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Friday, September 19, 2008

Energizing CORE Exercises

Tired of the traditional abdominal crunch?  Try these advanced energizing exercises that target your deep abdominal muscles and also strengthen & stretch your entire body.  Remember to focus on your breath throughout the movements and warm up with a moderate walk or simple stretches like cat/cow (from all 4's arching and curving the spine) before you start.

Spinal AB Twist: Lie on your back with your knees in toward your chest, arms out to your sides in a T position.  Draw the legs in & together, inhale and gently take the knees over to the right, hovering the legs above the ground.  Remember to keep the left shoulder down on the ground to get a stretch across the chest.  Exhale and engage the abdominals to bring the legs back to center.  Follow your breath and alternate left and right sides 6 times.
  • For more of a challenge try the same exercise with straight legs.

Boat Balance:
Starting from a seated position, place your hands on the back of the thighs and bring your knees in to your chest so that your toes come off the floor.  Keep your back straight while you hinge back from the hips.  Move the ankles in line with the knees so that the legs form a 90-degree angle.  Take your arms to the outside of the legs with your fingers reaching forward energetically.  Continue to reach your chest up to the sky and engage your lower abdominals to hollow out the low belly.  Balance like this for 6 deep breaths.
  • Extend the legs straight so that the body forms a V shape to make this exercise more challenging.

Downward Dog & Knee Tuck:
Begin in an all 4's position on your hands and knees.  Tuck your toes and lift your hips up to the ceiling to form an upside down triangle position.  Inhale and lift the right leg up to the ceiling.  Exhale to hug the right knee in to the chest, slightly lower your hips and bring your shoulders directly over your wrists (into a high plank position).  Inhale back to the down dog with the right leg extending up to the ceiling.  Exhale back to a high plank, this time with the right knee moving to the outside of the right elbow.  Repeat this movement again with the right knee moving to the left elbow.  Do this entire sequence with the left leg.
  • Hold for 3 full breaths each time the knee is in to the chest/elbow to make this more challenging.

Side Plank:
Start from a high plank position.  Shift your weight to the left hand making sure that the left hand is directly under the left shoulder.  Move onto the outside edge of the left foot and try to stack the right foot on top of the left.  Draw the navel in toward the spine and pull the left side of your waist up to the ceiling.  Reach your right hand up to the ceiling.  Hold here for 3 breaths and repeat on the other side.
  • Add a hip dip to make this move more challenging.  Stay in your side plank and let the bottom hip lower to the ground, then use the abdominals to lift the hips back up to side plank position.  Try 10 hip dips on each side.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stretch of the Month: The IT Band Down Dog

September's Stretch of the Month, the IT Band Down Dog, lengthens & strengthens the entire body! You gain all the benefits of a regular Down Dog like relieving stress & headaches, reducing back pain, and improving digestion, with additional emphasis on stretching the Iliotibial Band (IT Band). The IT Band extends from the outside of the pelvis, over the hip, and inserts below the knee.  Stretching the IT Band can relieve pain from tightness on the outside of the leg and reduce lateral knee & hip injuries.  Make sure you've warmed up sufficiently before trying it out. 
  • Start on all 4's, tuck the toes and lift your hips up to the ceiling so that you create an upside down triangle position (regular Downward Facing Dog). Stay here for 3 deep breaths.
  • Make sure that your hands are pressed firmly into the floor and your arms are rotating so that the inner creases of your elbows are hugging in by your ears.  The shoulder blades should slide down the back toward the hips, and your sits bones should lengthen up to the ceiling.  Send your heels down to the floor.
  • Bend your right knee to your chest and step the foot underneath the left armpit so that the leg is equidistant between the left hand and the left foot, with the outside edge of the right foot in contact with the floor.  Keep the shoulders and hips squared off as you do this.  Ground the palms and feet back into the mat, draw the right hip back in space so that it is in the same plane as the left hip, and resend both sits bones up to the ceiling.
  • Stay here for 5 deep breaths and repeat to the other side.
Modifications: What if?...
  • " shoulders and back are too tight to do the down dog comfortably" Place your hands on blocks or an elevated surface. 
  • "...I can't feel the IT band stretch" Play with the position of the crossed leg, take it up a little bit closer to your hands or down closer to your opposite leg.  Then make sure to draw the hip back so that your heel drags in closer to your body.
The ITBand Down Dog is especially helpful for runners, so try it after your jog around the park!  Check out the schedule to the right to practice it in Stretch Class all month!