Five of My Favorite Core Exercises

 

When many people think of the core, they think of the abdominals. But, the core is made up of so much more including the obliques, glutes, hip flexors, erectors, lats and more! Your core also moves and resists many movements like lateral flexion, extension, rotation and flexion. While I feel people are getting more educated on strengthening their core, still some people I work with think of doing sit ups first to gain strength. Here are my favorite core exercises that work all movement patterns.

 

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1.) Master the plank first. 

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You can do a plank anywhere and it doesn’t require any equipment. Many people know of this exercise, but it’s a great exercise because it works many areas at once – your abdominals, quads, glutes, shoulders, and more! Here are a few tips.

  • Keep your elbows under your shoulders
  • Keep your eyes looking in between your fists 
  • Squeeze your glutes and engage your quads 
  • Relax your shoulders
  • Drive your heels slightly back towards the floor 
  • Breathe through your belly 
  • Hold as long as you can (goal is 60 seconds)

Once you can hold this exercise for 60 seconds, you’re ready to move on to different plank variations. To make it more challenging, lengthen your plank even more. In the picture you can see my shoulders are slightly back behind my elbows.

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The Plank Drag (progress)

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I love this exercise. The goal is to resist rotation through the torso. Here are a few tips.

  • Keep your hips and shoulders square to the ground. It’s easy for your right hip to lift and open up as you pull with your right hand. 
  • Squeeze your glutes 
  • Reach underneath your body to pull the weight (this can be a dumbbell also)
  • Keep your feet wider than your shoulders 
  • Complete 6-12 reps each side. 

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2.) The Roll Out

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I consider this an advanced exercise. If you have never done this before, try the roll out with the stability ball first.

  • Starting position is key: Begin with your hips pushed forward and the wheel underneath your shoulders. Return back to this exact position as you roll back.
  • Squeeze your glutes. Your glutes protect your low back. If you feel any pressure in your low back with your roll out, most likely you aren’t engaging your glutes.
  • Roll out enough until you feel your abdominals fire. Don’t worry about extending out as far as the picture. Find what you can do with good control.
  • Complete 8-15 reps.

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The Stability Ball Roll Out (Option 2)

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If the wheel roll out isn’t working, try it with a stability ball.

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3.) Side Plank

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A great exercise for working resisting lateral flexion through the spine.

  • Line your elbow up underneath the shoulder 
  • Squeeze your right side and right glute
  • Engage your upper back and the muscles around the shoulder blade. This should be your support system. If you feel any pressure in the front of the shoulder, adjust your position. 
  • If this position feels hard to get into, bend your top knee and place the foot in front of your hip. 
  • Hold for up to 60 seconds. 

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Side Plank (Advanced)

Need it to be more challenging? Elevate your feet. I will usually do this in a TRX.

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4.) Dead Bug

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Sometimes this exercise gets people mentally working too 🙂

  • Starting position: make sure your low back is in the most comfortable position. It should not be arched (thinking I can slide my hand underneath your back). For most people, it helps to eliminate that space and keep it still as you move your legs. 
  • Keep your knee over your hip. It’s easy for your knee to come closer to your belly button. 
  • Move your opposite arm and leg together (right leg, left arm then left leg, right arm)
  • Complete 8-12 each side. 

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 Stability Ball Dead Bug (Advanced)

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This is a fantastic exercise if you do it correctly. Key tip: can you bring you one leg up to 90 degrees? If you can’t, this exercise will not work for you and you will compensate somewhere in your body to attempt it. Notice in the first picture, both feet are at 90 degrees (ankles over hips)

  • The difference between this exercise isn’t much technically (follow the first three tips above), but you will also want to focus on not letting the stability ball move. It should stay still as you drop one arm and one leg. 
  • Focus on doing this by actively pushing your opposing hand and foot into the ball strong. This will fire your core even more! 
  • Also, focus on tucking our chin so you aren’t straining your neck. 
  • Complete 8-12 reps each side. 

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5.) Sprinting 

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Sprinting might be my favorite core exercise. I’ll do this at least once a week up a hill (like the picture) or on a flat surface like my driveway or a track. The goal is to go as fast as you can for a short period.

  • Keep your shoulders away from your ears as you sprint. Many people can hike their shoulders up. 
  • Pump your arms and hands and don’t cross them over your mid section. 
  • Stand up tall after you’ve gained your top speed. 
  • Workout: 5 sprints to the first mark, 3 sprints to the second mark, 2 sprints to the third mark.

