Trainer Tuesday: Core Workout

“You’re only one workout away from a good mood.”

So, little preface here.  Some of you may have noticed that this post got a mind of its own and decided to publish yesterday when it was oh not even near done, and then, not save any of the rest of my writing as I continued that afternoon, so I got to rewrite pretty much this entire post–yay (not really yay), hence the first installment of Trainer Tuesdays is actually coming to you on a Wednesday.  Whoops.  Welcome to the frustrating side of blogging.  Didn’t even make my first personal deadline.  The blogging career is off to a fantastic procrastinating-per-usual start!  And now that that’s explained, let the post begin…

I’m a real sucker for alliteration.  Like a big one.  Like I accidentally make up phrases that have alliteration in them all the time.  I love how it sounds, how it makes language flow.  Thus, I’m introducing to you Trainer Tuesdays.  I will attempt (notice even my past self recognized that getting this post out on Tuesday and not Wednesday might be a stretch) each Tuesday to provide you with some workout or piece of advice or information related to your personal fitness.

To start off our Trainer Tuesdays, I am going to address something that almost every person struggles with and wants to target– belly fat.  The dreaded extra pounds that we often find located around our midsection.  The flub that seems the easiest to put on and the hardest to get rid of.  Trust me, we’ve all got it, we’ve all struggled with it, we all hate it so much that looking at it in the mirror is enough motivation to get our butts out the door to workout if we weren’t already planning on it that day.

Wouldn’t we just love it if it were possible to truly target that area only?  Spend 20 minutes at the end of our workouts just busting out those crunches and have it give us some picture perfect washboard abs?  Oh trust me, we would love it.  However no amount of loving will make it possible.  There is no reIMG_0903al way to workout only one part of your body, or at least not in the sense that many of us are wanting.  The wishful, ‘Oh I just want to lose several inches around my waist by doing lots of bicycles’.  Sorry hun.  If that were possible, we all wouldn’t need to spend time pining after those ideal abdominal midsections because we would all probably have them.  Everyone would throw in those few extra targeted minutes to get that dream bikini body if such a simple solution really existed.  The pure fact that we’re all so caught up with it and that it’s so sought-after should tell you its not and never will be simple.

When we lose weight, we lose weight from all over our bodies.  The same applies in general when we put on weight.  Now, this will vary from body to body.  You might notice for example that your hips or your thighs are the first to grow when you put on those few extra pounds.  I personally have the great privilege of noticing the expanse of that lovely spot right around my belly button when I decide to indulge on some sweet treats.  A cookie here, a little pudge there.  Not so pleasant.  I am one lucky gal.  I wish the reverse applied, that if I dropped a pound I would notice it leave my stomach right away, but gosh darn it wouldn’t you know that the place that seems the easiest to gain weight also seems to be the one where it’s the hardest to lose it from?  Some of the mysteries of the body do seem less beautiful and wondrous than others, that’s for sure.

So if all of this is true, and each body is different and often equally tricky, how in the good heavens do we lose weight around our middles for swimsuit season like we all so desperately want to do?  Good question my friends.  The answer is a combination of the following three things: strength training, cardio, and a good old fashioned healthy diet.  You may try with all your might to achieve those beach body results without adjusting your food intake, but I hate to break it to you, no amount of additional exercise can ever truly compensate for a junky diet.  Will you see some results?  Sure you will.  Exercise is great like that.  Will you see the full potential of what your results could be without changing your food?  No.  Would you be even more amazed but the way your body would change if you would adjust what you are eating on a regular basis?  Yes.

Now, with all that said, assuming you are doing your best to eat healthy (because hey, no one is perfect so all we can do is try), and you’ve got a nice like workout routine going that combines cardio and strength training in some form or the other, the only remaining aspect on our journey towards summer-ready belly bliss is the most frustrating factor.  Time.  You just gotta keep pushing.  Keep plodding ahead.  Keep doing what you’re doing each day, and the results will come.  It’s the waiting game ladies and gents and sometimes it can be the worst.  Some days, you will feel great and you will see the visual results of all your efforts.  And other days you won’t.  That’s the cold hard truth.  On days where you are feeling slumped, two things I turn to to help me are a) look back at a photo from very early on in your journey and just marvel over how much actually HAS changed with all of your work — and if you aren’t currently in the habit of taking progress selfies you best start that practice right now, and b) focus on just that day– you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to try your best and see if that best can be a little bit better than yesterday’s.  The big picture, and the small small small picture can both be strong refocusing motivators in our journeys towards the healthy bodies we deserve.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks.  For all of you out there who think that crunches are the only way to work your core, shame on you, as that is so far from true.  You’ve got to do like Taylor Swift says and shake it off, or shake it up rather in this particular instance (yeah I’m not totally sure why I just referenced Taylor Swift as I honestly am just about the farthest thing from her biggest fan).

For today’s core workout there are two main sections.  (To those dazzling ladies who came to class last night, woo hoo for you, you’ve already experienced all of this joyous fun firsthand with me!)  The first section is all standing abs.  You can complete each of these with your body weight only, or you can add weights as you choose.  I just caution that if you are holding weights (which will work your shoulders more as well as your core) that you make sure you are not sacrificing form at all to hold the extra weight.  For my class, we did each of the following sections three times through.  Standing abs without weights, with 3lb dumbbells, and with 5lb dumbbells.  In between each time we completed the full body cardio section, varying the time spent on the exercises.

