Women's Core Training Tips

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What areas do Pilates abs exercises target?

Pilates Abs Workouts Build Core Strength

Strengthening the core muscles of the body is one of the principles of Pilates. Many books, fitness DVDs, and classes promote “Pilates abs,” but these ab exercises aren't unique to Pilates. Pilates abs exercises are essentially any exercise that focuses on the deep abdominal muscles that stabilize the core of the body.

By contrast, variations on abdominal crunches and sit-ups work the rectus abdominus (the six-pack muscles on the front of the abdomen). For a truly solid core, include both classic crunches and deep muscle or “Pilates abs” exercises into your core fitness workout plan.

Here's a deep ab exercise to try:

  • Start by lying on your back.
  • Pull your knees towards your chest and place your hands behind your head. Be sure not to lock your fingers or pull on your neck!
  • Bring your left elbow towards your right knee while extending your left leg straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor. Hold the position long enough to exhale, then repeat on the other side. Repeat five times on each side for a total of 10 crisscrosses.

   
Why do I need abs workouts?

Abs Workouts Improve Sports Performance

You may say, “I run, bike, do aerobics, so I don't need abs workouts.” But if you want to take your sports performance up a notch, you'll make time for your abs. Strong core muscles provide a firm platform for all your sports activities, from running to golf.

If you're a runner with strong legs, that's great. But if you ignore your core, the weak muscles in your hips and low back won't give your legs the support they need for peak performance during longer or faster runs. Similarly, if you are a golfer, a stronger core body gives the stability to your arms and legs as you extend through the full range of motion in a golf swing.

Your hips, knees and shoulders are more susceptible to sports injuries without strong core muscles to support them. Think of your movements during sports as part of a chain of motion. The movement of your arms and legs actually begins with the spine, and that's why a strong core will help you in any sport.

What's the best way to enhance your core strength? To work many core muscles at once, invest in a fitness ball and learn a few core-strengthening abs workouts that you can do at home. You'll notice that you feel stronger during sports, and you'll reduce your risk of injury.

   
How can I relieve tension in my low back?

Get Back To Back Basics

Back workouts are an essential part of a fitness program. Chronic tightness and pain in the low back is an unfortunate side effect of many desk-bound jobs. But a few simple stretches can go a long way towards combating the tension in the back that's caused by extended sitting.

The low back, in particular, is an area that is hard to relax. Try this simple back workout: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands under your head or let your arms rest along your sides; whichever is more comfortable. Using controlled movements, tighten your butt muscles and abdominal muscles at the same time to flatten your lower back against the floor. Hold the position for five to eight seconds, and then relax. Repeat two to three times. This exercise targets both the butt and abdominal muscles, which will improve your posture while sitting and standing, and provide better support for your lower back.

   
What are the interanl and external obliques?

Let's Twist Again: Working Your Obliques

The internal and external obliques are the muscles that begin by your waistline and make an "X" across your torso. Both the internal and external obliques initiate movements and exercises that involve rotation. This is why you will notice that golfers and tennis players, provided that they adhere to a healthy diet and practice aerobic exercise, have impressive definition in this area.

If you are performing a 10-minutes abs workout, the bicycle maneuver is considered the best exercise for the internal and external obliques.

  • Lie on the floor and lift both legs. Make sure that your lower back pressed to the ground. If it is not, simply raise your legs a bit higher.
  • Rest your fingers lightly on your head, just above your ears.
  • As you bend your right knee, rotate your torso and bring your left elbow towards the knee. Make sure that your left hip stays on the ground.
  • Then, switch sides. For more challenge, wrap a resistance band around your feet as you perform this exercise. Instead of placing your hand behind your head, hold on to the band. As you bend your knee, bend the corresponding elbow. keep the opposite arm as straight as possible.

Pilates abs routines as well as Swiss ball abs exercise workouts also feature a variety of exercises that make good use of the internal and external obliques. Some people like to hold small medicine ball while performing these exercise. This adds more resistance, and therefore more challenge to the routine.

   
What is the Reebok Core Board?

