The Best Stability Ball Exercises for Your Core

Using an exercise ball greatly increases the difficulty of core stability exercises. Let's explore a few of the most effective moves you can do with the ball for a rock solid core.

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A washboard stomach is the hallmark of a fit individual. Many people make it their goal to get this sculpted look. First, there is the bad news. You can’t do dozens of sit-ups in the hope you’ll target abdominal fat. It doesn’t work that way. Your body is a closed system. When you work out, the calorie burn covers everything, not just your abs.

Second, you’ll likely lose fat around your belly first. But, it’s also the first place you’ll pack on the extra pounds, depending upon your genetics. However, there are still compelling reasons to include core exercises in your routine. And using a stability ball is surprisingly effective. Besides that, it’s just plain fun. Let’s go over what makes it a great addition to your workout.

Why You Should Use a Stability Ball

If you’ve never used a stability ball, you’re in for a surprise. It’s not as easy as it looks—especially if you start exercising with it. It lacks the rigidity of a chair. Instead, your body provides the support. You’ll have to maintain your balance while engaging your abdominal muscles to keep you off the floor.

That applies to sitting and the exercises you do with it. That adds another level of complexity to your workouts which can increase your calorie burn. Focusing on your core muscles makes good sense too. Strong abdominal muscles will support your back and help prevent strain and other issues. And the play factor is important too to encourage you to work out regularly.

Core Exercises

Many of these moves will seem familiar to you. You can use a stability ball to replace an exercise bench. It’s a more comfortable surface that will increase your range. You’ll notice this fact immediately with sit-ups and other core exercises.

The best ones will target your ab muscles which include:

  • Rectus abdominis
  • External obliques
  • Internal obliques
  • Transverse abdominis

The best exercises will include a series of moves which focus on one or more of them for a complete workout.

Crunch, Arms Crossed

The crunch will zero in on the rectus abdominis. It is the so-called six-pack muscle. It flexes your spine and torso. Doing this exercise on a stability ball differs slightly from what you know already. Begin by sitting on the stability ball. Move your hips around to find your center. Then, walk out to position the ball at your upper back.

Cross your arms over your chest. Inhale as you tilt your torso forward. Hold this pose for a moment or two. Then, exhale as you return to the starting position. You can deepen the pose by moving your body over the ball once you’ve mastered the basic exercise. The combination of the crossed arms and stability ball engages your entire core to maintain balance.

Jackknife

The jackknife looks harder than it really is, but that’s not to say that you can’t make it more difficult if you choose. You’ll begin by laying on your ball on your belly. Then, walk out with your hands until the ball is resting on your lower legs. The farther you place it, the tougher is the move.

Inhale as you pull the ball toward your chest as you bend your knees. Pause briefly and return to the starting position. The rectus abdominis is the main abdominal muscle involved with this move. You’ll also engage your arms, thighs, and chest. All will help keep you stable and balanced which will improve your posture.

Reverse Crunch

The reverse crunch is the first exercise in this group that uses the stability ball as a prop. That is another excellent use for this tool because it adds that unpredictability element which engages your entire abdominal region. This one will also bring your inner thighs muscles into play for a more complete workout.

Begin by laying on your back with your legs bent. Place the ball between them. Then, pull your legs together to grasp the ball as you exhale and bring it toward your chest. Make sure your pelvis stays on the mat to avoid back strain. Pause briefly and return to the starting position.

These moves are harder with larger sized stability ball because of the burden it places on your legs. The benefit is that it will add a flexibility component to your workout.

Pendulum

The pendulum is a challenging exercise, especially if you’re new to using a stability ball. Getting your legs involved in the act will work these muscles too for additional health benefits. This move will target your abdominals including your external and internal obliques. That makes it a more complete workout than other types.

You’ll begin just like the reverse crunch on your back with the stability ball between your legs. For this move, you’ll lift the ball straight up perpendicular to your body with your arms extended at your sides. Then, you’ll swing the ball gently to your left and right, pausing briefly at the end of each side. It’s essential to keep your lower back stable on the mat.

Clamshell Crunch

The clamshell crunch is the final exercise with your stability ball standing in as a prop. It is similar to the previous two with an important difference. You’ll begin the same with the ball between your legs. Squeeze it tightly as you get ready to do the move. This act will get your thigh muscles involved.

Then, you’ll go through the motion of a basic crunch bending forward as you bring the stability ball toward you. This move involves your entire abdominal region with the exception of your obliques. Like other moves of this ilk, it feels harder than it looks. But don’t let that discourage you. The rewards are worth the extra effort.

Stability ball exercises that target your abdominal muscles sometimes appear deceptively easy. They add a greater challenge that promises quick results that you’ll be sure to notice if just for the muscle soreness that you may experience the next day. But these moves are worth the effort. They’ll give you the sculpted look you want while supporting your back.

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TFT Editorial Team

TFT Editorial Team

Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see "TFT Editorial Team" this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

7 Great Bodyweight Exercises for an Outdoor Workout

If you are used to working out in a gym or at home, getting outside to workout can be extremely refreshing. Below are seven great body weight exercises you can do next time you head outdoors for a workout.

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Bodyweight exercises let you take your workout on the go. There are no excuses for not making it to the gym. Besides that, it’s good for you. A study published in the journal, PLoS One, found that participants had a more positive emotional response outdoor mountain hiking than indoor physical activities like a treadmill session. The researchers even recommended it for health professionals.

