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The Plank is one of the most versatile full-body exercises you can do. As I tell my Pilates classes, the beauty of the Plank is that it never gets easy, just easier … and when it does, there are plenty of ways to make it harder.
Basic Plank: Get into a push-up position, with arms directly in line with the shoulders. Tuck your abs in tight, and maintain a straight line from your head down to your toes. The key here is to focus on maintaining a flat plane – as I like to say, no butts and no bellies (this takes the tension away from the abs, instead putting pressure on the low back or the shoulders).
Depending on your fitness level, there are a number of variations:
- To make it easier, you can change your position to hands and knees, forearms and toes, or forearms and knees.
- To make it harder, you can lift one foot, one arm, or one arm and the opposite foot at the same time.
- If you have a Swiss ball, you have a few more options. To position the ball at the upper body, you can keep both feet (or knees) down on the ground, with forearms or straight arms on the ball. To position the ball on the lower body, you can roll out so that the ball rests anywhere below the knees (out to the toes), with straight arms (top of a push-up position).
- If you have a medicine ball of any weight, you can do several variations to the Swiss ball Plank. One option includes placing both hands on the medicine ball, with the weight either in your toes or knees. For another, you can place the toes on the ball, upper body balanced by the hands or the forearms.
- Feeling adventurous? Place the medicine ball under one foot, and extend the other foot back and off the ground. It may take a few tries to get the footing down, but you can get adjusted easier if you start with the ball against a wall. To switch feet, bring both feet onto the ball, and roll to the other side so your body is still in proper alignment. It’s TOUGH!
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Welp, it’s January. For us regular gym goers, it’s the worst time of the year. For maybe 3% of those gung ho about their resolutions to get fit, it’s the beginning of a lifestyle.
Last week, I wrote a post about how newbies can successfully get started on their new workout routines. Now that the gym is starting to fill up, and all the regulars are feeling their style a little more than cramped, I wanted to share a few suggestions to the new folks – trust me, follow these bits of advice, and you won’t stick out like sore thumb.
Just park already. One thing I’ve never been able to figure out are the people who drive around in circles, hunting for a parking spot close to the entrance. HELLO! You are at a gym! WALK!
Clean your machines when you are done. I watched a woman sweat all over a treadmill yesterday, then just walk away. Gyms stock wipes and/or cleaner every five feet for a reason – because nobody wants to touch your sweat (heck, I don’t want to touch my own sweat). It’s cold and flu season, people. Don’t be nasty.
Be mindful of other peoples’ space. I’ve never understood the people who will just waltz in and park themselves an inch away from you. Or those who take over entire sections of the gym (and more often than not, are doing nothing). I actually overheard a regular talking to one of the managers yesterday … describing the situation in which a guy tried to fight him after he encroached on the space he clearly was already using (yes, I was eavesdropping, because I couldn’t believe this actually happened).
Always re-rack your weights. Nothing makes me crazier than tripping over dumbells (usually close to my bodyweight) or not being able to find what I’m looking for. Use it, put it away. Your mother doesn’t work in your gym (and if she’s like mine, she’d make you clean up after yourself, anyway).
Stop creeping. Yes, machines are at a premium this time of year. That is no excuse to sit there and stare at someone, willing them to finish what they are doing so you can pounce on their machine (yes, this happened to me tonight. Girl was STARING at me a foot away from my treadmill. It was a little unsettling).
…and stop waiting while you’re at it. Just because you have your heart on a run today doesn’t mean you don’t have plenty of other options. While I may not like it, on many occasions I’ve changed up my plan simply because I’d rather spend my gym time working, rather than waiting. Try something new instead of just standing around!
Most of all, never be afraid to ask questions. Those of us who are just as likely to be in the gym on July 1 as we are on January 1 will respect you a lot more if you make an effort to learn the how and why of what you are doing, rather than wandering aimlessly around the gym (or worse yet, ending up injured as a result of bad form). Good luck – the effort is worth it!
Having taught Pilates for close to seven years now, there is one comment I’ve heard a lot: “I don’t have abs.”
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: yes, you do. You might not be able to see them (but seriously … do you know what your body fat percentage has to be to see a six-pack?), but I promise you, they are there. So, what can you do to strengthen – and possibly even whittle – your middle? Here are a couple great Pilates exercises proven to do the trick:
Rollup Start lying on the floor, with your legs straight and your arms outstretched behind you. Inhale, lifting your hands to the ceiling, and exhale as you pull your body forward, reaching toward your toes. Inhale the hands back to the ceiling, and slowly lower yourself back to the floor. Make sure your legs stay grounded the entire time – if your feet pop up, you’re using your legs, rather than your abs, to lift you up (that’s the hard part).
Double straight-leg stretch (a.k.a. leg lift)Start lying on the floor, with your feet extended to the ceiling. If you have any back issues, you can place your hands underneath your hips for additional support; otherwise, they are fine flat on the ground. As you inhale, drop the legs straight forward until your low back tells you it’s time to stop. Once you hit that point, exhale to return the legs to your starting point. To make it harder, you can lift your head and shoulders off the mat, and lightly rest your hands on your ears (never pull your neck).
Criss-cross Let’s start by saying this is NOT a bicycle crunch – it’s a reach with a twist. Start with hands behind the head, legs bent at 90 degrees. Twist so that one shoulder (not elbow) reaches toward the opposite knee, and sw
So, you’ve made the decision to get fit this year. You’ve told everyone about your resolution, bought some new workout gear, and you’re ready to go.
