Exercises that whittle the waist with Courtney Miller
by Courtney Miller, ToeSox Ambassador and International Pilates Instructor/Trainer
The truth is, there isn’t a post holiday quick fix when it comes to improving our heath and turning those New Year’s resolutions into a reality… sigh. But, what we can do is set ourselves up for success! Here are some tips to help you do just that:
Working your core will not necessarily change the appearance of your midsection. Reducing body fat to show off your hidden 6 pack takes a balanced lifestyle including consistent exercise, proper diet and hydration, and cardio conditioning. If trained properly however, strengthening the core will help to improve your posture (instantly taking off 5 pounds in a picture!), reduce back pain so you can increase your activity level and endurance, and promote healthy self confidence (when you feel good, you look good!).
Choose exercises you enjoy doing and that don’t cause pain. If you hate doing crunches, skip them! There are plenty of ways to target and strengthen your torso, so be creative and have fun.
Breathe! Breath facilities movement and movement promotes breath. It’s a beautiful cycle that will help you throughout your workout, so don’t hold your breath. If you’re not sure when to breathe, a general rule is to exhale with exertion and feel the abdominal wall flatten, and inhale when lengthening. If all else fails, just breathe!
Think of your core as a cylinder. You have 4 parts: front, sides (x2) and back. When choosing a core workout make sure you include moves that will target all parts and move your spine in flexion (ab curl), extension (cobra), rotation (twisting), and lateral flexion (side bending).
Try theses 4 core-toning moves below and start feeling the New Year difference.
Move 1: Reformer/Flamingo Lunges
To Set Up
On the Pilates Reformer come into a plank position and maintain the shape of your body as you press the carriage forward and back for 8 reps. Be sure to keep abdominals engaged, fingers wrapped securely around the footbar and head aligned with the body.
While the carriage is pressed back, hold your plank position for 5 seconds and then gracefully step the left foot onto the front platform into a front scissor split position. Hold for one breath (inhale).
Exhale to round the spine as you draw the left knee towards your forehead and bring the carriage forward all the way to the stopper. Repeat 8 reps.
Keep the hips square and level throughout the exercise. Use a strong exhalation to facilitate the rounding of the spine and feel your navel draw in towards your spine. The closer your knee and forehead are in the Flamingo, the more core you are working!
Move 2 Mat With Weights/Roll Up to Saw
To set up
Start laying on your back with weights in your hands (.5 to 2 pounds) and arms reaching overhead. Make sure your shoulder blades are in a neutral position with your neck free of tension, legs long on the mat, and ribcage closed and connected.
Inhale to lift your arms to the sky and start to curl up into an abdominal crunch until you can see your toes. Exhale to roll up and over your right leg as you stretch your left hand to the outside of the right foot and sweep your left arm behind you. Inhale and begin to roll back and reach both arms forward. Exhale to slowly lower all the way down to your start position. Repeat 5 reps for each side.
Use a strong exhalation to roll up and keep abdominals flat and engaged. Keep the legs anchored onto the mat throughout the series. Reach arms away from each other during the Saw and feel a stretch. Roll down one vertebra at a time using your core to control the movement.
WATCH: Mat | Core with Weights
Move 3 Reformer/Abdominals
To Set Up
Lay on your back with the straps or wooden pole in your hands, arms reaching up to the sky and legs in table top position. If you do not have a reformer, you can do this exercise on your mat using light hand weights.
First Variation (Above image left) - Exhale to curl up into an abdominal crunch and pull your arms straight down to your thighs as you simultaneously straighten your legs as long and low as you can keep your abs flat and engaged. Inhale to return to the start position staying in an abdominal curl the whole time. 6 reps and then rest the head back down.
Second Variation (Above image center) - Same start as variation 1 - Exhale to curl up into an abdominal crunch and pull your arms straight down to your thighs as you simultaneously straighten your legs as long and low as you can keep your abs flat and engaged. Inhale to bend your elbows into a 90 degree position keeping your legs straight and maintaining the abdominal curl. Exhale to straighten the arms towards the thighs and curl up higher. 8 reps and then rest the head back down.
Third Variation (Above image right) - Same start as variation 1 - Exhale to curl up into an abdominal crunch and pull your arms straight down to your thighs as you simultaneously straighten your legs as long and low as you can keep your abs flat and engaged. Next, inhale to open and close your legs to a wide “V”, exhale to bend only your elbows to 90 degrees, inhale to bend your legs to 90 degrees and repeat the flow again from the start. Keep the abdominal curl and abs flat the whole time! 5 reps and then rest.
Exhale with exertion = breathe out when the exercise feels the most challenging. Only lower your legs as low as you can keep the pelvis in a neutral position. If you start to feel your hip flexors take over, bend your knees a little to keep the work in your core. If the coordination series (variation 3) is too complicated, stick to variations 1 and 2 instead.
Move 4 Reformer/Single Leg Plank
To Set Up
Start with elbows and forearms on the box with elbows directly under the shoulders, head in line with the body and feet on the footbar. Abdominals are engaged and lower back is long and decompressed. If you don't have a Reformer, you can do this series on a mat!
Stack the right foot on top of the left ankle while keeping the hips square. Inhale to press the elbows forward and exhale to pull the elbows back under the shoulders. 8 reps. Hold the position of the upper body and exhale to lift the right leg as high as you can keep your hips level and inhale to lower the leg and tap the footbar for 8 reps. Repeat the series on the other side without resting.
Don’t over arch your lower back in a plank position! Instead, try to draw your hip bones towards your front ribs and lengthen your lower back. Squeeze your inner thighs as this will help you contract your deeper abdominal muscles. Press elbows and forearms firmly into the box (or mat) to engage your back body.