core

THE Core Exercise You Should Be Doing Every Day!

The Plank is a simple, but very effective and EFFICIENT core exercise that helps you build stability and strength throughout your entire body. The primary muscles involved are the erector spinae (muscles around the spine that straighten and rotate the back), rectus abdominis (the “6-pack” muscles), and transverse abdominis (a deep core muscle that stabilizes the low back and core).

The Origin

Some credit Joseph Pilates for the concept of the plank exercise, dating back to the 1920’s! Like standard planks, side planks recruit the transversus abdominis muscles, but also the glutes, obliques, and adductors as the primary muscles.

Why Should You Do It?

In today’s world we are in spinal flexion so often, hunching over our phone or computer – therefore doing loads of “crunches” is unnecessary. Instead utilizing planks encourages stacking the spine, improved posture and can greatly reduce the incidence of back pain.

The plank is a popular exercise in yoga, boxing, and sports because it not only increases strength and stability in the whole body, but it also trains balance and flexibility.

On The Go? No Problem!

Planks are perfect for that workout you need to complete at home or while traveling. No equipment is necessary, and it can be done anywhere! Your job is to make a plank hard to be the most effective. Before increasing your time in a plank make sure to master the form, only then increasing INTENSITY to make sure it’s the safest and most effective plank.

Tips For Improving Your Plank

1. In the pushup position, push up through the shoulders (shoulder protraction) to create stability so the upper back feels rounded arm to arm.

2. Set your wrists under the shoulders (in a low plank our elbows are under the shoulders) and stay there! As we fatigue, we tend to push away from the hands causing unnecessary strain on our shoulders, neck and wrists.

3. To keep your head aligned with your spine, pretend you are giving yourself a double-chin or you are up against a wall and pulling your head back against it.

4. When we train deadlifts, you may have seen a coach place a dowel or pole on a member’s back to have them connect their head, shoulders and tailbone to it while hinging. The same three connections should be seen in a plank.

PUT IT ALL TOGETHER!

Wrists under shoulders, actively drive your hands into the ground, double-chin, push up through the shoulders, squeeze your quads/front of your legs, squeeze/engage your glutes, and build tension in the legs by drawing the legs towards each other.

One final tension boost? Make it a STRICT PLANK by drawing your elbows/hands back as if you are on a rug and pulling it toward you.

It’s ALL About CORE! 6 Things You Need To Know!

What is the purpose of the core? Oh there are many, many essential functions!

Stabilization

Maybe the most common function of the core is to take excess load off the spine and to transfer force between the upper and lower body. When you throw a ball for instance, you have your core to thank! Back pain? Check in with your core muscles! Gastrointestinal problems? Your core even plays a role in your bowel movements!

Balance

Core muscles support your skeleton for balance (and for your ability to “Catch” yourself when falling). Try to really apply your core stability (hollow body hold tension) to your strength moves; squat, deadlifts, pushups, planks, and see the difference! Especially exercises standing on one leg. Just TRY to shut off your core muscles and you are probably going down!

Rotation

Core also helps with rotation and even more often, ANTI-rotation…Refer up to stabilizing in order to resist the movement. Core stabilizers include the pelvic floor, transversus abdominis (creates pressure and provides the most stability during dynamic movements), multifidus (small muscles in your back), erector spinae (think back extensions), obliques (moving side to side and rotation), AND the diaphragm.

Posture

Weakness in the CORE can change your posture – for the worse – therefore affecting the strength of your hips and ultimately knees and/or back. For example, in an abdominal exercise such as bicycles, your pelvis should NOT be moving. If it is, then you may not ready for that move and should take a step back to keeping the hips on the ground while just lifting the opposite knee/arm without speed or momentum.

Breathing

The diaphragm is an extremely important core muscle that contracts and extends toward the abdomen when we inhale and connects to the lower six ribs of our ribcage. When you inhale, your diaphragm flattens allowing the most air into your lungs. When it contracts it pushes everything else out of the way (and when your belly expands this is called belly breathing).

Try belly breathing – lie on the floor on your back. Legs bent or extended on the ground. Take a deep breath and inhale deeply allowing your belly to rise. As you exhale every last breath, let your belly draw in toward the ground. Practice this until it becomes automatic. When you apply it to your exercises, you’ll be surprised how much more stable and effective you are!

Now What? Put This In Action!

Not sure where to start?

Step 1: Learn spinal stability and breathing properly. Back or neck still hurt during movements? Start with pelvic tilts and increase the endurance/time of the hold.

Step 2: Once mastered, start adding complexity such as increased levers (hollow body hold), followed by slow movement (deadbugs) with levers.

Step 3: Add load/complexity (i.e. hold a plank and add alternating leg lifts).

