This is a guest post by Alison Marsh.
You are getting in your workouts on a fairly regular basis, and making sure to add your ab routine, but you are still not making the progress you would like. Maybe you are still holding on to a few extra, post-baby pounds or maybe postpartum abs makes it look like you still have a little one on the way.
Here is the reality: Research shows that exercising at the gym once a day does not counteract the effects of sitting all day, or even standing in one place all day.
Dr. Sarah Ellis Duvall, women’s health PT, says that what a woman does throughout her day matters more than any 30 minute ab routine. And Dr. Joan Vernikos, author of Designed to Move explains that exercise and frequent movement as two different things. We need exercise for strength and endurance, but we also need frequent movement for a healthy baseline. Our bodies were designed to move! And move from the core! Joseph Pilates, founder of the Pilates Method, made strengthening and moving from the core a popular way to exercise.
If you are active throughout your day, you already have countless opportunities to work on your core, move past those extra pounds, and seal up any loose post-baby abs!
Even if you sit for much of your day, there are still many ways to strengthen your abs during those sitting sessions.
Here is the key:
Practice proper posture throughout your everyday activities!
Let’s start with a quick review of what our core is:
We have our four sets of abdominal muscles – Transverse that wrap around our waist like a corset, internal and external obliques that connect from the hips up into the ribs, and our rectus abs, the “six pack” muscles.
We don’t want to ‘suck in’ our stomach on a regular basis. It is unhealthy for our organs, and not optimal for our muscle strength. So, instead of sucking in, think “Hug the belly”.
But that is not all we should be focused on when we think about strengthening our abs.
And then the pelvic floor, which is basically our only muscle group that holds all of our organs from falling out from under us.
A healthy pelvic floor requires strength AND flexibility. So while Kegels are fine, add it some squat sitting to stretch these muscles as well.
Erector Spinae (Lower Back Muscles)
This group of muscles is responsible for keeping us from collapsing over. Without our erector epinae, we either hunch over or over-arch our backs. Eric Goodman of Foundation Training says “If you can’t be strong in your back, you can’t be strong.”
Your abdominals depend on the erector spinae as their foundation. Reverse planks are a great way to strengthen the erector spinae. And a strong back makes it possible to hinge at the hips when squatting.
Other important muscles include:
We also have our latissimus dorsi muscles that run from under our arm-pits down the back and fuse into our thoracolumbar fascia, that then connects to the sacrum – the end of our spine.
Think “Arm pits to the hips” and this will help you engage this crucial muscle group.
Gluteals aka “The Glutes” or “Butt Muscles”
Our glutes are pretty much the foundationfor our core. Without our butt muscles, our torso would have nothing to carry the weight.
This is where all those squats start to pay off in real life!
Here are 5 Ways to Firm Up Your Core in Your Everyday Life
1. Sit and stand up tall in your chair and while waiting in line – also sit on the floor more!
Whether your sitting at work, driving, waiting in-line at the grocery store, or simply reading a book, make sure to hug the belly in (don’t squeeze!), gently close your ribs down, and shoulders gently down (through engaging your latissimus dorsi muscles in your back)
Feel as if there is a string on the top of your head and it is pulling from your spine up into the sky. Don’t forget to breathe!
If you do sit on the job, make sure to be standing up every 20-30 minutes!
Consider sitting on the floor or sitting in a squat (to stretch the pelvic floor) to read a report, or type on your laptop.
2. Practice breathing into your sides and back of the ribs, rather than belly breathing.
Think of your breathing muscle, the diaphragm, as an umbrella. You want the umbrella to expand on all sides. 360 degrees. So make sure when you take an inhale, you are expanding the ribs from the sides and back, primarily.
The belly may rise a bit, but try not to let it take all the air. This helps to keep the core in the strongest, most supportive position possible.
Try practicing this when you are waiting in line or sitting at a stop light.
3. Do Your Chores with Your Core!
Vacuuming, mopping, dusting, even dishes, can all be amazing opportunities to strengthen your core!
When vacuuming or mopping, bend your knees and stick your butt out a bit, keeping your torso in a neutral position (think straight spine, ribs closed, rather than curving over), and hugging the belly.
Not only does this work your core and back muscles (erector spinae), especially your butt muscles, it keeps your back safe from fatigue and becoming overworked.
When standing at the kitchen sink, or folding clothes, practice hugging the belly and standing tall. This is also a great time to practice that side and back breathing!
4. Primp With Your Core
How much time do you think you spend in the mirror in the morning or before an evening out?
Make your time in front of the mirror an ab conditioning routine as well!
Gently hug the belly and stand up tall! Move from your lats “arm pits to the hips” to do your hair, rather than lifting your shoulders, sitting into a hip, and letting your belly pop-out. (See pic)
AND the bonus: Proper posture makes you look and feel AMAZING! How many times have you seen a beautiful woman in an evening gown with her shoulders slumped? Respect your body and stand up tall!
5. Shop With Your Core!
This is my favorite time to practice! Out in public, when I may not be feeling 100% confident, just standing up taller and hugging my belly not only makes me feel more confident, it energizes me.
A bonus – holding on to the shopping cart with both hands helps to activate our fascial connections throughout our body that help to support our entire being, making for a solid foundation for our core.
Your body is AMAZING! By practicing these simple tweaks throughout your day, you will not only be on the fast track to a stronger core, you will feel more confident, and begin to develop healthy posture habits that will carry you through your life!
Now, go be the awesome lady that you are, stand up tall, hug that belly, and don’t forget to smile!
Alison Marsh is a Pilates instructor and educator in Las Vegas, NV specializing in pre and postnatal health, and diastasis recti recovery. She blogs over at YourPregnantCore.com.