Core training | 5 moves for a stronger midsection

After taking nearly nine weeks away from regular and consistent exercise, I’m proud of myself for recognizing that I needed some accountability and support to make fitness a priority again in my life.

I’m three weeks into a strength and conditioning program at a gym where nobody knows my story. I’m a participant, not a trainer, and as such welcome getting feedback on form from the three coaches that lead the workouts.

While my overall strength and cardiovascular conditioning are already starting to improve (thanks to a lot of agility drills with hurdles, cones and ladders and speed work on the Bosu), I’m noticing that certain exercises and lifts are still weak.

During Saturday’s class, coach Mark commented on my execution of three exercises; tricep pushups, Romanian dead lifts and bent-over rows. My lower back started to curve after only three pushups (pushups should look like planks), my knees were bending too much during the dead lifts (bending the knees transfers the work from the hamstrings to the quads) and I was ‘bouncing’ at the bottom of my rows (in effective, using momentum instead of muscle to pull the weight back up).

We talked for a minute about what these three exercises had in common and came to the conclusion that my core was weak. Not only had I not been training it during my hiatus from exercise, I had also spent a lot of those nine weeks sitting around, hunched over my knitting and slouched in front of the television and computer keyboard.

He asked me what I was going to do about it (note to self: this is a great coaching question).

Although my three-times-a-week workouts do include some core work, he suggested that I needed to do a bit more, both to improve my core strength and to ensure that I kept progressing on my other lifts (it’s hard to squat, push, pull and lift more weight when your core is weak).

Knowing that he was right, I’ve decided to add two more days of core training to my week. I’ll be focusing on the important core exercises; the ones that are functional and relevant to training for daily life (i.e., NOT crunches, which is why you won’t see ‘flexion’ in the list below).

Core training: 5 moves for a stronger midsection
  • static stability; basic plank and side plank holds require isometric contraction of the entire core (as well as the shoulders, upper back, glutes and hamstrings). I’ll be working up to 3 sets of 60 s in each position, focusing on keeping the abs and glutes tight and shoulders drawn back and down.
  • dynamic stability; adding movement to basic planks and side planks forces the muscles of the core to work a bit harder to remain stable in the face of external forces. Side planks with cable and pulley rows and front planks on the ball while either pushing the ball slightly away from the body or ‘drawing circles’ with it are all examples of dynamic stabilization exercises. I’ll be combining one front plank static exercise with one side plank dynamic exercise on my first day of core training then switching to the opposite combo (side plank static, front plank dynamic) on the second day.
  • rotation; rotational exercises typically target the external obliques. The muscles that cut across the front and back of your body, from hip to rib and enable you to rotate your torso without damaging your spine. My favourite rotational exercises are wood choppers (kneeling or standing, with a weight or a medicine ball or the cable and pulley machine) and Russian twists (on the floor or on the ball). Focus on slow, controlled movements over as large a range of motion as you’re capable of.
  • anti-rotation; the ability to keep your torso (and spine) from twisting in response to an unexpected external force (for example, catching a heavy object, slipping on a wet surface, lifting a bag that was much heavier than you though it would be) requires strengthening of the inner obliques. Anti-rotation exercises are frequently absent from workouts shared on Facebook and Pinterest. My favourites include variations of the Paloff press, plank rows and kneeling cross-body lifts with either a medicine ball or the cable and pulley machine. (If you’re new to strength training and the names of these exercises are unfamiliar to you, check out the website BodyBuilding.com. They have high quality, good-form video demonstrations of almost every exercise known to man :-) ).
  • extension; most core workouts focus primarily on the muscles of the front side of the body (the ‘six-pack’ muscles and the obliques), ignoring the importance of strengthening their back-side-of-the-body counterparts. Anterior and posterior muscle groups work together to keep the body in front-to-back balance and alignment. In my case, a weak lower back is contributing significantly to my poor dead lift range of motion and my ability to perform more than four good-form tricep pushups. Lower back extension exercises don’t require any fancy equipment; yoga poses including cobra and sphinx can be performed anywhere, as can ‘super mans’ (on the floor or the ball, if you have one) and weighted hip thrusts.
Need a few more core exercise options? Here are two of my favourite core training videos:

Note that while there IS a crunch variation in the video below, elevating the feet and keeping the lower back firmly on the mat will ensure that flexion is minimized and the risk to the lower back is minimal. If you suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia (or your doctor has told your NOT to perform any version of a crunch, skip it; the other 4 exercises are workout enough).

