10 ‘crunch-free’ exercises for a stronger core

Physiotherapists, kinesiologists, strength and conditioning coaches and pelvic floor specialists are all in agreement; regular and excessive performance of sit-ups and abdominal crunches can place un-due stress on the lumbar spine, exacerbate tight hip flexors and lead to destabilization of the pelvic floor.

Just what we fabulous over-40 women need right? Lower back pain, poor posture, urinary incontinence and pelvic organ (i.e., vaginal) prolapse (as if hot flashes, muscle loss and menopot weren’t indignities enough…).

Still not convinced to give sit-ups a rest (or at least downplay their role in your workouts)?

What if I told you that sit-ups and crunches will only lead to a visible ‘six pack’ if you’re able to get your body fat percentage down into the mid-teens. (For reference sake, female body builders are around 10-12 %.)

And that they won’t really improve your athletic performance or prevent those injuries caused by the activities of every day life?

Suddenly crunches aren’t sounding all that great, are they?

Try working the muscles of your core the way nature intended them to be used; as spinal stabilizers (both with and without movement), spinal flexors and extenders and rotational powerhouses.

Below you’ll find 10 of my favourite “crunch-free” exercises for a stronger core; two for each of the five primary core functions.

Choose one exercise from each category. Hold the static stabilization move as long as you can, then perform 8 to 10 repetitions (on each side, where applicable) of each of the other four exercises, one after the other, circuit-style. Beginners may find one round challenging enough. More advanced exercisers can repeat a second and even a third time.

10 ‘crunch-free’ exercises for a stronger core

Static stabilization:

1. Plank: Planks can be performed on forearms or hands (aka ‘high’ plank) and from knees (less challenging) or toes (more challenging). When holding a plank, concentrate on bracing through your midsection, squeezing your glute cheeks tight, pulling shoulders back and down and maintaining a straight line from your knees (or heels, depending on the variation) to your neck. If your lower back starts to curve or your shoulders creep up towards your ears, come on down. Never sacrifice good form just for the sake of extending your plank another few seconds.

Plank options - exercises for a stronger core

 

2. Resistance band anti-rotation hold: Loop a resistance band around a pole, post or other sturdy, vertical support. Stand at 90 degrees to the anchor point, feet shoulder width apart and with a slight bend in your knees. Grab both handles of the band in your hands, extend arms in front of you at belly button height and step away from the post to create resistance on the band. The greater the resistance, the more you’ll be working your anti-rotation muscles. Concentrate on keeping your torso upright, without leaning in towards the post. Hold for as long as you can. Switch sides and repeat. You can perform a variation of this exercise on a cable and pulley machine, using a standard D-ring and adding as much weight to the stack as necessary to generate an appropriate resistance on your obliques.

Dynamic stabilization:

3. Walk-up-walk-down plank: The exercise can be performed on the floor or with hands placed on either a weight bench (less challenging) or the dome side of a Bosu (more challenging). Come into forearm plank position, on either knees or toes. Bracing through your midsection, ‘walk’ your hands, one at a time, up until you’re in a high plank position. Without rotating through your torso, ‘walk’ your hands, one at a time, back down into forearm plank. Continue ‘walking’ up and down, alternating which hand you’re leading with.

'Walking' plank - exercises for a stronger core

4. Side plank and row: Loop a resistance band around a pole, post or other sturdy support at floor level (I’ve used the leg of a heavy sofa, in a pinch). Come into side plank, with either your legs fully extended and stacked one on top of the other (more challenging) or with knees bent and feet behind you (less challenging), forearm on the floor, with elbow directly under your shoulder  Make sure you’re far enough from your anchor point that when you grab the handle of the resistance band and extend your arm directly out in front of you, there’s already considerable resistance on the band. Maintain a perfect side plank (shoulders stacked one on top of the other, hips stacked one on top of the other, lower hip up and off the floor) and row the handle of the band in towards your underarm. Slowly return to starting position and repeat, making sure that you’re not giving in to the urge to rotate the upper body towards the anchor point. Complete all reps on one side before switching to the other. This exercise can also be performed on a standard cable and pulley machine, using a D-ring and with the cable set at the lowest position.

Flexion:

5. Stability ball roll-in or pike: Come into a high plank, with hands directly underneath shoulders and feet resting atop a stability ball (make this exercise a little easier by placing the ball under your shins or even your thighs). Keeping upper body stationary, roll ball in towards your chest, either bending at the knees (a roll-in’) or keeping legs straight and lifting hips up into an inverted ‘V’ (pike). Return ball to starting position and repeat.

