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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

Revealed: The 6 Best Beginner’s Exercises for You to Get a Strong Core

Revealed: The 6 Best Beginner’s Exercises for You to Get a Strong Core

Ab season is quickly approaching. For some, it’s a time for lazy days spent in a bikini or a breezy shirtless run at sunset. For others, it’s a time for weak dieting attempts and sad, sporadic bouts of ab exercises. The result, most likely, will be a two pack (if you’re lucky) by summer’s end.

This article is for those of us who want to look good and find ourselves frustrated by the never-ending quest for the perfect midsection.

What Exactly Do We Mean by Core Muscles?

The abs (a.k.a. the abdominal muscles) are only a small fraction of your core muscles.[1] Your core is a complex series of muscles that includes your entire trunk region. It involves everything except your arms and legs. It is involved in almost every movement of the human body.

The diagram below gives a general overview of the muscles that make up your core:

    Having A Strong Core Isn’t Just for Looking Great. It Has Much to Do with Your Health!

    Our core has three-dimensional depth and functionality. Many of the core muscles are hidden beneath the exterior musculature, underpinning everything you do.

    Here are a few health benefits of having a strong core:

    • It prevents back injury and eliminates back pain. Your core is your body’s stabilizer. Most back pain and injuries are caused by postural alignment problems[2] or poor posture. Poor posture is the result of weak lower back muscles.[3] A strong core is your spine’s best friend.
    • It helps you perform everyday functions more efficiently and without pain. No matter where motion begins, it flows up and down the adjoining links of the chain – which is your core. Weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function. The ability to bend down to put on shoes, turn and look behind you, sit in a chair, take a bath, dress yourself, or simply stand still all heavily depend on your core.
    • It improves posture. Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Maintaining good posture is important because it lessens wear and tear on the spine and assists in your ability to breathe deeply.
    • It improves athletic performance. Strengthening your core makes your workout more effective and efficient. A strong flexible core provides stability, prevents injury, and improves your range of motion.
    • It improves physical appearance. Having a great physique isn’t and shouldn’t be the top reason for having a strong core, but it definitely is a motivator. A firm and flexible midsection makes you look taller, thinner, stronger, and more confident.

    Common Core Myths You Need to Stop Believing

    Now that you understand why having a strong, flexible core is important, you’re probably ready to hop on the floor and start banging out some crunches.

    Slow down tiger. Before you begin working on your abs let’s discuss some popular misconceptions on training your core.

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    • Core strengthening exercises are the key to flat abs. Abs don’t come from the gym; they come from the kitchen.[4] The portion of the abs that are visible (or that you want to be visible) are hidden beneath a layer of fat. This means you have to reduce your body fat. This is done by exercising and by eating clean. Eliminate processed foods and follow this one simple rule: If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.
    • Sit-ups and crunches are the key to great abs. Huffington Post writer Ben Greenfield[5] gave the perfect illustration on why crunches are not only ineffective but harmful to your back over an extended period of time. He says,

    “Imagine your spine is a credit card. In the same way that repeatedly flexing and extending a credit card will eventually lead to wearing out of the plastic, repeatedly doing crunches can put damaging strain on your back.”

    • Isolation exercises work best. Wrong! Your core is the body’s stabilizer and force transfer center and not a primary mover.[6] This means instead of doing hundreds of isolated exercises such as crunches or back extensions you should perform functional, compound movements like deadlifts, overhead squats, and pushups.

    Best Core Exercises for Beginners

    Now you know what your core is, understand how it functions, and are eating clean, it’s time to hit the gym! Below are some of the best core exercises for newbies:

    1. Low Plank

      The plank is one of the best exercises you can do for your core because it builds isometric strength and helps sculpt your waistline and improve your posture. It is a 360 core toner, meaning that it targets the muscles all the way around the core. It also targets your glutes and shoulders.

      During this exercise remember to keep your breathing slow and controlled. Try to maintain a straight line from your head to your toes.

      How to:

      • Start in pushup position on the floor.
      • Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders, and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet.
      • Hold the position for as long as possible being careful not to allow your hips to raise or sink.
      • Try to maintain a straight line. Your goal should be to work up to holding it for two minutes.

      Modification: Standard Plank form is a great modification for this move (remain in pushup position with hands positioned directly beneath your shoulders).

      2. Bird Dog Crunch

      Bird Dog Crunch strengthens the lower back and abdominals while improving balance and stability.

