If you’ve watched any late night TV you know that every other exercise infomercial claims to hold the secret to getting washboard abs… In 2 days or less! I'm gonna go out on a limb and speculate that machines and workouts promising chiseled abs make up at least half of the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry. But, guess what? You can't spot train your abs. If you want a six-pack, it's gonna take more than a magic machine or a billion crunches. It takes a full program of diligent exercise, a healthy diet that does not allow over-eating, and a good set of genes.
Sorry if I already have, but I'm not here to rain on your parade. What I am here to do is give you five of my favorite abdominal exercises to incorporate into your fitness regime, not one of which is a friggin' crunch.
Begin face down, while you prop yourself up on your elbows, shoulders directly over them. Pull your navel in toward your back, draw your tailbone down toward your heels, squeeze your gluts, and press your hips up off the floor. You’re planking! Advanced? Press up onto your toes, lifting your knees off the floor as well. Hold for ten seconds and repeat 6-10 times.
Begin on your side, propping your upper body up on your elbow, shoulder directly over, and hips and knees in line putting you in one plane. Keeping your chest open, abs in, and gluts squeezed, press your hips up. Draw your bottom rib toward the top of your pelvis. Hold for 10 seconds. As this gets easier, progress to holding for one minute. Repeat on the opposite side.
Begin on all fours (hands below shoulders and knees below hips), with your tailbone drawn down to flatten your back. While holding your abs in and squeezing your glutes, extend opposite arm and leg. Keeping your back flat, draw elbow and knee toward your midline and touch them together (if your range of motion allows you), extend again, and repeat about 10 times. Then do the same with the other side.
Again, begin on all fours (hands below shoulders and knees below hips), with your tailbone drawn down to flatten your back. Extend your right arm up, using your back muscles to stretch your chest. Then reach your arm under you, through the space between your left arm and leg. Be mindful that your hips remain over your knees to ensure optimal oblique ab engagement. Repeat 10 times and do the same using your left arm.
This time, you’re on your back. As usual, keep your navel tucked in toward your waistband. Your head and neck are relaxed on the floor, arms resting on either side of you, and legs are extended straight over your hips. If the backs of your thighs (your hamstrings) are tight, keep your knees, which line up over your hips, bent. In a controlled manner lower one leg toward the floor while keeping your lower back flat against the floor. Return the leg to ready position and do the same on the other side. Repeat 8-12 times on each side.
Why didn’t crunches make the list, you ask? Because these exercises are so much more functional in working every aspect of your abdominal muscles and the muscles of your core. (Heard that word thrown around the gym before? Your core includes more than just your abs; it refers to all the stabilizers of your trunk—from hips to shoulders.) These exercises will work those abs, improve your posture, and help you prevent injury. Translation: You’ll look and feel taller, prevent pain, and tone every muscle in your body’s middle. And you didn’t even have to make three easy payments of $29.95! ;-)
The word bootcamp incites dread or, even fear, in some people. Other people won’t workout unless in a bootcamp class. I’m here to tell you about a new way to bootcamp. It’s easy on your joints, makes you sweat hard but you won’t even know it, and can take your fitness training to a whole new level. Sounds unreal doesn’t it? No, it’s not mythical. It’s Bootcamp H2O, and it ain’t like your gram-mama’s water aerobics class.
In addition to water resistance devices that are handheld and strapped around your ankles, expect to use resistance bands, dumbbells, and medicine balls, that are typically found on dry-land bootcamp classes. Some of the exercise include drills reminiscent of Navy Seals, water polo, and competitive swim team exercises. Because the workout is done in water, you’ll be able to do far more squat jumps, lunges, and high intensity cardio intervals without your joints feeling like you switched bodies with granny. So, this is a great alternative for those of you who might want an intense workout but have nagging knee, back, or hip pain.
A workout like this, in addition to working you hard without being hard on your hips, knees, and back, will have you burning anywhere between 400-700 calories per hour! You’ll burn fat and sculpt muscles you didn’t know you had. And you do one thing that no other land workout will ever do for you—increase lung volume. Depending on how hard you work, you will have the potential to increase how much oxygen your lungs can hold. Water workouts are the only forms of exercise, scientifically proven to improve your lung capacity (however, this is a temporary improvement; it goes back to “normal” once you discontinue your training.)