Being active is always a healthy choice, but it can also improve your mental well-being as a study by the University of Michigan Health System found. Ready to get rid of some stress and work out? Begin with an easy walk or jog to warm up. Here are some bodyweight moves to get you moving for a fun outdoor workout.

Bench Dip

The bench dip targets your entire upper body, making it an excellent choice for indoor or outdoor workouts. Your triceps are the main focus, but your shoulders and chest muscles also support this move. And the great thing about this exercise is that you’ll see results quickly because it’s a smaller muscle. That sculpted look is only weeks away.

You can perform the bench dip outdoors using a park bench or picnic table. A rock or log would also work. Sit on the bench, facing away from it. Extend your legs straight out in front of you. Then, slowly lower your body by bending your elbows. Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times. Rest for a few moments.

Inverted Row

The inverted row provides a good workout for your back and lats. It will engage your chest and shoulder muscles too. Even your abs will get into the act to keep your body stable through the move. It’s essential to work both your abdominal and back muscles to prevent back strain. This exercise is easy to do with little risk of injury when performed correctly.

That park bench you used for the bench dip will work well with this exercise. A low-hanging branch or railing are good alternatives. Lie on the ground underneath the bench. Grasp the top of it with your hands. Then, exhale as you pull your upper body toward it. Pause briefly before returning to the starting position. Repeat 10 times and rest.

Push-Up

It would be hard to overstate the benefits of the push-up as a bodyweight exercise. It’s challenging with many variations for ramping up or toning down the effort. This move will engage several muscle groups including the chest, abs, and lower body. That’s one of the advantages of these types of workouts; they maximize your exercising.

You can perform the classic push-up by raising your entire body off of the ground with your extended arms. Be careful not to lock your elbows. You can do an easier version by going on your knees instead of the balls of your feet. You can make it harder by elevating your feet on a bench. Repeat 10 times and rest.

Plank

The plank is a nice segue from the push-up. The primary target is the rectus abdominis muscle, the so-called six-pack. Your obliques, pecs, and quads are also involved. Like the push-up, that makes it a great exercise for working several muscles with one move. There are also variations to make it easier or harder.

Begin by lying on your belly with your hands by your shoulders. Then, push yourself up by extending your arms. The same caution applies about your elbows. Hold the position for at least 10 seconds. Work up to one minute or more as you gain strength. Avoid holding your breath. Rest briefly before moving on to the next exercise.

Squat

The squat is one of the best bodyweight exercises for your lower body. It’ll engage your quads, glutes, and calf muscles. You’ll find it helpful to use your breath to create a rhythm while doing this exercise. You should breathe in as you lower your body. Then, exhale as you come up during the part of the exercise requiring the greatest effort.

Stand tall with your arms extended in front of you. You can also place them akimbo if you prefer. Inhale as you bend your knees until they are parallel with the ground. Make sure to keep your back straight. Exhale as you return to standing. Repeat 10 times. Take several deep breaths as you rest up for the next exercise.

Lunge

The lunge works the same muscles as the squat, but it also gets your abs involved for balance and stability. You can tweak which ones take on the most work by the length of your stride. Your glutes will get a better workout if you go long. You can isolate the quads if you go short.

Stand straight with your hands on your hips. Begin with your left leg and lunge forward until your right leg almost touches the ground. Don’t let it rest here to keep the muscles engaged. Then, return to the starting position. Alternate the move with your left leg. Repeat 10 times for each side. Take some more deep breaths of that fresh outdoor air.

Standing Calf Raise

The standing calf raise may not seem like a big move, but it is an effective way to get shapely legs. The gastrocnemius on the back of your lower leg does the most work. You’ll need some type of support for this exercise such as a tree or bench.

Place one hand on it and the other on your hip. Then, raise your heels, standing on your tiptoes. Avoid overextending your heels to avoid muscle strain. Hold briefly, and return to a standing position. If you find it hard, just lean more on your support to lead you through the move. That’s it, short and sweet. Repeat the exercise 10 times.

You can finish up your outdoor workout with some light stretching that targets the muscles of these exercises. Then, enjoy a leisurely walk back to your car or home. Congratulation yourself on putting your physical and mental health first.

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Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see "TFT Editorial Team" this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

Is Muscle Soreness a Sign of a Good Workout?

So you worked out really hard yesterday, and today you are so sore you can barley walk (day 2 is the worst). Is all that muscle soreness a good thing? Let's talk about DOMS.

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You notice a little stiffness in your walk when you wake up the day after working out. You notice the swelling. Your calves are tender to your touch. As the day goes on, it feels worse. You’re experiencing DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness. You’re probably wondering it’s a good sign or a bad one. Let’s look at the physiology of what’s happening.

What Is DOMS?

DOMS occurs anywhere from 12 hours to up to two days after exercising. Your body is in a state of inflammation which is a normal immune response. Your workout has caused damage to your muscle fibers and red blood cells. When that happens, they send out distress signals in the form of chemicals like histamine and bradykinin.

The latter causes your blood vessels to dilate which brings more fluids into the area. That’s what causes the swelling. Remember that your body views damaged cells as something it needs to get rid of which is why white blood cells come to the job. They’ll handle both the debris and any bacteria that may be present.

You may also see redness or feel warmth where it feels sore. That’s because of the increase in blood flow and your body’s way to speed up the healing process. The inflammatory response consists of several coordinated defense mechanisms to repair the damage quickly. The intensity of your symptoms will vary with the degree of severity.