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      The first tip in practicing Bird Dog Crunch is to make sure you are on a mat or soft surface. During the movement be mindful of your breathing. Inhale as you tuck under and exhale while extending your opposite arm and leg out. Make sure that as you extend your arm and leg you are tucking your belly button in to keep your back strong and stable. Also try and be as still as possible as you move. Don’t allow your back to move side to side.

      How To:

      • Kneel on the mat on all fours. Reach one arm straight forward, drawing in the abs, and extend the opposite leg straight behind you, keeping it in the air.
      • Then bring the elbow and knee in towards your center. Try to get them to touch. As you round your back remember to draw in your abs. Repeat 10 reps then switch sides.

      Modification: When extending your leg behind you allow, it to touch the floor.

      3. Standing Bicycle Crunch

      This move targets the obliques and rotational trunk muscles. It also improves balance and coordination. Because this is a standing move, it lowers the risk of neck strain and lower back injury.

      When preforming the Standing Bicycle Crunch be sure to keep your abs tight through out the entire movement. Also, this move should be performed in a slow and controlled manner. The slower you go the harder your abs work.

      How To:

      • Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward.
      • Place your fingertips behind your neck with your elbows pointing out to the sides, in line with your shoulders. Inhale and contract (tighten) your core.
      • Raise your right knee up across the body as high as you can to your chest. Simultaneously twist your torso to the right and draw your left elbow toward the lifted knee so that you can feel the crunch. Exhale during the movement.

      Modification: Perform the move with one hand against the wall.

      4. Alternating Seated Leg Lifts

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      Seated leg lifts work your abdominals, lower abdominal region, pelvic muscles, and your hamstrings.

      When performing this move be careful not to hold your breath and try not to lean back to far.

      How To:

      • Sit on the floor, legs extended straight out in front of you. Keeping your core engaged, lean back slightly, so you’re able to place your hands on either side of your glutes.
      • Take a deep breath and lift one leg six inches off the ground and hold for five seconds, and then put it down. Repeat with the other leg.
      • Continue alternating for one minute, then rest for 20 seconds. Repeat for five rounds.

      Modification: Alternate lifting your legs without stopping to hold.

      5. Spider Plank Crunch

      The Spider Plank Crunch is another 360 core exercise. It targets the entire abdominal region (upper and lower), the obliques, lower back, and the glutes.

      Try not to allow your hips to sink or raise when you are bringing your knee to your elbow. Also, fight to keep your body parallel at all times.

      How To:

      • Begin in a high plank or pushup position – hands directly underneath your shoulders, legs extended backward with your toes on the ground. Body is in a straight line.
      • Lift your right leg and bring your knee toward the outside of your right arm. Return to plank position.
      • Repeat the movement with the other leg. Do five reps on each side.

      Modification: Begin in modified pushup position (both knees on the ground) and perform the move from your knees.

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      6. Modified Bicycle Crunch

        This move targets the upper and lower abs, the obliques, and hip-flexors. It also targets the “posture muscles” and incorporates small amounts of balance.

        When doing this movement, remember to keep it smooth. The movement should be slow and controlled. Try not to jerk or over-twist your torso. Exhale when you crunch in and inhale on the extension.

        How To:

        • Start in a neutral sitting position. Your knees should be bent, heels flat on the floor and hands on either side of your head.
        • Bring the right knee and left elbow toward one another, by gently twisting the torso.
        • Repeat the motion on the other side. Alternate for 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat. Complete five rounds.

        Modification: Place hands on the ground behind you instead of behind your head.

        Performing these exercises a few times a week along with small amounts of aerobic exercise and a proper diet will yield you a stronger core and a leaner, tighter torso.

        Featured photo credit: Sergio Pedemonte via unsplash.com

        Reference

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        Last Updated on April 19, 2021

        15 Static Stretches to Totally Enhance Your Workout Routine

        15 Static Stretches to Totally Enhance Your Workout Routine

        Stretching is one of those aspects of fitness that many people conveniently forget about. Perhaps you’re one of those who consider stretching nothing but a mere chore meant for ballerinas and gymnasts. While they are great for both, static stretches can offer a boost to any workout routine for people of all fitness levels.

        Irrespective of your reasons for working out, be it for sports or personal fitness, one thing is certain: stretching can help you. Static stretches come with myriads of benefits, such as improvement in flexibility and reduction in muscle tightness, which ultimately allow you to go through your workout routines with greater efficiency.

        For the purpose of this article, we’ll zero in on several great static stretches and take a look at the benefits and when they should be done.

