To Your Health
December, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 12)
Side planks can start out in static holds and progress to side planks with single-leg support; side plank on a stability ball with your elbows on the ball; progress to alternating side planks to the elbow or hand; plank on the elbows and walk to a push-up; or plank on elbows on the ball. You can even perform stability ball kneeling rollouts from your elbows.
Plank on ball: To really activate your abdominal muscles, kneel in front of the stability ball and place your elbows on the top of the ball (in the center). Slowly roll the ball away from your body until there is a straight line through the knees, hips and head and your weight is being supported through your elbows down on to the ball. Once in this position, it may be necessary to tilt the pelvis so that it is held in neutral with correct lumbar spine alignment. Also be careful not to round off the shoulders: aim for a "long spine." Build up to holds at the far point for 30 to 60 seconds. 2-3 sets, 30-60 seconds per set.
Stability Ball Push-Ups: These are your basic push-ups, but you're doing them with your feet on a stability ball. Keep your body straight - don't let your hips sag or stick your butt up in the air - to max out on the exercise's core-strengthening benefits. Do as many as you can with strict form. 1 set to failure.
Side Bridge: The side bridge is a safe and effective exercise for the obliques and quadratus lumborum (a key lumbar stabilizing muscle). It also targets the lower abdominal muscle. Lie on your nondominant side with your forearm on the floor under your shoulder. Support your weight with that forearm and the outside edge of the same side foot (your legs should be stacked one on top of the other). Your body should form a straight line from head to ankles. Contract your abs and glutes in as far as you can, and push your hips off the floor. Create a straight line from ankle to shoulder and keep your head in line with your spine. Hold this position for an increasing length of time up to a maximum of one minute, breathing steadily. Relax and lower under control. Repeat on your other side. 2-3 sets, 1 minute per set.
"Cobra" or "Arch-Up": This is more of a low back exercise than a gluteal exercise, but it will train you to recruit the gluteals as well. Lay face down on the floor with the arms beside the hips. Activate the core by drawing in the naval toward the spine and squeezing the glutes. With the core and glutes activated, lift the chest off the floor. Keep both feet on the floor. Pause momentarily at the top of the lift while targeting the buttocks (gluteus maximus) and erector spinae/multifidus (muscles in the back).
Progress to changing the arm position. Hold your arms straight out in front of you. Your body should form a straight line from your hands to your hips. Raise your upper body until it's slightly above parallel to the floor. At this point, you should have a slight arch in your back, and your shoulder blades should be pulled together. Pause for a second, then repeat. 12-15 reps, 1 set.