What Causes DOMS?

It’s unlikely that you can get away with never experiencing some muscle soreness after exercise—especially if it’s been awhile since you last visited the gym. That’s why you hear the advice to start slow. Your body needs time to adapt to the new activity. The achiness you’re feeling is a sign of that adjustment your body is making.

Certain activities are more likely to cause DOMS. It’s a matter of how you work your muscles. There are two types of contractions, isometric and isotonic. The former occurs when you push against something like doing push against something. There is no movement per se. The latter is when something happens like bending your knee or flexing your elbow.

If your muscle contracts, it is a concentric contraction. If it lengthens as it contracts, then it is an eccentric contraction. That is the one most likely to give you trouble because it puts a greater strain on your body. That can lead to a higher risk of damage. 

Activities that cause you to move this way include:

  • Walking or running downhill
  • Jumping or hopping
  • Strength training

DOMS also happens if you start a new type of activity or when you’re just starting out with exercise. It’s not necessarily a sign of a good workout but rather an indication that you did something. Even elite athletes can experience it for the same reasons. Fitness doesn’t prevent it.

Is DOMS a Good Thing?

DOMS tells you that your body is responding normally to cell damage. You know that your workout took a toil, and now, you’re paying the price. In that sense, it’s a positive sign. The best thing you can do is to let time take over the healing process. That means taking it easy for the next three to five days as your body makes the necessary repairs.

The process of healing results in larger, tougher muscle fibers. That’s why you start to see that sculpted look. And the good news is that you’ll be stronger the next time with the added protective effect. When you work out regularly, you’ll continue this positive cycle of repair and strengthening.

When Is Muscle Soreness Bad?

Most times, your discomfort will abate on its own. You can ice the area a few times a day and take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen to get you through the worst of it. But don’t rely on them too long or you’ll delay the healing process. You should see your doctor if the pain is severe and interferes with normal activity.

Muscle soreness during your workouts is another story. If you experience acute pain while exercising, stop what you’re doing. The workout may be too strenuous for your present state of fitness. You may have bad form. In any case, discontinuing your activity will help prevent more serious damage.

Pain is your body’s defense mechanism that’s telling you that you’re overdoing it. If you notice it, pay attention. Your body is trying to warn you about something serious. In that sense, muscle soreness is good because it’ll encourage you to stop before it’s too late.

Is No Pain, No Gain True?

It’s a common belief that you have to exercise to the point of pain for it to mean anything. It’s a myth that has taken hold and won’t go away. Sure, you can expect some soreness when you first start an exercise program. That’s normal. But continued pain means something is wrong. You may be pushing yourself too hard, too quickly.

Building muscle is a slow process that can take a few weeks before you see visible results. But you’ll notice a marked difference in strength if you go this route. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise each week.

That includes two or more days of strength training with at least one to two days of rest in between for recovery. Mayo Clinic recommends beginning slowly. Do one set of 12 repetitions to the point of muscle fatigue. That’s not the same as pain. It’s a measure of how hard it is to lift a weight. When you can do that, add a little more to continue building strength.

Muscle soreness after a workout is a normal response to the damage and chemical release that occur after exercising. It’s an indication of immune system function rather than a gauge of a good workout. The best sign is the sculpted look and added strength you’ll experience from taking charge of your physical health.

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Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see "TFT Editorial Team" this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

How Low Should I Go? Squatting Advice

There are several different thoughts on this subject. Some say squat as low as you can go, others say only until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Below we will go over different squat variations.

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The squat is an excellent exercise for working your lower body. It is a bodyweight move which engages large muscle groups in a movement that replicates something you’d do in everyday life. That gives it a functional quality and makes it a worthy addition to your routine. But as with all exercises, proper form is essential to avoid injury and to get the most out of it.

There’s no doubt that it’s a power move that can improve your athletic performance. However, it’s not without its controversy. Some sports medicine doctors have questioned its value due to its effects on the knee joint. Research has shown the opposite is true as scientists from the University of Florida concluded. It comes back to technique and form.

How the Squat Works

The traditional squat targets the quadriceps muscle primarily. It will also engage your glutes and hamstrings. Your abs will help you maintain your balance. The soleus and the gastrocnemius muscles in your calves will keep you upright. All this muscle involvement means that you’ll get a good calorie burn from doing this exercise.

You can do the squat as a bodyweight exercise or with a barbell or kettlebell for greater intensity. In the front squat, you keep the weight near your chest. You’ll place a barbell over your head for a back squat. The former is a better option if you have weak knees. Beginners should start with the body squat.

To perform this exercise, begin by standing tall. You can start akimbo or extend your arms in front of you. You can also cross your arms, genie-style. Don’t hold your breath. Rather, inhale as you bend your knees and lower your body to the floor. Exhale as you return to the starting position. Using your breath will help you perform this exercise and keep a steady rhythm.

The benefits of including squats in your exercise routine are many. It targets several muscles so that you can optimize your time working out. You may find that it helps with everyday tasks. It’s easy to do. And since it’s a bodyweight move, you can do it anywhere. The best way to take advantage of these things is by doing the movement properly.

Form

Several factors come into play with deciding how low to go with a squat. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) advises going “through a full range of motion.” For this exercise, that means lowering down to the point where your thighs are parallel or just below, the so-called parallel depth.

