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The Core of Fit: Strengthening and Toning

Everyone wants a stronger core. Even if you don't want a bulky six pack, incorporating core exercises is essential in a well-rounded fitness plan. 

Discover your deep, core muscles and you’ll not only see the difference, you’ll gain balance and reduce your risk of injury.

You’re at the gym, putting in the effort and somehow you still aren’t seeing or feeling the results from your workouts. This is especially true for the abdominal area that always needs work whether it’s due to post baby weight, hormonal changes or extra pounds that have accumulated over the years. Well, all that is going to change once you discover some very effective secrets that target the abs and really work!

“There are an unlimited number of exercises for the abs, but if you’re not grabbing the muscles you won’t see the maximum results,” explains certified Pilates instructor and personal trainer, Dawn Theilen of Sonoma, CA. “In fact, if you don’t grab your transverse abdominis muscle first, you’ll actually build a pooch with the rectus abdominis.” This is the last thing any person wants. And unfortunately, most people aren’t even aware that this is going on. “However, once you locate and learn how to grab this muscle, your workouts will go to a whole new level and over time the abs will begin to really shape up.”

Core strength is not only physically appealing, it affects your balance and extremity range of motion, which in turn helps you avoid injury. Whether you’re a mother of young children or an office worker who spends a lot of time sitting at a desk, core strength will help with lower back pain and ease everyday fatigue.

These fundamental exercises are perfect for all ages and fitness levels and will translate into improved performance in your other workouts. Once you have mastered grabbing the TA muscles by completing these exercises you will be ready to move onto more advanced Pilates exercises or use the techniques with other core exercises. You can even do some of them while you’re driving or waiting in line at the grocery store.

Learning neutral spine (home position)
1. Lie on your back on a mat, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Place your arm by your side, palms down, shoulders back.
2. Position your pelvis so that it is parallel to the floor. You should have a small space below your lower back and the mat. You don not lift your pelvis off the mat.

Grabbing the transverse abdominis (TA)
1. While lying in neutral spine, inhale your breath into your ribcage. Think about the breath opening your ribcage wide rather than up toward the ceiling.
2. On the exhale, suck your naval to your spine as if you are trying to put on a tight pair of pants. Keep your neutral spine while you do this. Repeat 10 times.

Pelvic Bowl
1. While lying in neutral spine imagine that you have water in your naval. After you have grabbed the transverse abdominis, slowly scoop your pelvis towards your body so that the imagined water would spill toward your chest. Now press your left hip down toward the mat so that the water would spill toward the left hip bone. Tilt your pelvis toward your pelvic bone imagining the water spilling between you knees. Finally, tilt the pelvis toward your right hip as if the water was spilling to your right hip bone. Remember to inhale and exhale with each movement and grab those muscles on each exhale. Repeat bowl 6 times and reverse the circle.

Single Leg extensions
1. Lie on your back in home position. Lift your right knee up in a 90 degree angle from your body. Inhale and as you extend the leg away from you, exhale and grab the TA. Inhale as you bring the leg back. Do 10 each leg.

Double leg extensions
1. Lie on your back in home position. Lift both legs up in a 90 degree angle from your body. Place your arms beside you, palms down. Pull your shoulders back and down from your ears. Inhale into the ribcage. As you exhale and grab the TA extend both legs away from you. Stop the extension when your pelvis begins to tip toward your feet. Return the legs back to the 90 degree angle. Repeat 12 times.

Back extensions
1. Lie prone on a mat. Place your arms beside you with your palms facing the ceiling. Head is facing down. Inhale into the ribcage. As you exhale grab the TA and then slowly begin to lift your chest off of the mat. The arms lift also. Lift from the back muscles and pull your shoulders down from your ears. Inhale down and repeat 10 times. Stretch into child’s pose upon completion.

Arm and leg extensions
1. Lie prone on a mat with your arms stretched out in front of you, palms down. Inhale into your ribcage and as you exhale and grab the TA extend the right arm and left leg. Be sure to keep your hip bones on the mat. Alternate sides and repeat 10 times. Stretch into child’s pose upon completion.

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