Step 4: Add rotation (i.e. Soft Toss Medicine Ball shot put throw)

Step 5: Add dynamic movement (Step back lunge with sandbag t-spine rotation)

Ellipse Basic Movements 101

There are several foundational movements that our training program is centered around here at Ellipse Fitness, and we want to take a moment to break these things down for you. It is ALWAYS most important that we clean up our movement patterns and move functionally BEFORE we consider adding heavy loads.

STRENGTH TRAINING

Packing The Shoulders

Kickboxing, presses, pushes (whether it’s push ups or even while lying down for a chest press) are all better, more stable, and safer when the shoulders are packed.

Try this when standing: push your shoulders as far down and away from your ears as you can, tucking your shoulder blades into your back pockets. Packing our shoulders is easiest to feel and perfect with a farmer’s carry. Roll them back and down as far as you can.

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell swings are a dynamic and explosive hip hinge. There are no arm-lifts or squats in a kettlebell swing. Keep the kb swinging through upper thighs; somewhere above the knees. As it drops toward the knees the back becomes at risk and there is more squatting involved. For single arm? We are not looking for rotation, but maintaining alignment with an offset load.

Shoulder Press

A Shoulder Press and Push Press are DIFFERENT! A push press is started by a “push” from the legs; creating momentum. The point of a push press is to push past a “sticking point”.

When a shoulder press is called for, do a shoulder press…maybe just that last rep that you can’t quite complete can be assisted with a push. Shoulder press, also called an overhead press, should be completed with core engagement.

Squats

Squats are best performed when thinking about the feet first and work up. Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Grip the floor, putting pressure on the outside of the foot, but also driving through your big toe. Drop your torso between your hips. Come out of the squat by pushing through the outer heel, driving the knees out and tucking the tail (think pointing your belt buckle toward your chin) and breathing into your lower back.

Split Squat

Although there are similarities to a squat, a split squat requires more balance, stability, coordination, and single leg strength. Try this! Start is a kneeling position. Your legs will have two 90 degree angles. From there, stand! Come back down to just a hover or feather touch to the ground. Too intense? Stack a pad or two under your kneeling stance to reduce how deep you have to go.

Pushups

Love them or hate them, Push Ups strengthen our chest, shoulders, triceps, and core (when properly engaged). Not sure you are engaging your core during a pushup? Try a Hand-Release Push Up. Start your body on top of a stacked airex pad or two (or 3!). Hands on either side of the pad, elbows at 45 degrees.

Step ONE: LIFT the hips/engage the core. Then and only then, push through the hands to your full pushup position. Reset each time to perfect your form.

Hollow Body Hold

The hollow body hold is a foundation movement patterns from kickboxing, to squatting, to slamming balls on the floor. Knowing how to properly hold the hollow body position will stabilize your core and not only improve your performance, but also keep you much safer (especially your back) along the way! TIP: When fully contracted, your upper torso will lift upward slightly, but it’s only from the flattening of your lower back. You do not crunch. Imagine a strong, engaged position hanging from the pull up bar.

Bicycles

Start with the contraction of a hollow body and THEN begin your bicycle movement. The shoulder blade will peel off the floor. The upper body movement comes from that “peeling”, NOT the reaching of an elbow. Keep the elbows wide and drawn back. Your bicycle legs should move more like stairs than a bike.

KICKBOXING

Boxing/Guarded Stance

Start your boxing strong with a proper guarded stance. You can test your strong stance by having someone giving you a little shove from each direction…you shouldn’t tip! Try it on your friends – with a warning! Your shoulders are packed in guarded position, and hands fisted by the cheek bones.

Pivots

Pivoting in boxing is crucial from a safety standpoint! Pivot your foot so your hips are squared to the bag. Your ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder will all be in alignment and you’ll be fully facing the bag. In the end, this not only keeps you safe, but you’ll also get the full power of your hip into your punch and engage more core muscles. Make sure to come back to the guarded stance after each punch and kick!

Round Kick

A round kick starts with the upper leg elevated and the lower leg parallel to the floor; the chambered position. The foot on the floor is turned out slightly. Aim with your shin, not your toe. It’s the snap the gives the most power to the kick. A repeating roundhouse kick will demonstrate the amount of balance and control needed for a well-developed kick. Chamber your leg and fire!

Boxing Punches

You hear the cues in almost every boxing class, but have your punches improved over time? Do they feel more stable, powerful, controlled? Go for an ALMOST full extension. Tighten your fist (pretend you are actually punching someone), turn the palm of your hand down toward the floor, and strive to connect with the pointer finger and index finger.

Visualization in boxing works wonders. If there was someone in front of you and you were punching, would it be with a loose hand? You can get as much or as little as you want out of a boxing workout based on what you put into it, and we don’t mean faster speed!