Or are you?
This is a good question to ponder as you go about starting your new routine. It’s easy to get excited, but for many, that enthusiasm wears off as time goes on, and what was once your goal for 2014 is now your “eh, maybe next year.”
What can you do to make sure your commitment to get fit turns into a lifestyle, rather than just a passing phase? Here are a few tips to try on for size:
Make a plan. Know your schedule, know your body, and know what you want to accomplish. I’ll never be an early-morning, before work workout person – but I have the discipline to still get to the gym every night. Find the time and place that works for you. It can be a gym, a studio, or that old treadmill in your basement or DVD in your living room, whatever you know you’ll enjoy doing.
Hire a trainer. Or nutritionist. Or both. Depending on your goals, you may need to bring in the expert. Most people (myself included) don’t realize how much they don’t know until they hire a professional. I went to the gym for six years before I hired a trainer … and in six months I saw more results than I did in those six years going it alone.
Share your goal … and stick to it. Peer pressure doesn’t stop in high school. If you really want to change your life this year, don’t your food-pusher family talk you into a doughnut, or your social circle force you to skip a workout. It’s your life, and you decide what you make of it.
Have FUN! Remember when you were a kid and you used to run around the backyard? It was fun, right? It was also exercise. So whatever you choose to do, make it fun, and you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Find a class, a running group, or a workout partner to look forward to seeing when it’s exercise time.
Diets don’t work. Sporadic exercise doesn’t work. What does? Keeping with your commitment, and embracing a healthy lifestyle. I’m not saying treats are forever off the table (I’ll admit to my own killer sweet tooth), or that you have to live in the gym – but like so many other areas of our lives, it’s a matter of maintaining balance. You get out what you put in. It will not be easy. Some days you may hurt. Some days that cake may not stop screaming your name. You will fall down. But you have to get back up. Hope to still be seeing you around the gym in March!
Getting into exercise can be intimidating … but it doesn’t have to be! Check out this guest post from Sharon Freeman on how to overcome exercise shyness, and get started on building a better you!
Women are shrinking violets when it comes to exercising outdoors.
According to British non-profit Mind, nine out of 10 women refrain from outdoor physical activity due to low self-esteem coupled with high self-consciousness. They tend to exercise late at night, if not pass up entirely.
Mind’s findings back up a report by Deadline News contending that more and more Scottish women are patronizing 24-hour gyms to exercise at ungodly hours when crowds are sparse.
Psychologists have long compared the effects of outdoor exercise to those of antidepressants, which are used in treatment of anxiety and mild or moderate depression. But it can be hard to drive this fact to women, especially those who are stubborn.
Surveying 1,450 women aged over 30, Mind estimates that two out of three women feel conscious about their body shape when exercising in public. Sixty-percent of respondents feel nervous about their bodily reactions to exercise e.g. blushing, sweating and farting, as well as how their movements look like to others.
To cope with such insecurities, more than half of respondents admitted to exercising late at night or in the early morning hours. Nearly two-thirds prefer locations where they are least likely to meet people they know.
Hugh Mullan, who runs an all-day and all-night gym in Glasgow, was initially surprised by the late-night turnout in his facility. But he eventually figured this phenomenon.
“What we find is that a lot of women in particular are self-conscious and the idea of a 24-hour gym where they can come either early morning or late at night when it is quieter is definitely something that appeals to them,” he said.
The question is – are you one of these women? Do you feel shy exercising around other people? Conquer your fears with these tips:
1. Try changing your mindset. Resolve to improve your health and practice ignoring your negative thoughts. Motivate yourself to exercise by thinking of family and friends, many of whom would want to see you live a long, happy, and disease-free life.
2. Get some company. Exercise with a friend. He or she can give you moral support and help you commit to your goals. There is strength in the proverbial numbers.
3. Enroll in a beginner’s program. To minimize feelings of embarrassment, take a class tailored to your fitness level.
4. Practice at home. Do your moves in front of a mirror, if only to prove you don’t look stupid. Doing your moves before you hit the gym also serves two other purposes. First, you improve your form. Second, you can plan what workouts to perform at the gym. (The Internet, books and magazines are rife with free workout ideas.)
5. Skip the gym entirely. The money you cough up for months-long membership fees and travelling to the facility might be better spent on home equipment. You can work out in your own time, at your own pace, and without a trainer to micromanage you.
6. Don’t forget dumbbells. In addition to resistance equipment, dumbbells are important to activate stabiliser muscles, resulting in muscle mass gain and enhanced metabolism. Start with light weights and work your way up; lifting heavy weights too soon only leads to torn muscles.
7. Some exercises can be done at home anyway. Jumping jacks, crunches, and band pulls can all be done in the comfort of your home. They are the perfect cop-outs from exercising outside.
8. Run inside. If you’re not ready to jog outside yet, try doing it indoors. The trick is to run in place as fast as you can for 10 minutes. But you can always invest in a treadmill for your home.
When you’re overweight or obese, you may feel being excluded by society because of your condition. But you aren’t. Mind’s survey underscores the fact that 90 percent of women, fat or thin, can empathise with you.
Even if other women don’t share your timidity, choose to ease yourself into a healthy attitude of not caring about what others think. With your health on the line, strive to move just a bit every day. For now, it is better that you’re exercising in the wee hours than not at all.
Just remember: Don’t look pretty to exercise, exercise to look pretty.
Sharon Freeman is a fitness specialist writing about companies like North Shore Health and Fitness