Reebok Core Pilates

By now, you probably realize that adding deep core work to your abs workout can make an enormous difference. The Reebok Core Board is one of the best pieces of abdominal equipment, because it can be used for the entire body. It was created by Alex McKechnie, who worked as a physical therapist to Canada's World Cup Soccer Team.

Like many other physical therapists who specialize in athletic conditioning, McKechnie been using a wobble board, which is a platform built on a half-sphere or rockers, for a number of years. Unfortunately, he found that the wobble board was only minimally effective. This was due to its passivity: As McKechnie's athletes shifted their weight from one side to the other or from front to back, the board passively moves in the same direction. When he designed the Core Board, he added qualities of recoil and torque. Although the Core Board can rotate, twist and tilt in any angle, like a faithful puppy, it always returns to its original position.

This creates a highly dynamic form of training. If you move to one side, the board exerts a force that will move you in the opposite direction. In 1999, McKechnie joined forces with Reebok to create the Reebok Core Training Program. One of the key benefits of the Core Board is the fact that it is a progressive form of exercise. A knob at the bottom of the board controls how "wobbly" it will be. Beginners and senior citizens can tighten the knob, thereby giving the board less movement. As proficiency develops, the knob can be loosened to create more movement. This will present a significantly greater challenge.

A few years later, Reebok fitness presenter Lisa Wheeler and physical therapist Elizabeth Larkham created the Reebok Core Pilates program. Larkham is known as an innovator of Mind Body movement techniques for fitness, clinical, entertainment, arts and academic settings. She has transformed the Pilates technique by taking a Feldenkrais approach to mat and apparatus vocabulary. In doing so, she infused the traditional Pilates method with exercises that promote core control and rotary movement arcs. The result is movement that is functional, healing, and aesthetically pleasing.

Larkham has worked as a Pilates and Dance Medicine Specialist with the San Francisco Ballet, Cirque de Soleil, and at the Center for Sports Medicine at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital. While directing the Saint Francis program, she developed Pilates protocols for rehabilitation of a variety of orthopedic and spinal injuries.

Since many of these exercises can be rather challenging when performed on the Core Board, be sure to master them on the floor before adding a balance challenge. Here is an example:

  • Lie face up on the Core Board.
  • Start with your knees bent and in alignment with your hips.
  • Calves parallel to the ground.
  • Hands are behind your head. Fingers are unclasped. Elbows are open.
  • Contract abs so that your back is in contact with the board
  • Lift head, neck and shoulder blades off the board.
  • Inhale to prepare.
  • As you exhale, extend your left leg and rotate your upper body towards your right bent knee. Be sure to keep your left hip on the board.
  • Inhale as you pass through center.
  • Keep your head and shoulders lifted.
  • Exhale as you switch sides.
  • Continue alternating for 10 repetitions. (One rep = a rotation to each leg)

   
What are some of the principles of Pilates?

What are the Principles of Pilates?

In many fitness centers, Pilates is one of the most popular types of abdominal exercises for women. In order to make the most of your Pilates abs workout, it behooves you to adhere the basic principles of Pilates:

Concentration: This refers to the body-mind connection, which makes consciously aware of your movements.

Control and Precision: In a Pilates abs workout, you are never just “going through the motions.” Make use of your concentration skills to perform precise, accurate movements, which will result in impressive muscular definition.

Breathing: In a Pilates class, when you exhale, your deeper abdominal muscles, called the core musculature, press against the diaphragm to assist in expelling the air. This helps you use your transverse abdominal muscle. Observe your stomach as you do this. Doesn't it look flatter? Think of a balloon. If you wanted to flatten the balloon, you would let the air out. Your stomach works the same way.

Centering: All Pilates abs exercises initiate from the core, and flow outward to the extremities. Many people refer to the Pilates Powerhouse, the front to back area between the pubic bone and the ribcage. It includes the lower back muscles, stomach and the upper buttocks. Learning to engage these muscles enhances coordination, as well as the appearance of your entire body.

Fluidity and Continuity of Movement: Pilates exercises flow in a continuous sequence with each other. This enhances grace and movement efficiency.