Tough love Tuesday | motivation doesn’t grow on trees

I’m not the kind of instructor, trainer or coach who yells at or belittles her clients. I believe in setting a positive example and providing education, encouragement and a little ‘reality check’ when it’s needed. The following post is about the closest that I ever get to a ‘rant’. Know that it was written with love, in the hopes that it will help you move forward towards your health and fitness goals ~ Tamara

Lately, I’ve been blessed with a large number of new subscribers to this website. (Thank you all for deeming my content worthy of your time :-) If you’re not subscribed, you can do it now!).

Many of them have emailed me to tell me about their biggest challenges with fitness and healthy living (I ask for and welcome these interactions as they give me a better idea of the topics that readers are most interested in hearing about).

While I typically respond to as many of these emails as I can, I will admit to having failed to answer a single respondent citing ‘lack of motivation’ as their biggest hurdle to exercising regularly and making healthier choices in the kitchen.

Why?

Because motivation isn’t something I can give them. (Or you.)

 

Neither money nor motivation grow on trees…

 

Motivation doesn’t grow on trees. It won’t magically appear on your doorstep. It won’t reveal itself to you in a dream. You won’t wake up one morning and suddenly feel motivated to go for a run.

Sharing the things that motivate me won’t necessarily help you find what motivates you. It’s personal. It requires some insight, some self-reflection, a mindset shift and some thinking about the future. Some good, old-fashioned hard work.

If journalling helps you think and reflect, go for it!

 

Finding your motivation isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s down-right difficult. You might think you’ve figured it out only to realize you’ve ventured down a blind alley and need to back-track a bit to get back on course. But it’s always worth the effort. Always.

Those of us who know WHY we want to be healthy and fit find it easier to start and stick with the behaviours required to be healthy and fit. (Need some help with finding your ‘why’? Here’s a little how-to book I’ve written on the subject, with step-by-step instructions > 5 Steps to Finding Your Exercise Why)

Perhaps my new readers’ biggest obstacle isn’t really “I’m not motivated enough to exercise and eat better” but rather, “I haven’t yet figured out what will motivate me to make healthier choices”. 

Cancer is hard. Divorce is hard. Losing a loved one is hard.

Exercising and eating well so that you have more energy, sleep better, a stronger immune system, balanced hormones, are able to keep up with your kids and continue enjoying the activities you love for many years to come isn’t. 

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It’s all about perspective.

Valuing yourself, wanting to be the best version of ‘you’ possible and desiring to live a full, adventure-filled life.

In the wise words of a friend:

“Yesterday, I was at an event where several of the 50+ aged women there don’t exercise regularly and most were not fit but were talking about knee surgeries, bad health issues… it made me realize the #1 reason I excercise is so that I can continue to be fit and healthy in my later years! There’s your motivation…”

I’d love to hear what motivates YOU! Perhaps your unique motivators will help another reader figure out hers.

Tips for automating exercise and eating

Yesterday, I was texting with a friend and mentioned that I was on my way out to get a hair cut (and colour, truth be told). She commented on how impressed she was that I “was still prioritizing the small self care stuff that makes us feel better” even though my life’s been recently turned upside down.

I hadn’t really thought of what I was doing as self-care (of course it is) or something that was going to make me feel better (it certainly did). I scheduled this appointment at the end of my last appointment and was simply doing what my calendar told me I had to do today.

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Losing those greys always makes me feel better…

I like to think of this way of going about the day as ‘auto-piloting’ and apply the same strategy to many areas of my life, including exercising and nutrition.

While living on ‘auto-pilot’ might seem to be in direct opposition to the ‘live in the moment’ and ‘be present’ advice we see daily on social media, when used correctly, it can free us from wasting time and mental energy on trivial decisions.

Like what to wear. Which route to take to work. When and where to workout. Which exercises to include. What and when to eat. How best to load the dishwasher…

A little Google-searching tells me that ‘decision fatigue’ is a real and recognized psychological condition in which a person’s productivity (and ability to make future decisions) suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.

The simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make more decisions.

The solution? Make the decision once (and ahead of time) and use the ‘auto-pilot’ strategy to follow through.

I’ve found the following ‘auto-pilot’ strategies to help me (and many of my clients) commit to regular exercise and healthier eating.