Are you convinced yet that this workout is phenomenal? This water workout will kick you booty just as hard if not harder than any land workout without making you feel like you got hit by a train. If you’re worried about your delicate joints doing what sounds like unnatural movements, don’t—this workout was developed by a physical therapist and an expert swim coach and are offered at different levels. There is one prerequisite, however. You must know how to swim. Oh, and that you have to be in the Los Angeles area—go to www.bootcamph2o.com for the class nearest you. (If you’re not ready for the water, check out my other article that will help you pick out the best bootcamp class for you)
If you have that covered, grab a $3 swim cap, goggles, bathing suit, and a towel, and get ready to get wet and then get in beach body shape.
So you've decided to sign up for the 5k run/walk. The advertisers at Revlon and the good folks at Made Woman have talked you into it. Great! Now, the next step is actually doing the training. If this is daunting to you, keep in mind that your body--that thing you stuff with potato chips and let lie around--needs exercise to be healthy. It's time for you to take it to the next level. You can even boost your results and see progressive health gains if you couple your long distance cardio with strength training. This way, you'll lose fat, not lean mass (muscle).
Now, you may be wondering how you'll be able to fit strength training into your week, when it's challenging enough to squeeze in the runs/walks. But if you think about it, it's actually quite simple to sneak in a few strength moves while you're out on your training runs. The perk is that if you maintain a consistent workout routine while eating a healthy diet--everything in moderation--weight loss is inevitable. Here are a few moves that will make that easier for you.
Body Benefit: Sculpts your whole leg
Stand in front of a set of stairs or low bench (lower than your knees) with your right foot on the step. With a slight forward lean, and navel pressed in tight, squeeze your cheeks, curl your left toes up, and step up. Slowly lower your foot back down. Repeat as many as you can slowly, and repeat on the opposite side.
Scapula Squeeze Push-ups
Body Benefit: Strengthens your chest, back, and arms
Place your hands on the back of a park bench, concrete planter, wall, or ground; the lower you are to the ground, the more challenging this will be. Curl your tailbone under you to prevent your lower back from bowing. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly lower your chest, bringing your elbows to 90 degrees. Straighten your arms as you draw your shoulder blades apart. Repeat as many times as you can with good form.
Body Benefit: Builds stronger core muscles (includes the muscles that stabilize your spine AND your abs)
Hanging from a pull-up bar or tree branch, draw your shoulders down and tuck your tailbone under you. You might already feel your abs working. Then slowly draw your knees toward your chest. If that is too easy, straighten your legs. Without swinging, lower your legs slowly and repeat.
Remember, you can maximize your fat weight loss throughout your 5k training endeavor by incorporating strength training in your weekly routine. Use those muscles, so your body will burn your fat for fuel instead. Good luck and see you at the finish line!
The thought of donning your bathing suit this summer is taunting you…You know it’s time to ramp up those workouts. But it’s spring. That means if you go out for that awesome workout, you’ll spend the rest of the day sniffling, sneezing, and figuring out how to keep your makeup from running with your teary eyes. Ugh, allergies!
Rather than dismiss physical activity through the months of spring and admit bitter defeat against your summer wardrobe, try some other options:
1. If you have a gym membership, use it. If not, it might be time to invest in one.
3. Still like hoofing in the open air? Commit to early morning workouts when the pollen count is low and other nasal irritants have not yet been stirred up.
4. Avoid outdoor workouts on windy days and the day after.
After being outdoors, wash away lingering irritants. Immediately wash the clothes that you had been wearing, wash your face, and shower. Saline washes for your eyes and nasal passages (yes, like a neti pot) also help make allergies less annoying.
During allergy season, consider adding more foods high in omega-3 fatty acids to your diet, like salmon and halibut, flaxseed oil, or walnuts. Omega-3s aid your body with suppressing the inflammatory responses to allergens that cause teary eyes and runny noses.