Integration: You will find that many of the Pilates exercises work a few muscles simultaneously, which makes it a highly functional form of exercise. This also means that your abs are still working as you perform exercises for the other body parts. How cool is that?

Alignment: Postural alignment is an important element of the Pilates method. As your mother probably told you, when you stand up straight, your abs look flatter.

   
What types of exercises can I do do on the stability ball?

The Stability Ball: The Ultimate Core Exercise

Although we think of the stability ball as a modern exercise form, its origins actually date back to 1963. That year, an Italian toy manufacturer decided to make toys using vinyl, as opposed to rubber. Due to their increased longevity, they rapidly gained popularity. Eventually, the balls were used throughout Europe in rehabilitative settings as therapy for orthopedic clients and stroke victims. In 1966, Dr. Elspeth Kong experimented with using the balls to develop a ski program for disabled children.

Joanne Posner Mayer, an American physical therapist who was enthusiastic about this idea, went to Switzerland to study with Dr. Kong in Switzerland. Upon her return to the states, she wrote the definitive book about stability ball training. In 1990, she founded Ball Dynamics International in Colorado. Lindsay Zappola, a physical therapist/Pilates instructor, began to work for her. Lindsay incorporated the balls in her work with the US Ski Team. Ball Dynamics, Resist-a-Ball and the Paul Chek Institute were the three organizations that influenced the use of the balls in a fitness setting.

Excitement about the balls increased when an article published in the June 2000 issue of Physical Therapy cited an experiment done at the University of Waterloo that used electrodes to test the effectiveness of various abdominal exercises. The findings of this experiment impressed the fitness industry. When the curl ups were performed on uneven surfaces such as the ball or wobble board, the muscular contractions of both the obliques and the rectus abdominus nearly doubled. The curl ups performed on the ball with the feet on the floor quadrupled external oblique activity. This feedback convinced the authors of the study that unstable surfaces create the need for more stabilization of the spine, which is a function of the obliques.

Below are the standard recommendations for ball sizing:

BALL DIAMETER USER HEIGHT

  • 30 cm. ball (12 inches) Child or non-sitting exercise
  • 42 cm. ball (17 inches) Under 5 ft.
  • 55 cm. ball (21 inches) 5 ft. to 5 ft. 7 in.
  • 65 cm. ball (25 inches) 5 ft. 8 in. to 6 ft. 3 in.

   
What is the difference between the transverse abdominal muscle and the rectus?

Introducing Your Core Muscles: The Rectus Abdominus and the Transverse Abdominal Muscle

Today, "core exercise" is a catch phrase in the fitness industry. May people assume that when people refer to core exercise, they are talking about abs workouts, such as sit-ups, crunches and any other the other 10-minute workouts that are popular at women's fitness centers. However, this is only partially true, Sit-ups and crunches work the rectus abdominus, which are the most superficial muscles of the abdominal region. This is the muscle group that is responsible for flexing your torso. When you get out of bed in the morning, you are using your rectus abdominus. However, there are deeper core muscles that play a more significant role in your health and appearance.

The Transverse Abdominal Muscle is often referred to as the TVA. As the deepest abdominal muscle in your body, the transverse abdominal muscle is your natural internal girdle and weight belt. Its primary purpose is an important one: This muscle supports your lower back when your body is in an upright position. Therefore, activating this muscle enhances you posture and prevents back pain. Studies have found that people who activate their TVA prior to lifting heavy object are less likely to experience back problems.

The transverse abdominal muscle is active when you exhale. It presses against the diaphragm to help you expel the air. Therefore, when performing ab workouts, if you exhale when you flex your spine, you will be activating your transverse abdominal muscle along with your rectus abdominus. In addition you regular ab workout, this simple exercise should be performed 10 times daily. Take a breath in. As you exhale, pull your belly in, as if you were trying to draw your navel to your spine. Hold your belly tight for ten seconds. Eventually, it will enjoy staying that way!

   
What does core stability mean?

Know Your Core Components

When fitness articles or gym instructors talk about “core muscles,” what do they really mean?

Your body's “core” is your center of gravity, which is the area around your trunk and pelvis. Strong core muscles provide a firm platform for all your sports activities, and for the activities of everyday life. Weak core muscles increase your risk of developing low back pain, poor posture and other muscle strains.