Stability ball roll-in - exercises for a stronger core

6. Lateral trunk flexion: Start by standing with feet hip distance apart holding a dumbbell, kettlebell or weight plate in each hand, down by your sides. Hinging at the hip, lean upper body down and to the right, feeling a pinch between rib and hip. Engage through your core and use the muscles on the opposite side of your body to pull yourself back up to the starting position. Concentrate on slow, controlled, full range of motion movements, resisting the urge to lean forward or backwards.

Extension:

7. Prone chest raise: Lay on your mat, face down, with arms at your sides, hands directly underneath shoulders. Spread your legs slightly, placing the tops of your feet firmly on the mat. Take a deep breath as you tighten your quads and glutes, lifting your chest up and off the floor with the muscles of your lower back. Avoid pushing with your hands and hyper-extending the back; you needn’t lift more than six inches off the floor to feel the effects of this movement. Slowly lower yourself to the ground, pause and repeat.

Prone chest raise - exercises for a stronger core

8. Back extension machine: Position yourself over the back extension machine, such that the cushions rest just below your hip bones. Lock your heels under the foot rest. Placing hands across your chest (or holding a weight plate at chest level, for more challenge), relax your calves, hamstrings and glutes as you bend at the hip to lower your upper body towards the floor. Engage the muscles of the lower back to lift your torso just high enough that your body forms a straight line from the back of your ankles to the back of your neck. Avoid lifting more than 10 degrees about 180; hyperextending the back can lead to rapid fatigue and injury.

Rotation:

9. Medicine ball diagonal rotation: Start by standing with feet slightly wider than hip distance apart, toes pointed forward or a little bit out. Holding a medicine ball (or dumbbell if you don’t have access to a ball) between your hands, bend slightly at the knees and rotate your torso to the left. Energetically lift the ball diagonally across your body, from outside the left knee to above and beyond the right shoulder. Pivot on the left foot and rotate the torso as you do so. Return to the starting position and complete all reps before switching sides. The focus of this move should be on the upwards phase of the lift.

10. Russian twist on the ball: Start by coming into ‘table-top’ position on a stability ball; your head and shoulders will be resting on the ball, feet will be on the floor with knees bent and hips pressed up towards the ceiling. Holding a single dumbbell between your hands, extend arms directly up and over your chest. Rotate arms and torso down to the right, shifting your weight so that the ball rolls under the right shoulder.  Brace your core and return arms and weight to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating until all repetitions have been completed. Concentrate on keeping your arms long and holding the weight as far from your body as you can. Beginners should limit their range of motion until they become confident in their ability not to fall off the ball.

Russian twist on the ball - exercises for a stronger core

The above essay is part of YakkaFit’s monthly “10 on the 10th” blog link-up series. I’m looking forward to seeing what my fellow bloggers came up with this month!

I regularly share fitness tips, exercise tricks and nutritional information with my readers and blog subscribers. Get on the list, avoid FOMO (‘fear of missing out’) and grab a copy of my FREE e-book (“5 Steps to Exercise Happiness”) by leaving your name and email below.

#FatblasterFriday | ABSolutely Amazing All Abs Workout

Everybody wants amazing abs. The trick? Eat clean and work them consistently; 2-3 times each week and to fatigue each and every time.

Last spring, I had abs that I was proud of. I had all but eliminated added sugar from my diet and was training hard and consistently. Lots of all abs workouts.

all abs workout

Sadly, those abs are currently in hiding. Thanks to an injury that side-lined my training for much of the summer and a few too many trips to the ice cream shop 😉

In fact, in response to a recent photo I posted on Instagram, somebody actually asked if I was pregnant! (Note, doesn’t everyone know that you NEVER ask a woman if she’s pregnant, not unless she’s on the way to the hospital to deliver???)

all abs workout

But I’m determined. Those abs will reappear by Christmas time, come hell or Halloween treats (of which I’m having NONE!).

Today’s #FatblasterFriday is an all abs workout, baby.

ABSolutely amazing abs will be yours (and mine!) if you just commit to doing this workout 3 times per week. And don’t forget to progress the exercises (make them harder, that is), to keep on stimulating muscle growth and abdominal definition!