Don’t play victim to this season’s wind and pollen count, while prepping for the warmer summer months. You can make adjustments to your workout routine and join the swimsuit-clad population on the beach—or anywhere else, if you choose—very soon.
I don’t know about the rest of you ladies, but when I get to work each morning, I sit down at my desk. I sit through a majority of my workday, and when the work day is done I get in my car to sit some more on my drive home. This adds up to more than eight sedentary hours a day, not to mention the hours I spend sleeping or kicking back on my couch in the evening. It’s kind of appalling, and I know it.
But I’m not alone. A New York Times article that came out in 2011 stated that 80% of American jobs are sedentary and that this has caused a rise in obesity. A January 2011 article in the European Heart Journal said that sitting leads to negative effects on cardiometabolic function – which translates to a wider waste line, and that is ultimately risky for the heart. A recent Yahoo article cited a study that literally suggests eight hours a day could kill you. That may sound dramatic, but the experts all seem to agree that a sedentary lifestyle is less than ideal.
I cannot offer medical advice on the whole sitting situation – talk to your doctor for that – but I do know from experience that I feel a lot better if I try and shake off all that sitting throughout the day. And when I don’t have to sit, I try to take advantage of it. Here are a few suggestions I have to counteract the effects being stuck in a chair all day:
My favorite way to mitigate all that sitting is to focus on working my buns at the gym with a few strengthening exercises. Certain yoga poses are great for this, such as the Warrior One pose or Half-moon pose. Another great butt-blaster is to lie back in a sit-up position but instead of doing sit-ups, raise the pelvis and squeeze the glutes. Lift, hold, lower. Lift, hold, lower. It burns soooo good.
These are just a few of the ways I try to keep my derriere perky even though I’m stuck in a chair all day. I know the sedentary lifestyle is not recommended, but it is how a lot of us pay the bills so we’ll just have to figure out how to balance it out.
We all went them…MichelleObamaArms. I have been working on sculpting my arms since seeing Angela Basset in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. And those stellar arms helped her kick major butt in What’s Love Got To Do With It.
I hate to break it to you, but if it’s not in your genetic map, your arms will not magically chisel away and reveal perfectly shredded triceps and biceps (as I’ve been reminding myself all these years). But wait! There is hope… You will be able to firm up and flaunt those arms come summertime.
Here are a few moves to get you there that will strengthen your core and stabilize your shoulders.
This is a great full body warm-up exercise that also conditions your core, promotes hamstring and back flexibility, and strengthens your shoulder stabilizers.
Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Holding your stomach in and glutes pinched, lower your hands toward the floor in front of your feet. If your hamstrings (the muscles in the back of your upper legs) are tight, bend your knees when you need to in order to get your hands flat on the floor. Walk your hands out, as if going into push-up position, then walk your feet – using small steps – toward your hands. Repeat the hand walk-outs across the room and then reverse the order to go backwards as long as you can endure it.
GI Jane Push-ups
Also known as yogi posh-ups or tricep push-ups, these push-ups are great to stabilize your core and emphasize better tricep (the muscles in the back of your upper arms—yes, that spot) burn.
Begin face down, with your shoulders over your hands and arms straight, pressing up. If beginning the push-ups from your toes is too challenging, lower your knees and do the exercise from there. You may also modify by doing the push-ups against your kitchen counter.
Here’s the move: lower your body in one single movement (hold your stomach in tight so your hips don’t drop as you lower) by bending your elbows while sliding them toward your waist; then, straighten your arms, pressing your body away from the floor (or counter if you started there). Continue holding your stomach in to prevent your butt from pressing up in the air before the rest of your body does. Your body should move in one plane.
This is a shoulder strengthening and sculpting exercise you can do at the gym or in your kitchen, if you don’t have a gym membership.
Stand with your legs staggered in a slight lunge position. Position yourself in a forward lean, bending at the hips so your back remains flat, and your chest lines up with your mid-thigh. Hold a light weight in each hand (you can even use gallon jugs of water as weights, adjusting the weight by varying the volume of water in the bottles). With straight arms, lift the weights on either side of you to shoulder height. Lower and repeat. It’s almost like flapping wings in super-slow motion. You should be able to perform about 10-12 repetitions and feel a good burn in your shoulders. If not, then you need heavier weights (or more liquid in your bottles).