This level ensures that you’ve engaged your hamstrings. After all, the point of any exercise is to get all the benefits it can offer. If you don’t go low enough, you’re only working your quads and missing out on whatever else the move can do for you. Then, there’s the question of risk. Critics of the squat had a valid point. Not going down far enough can increase knee instability.

The concern involves a painful knee injury known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). It is the most common cause in both athletes and non-athletes. If you think about it, the caution makes sense. If you go too low, you’re more likely to lose your balance in this unnatural position, especially if you’re using weights.

Other Tips

There are a few other things to keep in mind. When you do a squat, keep your back straight. That will help avoid strain. You should face forward throughout the move. Also, make sure that your knees point in the same direction as your feet so that you don’t place unnecessary tension on your ankles.

Because of the risks of injury, you should consider having a spotter present if you’re new to doing this exercise. It’s essential that you move in a slow, steady manner to avoid falling. But there are other factors to consider when it comes to form.

Variations of the Squat

The question of how to go differs with the type of squat. A full or deep squat involves going below parallel. That variant is more difficult, especially if your thighs aren’t strong enough to handle the load. It’s something more appropriate for an advanced user than a beginner.

The sumo squat is similar in form except you’ll place your legs farther apart with your feet pointing outward. This variation also qualifies as a deep squat, and again, is something for the trained individual.

The single-leg squat is a more challenging exercise. With this move, you extend one leg in front of you. Then, lower yourself with the other while keeping your back straight, and your arms extended. You probably won’t get down to the parallel level until you build some solid muscle. That makes this variation the exception to the rule with squats.

Improving Your Performance

You can improve your technique and reduce your risk of injury by increasing your mobility and range of motion with the muscles that are engaged when doing squats. Stretching exercises that target your ankles, calves, and hips will give you the necessary flexibility to perform this move correctly.

You might also consider using weights after you’ve mastered the body squat form. You should be able to perform it easily while maintaining your balance. Then, you’ll be ready for the challenge of making the exercise harder.

The goblet squat, for example, involves using a single kettlebell that you hold in front of you at chest level. You can try it with dumbbells too for better balance. These variations will allow you to build strength in your thighs to help you maintain proper form. Start slowly with lighter weights. As always, listen to your body.

The squat when done right is an effective way to target multiple muscles in your lower body. To get the full benefits of it, you should lower your body to a point when your thighs are just below parallel to the floor to engage your lower body fully. With time, you’ll get that sculpted look you’ve been working to get safely and injury-free.

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Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see "TFT Editorial Team" this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

The Perfect Recovery Day Routine

You've been killing it in the gym and know that you need to take a day off. So what should you do? Here is an example of what a great recovery day might look like.

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You didn’t know it at the time, but you sure do now. Your muscles are screaming. You overdid it with your workout. Now you need to know how to get past the pain. To determine what steps you should take, let’s begin with a detailed look at what’s going on in your body.

How Your Body Reacts to Exercise

When you work out, you’re actually causing muscle tissue damage. Tiny tears occur in muscle fibers which, in turn, triggers a reaction from your immune system. Your body will attempt to repair the damage through the inflammatory response. Common symptoms include swelling, redness, and warmth where the injury occurred. Then, of course, there is the telltale pain.

Your body reacts with these specific actions because it speeds healing. The swelling comes from the rush of fluids and white blood cells to the area. The redness and warmth help create an environment inhospitable to bacteria while hurrying the repair process. Some activities are more likely to trigger these responses. They include:

● Strength or weight training
● Jogging or running, especially downhill
● Step aerobics.

Working out also destroys red blood cells which transport oxygen. DOMS or delayed onset of muscle soreness occurs within a day or two of heavy exercise. It can happen to anyone no matter how fit. It is often a problem if you work out in a different manner without giving your body time to adjust to the new activity.

Parts of Your Recovery Routine

The essential thing to remember is that your body is reacting with an automatic response to injury. The goal is the quickest recovery. While you may feel miserable, your immune system is taking charge to make the downtime go by past. The trick with recovery is to balance giving your body the time and support it needs to heal while keeping you comfortable.

Rest or Activity Rest?

Your first instinct is probably to rest. After all, you’re sore and tired. Unfortunately, that’s one of the worst things you can do. It’ll lead to stiffness which can make the pain more intense. A wiser course of action is light activity. It will support the increased blood flow to the injury site. That will bring reinforcements with white blood cells while removing waste products from cell damage.

Your routine should include some active rest such as walking and stretching. Stick with light intensity to avoid further damage to muscle tissue. As always, listen to your body. Don’t force yourself to be active if you experience sharp pain.

To Ice or Not to Ice

Contrary to popular belief, ice might not be the best option for your recovery day routine, explains the American Physiological Society. There is no doubt that it will reduce swelling and inflammation. But that’s the problem. When you halt the immune response, you delay healing. That’s not to say you have to ditch the ice pack because it will also reduce pain.

Ice is best during the early onset of the process to keep you comfortable. Then, other options like massage and heat can provide further relief from the discomfort and stiffness. The same holds true for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin. Take what you need to manage your pain, but let your immune system take over.

If you do use ice, make sure and wrap the pack in a towel. Never put an ice pack directly on your skin. Keep it in place for short bouts of 20 minutes or less about three or more times a day as needed. Elevate your leg in a comfortable position whenever you use this treatment.