#FatblasterFriday Amazing All Abs Workout

1a. Plank + leg abduction (15 reps)

1b. Side plank + core rotation (15 reps)

Repeat 1a and 1b on opposite side

2a. V-sit push-aways (15 reps)

2b. V-sit + core rotation (15 reps each side)

Repeat 2a and 2b

3a. Diagonal crunch with foot on knee (15 reps)

3b. Reverse bridge glute squeeze with leg press (15 reps)

Repeat 3a and 3b on opposite side 

 

Don’t forget, your subscriptions MAKE MY DAY! Comments and Tweets would be LOVELY too!

Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

Bosu balance trainer workout and a new Tuesday Trainer video

One of my favourite fitness tools is the Bosu balance trainer.

Essentially, it’s a stability ball, cut in half and mounted on a hard, flat piece of rubber. It can be used dome side up (for beginners) and platform side up (for more advanced and stable exercisers). I like to use it both ways (BOth Sides Up)!

 Bosu group fitness class

Great for challenging your balance and adding a bit of instability to your workouts, I often use it with my clients to improve

  1. knee and ankle strength; just standing on the dome side forces all the little stabilizer muscles surrounding the knee and ankle joints to wake up and turn on (you’ll also feel it in your inner thighs). Try closing your eyes!
  2. balance and kinesthetic sense; knowing where your body is in space (“proprioception”) is helpful for avoiding slips and slides and falls
  3. knee tracking; often knees ‘drop’ inwards or ‘splay’ outwards during lunges due to weak quadriceps. Stationary lunges or squats on the Bosu can help strengthen the vastus medialis and reduce or eliminate the knee tracking problem. Just make sure that knees are staying above the ankles during movement

Balance training is an important part of a well-rounded fitness program. It improves your posture, functionally strengthens your core and adds an interesting challenge to exercises you may already have mastered on a stable surface.

Here’s a sample workout that I’ve done with my weekly Bosu Blast class.

Bosu balance trainer

You’ll need a Bosu balance trainer, some light to moderately heavy dumbbells and a mat. Make sure your running shoes are tightly laced; after a few minutes of marching on the dome, your feet may feel like they’re sliding around in your shoes. And avoid wearing short shorts; during seated Bosu work, they tend to ‘migrate’ upwards (think ‘wedgie’). Enough said.

The workout has 6 parts; I’ll describe the first five (with examples of increasing difficulty) and leave you to stretch on your own!

  1. Balance and proprioception
  2. Dynamic warmup
  3. Speed and agility (cardio)
  4. Strength and conditioning
  5. Core specific exercises
  6. Stretch

Balance and Proprioception

  • standing on dome side; arms at sides or extended out from body or overhead, eyes open or closed
  • 1/4 squat and hold; arms extended at sides, eyes open or closed
  • single leg balance; non-supporting foot touching side of dome, pressed against calf of supporting leg, extended straight out to the side (‘tree pose’)
Dynamic Warmup
  • marching on and off the dome; increasing speed
  • marching or jogging on top of the dome; high knees
  • mini-squat jumps
  • lateral squat (one foot on top, one on the floor beside); up to balance knee
Speed and Agility (perform 30 s of each at high intensity with 15 s rest between)
  • fast feet; marching on an off as quickly as you can with pumping arms; switch lead leg 2nd time through
  • squat or tuck jumps; arms out front or hands behind head
  • tire runs; one foot on dome, one on floor; switch sides 2nd time through
  • Bosu burpees
  • Bosu straddle jacks or straddle squat jacks
Strength and Conditioning (perform 10-12 repetitions of each movement, no breaks between; rest and repeat)
  • dome (or platform) squat with bicep curl to shoulder press
  • platform power pushups (from knees or toes); drop, hold at bottom, slowly push up
  • split lunge with lateral raise (back toe on dome or platform); lift arms as you push up out of the lunge
  • bent over reverse flys (on dome or platform); both arms together or alternate arms with torso rotation
Core (hold static positions for 30 s, perform 10-12 repetitions of movements; rest and repeat)
  • V sit on dome (hands behind for support/knees bent/legs extended/arms across chest/arms extended)
  • Bosu sit to stand crunches; sit low on dome, weight in hands, lean back, curl up and push through feet to stand
  • platform plank tilts; holding handles, plank from knees/toes; alternately press hands down towards floor, pausing to regain balance in the centre before pressing to other side
  • belly on Bosu back extension; hands on floor/feet on floor/hands behind head/feet lifting

Whew! That’s a lot of words to describe a workout. Maybe I should have shot a video? (Do you want me to???)

