If there’s one thing all athletes and many of the rest of us have in common – it’s that they want a strong core.
But you shouldn’t simply want a strong core for the aesthetic value of a six-pack (although that’s nice, too). Both men and women should be working their core for all the benefits it brings to your workouts and athletic performance.
Why have a strong core?
Because you need one. Your core is involved in a lot more exercises than you think – not just planks. You use your core for everything – deadlifts, bicep curls, bench press, and everything in between. By focusing on your main lifts and neglecting your core, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Incorporating more ab exercises improves every aspect of your training and gets you closer to your goals. A strong core improves your balance, stability, and form – which are fundamental to athletic performance as well as every other exercise. It may also improve posture and reduce back pain, according to Mayo Clinic. Harvard Health also published that strengthening your core shouldn’t just be an athlete’s concern – a strong core makes everyday activities easier, like housework and gardening. The good news is that you don’t need to dedicate entire days to this multi-tasking muscle group. All you really need is a few simple moves after your main workouts for no more than 20 minutes.
If you want to become a better overall athlete, here are some ab exercises to try out after you hit the weights:
For this exercise, you’ll need a weighted plate or medicine ball with which you sit down, cross your legs, and lift the plate or ball up.
From there, there are a couple of variations you can explore:
- Tucked-arm: For the energetic and rapid, this one’s for you. This Russian Twist variation calls for tucking the plate/ball close to your chest, and moving it from to side-to-side quickly, touching the floor by your hips. Challenge yourself and see how many you can squeeze in a minute.
- Extended-arm: For those who take it slow and steady, you may give this a try. Instead of trying to fit in as many reps as possible, set a fixed amount of reps for extended-arm Russian Twists. Instead of crunching in your arms, hold them out straight with your plate/ball in hand. Keep your arms extended and parallel to the ground while you twist 90 degrees from side-to-side. Don’t rush this one – complete about 5-10 twists each side with a three second hold after each twist.
You can’t go wrong with this staple move. If you’ve ever walked into any fitness facility before, there’s a 99% chance you’ve seen someone doing classic forearm planks. The classic version of this exercise consists of getting in the ‘up’ of a push-up position, then placing your forearms on the ground for support while keeping your body parallel to the ground.
If you’re more of a rebel, you can try adding these variations:
- Alternating planks: Make sure you find a comfortable surface to do these on. For these, start in that ‘up’ of a push-up position. Then one-by-one, you’ll switch your arms with your forearms continuously from 30 seconds to a minute. Hence the name ‘alternating’ planks – simply alternate from the ‘up’ position to a forearm plank position.
- Wave planks: Begin in the classic forearm plank position. Instead of planking still waiting for the time to pass, dip your hips down from side-to-side without arching your back. This works your obliques and not just your front abdominal muscles.
Yoga Ball Exercises
Large yoga balls are flexible pieces of equipment used for building a strong core, and every other muscle you can think of.
If you get your hands on one of these, be sure to break in your new ball with these exercises:
- Swiss Ball Crunch: If you remember the proper way to do crunches from your middle school P.E. exam, you should get the hang of this one right away. Lay down on a ball with your knees at a 90 degree angle and your back parallel to the ground. From there, just pump out your average crunches. By doing these on the ball, you can target your core more efficiently.
- Knee Tucks: Probably the most challenging workout on this list, this exercise will definitely strengthen your core. Place your hands on the floor, and your feet on the ball (your soles should be facing the roof). Next, just tuck your knees into your chest, bringing the ball forward. As simple as it is, you’ll feel the burn after just ten reps.
It’s okay to go all out at the gym – as long as you’re not overlooking your core. There are countless other core exercises that you can learn from the personal trainers at Thrive Fitness. Email us today at email@example.com to get started on shredding your abs and building a stronger core.
Don’t just sit there. The research is out there and the statistics are in. Beyond the obvious facts that sitting or lying down for long periods can cause back pain and decrease muscle, there are significant risks to your health. Each should be a strong motivator to get up and active!
The Health Risks of Physical Inactivity:
- High Blood Pressure
- Higher Risk of Obesity
- Decrease in Skeletal Muscle Mass
- May Increase the Risk of Certain Cancers
- Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
- Elevated Cholesterol Levels
- Coronary Heart Disease
- Contributes to Anxiety & Depression
Tips to Get Active at Work:
For many who have a job behind the desk, it’s important to incorporate movement into your daily routine. Here are a few tips from the trainers at Thrive Fitness:
- Each hour, get up from your desk to walk or stretch.