“Core stability” means that the muscles in your pelvis, hips, abdomen, and lower back are working together to support your spine. That's why abdominal exercises for women are so important.

Believe it or not, there are 29 core muscles in your trunk and pelvic area, and the best abdominal exercises for women are the ones that work several of these muscles simultaneously.

Start these two simple moves that you can do anywhere:

  1. Abdominal crunch (or sit-up) in whatever variation you like; start with two sets of 15 repetitions. Concentrate on using your abs, rather than pulling your head forward with your hands, and focus on quality, rather than quantity. You don't need to do 100 sit-ups; do 30 in which you focus on a full range of motion and you can really feel the abs working.
  2. Plank position: This is the pre-pushup position. Place your hands on the floor and curl your toes under to lift your body away from the floor. Keep your hands positioned directly underneath your shoulders. Focus on pulling your belly in towards your spine, but keep breathing smoothly. Try to hold this position for 20 seconds.

   
How can I lose my love handles?

Get On The Ball To Lose Your Love Handles

The often-maligned “love handles” are caused in part by weak oblique muscles, the muscles that run along the outside of your trunk. One of the best ab exercises for women to tone your trunk and whittle your waist is the stability ball twist.

Here's how to do it:

Lie with your back on a fitness ball and your feet flat on the floor. Hold a small medicine ball between your hands and extend your arms up towards the ceiling. Keeping your butt on the ball, slowly rotate your torso to the right so that your arms are parallel to the floor and your knuckles are pointing towards the side wall. Hold to exhale, then slowly rotate back to the center and repeat on the other side. Start with a few repetitions to each side to get the feel of this exercise and try to work your way up to three sets of 10 repetitions.

   
What is Integrated Training?

Adding Core Exercise to Your Weight Training Routine

It is quite possible to integrate strength training with core exercise. The technique, which was developed by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, is known as Integrated Training. First, you perform a traditional strength exercise, either using a machine or free weights. For your second set, you work the same muscle group using a piece of balance equipment. Keep in mind that you should perform the balance exercise either without weight, or with a lighter weight. Since the balance exercise will involve greater use of your core muscles, you will be getting an ab workout even as you work your legs and upper body.

The Integrated Training program can either be performed at the gym, or in your own home. Nowadays, most gyms have stability balls, balance boards and Dynadiscs. You can always bring a Dynadisc with you if your gym does not have any. For those of you who do not have a gym membership, most of the weight training exercise can be performed with resistance bands.

   
What is the pelvic floor?

What is the Pelvic Floor?

The muscles of the pelvic floor have an important job to perform. They are responsible for supporting and protecting your internal organs. Pregnant women are often taught to activate their pelvic floor by imagining that they are trying to stop the urine flow. There are called "Kegel" exercises. A more palatable way to do this is to imagine an elevator traveling up the center of your body. You can also visualize a hammock drawing up underneath you.

For best results, Kegels should be performed 10 times daily. Like the transverse abdominal muscle, the pelvic floor works to support your back, which will in turn improve your posture. Many women's fitness instructors will advise you to engage your pelvic floor when performing Pilates abs exercises, as well as Swiss ball abs exercises. This will help you maintain balance as you perform the exercises. Older women are also encouraged to practice Kegel exercises in order to prevent urinary incontinence. Women of all ages should practice kegels for another important reason: It improves your sex life!

   
What is the Bosu?

Ab and Back Exercises on the Bosu

The innovative Bosu is one of the best pieces of equipment for ab and back exercises. It is shaped like a dome, and can be used on either its dome or platform side. because it challenges your balance, exercises performed on the Bosu will engage your deep core muscles. For example, you can perform a basic crunch with your feet on the platform side. As you curl your torso from the floor, if your core muscles are not properly engaged, the Bosu will "wobble."

The Bosu is also an excellent piece of equipment for performing ab and back exercises simultaneously. Place the Bosu with its dome side up. Lie down and extend your head and shoulders over the dome. Bend your knees, and keep your feet flat on the floor. Rest your finger tips at the edge of your head. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, curl your torso, and focus on your knees. Inhale as you return. You will be doing an ab exercise on the curl, and a back exercise on the extension.

