This article is written by Vanessa Bartlett and is taken from the current Great Health Guide (April 2016 – issue 10).
Fitness: Power To Your Core Part 2 written by Vanessa Bartlett
We’ve heard about ‘getting abs’ and getting a ‘flat tummy,’ but what does it really take to achieve a trim, taut and terrific waistline? It does take work – a delicate balance between eating well and using a combination of training methods that will not only strengthen and shape your outer abdominal muscles, but also your inner, supportive muscles.
When you develop a strong ‘foundation’ for your posture, then your entire torso will look and feel more lengthened and trim. Like an hour-glass shape. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Let’s take a look at exactly how to do this.
Building ‘stability’ is about executing Pilates correctly as discussed in my previous articles. When you focus on getting a nice-looking tummy, you will also be gaining strength and stability for stronger posture and a better balanced body – a recipe for health, less risk of injury and of course leaner tummy muscles! Working this area effectively starts with a few fundamental technical aspects that I always ensure my clients understand, before we move on to bigger, more advanced ab exercises.
Often people start punching out their excessive repetitions of ab crunches or the like, without actually setting their body up first. Without activating your deeper layer of abdominal muscles, the transverse abdominus (TA), you are only going to contract the top layer of muscle and as such not genuinely be building core strength. You may get a ‘burn’ and think you are doing it correctly, but you are missing targeting many of the stabilising muscles.
This can result in aching backs or diminished posture over time due to over-compression of the discs in your spine. Plus, you will over-train the outer abdominal muscles like the rectus abdominus which means your tummy will actually bulge out more with these muscles being over-developed.
To engage your core before you start moving means to activate your ‘pelvic floor’ and TA. This places your spine into a ‘neutral’ position for safe movement that allows the spine to be in its most natural positioning, maintaining its natural curves with length.
Engaging your core:
1. Laying down on your back, bend knees up so they are at a ninety-degree angle.
2. Gently inhale into the sides and back of your ribs. Then as you exhale, close the ribs down and in and feel the muscles around the sides of waistline shrink inwards.
3. Gently tilt pelvis up and down a few times until you get your ‘neutral’ position – this is where your spine will stay without crushing your lower back into the floor (a trail of ants could walk below that slight curve). At the same time keep ribs on floor, connecting upper abs.
4. Inhale and as you exhale, gently draw up through your pelvic floor (as if you are holding in your wee) and draw belly to spine.
5. Continue to breathe and maintain that gentle core activation you have just created while beginning to do your exercises. This is already starting to work your TA and gives you that extra body awareness, beginning to connect the mind and body. If you can move through your ab exercises with this setup and core maintenance each time, then you will feel the difference of working your tummy very soon.
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Using the correct set up, now try my Top Three Pilates-based exercises for a trim, taut and terrific tummy:
1. Double Leg Lowers: This exercise will tone your thighs and tummy, while strengthening your deep abs. It is tough but very effective.
a. Lay on back, engage core as mentioned above
b. Lift both legs up straight up and then slightly down at an angle. Ensure you do not arch or crush your lower back
c. Hands behind head, lift torso using abs to get up
d. Slowly lower and lift both legs together only as low as you can, without compromising neutral spine
e. Keep legs strong and long, feel like you are moving your leg straight up and away from you
f. Repeat x 5 (2-3 sets).
2. Side Bend: This exercise will condition and strengthen waistline. If wrist is weak, do the exercise on your elbow. Beginner option is to keep knees bent the whole time, lifting less body weight.
a. Engage core as above
b. Sit with legs to the side, top leg crossed over just in front of bottom leg, knees slightly bent
c. Bring hand a little out from under shoulder, fingers pointed slightly away from you
d. Inhale, exhale and press feet and
hand down as hips press upwards to lengthen out whole body into a full side bend
e. Inhale, lower slowly back to start position
f. Repeat x 3-5 each side
3. The 100’s. This exercise will build the muscular stamina of your abs and help ‘flatten’ them, while helping unify muscles for stability and rhythmic movement through arms.
a. Engage core as above
b. Inhale, exhale, lift arms upwards and legs to ninety-degree angle
c. Lift torso off floor, using abs to get up, not straining neck
d. Begin pumping your arms quickly within a 20cm range keeping arms stiff, inhaling for 5 counts, exhaling for 5 counts. Allow deep breath in and then deep breath out every five counts
e. Option is to extend legs out to forty-five-degree angle once you are stronger and can maintain neutral spine without straining neck in any way
f. Ensure chest is open, shoulders down away from ears
g. Complete 1 set of 100 arm pumps only, maintaining strong abs the whole time. If you cannot reach 100, start with 20 and build on 10 each week
Author of this article:
Vanessa Bartlett has 14 years’ experience in the fitness industry and is a qualified journalist. She has appeared as a presenter for TVSN, The Morning Show and co-hosted a community TV lifestyle show. In 2013 she was part of a group award for ‘Innovation in Healthcare’ for helping teach mental health sufferers Pilates and meditation to complement their treatment. After suffering adrenal fatigue, herself, she is on a mission to empower people to become educated in holistic health practices, powered by Pilates. See Vanessa’s website for further information.
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