- Incorporate a yoga ball into your seating to reduce strain on your back.
- Try a standing desk, treadmill or bike desk vs. a traditional desk or cubicle
- Turn your lunch break into a fitness break. Visit your gym or stroll the streets near your office to clear your lungs, maintain or build muscle and improve circulation. (By the way, this is a naturally effective way to boost your mood, focus & energy too!)
- Wear a FitBit, Apple Watch or other fitness / app technology that will keep you informed on your daily activity and steps to help keep you accountable.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator
- Don’t eat at your desk (or at home on the couch)
- Try “movement meetings” with team members or family – take a stroll down the street or a nearby park instead of a meeting room.
- Walk or bike to work (and when running errands)
Getting the Proper Amount of Exercise
When at home and on weekends, here are some great tips to ensure you’re getting the right amount of exercise and activity in your life.
- Limit TV & Smartphone time (this includes television shows to video games)
- Partake in exercise & leisure activities 4-5 times per week. (Gym time, swimming, walking, running, sports, yoga, biking… to get your heart rate pumping and rev up your metabolism).
- Don’t take the “lazy” way out. Every day can benefit from simple activities such as walking the dog, doing household chores, running errands, taking stairs and more.
On top of all the benefits of exercise and being active, rest easy knowing the efforts will help you sleep better, slow aging, enhance your mood and libido, speed up your metabolism, boost immunity and you’ll have fewer health issues throughout your life.
Take the first, important step into fitness. Contact Thrive Fitness for a free consultation. Thrive Fitness offers personal, partner and small group training, body-scan technology, on-site nutritional guidance, specialized training for athletes to seniors and more. Learn more at www.ThriveFitnessAtlanta.com.
Healthy Choice Hacks
Cook instead of eating out.
Even if you try to eat healthy at a restaurant, that pesky bread bowl or sneaky salad may pack more calories than you planned for. Trust your inner Top Chef skills, and turn on the (skillet) heat. Cooking at home will more likely result in a healthier meal, not to mention a happier wallet.
Eat whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.
A glass of O.J. contains very little of the pulp or skin from an orange—and none of the fiber content. Skip the glass, and go with the whole piece of fruit to reap the full nutritional benefits of this sweet, healthy snack (and save some calories while you’re at it).
Pan-fry food instead of deep-frying it.
Obvious news flash: Deep-fried food is unhealthy. Keep things crispy by pan-frying lean protein or veggies in the skillet with coconut oil. We promise it’ll be just as tasty!
Buy local produce instead of supermarket veggies.
Take a trip to the farmer’s market instead of the mass market produce aisle. According to the USDA, locally produced fruits and veggies that are in-season may be more nutritious. And it supports local farmers, too!
Use oil and balsamic instead of processed dressings.
Ever flip that dressing bottle around and see a million ingredients listed? Think “less is more,” and lightly dress a salad with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar—no additives included!
Eat raw spinach instead of iceberg lettuce.
Let’s be real, iceberg lettuce is boring and lacks nutrients. Spinach is a flavorful alternative – it’s full of vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, and iron. Plus, Popeye loves it, so you can’t go wrong!
Use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
Crave sour cream in your burrito? To get that same creamy coolness, add a dollop of plain Greek yogurt. You’ll amp up the protein and slash the fat.
Sprinkle cinnamon instead of sugar.
Here’s a spicy suggestion: Use cinnamon instead of sugar packets to heighten the flavor of coffee without adding extra calories. Try it in oatmeal, too!
Choose salsa instead of cream-based dips.
Dip chips into this fiery, flavorful alternative to cheesy spreads to get extra nutrients for fewer calories.
Eat frozen grapes instead of a Popsicle.
It’s like eating bite-sized Popsicles with no artificial added sugars!
Drink sparkling water instead of soda.
Try a fun flavor like lemon-lime or even vanilla if you don’t like straight soda water. Need some sweetness? Keep it natural by dropping in a half or whole packet of Stevia.
Top pancakes with fresh fruit instead of syrup.
There’s nothing like a good stack of pancakes every now and then. Cut calories by skipping the maple syrup, (especially since many syrups on the market today aren’t made of maple at all!).
Snack on air-popped popcorn instead of chips.