You can find landmarks in your neighborhood or whatever area you’ve chosen to sprint. After sprinting at 100%, walk back to your starting mark and rest as long as you need to so you can sprint at full speed every interval. Your workout should last 15-20 minutes. Warm up with light walking, high knees, butt kickers, lateral shuffles, and stretching before sprinting.

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Core exercises are important to do every week. I usually incorporate them into my strength training after warming up. If you’re a beginner, complete at least 2 exercises for 2 sets, 2-3 days a week. If you are more advanced, complete 3 sets for 3 days a week (with a day of rest in between each workout).

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Veggie packed, healthy chicken scallopini

Chicken Scallopini

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Chicken Scallopini

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I’ve had some great chicken scallopini dishes and I’m always looking for ways to elevate the meal. So, I added more veggies and cut back on the amount of noodles. Enjoy!

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Serves 4-6

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Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts, diced in small pieces
  • 1/2 bunch of asparagus spears, diced 
  • 1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, chopped 
  • 2 zucchinis 
  • 3-4 strips of bacon (cooked)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of capers 
  • 1.5 cups mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • Noodles of choice (I like brown rice noodles)
  • Salt, pepper, granulated garlic to taste 

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Directions

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1.) In a large saute pan, fry up your bacon until crispy. Remove and set on a plate.

2.) Using the bacon fat, place diced chicken in the pan and cook through. Season with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Once cooked, remove from the pan and add on a plate.

3.) Add onion and asparagus to the pan and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Start boiling water for your noodles.

4.) Add mushrooms, zucchini, artichoke hearts and capers. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until tender. Salt and pepper to taste.

5.) Chop up your bacon into small pieces then add to your vegetables. Also, add chicken. Then, add 2 tablespoons of butter. Let the butter melt, then toss so the entire entree is evenly coated with the butter.

6.) Serve over a bed of your noodle of choice. For a lower carb option, use spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles.

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Austin, TX

Two Questions To Ask Yourself Before Every Meal

How To Simplify Meal Planning

Meal planning can be so simple if you know how to approach it. Going through the Precision Nutrition certification has helped me make nutrition easier to master for myself & clients. When I’m coaching clients, instead of sitting down telling them how many calories to eat, I coach them how to re-train their thoughts BEFORE they make the meal. This can really simplify the process.

So, what should be the two most important questions to ask yourself before every meal?

1.) What’s my vegetable?

2.) What’s my protein source? 

Cooking from home? Ask yourself what two choices sound the best. Dining out? No problem, you know what to look for on the menu. This takes practice, but the more you practice it, it will be hard for you NOT to think this way before every meal.

Vegetables are nutrient dense since they are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. They also fill you up on less calories. Protein helps you stay full in between meals and will help you maintain/gain lean muscle. It also stabilizes your blood sugar. These key components tend to help you move the dial the fastest to helping you get healthy. They can also be two key pieces that will help with weight loss. The common American diet is filled with processed foods, added sugar and fat. Vegetables tend to lack. Most of my teenage & early adult life, most of my food came from a box and I only consumed a few servings of vegetables a week.  When it came to transforming my diet, I focused on asking myself these two key questions and after much practice, it’s automatic thinking for me for every single meal.

Now, what about carbohydrates and healthy fats? Those need to be included too. Plates may vary depending if you are looking to lose weight or just get healthy.

Here’s a visual of two plates:

The Healthy Plate (each meal)

 Goals for Women

  • Aim for 20-30 grams of protein each meal
  • 20-30 grams of carbohydrates (a cupped handful or ½ cup measured)
  • 1 thumb of fat (8-12 grams)
  • 1-2 fists of vegetables

Goals for Men

  • Aim for 35-50 grams of protein per meal
  • 2 fists of vegetables
  • 2 thumbs of fat (15-25 grams)
  • 35-50 grams of carbohydrates (1.5-2 cupped handfuls)

Serving sizes may vary depending on your size & activity level. This is a starting recommendation if you eat three to four meals a day. If you eat more frequently, adjust your serving sizes. Some individuals may see weight loss from this plate. Others may need to focus on the weight loss/fat loss plate.

Carbohydrate: Potato (sweet potato is ideal), rice, oatmeal, beans and fruit. Bread, pasta and rice cakes are also options if those are foods you enjoy.

Protein: chicken, beef, pork, eggs/egg whites, turkey, wild game, fish, lobster/shrimp, crab, cottage cheese & Greek yogurt are all great choices.