Side plank push-ups
This strengthens all of the above, plus you get bonus strength and stability by adding dynamic movement to two classic exercises: the side plank and the push-up.
Start in push-up position (shoulders over your hands, and body holding steady in a line to your toes, or knees for the modification). Do one push-up, then rotate onto the right side of your feet (or knees if you are modifying this movement) while lifting your left hand off the floor and reaching it toward the sky, holding steady for a few seconds. Holding your navel in, lower your left hand back to the mat and return to the ready position. Do another push-up and repeat the side plank on the left side. Repeat as many as you can with good form.
Now you know some moves to chisel your shoulders and triceps. This one will work the biceps at the front of your arms.
Use dumbbells if you have them. If not, grab those gallon jugs again. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, shoulders drawn back and stomach in. Keep your elbows close to your waist and curl the weights toward your shoulders. Repeat as many as you can with good form (that means, not swinging your body back and forth). You should feel fatigue in your biceps by 12 repetitions. If not, you’ll need heavier weights.
If this is the first time you are working your arms, you will notice that you feel stronger and firmer within a few weeks. For sculpting to really happen (sorry to break this to you, too), you will have to combine the exercise with a healthy diet with good food and reduced portion sizes. Keep at it, and you may be the next First Lady…OK, more realistically, you’ll be able to show off your arms in your cocktail dress. Have fun with it!
Aw, yeah….spring break! You have worked in base tan sessions and crazy workouts to make your bikinis, halter tops, and strapless dresses look good. Whoa! That’s a lot of work you put in to go on your trip. Looking good in the sun requires a little prep.
Once there, don’t just “let it all go.” Continue looking hot by doing a few moves—you can do them between sips of your mai tai.
1. Aqua jogging ain’t just for grandma. You can do this in the pool or along the shore. (If at the beach, I recommend you only do this if you know how to swim, since the sand level changes. Also, shells could be hiding in the soft sand, so go early when nobody can catch you wearing goofy aqua socks.) Don’t cheat, get in there to waist level, pull your shoulders back, pump your arms, pick up your knees and GO! Since H2O takes the impact out of running, you can do this everyday.
2. While on your water run, break it up and boost your metabolism with 20-second intervals: high knee sprints, butt-kickers, side shuffles, bunny hops (deleted comma) and all out sprints. Take on one high intensity drill and aqua jog for a minute to recover, then continue to the next drill of choice.
3. Soft sand lunges and squats keep your bottom-side looking like it belongs in that Zumba video. Doing these exercises in the sand provides an extra challenge for sculpting your legs and keeping your core strong.
4. While laying out, work those abs. Planks are great for your whole core: abs, shoulders, muscles in your back and hips. While sunning your back, bring your elbows under your shoulders and peel your chest away from your towel. Press your navel into your spine while pushing your butt up, and lift your knees off the ground as you push your toes into the sand. Hold for as long as you can stand it.
5. Back extensions can also be done while sunning. While lying out on your stomach, bring your forearms to either side of you, hands resting in front of your shoulders. Peel your chest up and away from your towel while keeping your chin down, hips and toes pressed into the sand, and shoulder blades drawing down toward your waist. This exercise will sculpt your back and make you look like you belong on a red carpet when you step out in your halter dress.
6. Keep your arms and shoulders sculpted with push-ups and triceps dips. Do these in your hotel room before putting on the sunscreen (yes, before sunscreen if you don’t wanna end up slipping to the floor).
Between the exercising, dancing and cocktails, drink LOTS of water to avoid heat exhaustion, bloating, and to make sure your skin continues to glow and glisten. Wish I were there with you!
Hey you! Yes, you, the woman who can’t peel her eyes off the computer screen. Even if you have the most ergonomically correct workstation in the world, sitting there and working on your computer for hours at a time is one of the worst things to physically do to your body. First of all, who wants to look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame? And I won’t even mention (OK, I am) the back and neck pain it causes…which leads to headaches! Ugh! No bueno, right?
