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Seated Core Exercises
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS
With holidays just around the corner, you may be faced with long hours of sitting during travel. Squeezing in exercise can be a challenge when you are on the run, so you may also find our article on fitting exercise into a busy day helpful (www.bodyresults.com/w215minuteworkout.asp ). If you must sit for hours at a time, here are four exercises that you can perform to help strengthen your core without any special equipment and requiring very little space. Several of these are also appropriate for anyone who has difficulty performing supine (lying flat on the floor) exercises (as in the elderly, people with lower back problems, or pregnant women); simply modify according to your “belly size,” comfort level, and torso flexibility. By using weight for added resistance, you can incorporate these into a more traditional gym workout as well.
Always remember that if you are training for abdominals with definition, not only do you need targeted core exercises, but also a comprehensive strength regimen for the entire body, cardiovascular training for at least 20 minutes three or more times per week, and a proper diet that has you consuming equal to (or less than) what you expend on a daily basis. For tips on how to beat holiday munchies, see our other holiday pages below:
This is an easy one to do in airplane, train or bus seats, at work during a break, or at the gym, and is also safe for expectant mothers in all stages of pregnancy. Scoot forward in your chair or sit on a bench so that your butt and back are as far away from the chair back (if there is one) as possible. Focus on holding your abdominals tight throughout the movement, and imagine a cord pulling up through the spine keeping you as tall as possible, in order to prevent sagging, rounding, or sinking through the lower back. Inhale as you slowly lean your torso and shoulders backwards (keeping spine rigid from hips to top of the head without overextending the back), as far back as you feel comfortable or until the head barely touches the back of the chair or bench, hold the position for a brief moment or two, then exhale as you return to the starting position.
Keep your feet planted on the floor, and to increase the difficulty, you can take your hands to your chest, behind the head, out to the side in a “T-position”, or straight up in the air, increasing the lever length and hence difficulty with each progressive variation. To incorporate the obliques, you can also slowly lift one leg at a time, keeping the angle between right thigh and shoulder steady as you lean back with left leg still on the floor, and vice versa. At a gym, simply hold onto a dumbbell or weight plate at your chest or behind the head, and hold at the bottom position for a second or two before coming back to the starting position.
SETS AND REPS:
Start with one set of 45 seconds of constant motion and build up to 1-3 minutes per set for 1-3 sets.
Knee Raise Crunch
(psoas, quads, rectus abdominus)
This exercise requires very little space, and except for coach seats in an airplane, it can be done just about anywhere. Sit up tall with feet planted flat on the floor, abdominals held tight, and shoulders squeezed together in order to hold yourself upright throughout the exercise. As you raise one foot at a time in a slow and deliberate movement, simultaneously curl forward with your shoulders and hold for a second in the fully contracted position before returning the foot to the floor. Repeat for each leg or alternate legs.
When you get comfortable with the exercise, or if it becomes too easy, brace yourself with your hands beside your thighs and lift BOTH feet off the floor while crunching forward. You can expect that your range of motion will be quite a bit less. It also may help to either a) lean slightly backward for the entire movement, or b) cross your legs at the ankles.
SETS AND REPS:
Build up to 1-2 minutes per side or 15-20 repetitions with both legs, for 2-3 sets.
Seated Oblique Crunch
This exercise is best done sitting on a bench or in a chair without arm rests. The first level involves holding arms across your chest and bringing an elbow down and across toward the opposite thigh or knee as you raise the foot 1-2 inches off the floor, then alternate with the other knee and elbow. If you are doing the exercise correctly, you will feel the right obliques contract as you bring the right elbow to left knee, and vice versa. Be sure to keep the abdominals tight and return to upright and center with each repetition, exhaling as you crunch down and inhaling up. These are similar to oblique exercises on the floor with the knees bent at right angles, only here gravity is working WITH you rather than AGAINST, so to get the most out of the exercise really concentrate on keeping abs tight and stay extended out from the hips.
For the second level of intensity, hold your hands behind the head and allow yourself to move through your full range of motion, touching elbow to outside of the opposite knee, and lifting the foot a little higher (2-4 inches). To increase the intensity for the lower abdominals and psoas (hip flexors) at the gym, simply add ankle weights to each leg.
SETS AND REPS:
If you are alternating sides, count to 16-20 (8-10 repetitions to each side) and start with a few repetitions of the first variation initially to see if you are ready to jump right to the second variation. Complete 2-3 sets.
Seated Good Morning
For this exercise, sit toward the front of your chair or bench with legs fairly wide apart to allow you to bend forward unencumbered by your lap. Focus on keeping the spine erect and extended even as you bend--in other words, do not let your chest collapse toward the thighs. Inhale as you bend forward, exhale as you lift back up to the starting position.
To maximize the stretch in this exercise, pause in the full forward stretched position at the bottom and extend the arms up overhead at the top. At the gym, hold a dumbbell, barbell or weight plate at your chest or behind the head.
SETS AND REPS:
Build to 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions to increase your endurance in the lower back, or 3-4 sets of 6-8 repetitions (with additional weight) for strength. You may also feel a stretch through the hamstrings as well as the inner thighs, if you assume a fairly wide “stance” with the legs.
Including Exercises in Your Program
As with any new exercise, try each without any additional weight first to perfect the form before moving to more difficult variations. Focus on the muscles you are trying to recruit, and perform each repetition smoothly, completely, and through as much range of motion as you possess. Begin with a set for each exercise to target the entire abdominal area including rectus abdominus, obliques, erector spinaes, and transverse abdominus. If you find yourself stuck sitting longer than you would like, put some of that time to good use with some of these exercises!