Pick a couple that resonate with you and commit to trying them for a month.

Tips for automating exercise and eating
  • register for a group fitness program; perfect for those who need a bit more accountability and are unlikely to skip an activity that they’ve paid for in advance (with the added benefit of not having to figure out what you’re going to do when you get to the gym; your instructor or coach does all the planning, you just show up and follow their instructions). I’m currently using this auto-pilot strategy and it’s working for me.
  • pack your gym bag and organize your workout clothes in advance; remove the early morning (or after work) decision-making by having your workout clothes chosen and set out the night before, a clean towel and water bottle in your gym bag and you running shoes, wallet and keys waiting by the door
  • schedule your meals for the week; grab a notebook (paper or electronic), create a list of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus and FOLLOW IT (here’s a free meal planning tool you can download, print out and fill in with your menu ideas)
  • simplify your diet; let go of the idea that a food needs to entertain and that a limited diet is boring; create two or three simple ‘go-to’ breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that are nutritious and complete. Tack them to the fridge door (or someplace else in the kitchen where you’ll see them). No more standing in front of the pantry wondering what you should eat and whether it will ‘fit your macros’.
  • create a grocery shopping ‘check-list’; create an electronic check-list of the foods you eat regularly, ordered according to the route you take through the grocery store. Print out a copy, stick it on your fridge and tick off items as you run out of them. This one simple task allows me to do my bi-weekly $300 Superstore shop in less than an hour.
  • cook once, dine twice; double the size of your dinners with the goal of incorporating left-overs into the next day’s lunch. Not only does this save you cooking and lunch-prep time, it also removes one more decision during your weekly meal planning task.
  • pack tomorrow’s lunch and snacks after dinner; super easy if you’re packing left-overs (they have to be put back in the fridge anyways) and you’ll be more likely to make healthy choices with a full tummy (and when you’re not in a rush)

These are just a few of the ‘auto-pilot’ strategies that I’ve tried and found useful.

What are your favourite tips for automating exercise and eating? 

 

 

Returning to fitness as a beginner

For the past week, I’ve been trying to decide what to focus on as I return to fitness after the loss of my daughter.

I know that I need to get back to regular strength training (I can already see muscle loss and a quick push-up test confirmed that I’ve lost strength as well).

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I know that I need to challenge my heart and lungs (while daily walks are a great way to add movement and reduce stress, they aren’t quite intense enough to stave off cardiovascular de-conditioning).

I know that I need to stretch more (my lower back has been bothering me from too much sitting and my achilles tendonitis has been flaring up despite having been away from step class for a month).

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I know that I need to return to a more balanced way of eating (the past month has been fuelled primarily by comfort foods; breads, pasta, baking and way too much wine).

I know that I’m not drinking enough water (it’s easy to tell; just check the colour of your urine).

I’ve been looking over past programs that I’ve written for myself and I have to say, my heart just isn’t into body-part splits or HIIT or pre-exhaust supersets. Not to mention that I’ve de-conditioned enough to make those inappropriate until I’m stronger and have more energy.

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I’ve come to the conclusion that the best place to start is back at the beginning.

Returning to fitness as a beginner. Following a program that’s short in duration and doesn’t require more than two or three days a week. Focusing on simple nutritional swaps and being more mindful of my body’s need for water and whole foods. Re-creating the exercise and eating habits that have kept me healthy and happy for many years. One step at a time. Day by day.

Rather than look elsewhere for the ‘perfect’ program, I’m following my own 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp.

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Three week of ‘easy entry’ workouts, daily coaching emails, health-promoting recipes and information to keep you motivated and sticking with your healthy habit goals.

(You can read all about it here >> 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp; just make sure you use the form below to register or you’ll miss my gift of a price reduction..).

Not too short, not too long and exactly what I need during the three weeks leading up to Christmas (our first without Clara). I’ll admit that it will be a bit odd getting daily emails from myself,  but it’s been a while since I wrote them, so I’m sure they’ll see fresh enough 😉 .

All proceeds from this week’s registrations will be donated to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Clara’s name. We are so grateful for the loving and compassionate care they’ve provided us with, from her first visit to cardiology as a 4-month old baby right through to her final days in I.C.U.

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Not only will participating in this program help you to improve your own life, it’ll help another child and her family in their time of need.