One of the most useful things you can do for your body is to move around and change positions every 20 to 30 minutes. This allows your body to naturally stretch and increase circulation to stagnant muscles, preventing the tightening and weakening of those muscles that are used less while you are sitting. Your body adapts. That means if you spend most of your time in one position, different muscles in your body will shorten or lengthen to adjust to that position.
I understand that there are times when that just can’t happen, so here are a few moves straight from my Skype Shape-Up program.You will be able to do these at your desk to prevent you from looking like Quasimodo’s twin and suffering subsequent headaches. And, bonus…you’ll look leaner and taller!
1. As seen in our “Moves for a Better Butt” article seat hovers will keep your legs and butt strong. From your chair, squeeze your butt cheeks, hold your stomach in, and press through your heels and lift that tush off your chair. Let your bottom hover over your seat pan a couple of inches. Be sure to tuck your tailbone under you and clench your glutes. Keep your shoulders drawn back to keep your back flat. When you can’t stand it anymore, stand straight up by squeezing that bum. (Wow, there are a lot of different words for butt.)
2. Hip circles will keep your lower back mobile and pain free. Begin by sitting in neutral position—at the front edge of your chair, planting your feet flat on the floor, and keeping your shoulders drawn back and down (imagine trying to tuck the bottom of your shoulder blades into your back pockets). Press your navel in, toward your spine. Inhale and tuck your pelvis under you, flattening your back. (When done right, you will feel the muscles of your lower abdomen—transverse abdominals—heat up.) Then, exhale and press it back, arching your lower back. Repeat a few times. Then circle your hips around, about five in each direction, like you are trying to draw circles with your tailbone.
3. Hip flexor stretches ensure those muscles at the top front of your thighs don’t shorten on you, which can cause nasty lower back pain. If you’re wearing pants you can do this in your chair. Start seated in neutral with your left upper leg on the front edge of your chair. Drop your right leg off the chair, right knee pointed straight down, stabilizing your body by holding your abs in and tucking your tailbone under you (flattening your lower back). Reach your right toes as far back as possible. You should be able to feel a warm stretch from the front of your right hip and down the front of that thigh. Hold for a count of ten, and repeat on your left leg.
So, If you are in a dress or bottom that inhibits your movement into this stretch, stand up and take one step forward about two feet with your left leg. Keep your stomach in and shoulders back. Then tuck your pelvis under you, pointing your tailbone down toward the floor. You should feel that stretch in the front of your right hip. Hold and repeat on your other side.
4. Shoulder blade pinches strengthen the muscles of your upper and mid back, preventing the all-too-common forward shoulder slump. You can do these while you type. Begin in neutral position. Then, pinch your shoulder blades together, like you’re trying to crush an apple between your shoulder blades. Be aware that your shoulders don’t shrug up—keep’em down.
Don’t worry about looking silly. These exercises are pretty discreet and shouldn’t cause you to be the topic of whispering at the water cooler. But really, who cares what anybody else thinks anyway? You’re exercising so you’ll be more productive and to keep your body healthy. If your co-workers are with it, they’ll be joining you in doing these refreshing exercises.
Having a nice butt is important. Even if yours isn’t insured for $27 million bucks and you didn’t create a new word for it, I’m sure you still do the over-the-shoulder butt check. I know I do. No one wants something too flat or lumpy in the back for obvious reasons (ahem, boys...); but your rear should be in good shape for optimal health/fitness as well.
The muscles in your rear end stabilize your legs while you walk and run. They are also integral parts of your body’s powerhouse, called your core. You know, the part of your mid-section that most people think is another word for abs. Well, your core—your powerhouse—includes the whole structure of your body (yes, it’s a structure), from your shoulder girdle down to the bottom of your pelvis. That means -- say it with me, folks -- your butt is part of your powerhouse. Not only does a strong one look good in your clothes and stabilize your lower half, it helps you jump higher and leap further. Why not work it?
Need some ideas? I just happen to have some for you. Here are four of my favorite exercises to get that tush tight.
