Relaxing exercises on beach at sunset

Wake Up and Reactivate Your Core

Have you ever reached a plateau in your fitness quest? We all have. The challenge comes when we want to push past it. But it could be as simple as making a few changes to “wake up” muscle groups that may have tuned out after doing the same routine over and over. Image: mumsdreamsignite.com

We are creatures of habit. We’re comfortable when we’ve got a routine down – whether work, a hobby, family, chores, or working out – our comfort zone is the familiar.

It’s a great feeling to master a physical challenge. Pushing our limits, focusing, practicing and achieving an athletic, weight loss, competitive or other fitness goal.  It’s also a great success to get over an injury, to heal properly, to get stronger and feel better for the long haul.

So here’s the kicker: When our bodies (and minds) have mastered a physical task, we tend to go on auto-pilot. Because it’s comfortable, and we know what to expect. We become less focused and move faster to get through things quicker. We start going through the motions which can either keep us on that plateau, or sometimes lead to impromptu injuries if we’re not paying attention.

It’s fantastic to do some physical activity each day. Just remember, to be most effective, avoid injury and see improvements we need to make sure are bodies are primed and ready for the activity. We need to wake up the muscle groups – both the large ones (doing the heavy tasks) and the smaller stabilizers (supporting the load).

Let’s Wake ‘Em Up
By “wake up”, we don’t mean “shock” our muscles. It simply means changing up the routine a bit. Doing things slightly different to get and keep the muscle groups engaged and prepped for the variety of movement patterns we do for work and play.

So before we slide on those comfy old pair of sneaks and slog off into the sunset (where was I going?…),

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Or leap into a full-intensity, high-impact Crossfit session after sitting at a desk all day (agh, my hammie!…),

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First consider the end goal. We want to feel better and get better at what we do so we can do the fun stuff for a long time. Then consider a little variety to keep those muscles (including the one between our ears) tuned up and in tune.

Let’s start with the mother of all stabilizers – the core:  Generally speaking, the front, sides and back muscles of our centers, including the deep abdominals.

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Slow It Down and Reactivate!
Now here’s a change from our multi-tasking, get-done-and-move-on habit.
Instead of cranking through 50 crunches in under a minute, to truly prime our abdominals, back and deep core muscles to get them ready for what we bring on next, here are a few basic yet effective options.

They don’t take much time, however, they DO require focus. And remember: Whenever tightening the abdominals, avoid pushing the stomach out as you tighten. Instead – think of “bracing for the punch”, imagining a 360-degree band around the waist.

The Slow-Mo Ab Curl

  • Lie on back, knees bent (hands either reaching past the hips or supporting the head)
  • Imagine sliding your rib cage laterally towards your hips; tighten abs and float the head and shoulders up off the floor
  • Keep that stomach tight, breathe, and hold for 5 long counts
  • Rest the head back down and repeat 5 slow and focused reps

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The Slow-Mo Waist Whittler

  • Remain on back, same position as above with head and shoulders facing the ceiling; shift both knees to the right (until the left glute raises off the floor slightly)
  • Imagine the left lower rib sliding laterally towards the left hip; squeeze the waist and float the head and shoulders up off the floor; head, shoulders and gaze remain facing up towards the ceiling
  • Keep that left waist and obliques tight, breathe, and hold for 5 long counts
  • Lower the head back down and repeat 5 slow and focused reps
  • Switch and shift the knees over to the left (until the right glute raises off the floor slightly); repeat above

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The Slow-Mo Back Extensions

  • Flip to the stomach, arms extended and resting on the floor, legs at hip width
  • Float the head up; nose about 1-2 inches off the floor
  • Raise the right arm about 2 inches off the floor and the right leg up until the knee is off the floor
  • Imagine the right shoulder blade pulling down towards the right hip pocket
  • Tighten the stomach, breath, and hold for 5 long counts
  • Switch to the left arm and left leg and repeat above
  • Imagine the left shoulder blade pulling down towards the left hip pocket
  • Tighten the stomach, breath, and hold for 5 long counts
  • Repeat each side 3-5 times

The Slow-Mo Back Extensions – Diagonal Variation

  • Same position and movement as above, only now raise opposite arm and leg
  • Raise the right arm about 2 inches off the floor and the left leg up until the knee is off the floor
  • Imagine the right shoulder blade pulling diagonally down and across towards the left hip pocket
  • Tighten the stomach, breath, and hold for 5 long counts
  • Switch to the left arm and right leg and repeat above, 3 -5 times

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With our core muscles reactivated, we’re ready for what’s next!

Back To Basics Functional Exercises
Sometimes, changing it up mean simply executing a few, good ‘ol basics to again prime the body and move through all ranges of motion.

“The best exercise programs do not need to be overly complicated to be effective—they just need to execute the fundamental principles of exercise extremely well (such as squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling and rotating).
The more we learn about the fascia system, the more apparent it becomes that movement variability is essential. Repeatedly doing the same exercise the exact same way can place repetitive stress on the joints, muscle and connective tissue and increase the risk of injury.
Making minor adjustments to the positions of the major joints involved can incorporate different tissues and dissipate the stress across the entire system, resulting in stronger, more injury-resistant muscle and connective tissue.” ACE ProSource

The following are exercises we’ve all done before, only here’s a twist: Incorporate the Slow-Mo method above, slowing down the movements to half-speed, AND focus in on how the core muscles (abs, waist and back) are activated, tightening and supporting each movement. Repeat 8-10 times and you’ll be ready to go.

The Air Squat – Half Speed

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The Lunge and Twist – Half Speed

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The Plank – Slowly Raise and Hold One Leg, Then Switch

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The Mountain Climber – Slowly Tuck One Knee In and Hold, Then Switch

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NOW, pop on those sneaks, hit the trail or the the road with mind and body engaged. Your body will appreciate and react positively to the difference!

Young couple run together on a sunset Image: Nutricise.dr.com