UPDATE: I’d like to thank all of you who signed up for this program during the week of December 1 through 6. Altogether, we raised $880 dollars for the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. I’ll be donating these monies in Clara’s name and attributing the donation to ‘Fitknitchick’s Friends and Followers’. 

 

 

 

A compassionate approach to exercise

The response to last week’s post, Returning to Fitness After Loss, was both comforting and overwhelming.

While I read every single comment and email and Facebook post, I found myself unable to respond to them, grief being still so very fresh. Sometimes all it takes is a sympathetic look or a gentle hug to start the tears flowing again.

Thank you all for taking the time to offer condolences, share experiences and suggest ways in which I might use exercise to help heal myself and move forwards, towards a ‘new normal’ with my family.

Some of you shared with me how running or yoga helped you through a period of loss.

Others suggested simply walking in nature as a soothing way to nourish both spirit and body.

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A few told stories of stopping exercise and abandoning healthy eating for as long as a year after the death of a loved one. And how they returned once again to fitness, when the time was right.

A close friend suggested an obvious solution to my anxiety about going back to a gym where I know everybody (and even in the absence of personal tragedy, can barely get through a workout without stopping to chat and acknowledge clients, class participants, colleagues and friends…); switch gyms for awhile. Brilliant!

Another friend suggested I just ‘do it’. (No offence, but Nike slogans don’t motivate me at the best of times 😉 ).

Many of you posted variations on the themes of ‘give yourself time’, ‘practice self-compassion’, ‘celebrate the small victories’ and ‘what you can, when you can’. Sound familiar?

Surprisingly, even though these themes focus prevalently in my fitness coaching practice, I’ve failed to apply them to myself. Sometimes the teacher needs to becomes the student.

I took all of your suggestions to heart, but in the end, realized that my biggest challenge right now is to reconcile the fact that what I need exercise for right now, is completely different for the reasons I needed it in the past.

Now is the time for finding joy in movement, feeling better in my body and minimizing the aches and pains that set in when I’m not exercising regularly. Bicep development, bench press PR’s and pull-up progress seem unimportant these days.

And that’s okay.

I need to take a compassionate approach to exercise.

I need to be gentle with myself and avoid comparisons of past progress and goals with where I am right now.

I need to plan a small number of short, weekly workouts and be willing to adjust my schedule depending on how I’m feeling on any particular day. Alas, I still can’t predict how I’ll feel by lunchtime, let alone tomorrow or the end of the week.

I need to keep up the daily walking routine my husband and I have created. Revisiting the paths and trails that Clara loved. These hand-in-hand outings provide the opportunity to talk about how we’re feeling and to shares thoughts and memories our beloved daughter. We recognize that tragedy can destabilize a marriage and are determined that ours remains strong.

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I need to let movement soothe me and still the blender of thoughts in my head.

I need to let members of my community share their condolences and sadness with me, knowing that even though it may move me to tears, others are hurting as well and only want to offer comfort and support.

I’m hopeful that by meeting myself where I am, doing less than I think I should and being present in the simple task of moving my body, I’ll be setting myself up for longterm healing and success. (This approach, coincidentally, is what I recommend for anyone just getting started with exercise, or returning to it after a hiatus…).

At least that’s the plan. A compassionate approach towards exercise.

And since it’s always worked for my fitness coaching clients, I’m hopeful that it will work for me, too.

 

 

 

 

Returning to fitness after loss

On Friday, November 6th the unimaginable happened. My beautiful, smart, funny, quick-witted, caring and joy-filled 13-year old daughter passed away.

Clara lived with pulmonary hypertension (you can read more about her story here); a disease that we always knew would shorten her life. What we didn’t expect was for it to happen at such a young age.

After being admitted to hospital Tuesday with a suspected case of appendicitis. Her condition deteriorated quickly and with each test, the news, and prognosis got worse. An asymptomatic, previously undiagnosed kidney tumour had ruptured and reduced her heart-lung function to the point that the only option the medical team had was to try and stabilize her long enough to remove the kidney. She suffered a cardiac arrest during the cardiac catheterization procedure and never recovered.

To say that my husband, two sons and I are devastated is an understatement. We are gutted and heart-broken and inconsolable, trying to reconcile what’s happened with the future we had envisaged for our family.

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Needless to say, exercise and healthy eating have been the farthest thing from my mind.

