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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.

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

    • 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).

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      2. Bird Dog Crunch

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

      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.

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      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

      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

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      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.

      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.

        Reference

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        Denise Hill

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        Last Updated on February 18, 2019

        8 Best Cardio Workouts for Efficient Weight Loss

        8 Best Cardio Workouts for Efficient Weight Loss

        When people think of cardio, usually a boring treadmill, elliptical machine, or other mundane activity comes to mind. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

        When you’re short on time or easily distracted, there are a variety of fat-burning cardio alternatives that will increase your body’s metabolism, boost weight loss, and keep you interested.

        Here’s a list of different types of cardio workouts:

        • Steady State (Burns less fat, but isn’t as demanding on the body)
        • Interval Training (Burns more fat)
        • HIIT
        • Spinning
        • Stairs
        • Weight Training (Supersets) short rest periods
        • Weight Training (Compound Sets) short rest periods
        • Machine Circuit Training

        And I’m going to talk about each of them in detail:

        1. Steady State

        Steady state cardio involves working at a low to moderate intensity — around 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, for a sustained period of time. This type of cardio doesn’t burn a huge number of calories, but it does burn a high percentage of fat tissue for fuel, and it isn’t too draining.

        An example of steady state cardio would be a long outdoor walk at a moderate pace. Interval training, on the other hand, is much more intense.

        2. Interval Training

        Similar to HIIT but with exercises that are slightly longer in duration, interval training alternates levels of intensity. For example, if you enjoy running, you would run or sprint for 30 seconds, then bring down your heart rate and walk for two minutes.

        Pick two intensities per interval, usually one at 85 percent of your maximum heart rate and the other at 60 percent, and alternate between them. I find that 85% for 30 seconds and 60% for one minute, not only burns more calories but increases my energy level as well.

        Another example would be jumping rope. Jump rope for two minutes, rest for one minute. Begin again, this time jumping rope for one minute and resting for one minute. On the third and final round, jump rope for 30 seconds and resting for 30 seconds. Repeat five sets of this routine.

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        3. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

        Have a busy schedule? Fifteen minutes a few times a week is all you need. HIIT is an extremely popular workout because it can be done quickly, burn calories in a short amount of time, and can even be done in your home or during a lunch break at work. And the best part – You don’t need any equipment.

        With the use of your body weight, HIIT is typically 20 seconds of high intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of active rest which means your heart rate remains elevated for the entire 15-minute workout.

        Check out this HIIT routine by Fitness Blender: 15 Minute HIIT Workout

        4. Spinning

        Spinning is a great way to get your heart up and keep it up in a 45-minute spin class. Our thighs and back are our largest muscles so they work the hardest.

        To get the most out of spinning, try to stay out of the saddle throughout an entire spin class. That way, you are forced to hold up your body weight which burns more calories and increases intensity.

        It’s also great for stabilizing and building strong core muscles, versus cycling outdoors, where most of the time you are sitting in the saddle and going for distance (steady-state cardio).

        5. Stairs

        One of my favorite places to get out of the gym for cardio and trim fat from my thighs and butt is the Santa Monica Stairs, near California’s most popular beach. Climbing 170 steps a few times builds the glutes, leans the thighs, strengthens the calves, and builds endurance.

        So, if the gym is not your scene and you love the outdoors, climbing stairs is a great alternative. Find a place with multiple steps, do six or seven rounds, and you’ve easily burned around 600 calories.

        6. Supersets

        A superset is two exercises that work opposing muscle groups, such as biceps and triceps, quadriceps and hamstrings, or different body parts such as the lower and upper body with little to no recovery between sets.

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        The superset may include two to five sets of 8 to 15 repetitions of each exercise or more.[1]

        So, if you love to workout with weight-training but aren’t really feeling cardio, supersets with no more than 30-second rest periods between exercises will keep your heart rate up. Not only will you build muscle, you will burn fat!

        For example, say you are doing a leg workout, five sets of exercises with high reps and low weight is all it takes to turn your weight-training into a cardio workout.

        Here’s one of my leg training workouts:

        i. Dumbbell Step-Ups on a secure bench or box (4×15, each leg)

        ii. Front Squat (4×15)

        iii. Wide Stance Dumbbell Goblet (4×15)

        iv. Leg Extension (4×15)

        v. Leg Curl (4×15)

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          Photo Credit: Shape Magazine

          vi. Front Squat


            Photo Credit: Stack

            vii. Wide Stance Dumbbell Goblet Squat

            viii. Leg Extension

            ix. Leg Curl

              Photo Credit: T Nation

              7. Compound Sets

              Compound exercises are exercises that recruit muscles in the entire body, such as pull-ups, squats, bench press, etc. However, a compound set simply means to “compound” the number of different exercises into a series of sets with little or no recovery between, similar to supersets.

                This may be accomplished by performing four to five exercises for the same muscle group, opposing muscle groups or total body exercises performed in succession such as full body extensions, followed by squat/cleans and complete the compound set of compound exercises with lunges with biceps curls.

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                Compound sets put stress on the body and are great for expending additional calories while strength-training.

                8. Machine Weight Training Circuit

                Like compound exercises, a machine circuit workout targets the entire body, upper body, lower body, or core. The difference is, with the use of machines instead of free weights, muscle strength is increased by by making your muscles work against weight.[2] By limiting rest periods between exercises to 30 seconds, your metabolism will go into over-drive!

                Machines also give you better control over the exercises, which decreases risk of injury.

                Here’s a machine circuit training example: Muscle and Strength Machine Workout

                The Bottom Line

                The above-mentioned workouts should be completed within 30 minutes, unless you’re taking a class which is typically 45 to 60 minutes, giving you time to get on with the rest of your day.

                By keeping your rest periods to a minimum between exercises, your heart rate will stay elevated and you will burn more calories, get lean, and have more energy.

                Don’t be a gym rat, spending unnecessary time doing lengthy workouts that give you minimum results. For efficient weight loss, perform these workouts three times a week and watch the fat melt away while achieving your fitness goals.

                More Resources About Weight Loss

                Featured photo credit: Spencer Dahl via unsplash.com

                Reference

                [1] Mountain Life Fitness: Super sets, compound sets and giant sets
                [2] Better Health Channel: Resistance training – health benefits

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