Putting on the Heat

Heat is another essential part of the recovery process. It will increase blood flow and thus, the healing of damaged muscle tissue. It will speed delivery of nutrients and other chemicals your body will need to begin the repair. Your body will lay down scar tissue over the damaged area to strengthen it. Heat will ensure a steady supply of the raw materials it needs.

The Ideal Routine

As you may guess, time is an important factor in the recovery process. The perfect routine depends on your stage of recovery and inflammation. The recommended actions differ and thus, your day, during the process. If DOMS has just started, incorporate the following things into your day for the first three days:

Initial Recovery Stages

  • A good night’s rest to put your body in the best state for healing
  • A healthy breakfast that includes nutrients that support tissue repair like foods rich in vitamin C and magnesium
  • A light session of activity around 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how you feel
  • Ice and NSAIDs as necessary to decrease pain
You’ll know that the inflammation is winding down when you notice the initial symptoms of swelling and redness abating. Remember, it has to run its course.

Post Inflammatory Stages

  • Emphasis on good sleep patterns continues
  • Healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables while avoiding greasy and fried foods
  • Multiple sessions of light activity
  • Heat application following ice recommendations

Once the inflammation has eased up, replace the ice sessions with heat application taking the same precautions. You can continue this plan until your injury or DOMS are fully resolved. As you move toward full activity, increase your light exercise gradually while cutting back on the ice, heat, and NSAIDs. Let your body be your guide. Usually, it takes about three to five days.

You should plan on resuming regular workouts only after your pain has ceased. If something still hurts, you may use an awkward stance that can worsen an existing injury. If you’re still experiencing issues after five days or more, consult your doctor.

Recovering from a strenuous workout depends on giving your body what it needs to follow its natural course of repair. You should limit pain management to what’s necessary to keep you comfortable during those first few days when DOMS has begun. Afterward, your routine should focus on the support your body needs for full recovery. With patience, you’ll be back in no time.

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Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see "TFT Editorial Team" this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

5 Simple Warm-Up Moves for Back Pain

Have you ever had back pain that prevented you from exercising? Or do you simply not stretch your back enough? Checkout these five simple moves you can do to loosen up your back and get ready for action.

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If you have back pain, you’re not alone. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons estimates that up to 85 percent of Americans will share your misery at some point in their lives. It’s a debilitating condition that accounts for nearly $90 billion in healthcare spending, the third largest source. But if you’re exercising, you’re doing the right thing to manage your discomfort.

It’s a vicious circle when it comes to back pain. You want to lie in bed, but then you’ll feel stiff and achy when you get up for the day. That makes you think that moving around will worsen it. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Staying active maintains good blood flow to your back to aid the healing process, especially if a muscle strain is the cause.

Most cases will heal themselves over time. But exercising is an excellent prevention and treatment both physically and mentally. Starting with some simple stretches can help you ease into your workout. The operative word is gentle. Warm up with some light aerobic then go on to some easy warm-up moves to prepare your back for activity.

Hamstring Stretch

Often inflexibility will worsen back pain. That’s what makes an exercise like the hamstring stretch so effective. Like many others, there are modifications of this move to match your range of movement and avoid further strain. You can still experience the pose without the risk of further injury. Begin by laying down on your back with your knees bent.

Place a towel or yoga strap around your right foot. Straighten your leg and point it up toward the ceiling. Don’t force the move if you feel any discomfort. It’s all right if you can’t straighten your knee completely. That’s why you can use a strap. If you’re able, pull your outstretched leg toward you. Hold for several seconds and gently release it. Repeat with your other leg.

Back Extension

Like the previous move, the back extension helps relieve inflexibility by stretching the muscles of your chest and abdomen. Coupled with back exercises, they can increase your range of motion and help relieve pain. The key to avoiding pain is balance. Both your core and back need to support your spine equally. Begin by laying on your belly with your legs extended behind you.

Place your palms and forearms flat on the floor at shoulder level. Then, slowly lift your upper torso. Keep your elbows under your shoulder. Hold the pose to experience the gentle stretch. Lower your body back to the floor after maintaining it for several moments. Bend your heels if you feel any tension along the bottom of your feet until it passes.

Child’s Pose

Child’s pose is a classic yoga move that works well as a warm-up exercise for back pain. This exercise targets your hips and thighs. You’ll find that it’s calming for an added benefit. Begin by kneeling on the floor and sitting on your heels. If you find this posture difficult, sit on a yoga brick or folded blanket to relieve any pressure.

You can use these props to support your abdomen and head too. Place your palms on your thighs. Then reach forward with both arms as you bend your torso toward the floor. Keep your arms soft. Only extend as far as it is comfortable. Hold the pose for several seconds. Move each palm back toward you and gently raise your torso back to a sitting position.

Bridge Pose

The bridge pose targets the chest and neck muscles. It’s a soothing pose that you’re sure to love. You can do this exercise as a static move where you’ll hold it for 10 to 15 seconds. You can also do several reps done slowly. Both start out the same and provide identical health benefits. Lie on your back with your knees bent.

Then, raise your hips off the floor, keeping them in line with your legs and spine. Place your extended arms on either side of you with your palms facing down. You can also clasp them behind your back to deepen the pose. To do reps, repeat the move 5 to 10 times, pausing briefly at the top of the pose. Don’t return all the way to the floor between reps until you’re done.