While I know that movement and energy-giving food will help me to deal with grief, the fact of the matter is, my heart aches, my lungs hurt and my body is incredibly weary right now.

I have very little appetite and am thankful for the friends who’ve stepped up to provide us with hot meals for today and for the freezer. I’m not eating my greens. Or getting enough protein. Remembering to drink water is an issue too.

I had no idea that grief could cause such a rapid loss in weight, muscular strength or fitness.

This week, my husband and I have committed to daily walks around the neighbourhood. Right now, the hills are almost more than I can manage and I have a much better understanding of how Clara must have felt when she accompanied us on walks that were challenging to her heart and lungs.

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I’m sharing this here because I know that many of you will have experienced a similarly debilitating grief and have found your way back to fitness after loss.

I would love to hear what helped you regain your physical strength, not to mention your courage to go back into the gym and feel the gaze of people who know your story and may not know whether to approach you or to talk with you about it.

I know that grief has no map and that it may be awhile before I’m able to teach group fitness, blog regularly and support my clients.

But I’m anxious to get back to doing what I do best; motivating and inspiring others to live a life full of movement and health and joy.

And taking care of my boys. Making sure they feel loved and supported as they move through their own experiences with grief and the relatively rare experience of losing a sibling in childhood.

xo ~ Tamara

 

5 Must-Have Exercise Books For Your Fitness Library

Whether you’re brand new to weight-lifting or a seasoned pro, getting better at your sport often means doing a little research. Spending some time watching exercise videos, or better yet, reading exercise books to learn a new exercise, improve your exercise form or find a new program to follow.

Traditionally, most of the strength training titles published focused almost exclusively on the goals and needs of men. In particular, young, virile, testosterone-fuelled men.

Don’t get distracted…Keep reading!

The needs of women were largely overlooked. Especially the needs of women who aren’t so much interested in getting ‘bikini ready’ (the focus of most fitness magazines) as ‘training for the sport of life’. Getting stronger, yes, but also becoming more capable of doing all the other activities we love, for today, tomorrow and a long time to come.

Fast forward to the mid-2000’s, where strength training titles for females exploded.

About time.

Fitnitchick’s 5 ‘must-have’ exercise books for your fitness library

 

Women’s Health Big Book of Exercise (2010; Adam Campbell)

A huge tome, not meant to be lugged back and forth to the gym (that would be a workout, in and of itself…), but perfect when you need to look up an exercise or find an alternative version of an old one that you’ve tired of.

The ‘Big Book’ is organized according to body part (Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms, Quadriceps and Calves, Glutes and Hamstrings, Core and Total Body). For each major muscle group, the ‘main moves’ (that is, the fundamental moves that need to be mastered) are described first, followed by variations of each exercise that can be performed with different types of equipment (body weight, barbells, dumbbells, cable and pulley machines, stability balls and even the TRX suspension trainer).

Each and every exercise is illustrated, with easy-to-follow exercise descriptions and form cues. There’s even a section of ready-made workouts at the back (‘The Best Workouts for Everything’), including workouts for athletes, pre-natal women, body-weight only fans and my favourite, crowded gyms.

 

The Female Body Breakthrough (2009; Rachel Cosgrove)

One of the first strength training titles specifically aimed at getting regular women into the weight room. In addition to a 16-week, progressive resistance program (a program that I return to whenever I get tired of my own programming and want to follow somebody else’s lead…), Rachel Cosgrove’s book also includes advice about mindset, exercise nutrition, hormones, goal-setting and emotional eating.

The workouts are well-illustrated and there are plenty of testimonials to her approach scattered throughout the book; perfect for those day when you need a little motivation, inspiration and re-assurance that the program works. And for those of us who love it when fitness professionals cite actual research studies to back their claims, a list of references to original research in the fields of physiology, sports medicine and endocrinology.

 

The New Rules of Lifting for Women (2007; Lou Schuler with Cassandra Forsythe and Alwyn Cosgrove)

Another title dedicated to encouraging women to take strength training seriously (the subtitle of the book; “Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess”…).

This books combines 16-weeks of progressive resistance training with a wealth of information on nutrition and eating for fat loss (including a variety of sample meal plans and recipes to support them).

The workouts are functional in nature (squats, lunges, dead lifts, rows, push ups) are rely heavily on standard weight room equipment (dumbbells, benches, barbells, cable and pulley etc.).

