have strong “abs” (rectus abdominus), external obliques and erector spinae, but weak stabilizing muscles in your lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. Without proper stabilization, extra stress is placed on your vertebrae when you move, and this can lead to low back pain and possible injury.

So, today I implore everyone to add my all-time favorite core exercise to your routine: the plank. The following photos taken by Lauren Bachner at New York City’s Hype Gym show the start and finish positions for a plank. (I also added a leg lift option for an advanced option.) Aim for two sets of 12-20 reps. Training tips: In either version, be sure to draw in your navel and squeeze your glutes before you raise your body off the floor to form a straight line from head to toe. Hold for two to three seconds before dropping to the ground to re-start. 

Another bonus when it comes to planks: they are a great exercise for Tabata training. Click here for a refresher on how Tabatas can take add some spice to your fitness routine.

So now I want to know what is YOUR favorite core move? As we continue to make our way through 2017, I look forward to learning what my readers of all ages and skill levels are doing to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

More Core, Please!

Recently, I’ve gotten lots of questions from friends who also happen to be avid runners about what to do about hip or lower back pain. Since I’m not a medical professional, my first concern is to find out how long they’ve had the problem; if it’s affecting their everyday activities and if they’ve seen a physician for an opinion. Then I then move on to some questions about their training program.

One of the first things I ask: “So tell me about your core work?” That’s usually when I get the sheepish response that sounds something like: “Well, I could probably do more of that.”

You know what? We ALL could!

So, on this workout Wednesday, I go beyond the crunch to show you some of the other “classic” core moves I incorporate in my client’s fitness programs as well as my own. (I must give a special shout out to the talented Lauren Bachner for capturing the start and finish of each exercise.)

An added bonus: these exercises all fit into the stabilization endurance level of training. This is the level where all fitness newbies should start and all fitness veterans should re-visit to maintain core and joint stability. Aim for two sets of 12-20 reps:

  1. Ball bridge:Once you’ve mastered the two-leg and one-leg floor bridge, this is a great progression of a key core exercise. Training tips: make sure your feet are hip-width apart. Draw in your navel and squeeze your glutes to get your knees in line with your hips and shoulders. Once you’re established the bridge, hold the position for two seconds before lowering your pelvis.
    Hype Gym, New York, NY
    Photos by Lauren Bachner
  2. Prone Iso-Abs (Plank): This remains my all-time favorite core exercise.  Here, I show you the “basic” plank along with a progression, where you add a leg lift. Training tips: In either version, be sure to draw in your navel and squeeze your glutes before you raise your body off the floor to form a straight line from head to toe.  Hold plank position for two to three seconds before dropping to the ground to re-start. 
  3. Side Iso-Ab (Side Plank): I admit, I need to perform this version of the plank more often – and you should too! Training tips: Your elbow should be directly below your shoulder and be sure to draw in your navel and contract glutes before lifting your hips and legs off the ground. Hold the plank for two to three seconds before lowering back to start position. 

Please note, I’m not picking on runners. In fact, as someone who isn’t a runner, I have great admiration for people who lace up and pound the pavement in all types of weather. However, a common mistake many runners make is not incorporating enough core work into their fitness program. Your core, the muscles connecting your legs to your hips, spine, and rib cage, works to stabilize your torso when you run and therefore has a significant impact on running form and endurance. A weak core can lead to injuries, particularly in your lower back.

The bottom line is whether you’re a runner, cyclist, dancer, swimmer, or just like to be classified as a “gym rat,” everyone needs a strong core. Why?  Because the core is the region of the body where all movement begins. If you have a weak and unstable core, your body simply can’t move the way it’s supposed to. That’s one of the easiest ways to put yourself at increased risk for injury.

So what are YOUR favorite core moves? Let me know! I’m always looking to share different exercises and activities that can help exercise lovers of all ages and skill levels have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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