Cat-Cow Pose

The cat-cow pose combines two yoga moves to stretch both your chest and back. You’ll find it helpful to use your breath as a guide to create a welcome rhythm between each of them. Begin on all fours in a tabletop position. Inhale, then exhale as you round your back upward like a cat stretching. Don’t move your head, but rather let it hang down. Hold the pose briefly.

The belly portion of the move comes with the cow pose. After returning to tabletop position, push your tummy toward the floor as you lift your chest to deepen the stretch. Remain looking forward. You can do the cat pose as you inhale and the cow pose as you release your breath. Repeat alternating between the stretches several times.

You can do this sequence in order anytime you need a rest break or to relieve tension. All these moves are non-jarring and easy for even beginners. But let your body be your guide. Don’t do a move or push yourself if you experience any tension or pain. Done regularly, you’ll find that they’ll increase your flexibility for some welcome relief.

Tips for Avoiding Back Pain

Staying active is one of the best ways to avoid future flare-ups. It helps maintain your strength and flexibility which can speed recovery from an injury. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight which can add additional strain. But you learned one of the most effective ways to prevent back pain when you were a child.

Correct posture whether you’re sitting or standing will help you avoid developing the habits that can lead to improper balance. Sudden, awkward moves are a common cause of muscle strain. Perhaps we do indeed learn the most important things in kindergarten.

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TFT Editorial Team

Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see "TFT Editorial Team" this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

The Ultimate Plank Workout

Planks are a staple of core strengthening exercises. You can play around with different variations of planks to keep challenging yourself. Try the below routine for a killer plank workout.

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The concept of the plank is ridiculously easy. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a powerful strengthening exercise. If you’re tired of doing sit-ups, you may find that it is a more relaxing pose. You may see improvements quicker without the strain of other exercises like crunches and its many variations.

Benefits

One of the greatest benefits of doing planks is that it is a bodyweight exercise. You don’t have to worry about getting any special equipment. You can do it anywhere there’s enough floor space. That means no excuses for not working out when you’re traveling too.

The move targets your rectus abdominis muscles which run the vertical length of your belly. They help you tilt your pelvis and control the curvature of your spine. The exercise also engages other muscles in your hips and upper thighs as well as muscles in your chest and upper back. Your arms will benefit from maintaining the position too.

When you work these muscle groups, you help strengthen your back and core to prevent strains and injuries. However, the doing a regular plank workout will not spot-reduce fat in your tummy. If that’s your goal, you’ll need to add some cardio to your workouts to lose some weight first. This exercise will help tone these muscles and increase your basal metabolic rate.

How to Do the Basic Plank Move

The plank is essentially a full push-up in which you pause at the top of the move. Begin by getting on all fours on a mat or other comfortable surface. Then, push forward as you straighten your arms and extend your legs back behind you. You should distribute your weight between your toes and your palms.

Your fingers should point forward. Keep your head in line with your spine and look down at your hands. Your arms should be perpendicular to the floor. As with push-ups, you should avoid locking your elbows. Keep them soft but engaged. Start out by holding the position for 10 seconds. Don’t hold your breath. Just breathe at a relaxed rate. Slowly lower your body down.

Cautions

There are a few precautions. First, don’t try this workout if you have carpal tunnel syndrome. Second, keep your bum in line with your spine. Don’t point it up in the air like a V-shape which would put a strain on your lower back.

Variations

You can build a plank workout with the many variations once you’ve mastered the basic move. With the front plank, you can rest your weight on your extended forearms rather than your palms. The move is identical otherwise.

You can further work your abs by targeting the oblique muscles with the modified side plank. You’ll begin by lying on your side with your weight on your forearm and your other arm extended down the length of your top leg. It’s a small move, going from the floor and lifting your hips upward.

You can hold this position for a few seconds like a basic plank or do a series of repetitions and sets. You could also ramp up the intensity by raising your entire body instead of just the lower portion.

Plank Workout

An effective workout plan begins slowly to allow your body to build strength before doing the more challenging variations. Your first task is to build up the time in the basic plank pose from 10 seconds to a full minute. For the first two weeks, do the exercise once a day, adding five seconds to each successive day. Rest days are important because it’s a strengthening move.

Week 1:

  • Day 1: 10 seconds
  • Day 2: 15 seconds
  • Day 3: 20 seconds
  • Day 4: Rest
  • Day 5: 25 seconds
  • Day 6: 30 seconds
  • Day 7: 35 seconds

Week 2:

  • Day 8: Rest
  • Day 9: 40 seconds
  • Day 10: 45 seconds
  • Day 11: 50 seconds
  • Day 12: Rest
  • Day 13: 55 seconds
  • Day 14: 60 seconds

Now that you’ve mastered this move, let’s add some variation to the mix. This workout is more advanced and engages more muscle groups. Aim for three times a week with a day of rest in between so that your body can recover. On off days, you can add some aerobic activity to your plan. The recommended amount of exercise is 150 minutes each week.

Plan:

  • Basic Plank: 60 seconds
  • Rest: 30 seconds
  • Side Plank, Right Side: Begin at 10 seconds, working up to 30 seconds
  • Rest: 30 seconds
  • Side Plank, Left Side: Begin at 10 seconds, working up to 30 seconds
  • Basic Plank: 30 seconds
  • Rest: 30 seconds
  • Front Plank: 30 seconds
  • Child’s Pose: 30 seconds
  • Bridge Pose: 30 seconds

This workout includes two stretching moves at the end to help with flexibility. To do the child’s pose, kneel on the floor and sit on your heels. If you find it hard, place a yoga brick or a folded up blanket between your calves. Then, slide your extended arms as you bend forward in a position parallel to the floor. Feel that gentle stretch along your back. Hold for 10 seconds.

