Tag Archives: core

Advent Day 7 Let it Snow

It snowed today.  A lot.  Well, a lot for Frankfurt. Not alot, mind you. A lot. (Yes, that link goes to a grammar rant, but it’s a funny one, you should definitely click on it.) So in the middle of all the snow fall, when all I really wanted to do was curl up under a pile of cats and play on the internet, instead I had to find some of my bike commuting winter wear (like my ugly pants – ugly but effective) and literally bike through a snowstorm in order to meet the Wife (who always gets capitalized because she’s German, in case you were wondering) and our friend S for a strength session at the gym. We’re using the Mark Allen 12 step program for recovering triathletes (you know what they say, once a triathlete, always a triathlete…) and I got to introduce them to the joys of the strength program today.  I got to show of how badass I am by showing off how I can bench press the bar. Yeah, I’m a stud. Then we had dinner at a new Persian restaurant that opened in our neighborhood recently. Persian food is yummy.

Also yummy, but not entirely Persian is hummus, which I’ve figured out how to make myself and it’s embarrassing how easy it is.  It requires 6 ingredients, only two of which are probably not in your kitchen right now, and a stick mixer.

Ingredients for Hummus:

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Core strengthening for Fun and Profit

Exercises for improving back and core strength.  Remember that I have absolutely no real qualifications for recommending these, YMMV, use at your own risk, etc.

That being said, I’ve known a bunch of folks with various back problems over the years and have watched, researched, tested, and otherwise helped out enough to have a very basic understanding of what might work.

The first thing is  – if you have a new or existing problem with your back – go seek actual medical advice.  The doctor, physical therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, etc. are all on your side and are trained to help you.  The internet is here to give you conflicting advice and generally jump-start your hypochondria. (And, of course, pictures of cats)

So now you’ve seen health professional of your choice and got the OK from them to do a little core strength training.  The gym is far away and gas costs a lot, the Olympics are on TV, can’t leave the new (circle all that apply) [baby, puppy, husband, mistress, crockpot, teenager, thesis, bicycle, petunias, other] alone all day.  What about doing core work at home, then?

At which point the search for the perfect home gym accessories starts.  Which is better, the Ab-doer or how about the Ab-Rocket? Or maybe the Ab-Glider?  Maybe a set of Shake Weights to go with it as well…

Do you really need any of them?  Honestly? Probably not.  Everything these machines do for you can be done pretty easily and safely on your own.  Do you need to do a set of core exercises two or three times a week consistently and for about 15 to 20 minutes a session?  Unfortunately, yes.  Where our body is concerned, we really can’t get something for nothing.  If it doesn’t feel like you’re actually doing work, then you’re probably not.  (Not that it shouldn’t be fun or should be overly stressful or anything, but the physical (as in physics) definition of work (work = Force * distance or mass*acceleration*distance) probably needs to be adhered to in order for an exercise routine to have an actual effect on your body.

But sit-ups suck.  Everyone hates sit ups.  Yes, that is true.  And the jury is still out on whether or not they’re actually even any good at all for you.  So the good news is, you don’t have to do sit-ups.

The bad news is that there are things even worse than sit-ups.  (Kidding.  I’m not going to include any of those.  Much.)

L’s Core Strength exercise set with a focus on healthy backs.

Here’s a set of 6 core exercises (+2 stretches) that work well for both  me and the Wife.  They all have silly names (that I didn’t even make up). We both do these on a semi-regular basis (which really ought to be more regular) They are not just for people with bad backs, they’re also for people who want a stronger core and to prevent their backs from going bad in the first place.

1) Dead Bug (or Dead Ant)

How it’s done:  Lie on your back and raise your knees up so your thighs are perpendicular to the ground and your calves are parallel to the ground.  (like you were sitting in a chair tipped all the way over backwards)  Extend your right leg out straight (don’t let your heel touch the ground) and at the same time your left arm out straight over your head (your hand also does not touch the ground).  Do this slowly and deliberately, keeping your back flat and in a natural position.  Bring them back to the start position.  Repeat with the other leg and arm.  That’s one.

Do 2 sets of these, start with 10 repetitions and work up to 15 res.

Here’s a video showing how to do the Dead Bug:

Here’s another video with a long discussion of back pain, back strengthening, and how to do it correctly if you’re still worried/confused:

2) Superman

How it’s done:  Lie on your stomach.  There are two versions of this one, a lower impact version and a higher impact version.

Low Impact Version:  Raise your right arm and left foot slightly off the ground (only a few inches – you should never feel pain in your back when you do this – if you do, back off until it doesn’t hurt), hold the position for a few seconds, lower your arm and leg, and raise the opposite arm and leg, hold for a few seconds.  That’s one.