Standing Abs

  • Side-to-side reaches, 20 reps per side (shoulders back, like you are sliding along a wall, using your opposite oblique to pull you up)IMG_0868
  • Elbow to leg lift, side oblique crunch, 20 reps per side (squeeze your core for balance and lower that leg with control!)IMG_0870
  • Hands to leg, front crunch toe touches, 20 reps alternating legs (exhale and really pull those low abs in)IMG_0869
  • High knees, 20 reps, with right and left combining to count as 1 (you can choose to run these out for more cardio, or simply stand and lift to take the intensity down)IMG_0871

Things to keep in mind while doing this workout, is first and foremost when you are working your core you always always always need to think about pulling your stomach in, sucking that belly button back as far as you can towards your spine.  Second, I find (as a good trainer friend once told me to do years ago and it has made all the difference) that I get a more effective workout when I am mentally focused, not just physically.  As you workout, you should be actively thinking about what muscle it is that you are using to complete that move.  You should be mentally squeezing that muscle as tight as you can while you physically squeeze it.  Trust me, getting your mind involved will transform your workout if it’s not something you’re already doing.  Each move will become harder and more effective, and who doesn’t want more bang for your buck?  If we’re investing the time to workout, let’s make it the best darn 45 minutes we can (which, by the way, is how long this workout takes if you repeat everything as I previously suggested.  You can feel free to cut back on the rounds though according the time you’re looking to take.)  With the side leg lifts especially, it is very tempting to let gravity give us a hand and have that leg just fall back to the earth, however I challenge you to try to lower your leg as slowly as you raise it, as you will be working that oblique more on the way down if you focus on your balance and control.  For the front crunches and high knees especially, you need to think about pulling in your low abs and exhaling with the work.  Exhaling helps to use your breathing to automatically cause you to contract your core.  If you don’t focus on the low abs during these exercises, the hip flexors will try to take over, which takes work away from your core.

The second section is a little bit of cardio burpee loving in different forms.  Those darn dreaded burpees.  I definitely have a love-hate relationship with those suckers.  Or perhaps I should say hate-love, since the hate is usually the more prevalent emotion.  Hate in that they’re painful.  Woo baby do they make you work.  Love in that they are so effective.  They work your whole body, especially your core, and they get your heart rate up for a great cardio burn.  The plank is at the basis of this exercise, which I also love-hate.  As a trainer, oh boy oh boy do I love the plank and all of its beautiful variations.  As an exercise participant, please stop making me do them.  So here’s your cardio section.  I would suggest going through the moves at least once slow for form, before you try to speed them up.  As the form comes more easily, you can try to string together several round repetitions going as quickly as you can (set a time for yourself to keep going for, say a minute and a half), or you can hold each individual move for 30 seconds each.  If you attended my class, you lucky duck, you got to do both!  The first four exercises are entirely body weight.  If you don’t have any weights, just repeat these four (trust me that will still be plenty).  If you do have access to weights, I suggest a heavy weight of some sort, whether that be a 8lb or 10lb dumbbell, medicine ball, or kettle bell.

Full Body Cardio

  • High plank mountain climber crossover (knee to opposite elbow) x2IMG_0872
  • Half push-up + half burpee (jump feet in but don’t stand all the way up) x2IMG_0873
  • High plank spider (knee outside to shoulder) x2IMG_0875
  • Full burpee x2 (For those of you who don’t know, a burpee is when your hands go down and you jump your feet back into high plank, hold, throw in a push-up if you’re feeling ambitious, jump your feet back in and stand up and jump.  If you’re looking to take it up another notch, add a tuck jump at the top where you jump your knees up to meet your hands.)
  • Standing lunge heavy weight chop (twist in the direction of the forward leg) x2IMG_0876
  • Kettle bell squat swing x2 (don’t forget to squeeze your booty at the top!)IMG_0877                       IMG_0878
  • Overhead tricep extension x2 (elbows in, pointing forward)IMG_0879

Just a couple notes on the above mentioned exercises.  If you look at that list and feel super intimidated, don’t be.  You can always take your basic plank form down to your knees and work from there, or walk your feet in and out for the burpees.  If you think those things are easy, number one, you’re crazy, number two, check your form, number three, push yourself.  The most common mistake I see with planks is actually not the ‘butt in the air’, because I think we hound that so much that unless you’re a beginner, you know to keep the booty down.  However, people tend to shift their shoulders forward ever so slightly toward their ears (which actually translates into them being slightly behind your wrists instead of directly above) so that the back rounds a bit and the face points down.  This shift takes some of the work out of your core and into your arms, thus making it easier.  Therefore when you’re in plank, double-check yourself.  Pull those shoulder blades back and down and together, and make sure you can look up out in front of you.  If you’re doing it in front of a mirror, you should be able to check yourself out and see that your shoulders and back are flat and not rounded.

Lastly, never let something become easy for you.  If it is no longer challenging you it will not change you.  Think the burpees are no sweat?  Add a push-up at the bottom or a tuck jump at the top.  Not hurting after 30 seconds?  Make it 45.  You know your body.  No one can actually tell when you are giving 110% except for yourself.  You are the only one who is hurt or helped by that 110%.  Just know that in general, exercise doesn’t lie.  You will get out what you put in, whether you see it that day, that week, that month, or even that year.

That said, even a workout done at 50% is better than none!  So get out there anIMG_0904d get to work!  Or, don’t get out there–stay where you are and just push that coffee table to the side and hop to it while you’ve got the television on.  However you do it, wherever you do it, trust me it’ll work! So let’s whittle away at our cores and burn those calories and hopefully by the time our bodies are ready, the weather will catch up and we’ll be able to don the ever-thought-about bikini and soak up the rays (or swim trunks for the gentlemen, sorry I didn’t mean to leave you guys out!)  Happy belly blasting to you all!

Hugs and love,

Maggie Mae



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