   
Can I target trouble spots in a 10-minute workout?

Find 10 Minutes For Targeted Fitness

Ideally, a 10-minute “express workout” won't be the limit of your fitness regimen, but 10-minute workout plans, such as those found in women's fitness magazines, are designed to help you target trouble spots, such as abs or hips. You can find 10 minutes for abs, and then you can focus on your long run or bike ride when you have a long block of time, knowing that you already did your ab workout.

For example, a 10-minute abs workout may include two minutes of five different exercises that will help trim your waistline and build strength in your core muscles. One abs exercise that is a popular part of these workouts is the walking lunge with rotation.

Here's how to do it:

Stand with your feet hip width apart. Hold a small dumbbell in both hands and extend your arms in front of you.

Step your right foot forward and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle to come into a lunge. At the same time, rotate your torso to the right, keeping your arms straight and parallel to the floor while you hold the dumbbell. Exhale and return to a standing position, then repeat to the other side. Alternate for two minutes, moving smoothly and with control.

Other elements of a 10-minute ab workout may include a seated torso rotation or alternate side torso twists while lying on the floor.

   
How can I target my lower abdominal muscles?

Targeting the Lower Abs

The lower abdominals are one of the most difficult areas on the body to target in terms of strength training. There are effective workouts that will target the lower abdominals. Try laying on you back with your hands palm-down underneath your lower back. You knees should be bent so that your feet are flat on the floor. Slowly move you legs up so that they are perpendicular to the floor while keeping your knees pointed toward the ceiling. Repeat this move for as many repetitions as you can maintain proper form. See a trainer for more moves that will target your lower abs.

   

Pilates for Everyone

As pilates continues to grow in popularity, it is time for you to get in on the action! Even with no prior pilates experience, once you have a primer on the movements and philosophy, you will reap the benefits. Sign up for a class so an instructor can help your perfect your technique and then take it on your own. You will feel leaner and stonger and have better body awareness using muscle the you never knew you had.

   
How can I strengthen my lower back?

Targeting the Lower Back

The lower back is one area on a woman's body that is especially vulnerable to stress and injury. However, there are a lot of exercises that you can do to strengthen the lower back and prevent pain and injury. Start by laying on the floor, face down and legs stretched out. Bend your elbows so that your palms are directly underneath your shoulders. Next, using your back muscles, lift your chest up off the ground as high as possible without straining. Your palms and legs will also lift off the ground. Repeat several times wile maintaining proper form. See a trainer for more moves that will strengthen your lower back. If you have or have had any back injury, talk to your physician before beginning back-strengthening exercises.

   
What does the term 'core muscles' refer to?

Core Muscles

Your core muscles make-up the muscles that are attached to the trunk of your body. This includes the muscles your abs, obliques, your shoulders, pectorals, and all the muscles on your back. Having a strong core can help improve exercise form and technique, thereby decreasing your risk of injury. Strong core muscles also improve your posture, which not only makes you look taller and leaner but can also help prevent overuse and injuries related to long hours at a desk or in front of a computer.

   
Which core muscles should I focus on?

Remember Your Back

Most women focus too much attention on building their abdominal muscles and not enough attention on the muscles in their backs. While many people might consider the abdominals to be more important aesthetically, having a strong back is very important, too. Research shows that up to 70% of women will suffer back pain at some point in their lives. Keeping strong and healthy back muscles is the most important thing a woman can do to prevent back pain.

   
How much should I be working my core muscles?

Working Your Core

Core training is important, but it is easy to go overboard. When you are working a muscle, you are actually breaking it apart. As your body heals your muscle, it makes it stronger so that it won't break down so easily next time. Working muscles every day disrupts this process and can actually result in weaker muscles. Take crunches, for example: In the case of the crunch, you are likely to be using neck and back muscles instead of your abdominal muscles to do the bulk of the work. This can result in serious injury. When working your core, aim for high-quality repetitions of each exercise on three non-consecutive days every week.

   
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Patricia Walters-Fischer
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