Cheat Sheet

Core Strength For Dummies

From Core Strength For Dummies by LaReine Chabut

Your core muscles stabilize the spine and pelvis and run the entire length of the torso. A strong core gives you better posture and stability and reduces back pain — a strong core also makes you less prone to aches when you have to stand for a long time or spend hours sitting in front of a computer. You can train your core in a variety of ways, and you can even use everyday items around the house to do so.

9 Ways to Train Your Core

Here are nine fast and fun ways to shore up your core. You can do these exercises outdoors or with a partner to make them more interesting and fun.

Sit on an exercise ball

Here's an amazing exercise you can do with your exercise ball without even trying. You won't even break a sweat: Sit on your exercise ball instead of in your office chair for just one hour a day and you'll get tighter abs and a stronger back. Just by sitting up straight and sucking in your tummy, you improve your core strength and your balance at the same time. To keep from falling off the ball, you have to keep your feet flat on the floor and pull your abs in tight. Because the ball is round, you can't just plop yourself into it any old way like you can in a chair. You're forced to strengthen your core.

Crunch with an exercise ball

Here's an easy yet effective crunch: Grab an exercise ball and lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place the ball between your ankles and bring your upper body to your lower body, or bring your knees to your elbows. This crunch works both your upper and lower abs and is much easier to do than a conventional ball sit-up.

Do your cardio

The best prevention against tummy fat is to stay low in body fat. Doing 60 minutes of cardio exercise at least three times a week helps you maintain a low percentage of body fat, which in turn helps your six-pack peek through.

Jumping rope for 5 to 10 minutes at a time does the trick (ever see a boxer with belly fat?) and also helps keep your joints flexible.

Other great forms of cardio are running sprints, doing jumping jacks, or performing other activities that get your heart rate elevated and can be done consistently for at least 30 minutes. In fact, if a full 60 minutes, three days a week just doesn't leave you enough time — try to work in 30 minutes of cardio a day, five days a week; you'll get the same results.

Take a walk

If you want to banish belly fat and strengthen your core, but you hate rigorous exercise, take a walk every night after dinner. Walking is the best form of exercise for getting rid of belly fat and training your core (and you'll enjoy your neighborhood at the same time). When you take long strides, you work all the muscles that support your stomach, back, and pelvis. Walking is easy, and you only need to do it 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

Ride a bike

When you're cycling, you use your legs and your abdominals and back muscles to push the pedals. Perfect for core training! And you get the benefit of a cardio workout, which helps reduce belly fat.

Do a plank

The plank exercise is one of the best core-strengthening exercise. The plank position requires you to pull in your abs while you stay lifted in a push-up position with your glutes squeezed together and your back straight.

The plank energizes your entire body. It's used in all yoga sun salutations and other poses. It is also a Pilates-based exercise to help strengthen the core of the body. So next time you're short on time, roll out of bed, drop down to the floor, and plank it!

Stretch

Any exercise that lengthens your core engages the muscles through stretching. Dancers tend to look long and lean because they have great posture. They achieve this by having strong abdominal and back muscles. It all works hand in hand — strong abs, strong back, and good posture. It's all good!

Suck it in

In many cases, people just aren't in the habit of pulling in their tummies and sucking it in! To suck in your stomach, pretend you're tightening a belt around your waist as you're standing or sitting tall throughout the day. This technique gives you a visual reminder and helps you keep your stomach muscles tight.

Twist it

Twisting your core helps define your waist by working the obliques muscles along your waist. Any exercise that twists your upper body requires strong abs and back muscles. Sports that use a twisting motion include golf and baseball. In both of them, you have to twist to hit the ball. Both sports engage the core and help develop the kind of strength you need to be a good player.

7 Household Items You Can Use to Improve Core Strength

Your home is full of core-strengthening aids. What follows are seven common items you can use in your fitness routine. Now you really have no excuse not to stretch.

A chair

A chair can be a very useful and effective prop for exercising. To do a seated sit-up, sit in a chair and extend your arms out in front of you. Now rise to a standing position. Notice how you're forced to use your core. Pause before sitting back down. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Don't use a chair with wheels.

A beam or rafter

Just like in the movie Rocky, you can hang from an open beam in your house or garage to do a pull-up. At first you'll probably only be able to hold yourself up for a few seconds, but as your grip gets stronger, you'll be able to chin-up or pull yourself up to really feel the strength in your core increasing.

A desk

Your desk can be an excellent prop for exercising. When you need to take a break from sitting in front of the computer, you don't have to go very far to move some different muscles. Here's how to do desk lunges:

  1. Stand in front of your desk an arm's length away and place both hands on top.

  2. Lean into a lunge position so your right knee bends and your left leg is extended behind you.

  3. Drop your left knee slowly to the floor as you tighten your stomach muscles to hold your body weight stable.

  4. Inhale deeply as you press back up to a standing position, using your abs and back to keep you standing tall. Switch legs and repeat.

A doorway

A doorway is a great exercise prop because it's both stable and large enough to have many different applications. Try this shoulder stretch:

  1. Grab onto the molding over the top of the door with your fingertips.

  2. Bend your knees slightly, but keep your feet on the floor until you feel a stretch in your abdominals and back muscles.

  3. Grab onto the sides of the doorway and bend forward as if you were going to touch your toes.

Stairs

If you have stairs in your house, use them. When you're done, stretch out your feet and legs with the following exercise:

  1. Stand on the bottom step with only the ball (front) of your right foot pressed down as your left foot remains beside it. Inhale deeply.

    Make sure you hold on to a railing or something stable to prevent you from falling.

  2. As you exhale, slowly lower your heel until you feel a comfortable stretch in your calf.

  3. Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds.

  4. Try to gently drop your heel a little lower until you feel a deeper stretch in your calf.

  5. Repeat the stretch on your other leg.

An excellent variation to help you stretch your calf more deeply is to slightly bend the knee of the leg you're stretching. You should feel a difference at the base of your calf.

A wall

You can use a wall to support any stretch. It's smooth and wide and because a wall is adjacent to the floor, you have two firm, stable sources of support. You can do push-ups using the wall, too. The exercise is easier when you use the wall, but it's just as effective at toning your core, and it's especially good for strengthening your back.

A book

Sit on a big book to lift your hips off the floor just enough to take away some of the stress and strain of a tight lower back. When you don't feel that strain anymore, you can stretch forward to grasp your toes and focus on pulling your belly button to your spine without rounding your back.

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