I love that the workouts are fairly simple in their design (typically 5-8 exercises, performed in super-set style) and don’t require more than 40-50 minutes in the gym. All exercises are illustrated with detailed instructions on how to perform them safely and with good form. This is another title that I’ve used extensively in my own training.

 

Kettlebells for Women (2012; Lauren Brooks)

Ever since I took my first kettlebell workshop, I’ve been enamoured with this relatively new-to-the-big-box-gym-goer tool. I love how it makes me feel strong and capable and bad-ass (despite the wrinkles and grey hairs…).

Because they’re not just simply a ‘weight with handles’, I recommend that all newcomers to kettlebell training either get some in-person instruction or find a good book or video to read and study before they set up for their first swing.

I think Kettlebells for Women is the perfect place to start. Beginning with a brief history of kettlebell training, the author outlines the benefits of using kettlebells (both in addition to and in place of traditional dumbbells and barbells) and provides suggestions as to the weight of bells the user should purchase (or have available to them) to maximize the benefits of her workouts.

The remainder of the book outlines a 12-week progressive resistance program. It includes 15 different workouts (with levels from beginner to advanced) and illustrated explanations of each exercise, including the exercises most frequently associated with kettlebell training; swings, cleans, windmills, snatches and the Turkish Get-Up.

The only downside to kettlebell training? The expense of the equipment. And the more frequently you do the workouts, the more quickly you’ll outgrow your equipment 😉

 

Ultimate Booty Workouts (2013, Tamara Grand aka Fitknitchick 😉 )

If you’re a relatively new visiter to this website, you won’t know that I published my first ever fitness title a little over a year and a half ago. Although titled ‘Ultimate Booty Workouts’, the book is much more than just an exercise program for building a better butt.

In it, I outline my fitness philosophy for women, including the importance of goal setting, tips for finding motivation, non-aesthetic benefits of strength training, nutrition to support your efforts in the gym as well as tips for measuring progress off and on the scale.

The program itself focuses on the core and lower body (hamstrings, glutes, calves and quads), with suggestions for incorporating upper body training and cardio into the 12-week program. All exercises are illustrated (you may recognize one of the models… hint, hint), as are the suggested warm up moves, stretches and foam rolling exercises. There are even blank workout templates for you to photocopy and take with you to the gym.

Curious as to what it was like to actually write a fitness book AND model for the photo shoot? I shared my experiences here and here, respectively.

 

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Books make great Christmas presents. Especially the last one 😉

Do you have any titles to add to my fitness library?

Any books that have been particularly helpful to you as you progress with strength training?

5 Exercises for a Strong Lower Back

Whether you’re brand new to strength training or have been lifting weights for years, chances are you’ve had some experience with lower back pain. (If you are a newbie, congrats!  Here are some great ‘get started’ with weight lifting posts for you to read).

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Not the ‘OMG I can’t move my legs’ pain; that’s indicative of a serious injury and needs medical attention stat.

But rather that nagging ache that comes and goes and forces you to take a few days off training, seek some relief on the heating pad and pop an Advil or two before bed.

Most lower back pain is mechanical in nature. Meaning that it’s not caused by injury per se, but  by muscles that are weak, inflexible or out of balance with the muscles around them.

The most likely culprits?

Weak or inhibited glutes, weak abdominals, tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors. The very same muscles that are required to perform the exercises that form the foundation of most strength training programs; squats, lunges, dead lifts and overhead presses.

exercises for a strong lower back

Ineffective recruitment and coordination of the lower body’s ‘power muscles’ increases the stress and force on the lower spine, setting the stage for a variety of conditions ranging from mild muscular strain to ruptured disks.

The good news is, most lower back pain is preventable. Try adding the following five exercises to your regular strength training program to strengthen your lower back and reduce your risk of injury.

The added bonus of a strong lower back? Your’ll likely be able to squat heavier and dead lift more.

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5 exercises for a strong lower back

Bird dog

Come on to all fours, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Tighten abdominals and simultaneously lift and extend the right arm and left leg so that they’re both parallel to the ground. Keeping hips square and level, hold for 3 to 5 seconds before returning to the starting position. Pause and repeat with the left arm and right leg. Continue alternating until you’ve competed a total of 8 to 10 repetitions.

