by Alexandra Williams, MA from Fun and Fit
Holding a plank for a few minutes or doing 100 crunches may be impressive, but did you know these exercises don’t actually make you much stronger in the abs or back? If you want to assess and improve your core strength, try the “Floppy Fish.” A funny name for an exercise, but videotape yourself doing it, and you just might discover why it has that name!
Core strength is important for keeping you upright with good posture. You want that, because good posture helps you look more confident and fit.
* Lie down on one end of your mat in prone position, perpendicular to the mat
* Place one hand on top of the other, with arms out long in front of you and off the floor. Elbows should be slightly bent
* Cross your feet at the ankles, knees slightly bent, with legs out long and off the floor
* Tuck your chin toward (not to) your chest so that you are looking down at the floor directly below your head
* Verify that you are touching the mat (or floor) only from the chest to the hips. Everything else is lifted slightly
* Tighten everywhere your belt touches, then roll slowly from one end of the mat to the other. Return back to start.
* Repeat this exercise 3 times in each direction, remembering to keep your limbs off the ground
Most people are quite strong in the chest and shoulders, so they compensate for weak abdominals by using those muscles instead of the core. If you find yourself pushing off from the ground using your elbows, feet or knees, then you might be in this category. No kicking the legs either. And beware of using momentum to get you over! That’s not your core working! The secret is to go slowly. Once you get pretty good at this move, try holding your arms and legs in the open position, as my sister shows in the video.
The reason this move is so difficult (and effective) is that it forces you to work from the inside out. This means you are working from your core, not your extremities. Think of a typical ab crunch. Most people use the arms and momentum to propel themselves up and forward, which is moving from the outside in – extremities to core. This places stress on the neck and lower back, but doesn’t do much for the abdominals. Sad, but true. Movement should always initiate from the center (proximal) and radiate out to the extremities (distal).
Embrace your inner mermaid or merman and give this exercise a try. And if you find yourself flopping about, good news – the cure is to keep trying it with good form.
Author Alexandra Williams, MA has been teaching, mentoring, presenting, emceeing, writing and editing about fitness for over 25 years. Certified by the American Council on Exercise, she is currently on staff in the exercise studies department at UCSB, and is also a contributing editor and writer for IDEA Health and Fitness Association. She co-writes Fun And Fit, a healthy living blog for Fun and Fit, with her identical twin sister, Kymberly.