A big thank you to Lindsay for giving me the idea for today’s post. This week, Tuesday Trainer is all about balance training. Here’s my video contribution:

For more great balance exercise videos head on over to Lindsay’s List!

Do you incorporate balance training in your fitness routine?

Have you ever tried an extreme balance board? Makes the Bosu balance trainer look like a piece of cake!

 

 

Foodie pen pals package and my favourite (after-chocolate) core move

Today’s the ‘big reveal’ day for those of us participating in April’s ‘Foodie Pen Pals’ program. Don’t know about Foodie Pen Pals? Here’s the deal.

Once a month, blogger extraordinaire, Lindsay (The Lean Green Bean), collects the names and email addresses of foodie bloggers and blog readers who want to participate in a culinary exchange. Participants are matched up according to country of residence and asked to contact their pen pal to get information about dietary preferences, food allergies and lifestyle. Then, the shopping begins!

Packages are to be mailed by the 15th of the month and contain no more than $15 worth of treats. On the last day of the month, participants ‘reveal’ the contents of their Foodie Pen Pal package to the world! (No worries if you’re not a blogger, you just get to enjoy your treats!).

This is my second month participating and I have yet to be disappointed with the contents of my care package.

Clearly, Sarah (of The Laughing Medusa) did her research. (If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you’ll certainly know what my favourite treats are!).

She included a (large!) bar of organic dark chocolate flavoured with Earl Grey tea. The tastes and texture complemented each other perfectly! I had a hard time stopping at one square…so I didn’t. (You can blame Sarah for the exercise video below; after finishing the chocolate I felt compelled to do some core work as an antidote!).

Although I absolute adore nut butters, I’ve never come across either of the two flavours Sarah included; pecan and coconut. I love that they’re packaged as individual servings and can be thrown into my purse to use as apple toppers (or just squeezed out of the plastic tube, straight into my mouth). I need to find a place to buy these locally! Very yummy!

 The quinoa was served as an accompaniment to salmon and roast veggies. While I normally don’t buy pre-packaged food, I could easily make an exception for this brand! Sun-dried tomato and basil are two of my favourite flavours to add to rice and grains and this brand does it without being too salty for my tastes.

Thanks Sarah, for introducing me to some wonderful foodie finds! And after you’ve opened and eaten YOUR Foodie Pen Pal package, join me in a few sets of the waistline-whittling Russian Twist! (This was the video I had planned to make for last week’s Tuesday Trainer, before I got side-lined with the flu).

Interested in joining May’s Foodie Pen Pals? Instructions can be found here, in addition to links to the rest of this month’s ‘Reveal’ posts!

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to explore the rest of my site. And don’t forget to subscribe; you’ll automatically be notified each time I publish a new post!

(Both e-mail and RSS options can be found by clicking on the relevant social media button under my photo, top right hand corner of the page)

Is your fitness program balanced?

Source: gymnasticscoaching.com

A balanced exercise program typically includes four types of training; (1) cardiovascular, (2) strength, (3) core and (4) flexibility. Cardio for heart health, strength for muscle size and bone density, core for functionality, and flexibility for injury prevention and ease of movement.

Most people however, spend upwards of 75% of their exercise time on a single, preferred component!

Body builders lift weights almost exclusively. Yoga enthusiasts focus primarily on flexibility. Runners are the kings and queens of cardio. Those seeking a six-pack do endless crunches. I do it too; despite knowing how important stretching is, I usually rush it at the end of my strength workouts.

While there’s nothing wrong with favoring one type of training over another, athletes (meaning anyone who moves their body regularly, including you and I!) whose programs are balanced tend to perform better, for longer and with fewer side-lining injuries than those who stick to training only a single fitness component.

By all means, continue with your preferred type of training (studies show you’re much more likely to do it if you enjoy it!), but be honest with yourself and think about the training components that you’re neglecting. Aim for a more even balance of the four, perhaps reducing the frequency of your staple workout to just 60% of your training time and filling in the remainder with a combination of the other three.

My fitness goals for the fall include improving my flexibility and increasing my core strength. I’ll be adding a weekly yoga class to my schedule and committing one of my weight room sessions to functional core training.

Look for a longer, leaner, ‘bendier’ me by Christmas!

It’s Fitness Friday Blog Hop day again. Click on the image below and check out some really cool fitness blogs!

Life As I See It [Fitness, Health and Happiness]

What’s your favorite type of training? Are you a die-hard runner or a gym rat?

What can you do to balance out your fitness routine?