The bridge pose targets the front of your body. It will lengthen the front of your thighs which have supported the plank moves. Begin by lying on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Then, slowly lift up your pelvis as you maintain the alignment between your knees to your hips. You can keep your arms extended at your sides or clasp your hands under your back.

Hold the pose for 10 seconds, but feel free to stay in this position longer if it you find it enjoyable. Support your buttocks as you lower yourself back to the floor. The great thing about these two moves is that they support the muscles you engage with the plank while helping to prevent lower back pain.

The plank workout offers an excellent way to strengthen your core while engaging several large muscle groups. And it’s easy to do anywhere. With the addition of flexibility exercise, this series of poses will provide a quick and effective workout for helping you live a pain-free life. It all begins with that first 10-second session.

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Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see "TFT Editorial Team" this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

Shoulder Mobility: 3 Movements to Practice

Shoulder pain is extremely common, and the number one reason people get shoulder pain is lack of mobility. It is essential to stretch your shoulders and practice mobility exercises in order to keep your shoulders healthy.

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Shoulder discomfort is the second most common cause of chronic joint pain, according to the United States Bone and Joint Initiative (USBJI). Over 13 percent of people age 45 years and older live with this condition. Therefore, it makes sense to improve your mobility to maintain your quality of life as you get older. Fortunately, it’s easy to do with some simple exercises.

These moves consist of gentle stretches and actions to avoid muscle strain or hyperextension. But the shoulder is like any other part of your body. If you don’t exercise it, the muscles become tight and will contract over time. Poor posture is another risk factor that can put unnecessary tension on the joint or cartilage. Let’s begin with an overview of the structure of this joint.

Shoulder Anatomy

The shoulder consists of the ball and socket joint between the humerus, or your upper arm bone, and your scapula or shoulder blade. Several muscles, ligaments, and tendons support its movements including the deltoids and the rotator cuff. Each one performs a specific function in the range of movement. Many will have multiple tasks.

  • Anterior Deltoid: abduction, flexion, transverse flexion, internal rotation
  • Lateral Deltoid: abduction, flexion, transverse abduction
  • Posterior Deltoid: extension, transverse extension, transverse abduction, external rotation
  • Supraspinatus: abduction, stabilization, internal rotation, external rotation
  • Infraspinatus: external rotation, transverse extension, transverse abduction, posterior stability, abduction
  • Teres minor: external rotation, transverse extension, transverse abduction, posterior stability
  • Subscapularis: internal rotation, posterior stability, anterior stability
  • Teres major: extension, adduction, internal rotation

As you can see, the shoulder is capable of a lot bending, flexing, straightening, and rotating. Exercises for mobility will involve different groups of muscles to keep your flexible. The best mobility exercises will engage all of them in a series of movements. The various moves show you that more than one is necessary to work the entire area.

Shoulder Exercises

The three movements target specific areas with the shoulder region to improve mobility with a strength component. The key to performing them correctly is to listen to your body. Don’t force any movement that is uncomfortable or painful. You can do these exercises several times a week for the best results. Make sure and rest for a minute or so before moving onto the next.

Pendulum

The pendulum is a classic early rehabilitation move that engages six out of the eight shoulder muscles. It doesn’t require any equipment other than a table for support. Begin by placing your right hand on it. Lean forward as you step forward with your left leg. Be sure to keep your back straight and your knees soft.

Then, let your arm hang down at your side. Like a pendulum, you’ll move your arm back and forth in a gentle, non-jarring swinging motion 10 times in each direction. Avoid any jerking movements. Next, move your arm around in a counterclockwise and a clockwise circle for 10 times each. Repeat with your left arm, placing your right leg forward.

For an added health benefit, you can match the movement of your arm with your breath to create a meditative experience. You’ll get the benefit of improving your shoulders’ mobility while giving yourself a welcome break from the tensions of the day.

Crossover Arm Stretch

The crossover arm stretch is an enjoyable and calming move that targets the posterior deltoid. It’s an excellent move anytime you need a break from desk work. Like the pendulum, it is also used in rehabilitation of shoulder injuries. You don’t need any special equipment either. You can perform this exercise either standing or seated.

The key to getting the most from the move is to relax your shoulders completely before you begin. Then, extend your left arm across your body at mid-chest height. Bend your right arm over your left and gently squeeze it toward your body. Don’t force the movement. You feel a pleasing stretch across your back. Hold it for a few moments before releasing your arm.

Take some time to enjoy the contrast between the tension of the stretch and its release. Repeat the process with your right arm and your left bringing it toward your chest. Pause to fully experience the stretch and release. The alternating of contracting and relaxing is a feature of body scan meditations. It may also provide pain relief.

Standing Row

The standing row differs from the previous two moves in several ways. First, it’s a strength training exercise that targets your back. Second, your shoulder muscles support the movement while allowing the bigger muscles of your back to do the majority of the work. And finally, this one requires equipment.

You can do this exercise with a cable machine or with resistance bands. These types are preferable if you are recovering from an injury. Weights are more appropriate after your shoulder has completely healed. However, resistance bands are an excellent type of equipment. Their main benefit is the ability to isolate the muscles you engage.