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Hip bridges

Start by laying on your back, with knees bent and feet on the floor. Tighten your bum cheeks and belly to lift your torso up and off the floor. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Lower, rest and 8 to 10 times.
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Modified clam shells

Lay on your side with hips and knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Top knee and ankle should be directly over the bottom knee and ankle. Flex your feet and using the side of the top leg, lift the top leg up to open the hip. Imagine that your bent legs are the top and bottom shells of a clam and your pelvis, the hinge. Slowly lower and repeat. Complete 10 to 12 repetitions on each side.

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Front plank

Come into forearm plank, on either knees or toes. Forearms will be on the floor, parallel to one another, with elbows directly underneath shoulders. Tighten abdominals and glutes to lift and hold your body in a straight line. Keep shoulder blades retracted to encourage the muscles of your upper back to participate in the exercise. Hold for 30 s. Rest and repeat twice more. (Once your toe plank is solid, you can make this move more challenging by lifting one foot off the ground and turning it into a 3-point toe plank).

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Prone chest raise

Lay face down on a yoga mat, with legs wider than hip distance apart and feet flexed. Place hands behind your head, with elbows bent and fingers interlace. Inhale, then exhale as you use your glutes and lower back to lift your chest up and off the floor. Pause at the top before slowly lowering yourself back to the ground. Rest and repeat for a total of 8 to 10 reps. (Once you get good at this one, you can progress to the back extension machine in the gym).
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Of course, don’t forget to book-end your workout with some stretching for those overly-tight hamstrings and hip flexors. You can find sample hamstring stretches here as well as the essential stretches every midlife exerciser needs to be doing here.

Just getting started with exercise? Or coming back to it after time off due to injury? My 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp is the perfect, low-intensity, short-duration, whole-body workout program to help get you on track. Click here to purchase and get started today!

5 Signs your Fitness Mindset is Holding you Back

Do you ever find yourself wondering why other women seem to be more successful than you at reaching their health and fitness goals?

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Why your best friend can enjoy wine and dessert without ever gaining a pound, while you diligently stick to your lunchtime salad and can’t lose one? Why the woman on the spin bike next to you hardly breaks a sweat during a steep climb, while you’re barely keeping up and there’s a lake under your bike at the end of class? How the woman who’s always in the squat rack at the gym never seems to miss a day of training, while you struggle week after week with consistency?

Chances are your mindset is holding you back. Those unspoken beliefs about yourself, your abilities and your capacity for change.

Wondering if your head is hampering your progress?

Here are 5 signs your fitness mindset is holding you back:
  1. You’re resistant to trying a new approach, even when the old approach isn’t working (what’s that quote about the definition of insanity?)
  2. You use limitations as excuses (time, energy, equipment, injury…)
  3. You have unrealistic expectations and are quick to judge yourself
  4. You’re threatened by other women’s successes
  5. You’ve been convinced by the media that weight loss and muscle gain are easy (lose 10 pounds in a week!)

In my experience, women who make consistent progress towards their health and fitness goals share a few key attitudes;

  • They focus on change and growth, rather than restriction and limitation. Exercise isn’t viewed as simply a way of cutting calories. Food isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad‘, just a way to fuel your body to perform well and feel good. If the old approach to eating and exercise stops working (as it often does for women in their 40’s), they’re open to exploring new solutions. They see change as potential, not something that threatens and scares them.
  • They concentrate on what they can do, rather than what they can’t. Limitations can either stop you cold or force you to work around them. Whether you’re working through a knee injury, don’t have much time for exercise or are travelling and don’t have access to your regular workout equipment and foods, focusing on the things you have control over and letting go of those you don’t is key to feeling good about the process.
  • They aren’t threatened by the success of other women. Success isn’t a zero-sum game. Just because your girlfriend can squat 100 pounds doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to some day as well. Her victory doesn’t come at the expense of yours. Celebrate the successes of other women and use them as motivation and inspiration rather than letting them trigger thoughts of inadequacy and failure.
  • They don’t expect it to be easy and aren’t afraid of hard work. The biggest myth perpetuated by the fitness and weight loss industry is that results are yours for the taking. ’21 days to a bikini body’, ‘drop 2 dress sizes in a month’, ‘lose 10 pounds in a week’ headlines trick us into thinking that our goals can be met quickly and without very much effort. Expect the work to be challenging, but rewarding. Both during the process and ideally, for the rest of your life.

Remember, you already know everything you need to do to successfully reach your health and fitness goals. Don’t let your fitness mindset hold you back!

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