        Benefits of Static Stretches

        Static stretches come with tons of benefits that can help you make the most of your workout routine. Some of them include:

        Improved Flexibility

        If you want to perform better, flexibility is of tremendous importance, irrespective of the specific workouts you do. Luckily enough, static stretches are all you need to get all the flexibility you desire.

        Flexibility, also known as the range of motion (ROM) around a joint, has been shown by several studies to be improved by static stretching.[1]

        Although the specific mechanism through which this occurs is still unclear, static stretches have been shown to greatly increase muscle and joint flexibility[2] and tissue length[3], which work in tandem to make your workout more effective.

        Prevent Injuries

        If you’re looking to push yourself to your training limits without coming down with injuries, then stretching will do you a great service. Research has shown time and again that performing the right stretches pre- and post-workout greatly helps with injury prevention.[4]

        Think of it this way:

        When you stretch, you literally push your joints and muscle fibers to their limit. This increases the stretch tolerance in these muscles and joints over time, and the increased tolerance allows you to perform more rigorous exercises without negatively impacting your body or risking an injury.

        Increased Blood Flow to the Joints

        Another benefit of stretching is increased blood flow – and by extension, nutrient supply – to the joints and muscles of the target areas. This, in turn, improves the performance of these muscles and joints due to the availability of more nutrients, improved oxygenation, and removal of metabolites.

        For static stretching, though, the mechanism of action isn’t as straightforward. When stretching statically, blood flow (capillary oxygenation) temporarily reduces due to vascular compression.

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        However, immediately after releasing the stretch, the blood flow to these areas nearly doubles the pre-stretching levels.[5]

        Improvement in Recovery

        If you’ve been working out for some time, then you’ve probably discovered that a rigorous workout session can leave you battling sore muscles for days.

        Recovery essentially means getting rid of this soreness and returning your muscle fibers back to their tip-top condition.

        Research has shown that practicing static stretches after your workout session helps to reduce muscle soreness. And while some may argue that this effect is minimal, the fact still remains that stretching does help shorten your recovery time.

        Stretching allows tissues to be better hydrated after the induced tension is released, and this encourages reduced inflammation and faster repair of such tissues.

        Other reasons why you really should incorporate stretching into your workout include:

        • Improved relaxation
        • Increased movement efficiency
        • Reduction in the risk of lower back pain
        • Reduction in muscle tension
        • Improvement in neuromuscular coordination
        • Improvement in balance and postural awareness
        • Relief from cramping

        15 Static Stretches to Enhance Your Workouts

        Here are some amazing exercises that will keep your body in tip-top condition and take your workout routine to the next level.

        1. Neck Stretch

          While sitting tall or standing, place your right arm gently on the right side of your head, and place the other arm out to your side. Slowly pull your head towards your right shoulder until you can feel the stretch on the left side of your neck. Hold for about 30 seconds before releasing, and repeat for the opposite side.

          Many people tend to hold stress and tension in their neck and shoulders. If you find this is the case, this is one of the best static stretches to use for a muscle release in this area.

          2. Chest Stretch

            Stand upright, with your fingers interlocked behind your back, near your buttocks. While keeping your shoulder blades together and your back straight, push your arms up behind you until you feel the stretch in your chest. Hold for about 20-30 seconds before releasing.

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            3. Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch

            Shoulder Cross-Arm Stretch « CASS FITNESS

              Stand upright or sit up tall on a chair or mat, and extend one arm out in front to shoulder height. Grab the extended arm with your other arm, and pull it towards your chest while keeping the extended arm straight. Continue the pull until you feel the stretch in your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat for the other arm.

              4. Triceps Static Stretch

                Lift your arms overhead, with both arms slightly behind your head and bent at the elbow. Use your right hand to pull your left elbow until you feel a stretch in your triceps. Hold for about 30 seconds, and repeat for the other arm.

                Many know this stretch from gym class, but it really is one of the best static stretches for the arms.

                5. Biceps Stretch

                Arm Exercises | Seated Bent-Knee Biceps Stretch

                  Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With your fingers pointing away from your body, place your two palms flat on the floor behind you. While your hands are steadily in place, slowly slide your butt downward toward your feet until you can feel the stretch in your biceps, shoulders, and chest. Hold for about 30 seconds before releasing.

                  6. Wrist Stretch

                  11 Best Tennis Elbow Exercises For Pain Free Mobility [PDF]

                    While standing up straight or sitting tall, extend your right arm forward to shoulder height with your fingers pointing toward the ceiling. Grab your right fingers with your left hand, and pull your right hand to bend the wrist until you can feel the stretch. Hold this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat for the opposite arm.

