Featured Exercise: Stability Ball Leg Curls
Primary Muscles: Hamstrings
Secondary Muscles: Glutes, Lower Back, Hip Flexors
How many of you have that big, blue dust-collecting prop in the corner of your room? You’ve nearly broken your neck tripping over it and you’re constantly kicking it out of the way, only to have it rebound off the corner of your bed and take out your legs in retaliation. Well, dust it off and give this one a try. Here is a great exercise for the hamstring muscles. Deceptively difficult and extremely effective. I love this one for the guys because it looks so easy, yet it gets them crying in only a couple of repetitions. The hamstrings are an underutilized muscle. For those that have sedentary occupations, the hamstring muscles spend a great deal of time being sat upon. Being in a shortened position for long periods of time leave these muscles weak and tight. Give the hamstrings a jolt with the Stability Ball Hamstring Curl. Here’s how it goes:
Lie on your back with your feet propped up on a stability ball, feet together just over the apex of the ball. Hands should be at your sides, palms down for support. From this position, pushing through the backs of the legs, lift the hips off of the ground until you’ve achieved a straight-line position with the body, with heels, knees, hips, and shoulders in line. This is the starting position for the exercise. From here, exhale as you pull the ball towards your glutes by lifting your hips and driving the heels back. Make sure to pick the hips up as your heels come towards the glutes, maximizing the work in the hamstring muscles and minimizing the work in the hip flexors. Once you have pulled the legs in as far as you can, inhale as you slowly bring the legs back out to starting position, dropping the hips back down as the legs extend. You should feel a significant amount of work in the backs of the legs. Start with as many repetitions as you feel comfortable. Work your way up from there. As always, if you have any questions feel fee to leave a question in the comments section. Enjoy!
Featured Exercise: Side Plank
Primary Muscles: Obliques, Hip Abductors
Secondary Muscles: Low Back, Latissimus Dorsi, Shoulders
OK. So you think you have mastered the regular plank. Well, here’s a new challenge. The Side Plank is another great body-weight core stabilization exercise to add to your routine. No equipment needed and it can be performed anywhere. Like the regular Plank that I featured before, this exercises utilizes just gravity to provide resistance. As opposed to the deep transverse abdominis and outer rectus abdominis muscles stressed in the regular plank, this particular version targets the obliques (the muscles on the side of the abdomen responsible for side bending and torso rotation), muscles essential to a healthy and stable core. But due to the total body nature of the exercise, it also enhances muscle strength around the shoulders and hips. Here’s how it goes:
Lie on your side with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder and your legs fully extended and stacked on top of one another. Draw in your abdomen and lift your torso and hips off of the floor, keeping the back in a straight position. The only two points that should be in contact with the ground are the bottom elbow and bottom foot. Keep the neck in line with the rest of the body. Hold the position for as long as you can, and keep your breathing regular as you hold. Switch sides and repeat the exercise. If this version is too difficult, you can switch to the bent-knee version. The only difference is that instead of extending the legs, bend the knees at a 90-degree angle. This means that when you lift the torso, the only points of contact are the bottom elbow and the bottom knee.
I hope this exercise adds a little variety to your routine! Enjoy!
Workout of the Day: Basic Strength Training
So you’ve decided to replace one of those cardio workouts with a strength training workout. Don’t know where to start? Try this one out.
Push-ups x 15
Reverse Lunges x 15 each side
Ab Crunch x 25
Chair Dips x 15
Chair Squats x 15
Prone Cobra x 10
Do all three exercises in the circuit back to back, then rest for 60 seconds, and repeat the circuit one more time. All of the highlighted exercises have been “Featured Exercises” in the past, and have links to instructions. For instructions on any of the others, just leave a comment and I will be sure to explain. Push-ups can be on your feet or kneeling, whichever you need. You can feel free to add weight to the Reverse Lunges and Chair Squats with dumbbells, a medicine ball, or anything that adds weight like water jugs or small children (I have used this one myself). For a greater challenge, increase the repetitions on some of the exercises, or do 3 sets instead of 2. Be safe, and always stay within your level of fitness!
Featured Exercise: Quadruped Opposite Arm/Hip Extension Hold
Primary Muscles: Abdominals, Lower Back
Secondary Muscles: Hips, Shoulders
Sounds like a mouthful, but it is a great exercise to work on stabilization of the core muscles of the abdominals and back, as well as to promote coordination between front and back, top and bottom, and side to side. Here’s how it works:
Working in opposites the way the body does functionally (think how the right arm swings forward as the left leg swings forward during the walking motion), the position is held with the opposite arm and leg supporting while their counterparts are lifted off the ground and held stationary. This exercise starts in the abdominals. The deep transverse abdominal muscle that acts as the body’s internal weight belt contracts, drawing the navel in towards the spine, before the exercise begins and is held for its duration. Assume quadruped position (prone on hands and knees with hands directly below the shoulders and knees directly beneath the hips). Once activation of the abdominals is achieved, lift one arm and its opposite foot off of the ground until both the arm and leg are in line with the rest of the body. Hold this position for as long as you feel comfortable before switching to the other arm/leg combination. You should feel load in the abdominals as they struggle to maintain balance and position. You should also feel work in the low back and the glute of the leg that is off the ground. Take care not to rotate the body as you hold, but instead the torso and hips should stay parallel to the ground. Do 2-3 sets of each combination for 20-30 seconds each. This exercise can be done everyday, and should be a staple for anyone with back issues or looking to get a stronger base of support for their activities. Which pretty much means everybody, set get after it!
Exercise of the Week #3: Cat/Cow Stretch
Yes, you read that right. This week’s featured exercise is a STRETCH! I can hear it now. Mature adults in the voices of whiny, spoiled 6-year-olds. “Stretching. I hate stretching! Do I have to?” Well, just like eating your vegetables, yes, you have to. So I thought I would start with a stretch that addresses an area of need that many people struggle with. THE BACK. The typical American work life that involves a lot of sitting leaves the body with tight hip flexors, weak abdominals and glutes, and of course tight back muscles. Especially the paraspinal muscles that run down the back and stabilize the spine. Maintaining flexibility in the back, along with strengthening the abdominal muscles, is of crucial importance to avoiding major, debilitating back problems. As the cliche says, “the best defense is a good offense”. So be proactive and avoid a back problem before it starts by keeping those back muscles loose. Here’s what you do:
Starting in a quadruped position (on hands and knees) with a neutral spine, knees directly below the hips and hands directly below the shoulders, drop the chin to the chest and round out the spine, reaching the middle of the back towards the sky and feeling a stretch in the back muscles. Hold for 2-4 seconds. Then, keeping the back rounded, slowly drop the hips to the heels, feeling the stretch move to the lower back as well as the lats (below the armpits). Hold for 2-4 seconds. Slowly return to the starting position, releasing the stretch in the back as you raise the hips off of the heels. Exhale as you go into each portion of the stretch, and inhale as you come back to the starting position. Repeat the movement.
(Note: If you currently are having back pain that may be the sign of a more serious condition, you should talk to your doctor before performing this stretch as it may be contraindicated in certain situations)
Feel free to perform this stretch every day, especially when you first wake up. If you have chronic back tightness and pain, it’s time to get pain-free. If you don’t have a back issue, then let’s keep it that way!