Fat: Olive oil, coconut oil, macadamias, fish oil, flax oil, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, avocado, pistachios, almonds, olives, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans and cashews are great choices. Animal meats like dairy, cheese, butter and meat also fall into this category.

Weight/Fat Loss Plate (most meals)

This plate works really well for individuals seeking weight loss. You may notice healthy fat servings are slightly more than the healthy plate and starchy carbohydrates are less. Find what gives you the best results.

Fat Loss Meal PlanningGoals for Women

  • Aim for 70+ grams of protein a day
  • 3-5 thumbs of fat (40-60 grams) a day
  • 5+ servings of vegetables a day
  • Use this plate for most meals

Goals for Men

  • Aim for 100+ grams of protein a day
  • 6-8 thumbs of fat a day
  • 7+ servings of vegetables a day
  • Use this plate for most meals

Servings vary depending of your size and activity level

Post Exercise Plate for Weight/Fat Loss

Easy Meal Planning Post ExerciseWhen seeking weight loss, carbohydrates tend to be best consumed after a workout. Breakfast is another time slot when carbohydrates can be tolerated. If you find yourself in a plateau, eliminate this plate for breakfast if you exercise in the afternoon or evening.

Everyone has a different carbohydrate tolerance

I work with clients that can have a serving of carbohydrates every meal, while others see results by sticking with starchy carbohydrates after exercise. Find what gives you the best results. The trial and error process takes some time, but with patience, you’ll find your sweet spot where you are getting results & keeping your energy stable.

Be patient

If seeking weight loss, you can’t always use the scale to show if you’re getting results. Monitor your mood, energy levels, stress levels, sleep patterns, check to see how your clothes are fitting and notice if you feel any better. These are all wins! If you find you’re stuck in a plateau after monitoring these items, ask yourself what needs to change. Do you need to eat more protein? Eat more vegetables? Less starchy carbohydrates? A little more starchy carbohydrates if you’re experiencing low energy? More water? Everyone has a unique metabolism and it’s up to you to find what works best.

Healthy, simple crockpot chicken tacos

Shredded Chicken Tacos

taco crockpotMexican cuisine never gets old to me. This recipe is so simple anyone can make it. While the chicken isn’t fancy, the toppings create a flavorful taco!

Serves 4-6

Ingredients 

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt, Pepper, Granulated garlic to taste
  • Cilantro
  • White onion
  • Corn Tortillas
  • Salsa
  • Avocado

Using a crockpot, place the chicken breast into the crockpot and season with salt, pepper and garlic. Drizzle olive oil on top. Cook on high for 3.5-4 hours, watching the chicken to see when it starts to break apart. Using two forks, slowly pull apart chicken breast to create a shredded look.

Taco ingredients: Using your corn tortillas, top your shredded chicken with chopped white onion, sliced avocado, chopped cilantro & salsa!

**Pair with a small side salad.

Three Components to a great exercise program

Three Key Components To A Great Exercise Program

Three Components to a great exercise programI get a lot of questions about what to do for exercise for fat loss or even weight loss. Plus, I get a few questions of what to do just to stay healthy! While changing your nutrition alone can help you see results, proper workouts are just as important. Here’s a breakdown of a great exercise program.

If you have 2 hours to dedicate to exercise a week, focus on strength training first. 

1.) Strength training (2-3x/week for 30 minutes – 60 minutes)

Most clients I work with want to tone their bodies, but in order to do so, you have to build muscle first. The more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you burn during your workouts, but also during your sleep and your normal activities throughout the day. If you’re looking for weight loss, you need to strength train to keep your metabolism up. It’s easy to just do aerobic exercise to see the number on the scale move. Unfortunately, this may mean you are losing precious muscle and the moment you quit your aerobic exercise and healthy eating, you can gain back more weight than when you started.

Another note: the older we get, the easier it is for our bodies to lose muscle. In return, this means our metabolism is burning less calories and it’s easier to gain weight.

Strength training allows you to see your body change. Some people may not notice the scale budge, but they will see their frame decrease in size. EX: A woman may notice her clothes fit better, but she hasn’t lost a pound on the scale. She shouldn’t be discouraged because her body is changing!

Action Steps: 

1.) Dedicate time every week to strength training at least one time a week. Two-three sessions are ideal with a day or two of rest in between.

2.) Use big movement patterns like squats, lunges, push ups, lat pulldowns, cable rows, step ups. They require the least amount of time and the most bang for your buck. I love doing total body workouts 3x a week.

