Sometimes we get so busy that it seems there is no time to exercise. This can lead to a dangerous inactivity rut. By setting aside a quick routine that requires no equipment, one really has no excuses.
I practice these quick routines throughout my week and sometimes throughout the day. They are so effective that I have been able to tone up after having my children and lose some weight doing them regularly. I think part of my success with these quick workout routines is that they feel good and energize me rather than burn me out, particularly when I am pressed for time and a bit run down. These exercises are also convenient. I can do them on my floor before bed or during the short breaks I have between clients at my fitness studio.
Not only do I feel energized by these exercises, but also they help me stand taller. When I gently work my back and abdominal muscles, I find that I naturally lift up my stomach muscles while standing, walking, and even sitting. As a result, I end up looking leaner and feeling healthier.
Pushups are one of those exercises that are extremely effective at toning your entire upper body because, when performed correctly, your abdominal and back muscles must work along with your chest, deltoids, and triceps. If you put your hands on a stability ball, researchers found greater muscle activity in the abdominals then when placing your hands on a bench (Lehman et al. 2006). They also discovered that a narrower grip on pushups recruits more chest muscles then a wide grip hand position (Cogley et al. 2005; Lehman et al. 2005).
When performing a pushup, a good way to cue yourself is to place a rolled up sock on the floor under the center of your chest. Keeping your navel drawn in toward your spine and your shoulders spread out wide (not sunken in and retracted toward each other), slowly lower your chest toward the sock without dropping your head or changing the alignment of your back (which should be held in a neutral position). Press your body back up in one piece. Imagine that it is like a plank, and you are lowering and raising that plank on each repetition. If it is too difficult to keep proper form, then modify the pushup by placing your knees on the floor. When you do this exercise correctly and regularly, you’ll be amazed by how quickly you will progress.
Lie on your back with your knees in a tabletop position and your hands behind your head.
Keep your tongue pressed against the roof of your mouth and exhale, drawing your navel toward your spine as you lift your upper body away from the floor. Keep your elbows pointing out, away from each other.
Exhale and extend your right leg and, keeping your elbows wide, rotate your torso to the left, bringing your right elbow toward your left knee. Perform this action without pulling on your neck. Point your left elbow toward the wall behind your head.
As you inhale, switch legs and bring your torso back to center.
Exhale as you repeat the twist to the other side.
Begin on your hands and knees. Find your neutral spine. This means that all the natural curves in your spine should be maintained. Your lower back should have a slight arch, your upper back should be straight, and your face should be parallel to the floor while maintaining a small curve in your neck. A good way to measure this is to place a wooden dowel or broomstick on your back. You want to feel your tailbone, upper back, and back of you head against the dowel.
Keep the pointed part of your elbows facing your thighs and bend them until your torso is parallel to the ground.
Keep your thighs under your hip sockets. In an attempt to rest our triceps, we often shift our weight toward our legs, shortening the angle between the thigh and hips. Try to stay centered. An added bonus to the challenge of staying centered is that it builds nicely defined triceps.
Gently draw your navel toward your spine and lift your pelvic floor. Without falling out of alignment, extend your opposite arm and leg. Slowly return to your starting position and repeat on the other side.
When you are ready to progress, draw the alphabet with your extended leg. Repeat on the other side. You may take a one-minute rest between sides. When drawing the alphabet, maintain a still and stable center.
Lower Abdominal Curls
Lie on your back with your legs up (perpendicular to the floor). As you exhale, draw your navel toward your spine and press your legs toward the ceiling, lifting your hips off the floor. You want to keep your thighs perpendicular to the floor throughout the entire exercise. This is for your lower abdominal muscles. If you do not feel them working, you are probably cheating.
Belly Breath Crunches
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor, in line with your hip sockets. Inhale into your lower abdominal area, filling your belly up with air as if blowing up a balloon. Exhale from your lower abdomen until there is no more air left. Notice, as you practice this breath, that deep internal abdominal muscles begin to tighten. After a few belly breaths, add an abdominal crunch to the exhalation. So, as you exhale, lift your head and chest off the floor until your shoulder blades come off the floor. You should have your navel scooped in as much as you can. If your belly is bulging out, return to the belly breath again. Practice it until you can connect the breath to the crunch movement without your belly bulging.