Achieving 6-pack abs is pretty much the holy grail of physical fitness and strength, even though much of your abdominal appearance is decided by genetics, not effort. But whether you have 7% body fat or a layer of “insulation” over your abdominal muscles it’s extremely important to keep those muscles strong. Working the muscles that make up your core strong (the abdominals, obliques, and mid- to lower-back) will make your entire body feel stronger, give you better posture, and improve your balance. However, the question remains—what’s the best technique to building and managing core strength?
We’ve been presented with so many different options for strengthening the abdominal muscles that it’s hard to know what works best. Should we be lying on our backs, balancing on our hands and toes, standing up, squatting, or using a contraption like the ab flyer or ab rocket?
Luckily, a group of fitness experts commissioned by the American Council on Exercise recently conducted the research to answer that very question. ACE reached out to experts at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse to conduct research determining the effectiveness of the most popular equipment and exercises compared to the traditional crunch. The team incorporated several different varieties of popular equipment including the Ab Circle Pro, Ab Roller, and others, as well as exercises including yoga’s boat pose, the stability ball crunch, decline bench curl-ups, the captain’s chair crunch, the bicycle crunch, the side plank, and a standard plank.
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What is all the fuss about having a strong core? Yes, of course we all want a smokin’ hot six pack, but is there a real benefit to tightening your tummy beyond the aesthetic? Short answer: Yes. And a lot of it has to do with having a healthier, stronger center and a less achey lower back.
Strong core muscles make it so much easier to do many of our daily physical activities—such as running errands, doing household chores, and moving every which way. When you use your core to bend, lift, twist, and reach you safeguard your lower back, shifting weight off of your spine and onto your abs and the muscles of your back.
Core exercises strengthen your abdominals, back muscles, obliques (sides), and muscles around the pelvis. But this doesn’t mean do a million crunches! That can only promise a sore back. What should you do instead?
Here are three exercises to do daily as you work toward a stronger core and a happier lower back:
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Yes, yoga brings about amazing mental and emotional benefits, but if we’re being honest, we all just want long, lean muscles and a super flat midsection. Ditch the crunches and let your yoga poses help you get there! Inspired by the recent Shape magazine video, these five moves target all the muscles in your abdomen and include a bit of cardio to burn fat and showcase your hard-earned, rock-solid core.
1. The Plank Slide
We all know a plank is the ultimate total body toner that blasts every muscle in your core, but have you tried the plank slide? Hold your plank like normal, except your hands are on your sticky mat and your feet rest on a blanket (*note: this must be done on a hardwood or slippery floor!). Then, use your core to keep your legs straight while sliding them up toward your hands like a forward fold. Slide your legs back to your starting plank position. It’s like cleaning your floor while working your core!
Bonus super challenge: try the plank slide with one leg up in the air at a time!
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One of the most common New Year’s resolutions that people strive to stick to each year is to exercise more. It’s also the one that most people tend to give up on before January is even over, often saying, “I just don’t have enough time.” The truth is, you have time for anything that you make a priority. Our lives are super busy with work, school, kids, etc., but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find at least a few minutes each day to focus on improving your fitness level. After all, any of exercise is better than nothing.
Here’s a list of the best bang for your buck in the amount of time that you have to exercise:
Got 4 minutes?
Try a Tabata workout. The idea behind the Tabata method is to work at your maximum level for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This pattern is repeated continuously eight times for a total of four minutes of training. If you’re doing more than one Tababta drill, take one minute to rest between exercises. I would recommend doing a total of no more than six sets total, since you’ll be working at such a high level of intensity. If you only have time for one Tabata, consider doing an exercise like burpees, which is more demanding and works muscles throughout the entire body.
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The BOSU Balance Trainer is an incredibly effective piece of equipment to use in your workouts. The BOSU (which stands for “Both Sides Utilized”) can be used to target almost every major muscle group of the body for strength training, to get a cardio intensive workout, and as a tool for a killer core workout. Exercises performed using a BOSU focus on balance and can be performed on a stable (round side up) or unstable (flat side up) surface.
BOSU has recently launched a new product called Powerstax that will (literally) take your workout to the next level.
What is the Powerstax System?
BOSU Powerstax were created to be used in conjunction with a BOSU Balance Trainer. Powerstax are risers that can be stacked below the BOSU Trainer to add elevation and intensify your workout. The risers are four inches tall and can be purchased separately or as a set of three. The BOSU trainer itself is 10 inches tall, so adding all three risers will elevate your BOSU trainer to be 22 inches in height.
The Powerstax will securely hold the BOSU trainer with the flat side facing up or down, allowing for more diversity in your training. Placing the round side up results in higher total elevation of the combined unit. When the flat side is facing up, it creates a slightly more stable surface (as compared to round side up) and is great for advanced dynamic movement.
One other innovation with the Powerstax is its ability to be used for strength training. Each riser weighs 5 pounds and can be filled with up to 12 quarts of water (which will result in a total weight of 30 pounds). Each quart of water adds an additional four pounds to the five pound riser, making it easy to adjust to your needs.
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