Don’t just sit there…
Flex those abs!
As I'm sitting here typing this, I'm flexing my abs. I do this whether I'm driving, cooking, walking, just brushing my teeth and yes, typing. I do it so much that I don't even think about it anymore. And no, I don't have a 6-pack and you don't need to have one either to put your core strength to use.
Whether you can see them or not, everyone has abdominal muscles and engaging them can slim your stomach and improve your posture.
Now, I'm not talking about the grit-your-teeth type of flexing. I'm simply talking about engaging your core muscles to prevent injury in simple day to day tasks. Just look at all of the real world benefits from this Harvard Health article:
- Good posture trims your silhouette and projects confidence. More importantly, it lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply. Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture means a strong core and helps you gain full benefits from the effort you put into exercising.
- Simple everyday acts, like bending to put on a shoe or turning to look behind you
- Doing housework like mopping or vacuuming or mowing the lawn
- On-the-job tasks, doesn't have to be lifting heavy items, simply standing and sitting without pain or discomfort require a strong core
- Balance and stability to prevent you from falling
- Prevent lower back pain and injuries
- Sports and other fun activities
Since there's a good chance you're reading this hunched over at your computer or phone, simply engage your abs and wha-la, your posture is instantly fixed.
But, sometimes it’s hard to do at first because you're not used to having those abdominal muscles firing in the first place. It is not the same as sucking in your stomach but that's often what people do initially to try and engage their core. My go-to move to get the correct core muscles engages is the plank. With continual practice of the plank move below, your abs will be firing automatically in no time.
To practice the plank, time yourself and see how long you can hold the correct form. The basic plank and elbow plank below are both starter planks. If you want more of a challenge, then hold for as long as you can, then rest and repeat until you’ve held the pose for a total of 1 min. See if you can hold the position a little longer each time. It's completely normal to only be able to hold it for a few seconds at first.
Keep in mind, your heels should be the farthest point out, not your toes (see pic below). Your head, shoulders, glutes and feet should all be in alignment so that you're making a "plank". The plank is only meant to be held for 30-60 seconds so if you can only do a few seconds, then you're on the right track.
Tip: If you’re feeling tightness in your hips, flex your glutes.
While a plank exercise can help prevent back injury it's not an exercise you should necessarily do if you already have a back injury. If you have anything more than a minor, occasional back ache it’d be best to avoid these exercises unless you‘re under the care of a professional who knows these will be safe for you to practice. Also, this is an isometric exercise which should be avoided by anyone with high blood pressure because holding a flexed position can increase blood pressure.
An alternative to this exercise is simply balancing on one foot. Aim for 30-60 seconds and practice with each foot. Gain your balance by tightening your core. This can be more difficult in some ways because it also requires balance but it is an easier alternative if you have back problems.
Now go practice! It may take a week or two until you are able to engage your abs without being in the plank pose. But once you're able to, you'll have lifelong benefits. And it doesn't hurt to continue practicing those planks either!