Craving something to munch? Air-pop some popcorn, and add a dash of sea salt—three whole cups is only about 100 calories. That’s way more satisfying than six greasy chips.
Order red wine or beer instead of a margarita.
You’ll drink about half as many calories. Your body will benefit from the antioxidants in red wine plus its believed to help improve cholesterol, fight free radical damage, fight obesity and cognitive decline, and help manage diabetes.
Choose brown rice over white.
White rice is stripped of many essential nutrients (like fiber… which is great for healthy digestion).
Choose whole-wheat pasta.
Unlike regular pasta, whole-wheat pasta has a nutty flavor that’s filled with antioxidants and fiber.
Eat oatmeal instead of sugary cereal.
Options like Cap’n Crunch and Frosted Flakes are filled with sugar and artificial ingredients, while oatmeal boasts heart-healthy benefits. Choose the right oatmeal: reach for steel cut or rolled oats, never processed, to keep your diet lean, clean and nutrition-rich!.
Pack a lunch instead of eating out.
Bonus: That vending machine will look far less appetizing after you eat the meal you pack.
Eat at least three times a day instead of skipping meals.
When you don’t make the time to squeeze in a midday meal, you end up feeling tired and grouchy—and you set yourself up for overeating later.
Use mustard instead of mayo.
For tomorrow’s turkey sandwich, skip the fat-filled mayo and spread some tasty (and naturally fat-free) mustard on the bread.
Spread avocado on bread instead of butter. Add a dash of sea salt and some sliced tomato for a great midday snack.
Choose lean meats and seafood instead of fatty ones.
For a boost of protein without the fat, choose lean meats like turkey, bison, fish and chicken over pork and beef.
Opt for marinara sauce instead of white sauce.
We doubt penne a la vodka is made with Grey Goose, so the extra calories in white sauce aren’t worth it.
Get a doggy bag instead of overeating.
To avoid eating more than planned, ask the waiter to wrap half of it up before it even gets to your table.
Chew slowly instead of quickly.
What’s the rush? Studies show people who eat faster consume more calories. Enjoy your food and all it’s flavor, and chew thoroughly to aid digestion. It takes your brain 20 minutes to recognize the status of your appetite so give it time to catch up!
Eat at the table instead of in front of the TV.
Dining in front of the television can lead to serious overeating.
Eat breakfast instead of sleeping in.
It may be tempting to hit the snooze button more than once in the morning, but allow some time for breakfast—it will help jump start your metabolism and helps wakes your brain and body before you head to work.
Order black coffee instead of a latte.
If that caffeine fix is calling, order a simple black coffee. A soy-mocha-extra-shot-Frappuccino extravaganza isn’t worth the calories (or cash).
Choose toast instead of a bagel.
A single bagel can be the caloric equivalent of five slices of toast, so fight that craving and enjoy a slice or two of whole-wheat bread instead.
Use a medium plate instead of a large one.
Smaller plates (about eight to 10 inches in diameter) can save you more than 20 percent of the calories you’d eat in a larger-plate-sized serving. Same goes for utensils and beverages by the way! Smaller quantities equal less over-consumption.
Eat cereal from a bowl instead of a box.
A few mindless handfuls of cereal can turn into more than a bowl-sized serving.
Eat hard-boiled eggs instead of fried eggs.
Who needs extra grease in the morning? Drop some eggs in boiling water, and cook them up for a protein-packed breakfast. Still want to scramble? Try new microwave-inspired poaching pans to cook them up simply and perfectly without oil.
Eat with chopsticks instead of a fork.
It may be a challenge, but it’ll stop you from speed-slurping those noodles.
Go grocery shopping when you’re full instead of when you’re hungry.
People spend more when they shop hungry—and choose less healthy foods.
Stop when you’re full instead of when you clean the plate.
A plate half-full means more leftovers and fewer calories!
Eat raw nuts instead of nut butter.
Nut kinds of butter contain more fat and sugar than raw nuts. Plus, it’s easy to overeat peanut butter.
Nap instead of sipping on an energy drink.
Energy drinks can pack as much sugar as six doughnuts, while catnaps are always calorie-free.
At Thrive Fitness we offer on-staff diet and wellness counseling with our certified nutritionist, as well as Thrive Healthy Meals (nutritionally balanced and made fresh, personal to order, with clean local ingredients). Email us today to learn about your BMI and nutritional needs at firstname.lastname@example.org.