                    7. Side Stretch

                      Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart. Take your right arm and reach over your head towards your left side while bending your side. Keep bending your side slowly until you can feel a stretch on your right side. Maintain this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat for the opposite side.

                      The muscles down your side body are notoriously difficult to stretch out. This is one of the best static stretches to try on a consistent basis to get them loosened up.

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                      8. Abdominal Static Stretch

                        Lie down on your stomach with your face towards the ground and your palms facing the floor as though you’re about to do a push up. While keeping your pelvis firmly on the floor, gently push your upper body up from the ground. This should make your feel some stretch in your abs. Maintain this position for about 30 seconds before releasing.

                        9. Reclined Spinal Twist

                        Supta Matsyendrasana - Supine Spinal Twist - Yogaasan
                          Lie down, with your arms extended to the sides and placed on the floor. While keeping the right leg straight, pull up your left knee towards your chest, tilt it toward your right side, and then drop it slowly over your extended right leg.

                          Keep your shoulder blades flat on the ground, and you should feel the stretch around your back. Hold for about 30 seconds and repeat for the opposite side.

                          10. Knees to Chest

                          Knee-to-chest exercise from Physical Therapists' Advice to Manage Pain at Home - The Active Times

                            Lie on the ground facing the ceiling, with your knees bent. Hold your shins, and pull your knees toward your chest. This should make you feel some stretch in your lower back. Hold for about 30 seconds before releasing. If you’re looking to loosen up your back muscles, this is one of the static stretches you can do daily.

                            11. Hip Flexor Static Stretch

                            How to Do the Standing Lunge Stretch

                              Stand upright in a standard lunge position, and place your two hands on your hips. Step out on your right foot into mini-lunge position, without your knee going beyond your right toe. Hold for about 30 seconds and repeat for the left side.

                              12. Figure 4 Stretch

                              How to Do a Figure 4 Stretch | Openfit

                                Sit tall on the ground with both knees bent and both feet on the floor. Lift your right leg and cross it over your left thigh, while your left knee remains bent. Pull both legs inwards toward your abdomen for a deep stretch of your glutes. Hold this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat with the other leg.

                                13. Standing Quad Stretch

                                  Stand tall while maintaining a straight posture. With your left hand, grab a pole, wall, or anything durable for balance. With your right hand, grab your right foot and pull up your heels until they touch your buttocks.

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                                  Keep your knees close together while doing this, push your hip forward, and you should feel the stretch in your quadriceps. Hold this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat for the other side. This is one of the best static stretches for the quads.

                                  14. Hamstring Stretch

                                    Sit on the floor with your right leg extended straight in front of you and your left leg bent. Reach forward with your right hand, and touch your right toes. This should cause a stretch in your right hamstring.

                                    Hold this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat for the left leg. If you’re unable to reach your toes, try holding your shin instead, but seek to go further every time you perform the stretch until you can touch your toes.

                                    15. Calf Stretch

                                      Sit on the ground and extend your right foot straight in front of you. Gently pull your right toes backwards with your right hand. This should cause a noticeable stretch in your calf.

                                      Hold this position for about 30 seconds and repeat for the left leg, if you’re unable to reach your toes, use a rope or towel to pull your toes inward.

                                      Bonus: Stretch With a Resistance Band

                                      Resistance bands offer a unique benefit from free weights and create tension throughout your movement. Get the free 30 Day Resistance Band Full Workout Challenge, and challenge yourself to stretch with a resistance band.

                                      When Should You Do Static Stretches?

                                      Static stretching is great when done correctly and at the right time. Over the years, research has shown that static stretching produces best results when done after working out or on rest days,[6] but not as a part of warm up routines before an explosive workout session.

                                      This is because static stretches have a cool-down effect on each muscle group and are more effective when done after the muscles are already warm.

                                      That doesn’t mean you must never ever perform static stretches before working out, but do it sparingly. Dynamic stretches, which involve more movement, are generally recommended for warming up as it helps the body prepare better for the work ahead.

                                      The Bottom Line

                                      Carving out the body of your dreams isn’t only about lifting weights and running. You need to keep your body “elastic” if you’re going to make the most of your training, and that’s the whole point of static stretches.

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                                      Starting today, be sure to incorporate these static stretching exercises into your routine, and in no time, you’ll find yourself recovering faster and performing better than ever before.

                                      More Tips on Stretching

                                      Featured photo credit: Alora Griffiths via unsplash.com

                                      Reference

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