Higher Impact Version: Raise both feet and both hands at the same time (don’t bend the legs or the arms, the lift comes from the core tightening and the back arching a bit).  Hold for a few seconds and imagine you’re flying.

Here’s what it looks like:

a line drawing of superman pose

Do 2 sets of these, start with 10 reps and work up to 15 reps.

Start with the low impact version and don’t add the higher impact version until you can do 2 sets of 15 of the low impact version with no pain.  Then do 1 set of the low and one set of the high impact version.   When you’re comfortable, switch to the higher impact Supermans.  Remember to think about the wind in your hair as you swoop through the sky.

This web page has a good description of both Supermans, the Plank, the Transverse Plank, and a very low impact starter Bridge.

3) The Bridge (Have you seen the bridge?  Where is that confounded bridge?)

How it’s done:  Here is the description of the bridge from the set of core exercises that I follow:

Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your heels near your glutes.  Arms are at your sides, palms down.

In one smooth motion, squeeze your glutes, raise your hips off the floor, and push up from your heels to form a straight like from shoulders to knees; toes come off the floor slightly.  Hold for a few seconds.  Keep your toes raised and lower yourself ¾ of the way down.  That’s one.

Do 2 sets of 10 to start and gradually increase to 2 sets of 20 when that gets too easy. Alternative is to simply hold the pose (start with 15 seconds and work up to 1 minute)

Here’s what it looks like:

a woman doing bridge pose

Here’s a decent video showing the basic pose, but when I do them, I lower more towards the ground and then back up (so it looks more obscene, but not as much like Kegel exercises as the woman in the vid does when she switches to the variation at 1:55)

4) The Plank (otherwise known as L’s favorite core exercise – just ask anyone who’s ever been in one of my Kendo classes)

How it’s done:  Start on your stomach with your elbows under your shoulders and feet together. Hands are together.  Raise up so that you are on your toes and forearms, keeping the back straight.  It is much MUCH better to have a slight convex bend (with your hips and butt a bit higher) than a concave bend (where your hips drop and your back arches – this can HURT your back).   Hold it for 15 – 20 seconds.  That’s one set.

Do 2 sets.  Work up until each set is 1 minute long.

Here’s what it looks like:

a woman in plank pose

Here’s an excellent video of the plank (same woman as above for the bridge):

4a) Transverse Plank

How it’s done:  This is like the plank, but only on one side.  Start on your right side, right elbow under right shoulder, left arm in front of you for balance.  Stack your feet (left on top of right).  If you’re comfortable, raise your left arm over your head.  Tighten your abs and raise your hips off the floor, hold for a few seconds and lower your hips to a few inches above the floor.  That’s one.

Do 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Here’s what it looks like:

a man in side plank pose

Here’s the youtube video for this one:

5) Boat Pose

How it’s done:  Sit, resting both hands behind you and lean back until your torso is at a 45 degree angle.

Keep your legs together and lift them off the floor at the same time extending your arms forward.  Your legs are straight, your arms are also straight.  Arms are parallel to legs and legs and torso form a 90 degree angle (You didn’t know there would also be geometry in these, did you?).  Bend your knees (a little) if you have to in order to relieve stress.

Here’s what it looks like: a woman doing boat pose

Hold for 15 seconds.  That’s one set.

Do 2 sets and work up to 1 minute for each.

That’s it for the hard stuff. These last 2 are meant to stretch things out after working them.  They should not be stressful or feel like work.

6) Baby Cobra Pose

How it’s done:  Start on your stomach, hands under shoulders and elbows pointing to the back.  Slowly straighten your arms and raise up on your hands as far as is comfortable for your back.  Look up to help stretch things out.  Wiggle your hips a bit from side to side.  Only go up as far as is comfortable and hold for 15 – 20 seconds.

Here’s what it looks like:

A woman in cobra pose

7) Child’s Pose

How it’s done:  Start on your stomach.  Get on your hands and knees, then stretch back so your butt is resting on your feet and your arms are straight in front of you.  Let your back round, let your head drop and your neck and back relax.  Let your whole body relax and rest here for 20 or 30 seconds (or as long as you want to).

Here’s what it looks like:

A woman in Child's pose

Switch one more time from cobra pose back to child’s pose if you want to.

That’s it.  You’re done.  Try to do this at least twice a week, bot no more than 3 times a week.

Another good resource to for back and core strength:

I also really like this video (partly because he’s from New Jersey and sounds like it, partly because he does cats, dogs, superman, sphinx, eagle, batman, cobra (Watch at 3:25 for a really good Cobra Pose discussion)

And… a picture of my cat Brucie getting ready to do Dead Bug while trainer Dukie corrects his form