3.) If you haven’t done strength training in months or years, start small. Complete each exercise 10-15x for 1 set. If you’re more advanced, perform 2-4 sets per exercise. Reps can vary.

4.) Follow a program & write down your weight/set/reps. I write myself a new program every month and will increase my sets or weight throughout the program to progress each week. If you’re brand new to strength training, find a coach, follow an at-home DVD or begin a class. My biggest take home message: commit to something!

If you have 2.5 to 3.5 hours to commit to an exercise program, add interval training. 

2.) Interval training (1-3x a week for 15-30 minutes)

Interval training is great at burning calories and giving your metabolism a boost. It’s also great to do on days you don’t strength train. Dedicate 15-30 minutes to interval train 1-3x a week. I want you to think of interval training as two steps: working at an intensity until you can’t push any longer, then recover until you can push another interval. Custom interval training with a heart rate monitor is the best type of interval training because it’s built around your heart rate zone.

Action Steps:

1.) Choose your form of interval training. My favorites include: my boxing class,  incline walking, stair master, rowing machine or a lighter kettle bell or dumbbell workout.

2.) Start with a warm up for 2-3 minutes then increase the intensity to a challenging pace. Push for 20-60s then recover by decreasing your pace/intensity for 20-60s. Complete 5-12 rounds. Your workout time can be a total of 15-30 minutes.

Beginner Example: 20 seconds hard, 60 seconds rest (shorter work, longer rest)

Intermediate Example: 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest (equal ratio of work & rest)

Advanced Example: 40 or 45 seconds hard, 15-20 seconds rest (negative rest)

*You can get creative with your interval times.

My favorite is heart rate training using my Polar Beat App & HR monitor: Push as long as you need to until you reach the red zone then recover at a low intensity until you hit the green zone.

3.) Choose to complete your interval training on days you don’t strength train.

Interval training can help with fat loss & many notice the scale decrease, as well. Following a diet that’s 80% right is important for good results.

If you have 4 to 6 hours to commit to exercise a week, add leisure exercise. 

3.) Leisure Exercise 

If you can dedicate more time to your workouts each week, be sure to include some leisure exercise like walking, yoga, foam rolling, or stretching. Even doing a moderate cardio workout falls into this category. If you like to go for a run, go for it! Walking is a great low intensity exercise and can be done most days of the week without stressing your body. It’s great for recovery, as well as stretching/foam rolling/yoga. After receiving a fitbit, my goal is to reach 10,000 steps a day. Some days it’s easier, while other days require serious effort. So far, my streak has not been broken & I’ve hit my goal everyday since January 1st. Not wanting to break my streak has been extremely motivating for me and I do what it takes (even when I don’t want to) to hit my goal.

Action Steps:

1.) Find ways to move every day. On breaks at work, go for a leisure walk or practice getting up from your desk every hour. Go for a leisure walk on days you aren’t performing a challenging workout.

2.) If you need motivation, look to invest in a pedometer to know where you’re at each day. I don’t think you’ll regret the purchase!

3.) Feel free to do this daily or after strength workouts. Keep your intensity low.

Note: Many people may notice their clothes are fitting better & they see the number on the scale budge when they incorporate leisure exercise on top of interval training & strength training. Eating 80% right is crucial for this to happen for most individuals.

The biggest questions you need to ask yourself are…

1.) Am I enjoying what I’m doing? If so, you’ll do it forever.

2.) Are you seeing results? Remember, you cannot use the scale as your only method of tracking results. Take measurements with a tape measure, pay attention to your mood, how your clothes are fitting and noticing if you’re sleeping better are all positive wins!

Here’s what my current exercise program looks like: 

Monday: 30-60 minute leisure walk (really whatever it takes to hit my goal of 10,000 steps)

Tuesday: Total body strength training (45-60 minutes) + leisure walk

Wednesday: 30-60 minute leisure walk with or without 10 minutes of interval training

Thursday: Boxing Class + leisure walk

Friday: Total body strength training (45-60 minutes) + leisure walk

Satuday: Boxing Class or Incline TM/Stair Master Intervals for 20-25 minutes + leisure walking

Sunday: Total body strength training + leisure walking

Note: Do I need to leisure walk every day? No, but I enjoy it. I find it relaxing and I enjoy my time going for a walk with my dog & family. Plus, I like the personal accomplishment of hitting my goal of 10,000 steps a day. It’s motivating!