Begin by standing about three feet from the anchor point of the cables or resistance bands. Alternatively, you can sit with your legs extended and the band looped around your feet. Pull the band toward your body slowly while keeping your back straight. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you do the move. Pause briefly before releasing. Repeat 10 times.

End your workout with some gentle stretches to cool down. For shoulder mobility, it’s better to stretch after you work out than before when your muscles are not used to the activity. Even the simplest moves contribute to increasing your range of motion. That will make everyday tasks easier and reduce your risk of injury.

Optimal shoulder mobility is essential for a good quality of life. It allows you to perform everyday tasks as well as more advanced exercises that will challenge you. Like all muscles, it boils down to a matter of use it or lose it. These three moves will engage all of them to help you maintain the flexibility and range of motion necessary for both goals.

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Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see "TFT Editorial Team" this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

4 Simple Steps to Build Your Stamina

Are you training for a sport? How about a race? Building up stamina takes a lot of hard work. If your just starting out here are four simple tips on how to be successful.

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Building stamina doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it’s a process. Trying to rush it will lead to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or even injury. And nothing could derail it faster than those two things. You need to have a plan to get you from where you are now to that goal you have in mind. Good intentions only go so far.

Over 50 percent of people make New Year’s resolutions with working out more in the top 10. But less than 10 percent feel that they’ve succeeded. Part of the reason may be a lack of direction. As baseball great, Yogi Berra, once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” A plan, therefore, is essential.

Mapping Your Way

You can use a four-step approach to work toward building stamina. The advantage of doing it this way is that it gives you focus and a destination. It can also help you overcome some of the barriers to success like procrastination and distractions. And you’ll find greater motivation if you can tick off achievements and milestones along the way.

The essential thing to understand is that it is a life’s journey. Your definition of stamina will likely evolve. When it does, you can follow that path and still stay true to your course. The four basic steps include:

  • Assess
  • Identify
  • Plan
  • Reassess

You can think of them as a cycle rather than a straight path from point A to point B. After all, there are many ways to get to success.

Assess Your Current State of Fitness

It’s important to know where you’re starting from so that you can take steps forward to increased stamina. A fitness assessment such as the Rockport Walk Test can give you a concrete figure to measure it. It involves walking a track or using a treadmill to measure the time and ending heart rate of an individual completing a mile in their fastest time.

The calculation will give you your VO2 max. That is the maximum amount of oxygen you consume when exercising. The ideal figure varies with age and sex, so it is a personal assessment. Your VO2 max gives you an indication of your cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and thus, your current stamina. It is your baseline.

Identify Problem Areas

The next step is to see where you need to make improvements. If you had a low VO2 max, you can use it to structure your training plan. Don’t let a fair or poor rating upset you. You have to begin somewhere. Look ahead to the future and your improved stamina. Identify any potential obstacles that could interfere with your plan.

For example, if you’re a late riser, don’t commit to an early morning run if you know you won’t follow through with it. Work with your schedule and other demands on your time. And remember that even short 10-minute bursts of exercise count toward your goal for increased stamina.

Make a SMART Plan for Success

Stamina means different things for people. It could involve having enough energy to finish a 5k or even a marathon. It may include the ability to lift a certain weight for a set amount of reps. The best way to build your stamina is to have a clear goal and direction for what it is you want to achieve.

An excellent way to accomplish it is by adapting the SMART approach first described by George T. Doran. He used this framework to come up with objectives. While he referred to management, you can use the same principles for your fitness goals. Define them with these concepts in mind:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable or Assignable, originally
  • Realistic
  • Time-Related

For example, you may set a goal to get to a good rating on the Rockport Walk Test. The key is specific. If it’s not, you won’t know if you’ve made a real improvement. Fitness assessments give you a way to measure it. You also need to focus on something that is attainable and realistic. Think about the time you can devote to it and your state of health.

Remember, it’s about setting goals for you and not a comparison to others. Stamina is how you increase your energy and endurance. The gauge is yourself.

Reassess

Reassessing is essential because it gives you an opportunity to see the results of your hard work. That could mean repeating your initial fitness tests after a couple of months of training. Resist the temptation to do it more often. You want to see the efforts over time rather than a week or two. Besides, a sharp uptick in fitness will provide plenty of motivation to continue.

Stamina isn’t a destination. Rather, it’s a continual process. If you’ve reached your first milestone, set another and begin the training again. The chances are you didn’t score in the top tier for the initial test. There’s still room for improvement. Use the motivation you’ve gained from reaching one goal to move you forward to the next.

Tips for Success

If this all sounds daunting, don’t worry. Remember what we said about this plan being attainable? You don’t have to go from one rating to another. You can set milestones along the way by breaking your final goal into chunks. The reason that a lot of people procrastinate is because they focus on the end rather than the journey.

Don’t think about getting your VO2 max to the elite athlete level. Keep your thoughts to the next week’s training and how good you’ll feel from being active. Stay in the moment and savor the small rewards that dot your path to success. They are just as enjoyable. You’ll find that this approach will help you to move forward onto the next one.

All it takes is that first step toward better stamina. It’s not as much about the end goal as it is about getting started and making the commitment. Don’t let that overwhelm you. As the English poet, William Wordsworth, once said, “To begin, begin.”

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Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see "TFT Editorial Team" this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.