Quadruped hip extension
This is a great everyday exercise that you may do at home. Begin on all fours, with your shoulders over your hands and hips over your knees. Draw your ribs down and tuck your tailbone under to flatten your back, creating a table-top position. Squeeze your hind cheeks and keep your stomach drawn in, as you extend one leg back, allowing your foot to come up to hip height. To make sure you are doing this one right, place a dowel along your spine and balance it there as you do this exercise, and alternate your extending leg.
You can do this one at your desk. Before sitting in your seat, let your bottom hover over your seat pan a couple of inches. Be sure to tuck your tailbone under you and clench your glutes. Keep your shoulders drawn back to keep your back flat. When you can’t stand it anymore, stand straight up by squeezing those burning glutes.
You thought you knew’em…Here’s how to do them and make them count. Take a long step forward, so that you are in a long stride position. Lean your chest forward, while keeping your back flat (you want your back to appear to form a straight line from the crown of your head down to the heel of the foot that is behind you). Your chest will line up with the middle of the thigh that is in front of you. Keeping your hips square (as if parallel to a wall in front of you) and squeezing your glutes, slowly lower your back knee toward the floor. Hold that position for a few seconds, while you feel a little heat in your working muscles. You want to feel like you could pounce forward by jumping off your lead leg. Slowly straighten your legs, returning you to ready position. Repeat as many as you are able to with good form, then switch sides.
Side leg lift
I like this one, as well, because I can multi-task while I do it—while washing dishes, brushing my teeth, folding laundry... While balancing on one leg, which stays slightly bent, raise the non-supporting leg straight out to the side of your body, angling slightly back. Keep your hips directly below your shoulders. Guess what? Squeeze your tush! And, as you do that, slowly raise the angled leg up. Lower and repeat ten to fifteen times, and repeat on your other side.
Within a few weeks of working on these simple four exercises, a few times each week, you will start to notice a lift in your hindquarters region. Print out this page and keep it with you so that you can get working on your new million dollar butt!
Your alarm goes off. You snooze. You could go work out. But, you snooze. When you finally get out of bed you clunk your way to the restroom. “I’ll work out later,” your inside voice says. You go through your daily routine: got to work, suffer work stress headache, take a few quick breaks, sigh, then its quitting time—oh, happy hour… “I need a drink more than I need the gym! I’ll work out tomorrow!” you say. Then, the next day repeats the one before.
All it takes is one morning, when you break that pattern. On that morning, you say “screw snoozing,” you wake up, brush your teeth, pull your hair back, throw on your sporty t-shirt and shorts, lace up the sneaks, and head out the door for your workout—even if it’s only for 30 minutes.
A quickie workout you could squeeze in is this full-body interval workout. Warm up with brisk walking for five minutes. In the last two minutes of your warm-up, throw in some intermittent high knee marching, leg extensions (like a toy soldier), walking on your tip toes—forward and backward, side steps on both sides. After your warm-up, add in some strength exercises: walking lunges, push-ups to side planks (do a push-up, modified if you need to, turn your body to one side while engaging your abs and glutes, and stretch the non-supporting arm to the sky; repeat the push-up and rotate to the other side; do as many as you are able to with good form), power walk for five minutes, repeat the strength exercises, repeat this cycle as your time allows you, and walk it off to cool-down.
Trust me, you’ll feel better for doing it. And, you’ll be more motivated to do it again in the days to come. Are you skeptical? Let me list the side effects of exercise that might just get you feeling so good you’ll have to do it every day: greater mental sharpness, more energy, strengthened immune system, more pronounced feelings of accomplishment, fewer junk food cravings, brighter skin, lowered blood pressure, improved cholesterol panel (lowered bad—LDL & VLDL, and elevated good—HDL), and greater ability to cope with stress. Oh yeah, and your clothes look better on you because you’ll be leaner and fitter.
Hmmm…still not convinced that all of this could happen? Well, I dare you to try it for at least a day, and let me know how you feel after that one day. If you feel good after that one day, then try doing it again, at least, four times per week (they don’t all have to be before work; active weekends are great, too), then let me know if you end up “suffering” from the other side effects I listed for you. Happy exercising!
This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Love Yourself". Each day we released updates of videos, poetry, images, and original content, all based on the theme of loving yourself. Click the link to read more!