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Some people are reluctant to begin an exercise because they think sophisticated machines or expensive gym equipment are needed. Not so with core fitness. The core can be strengthened using body-weight exercises—using your own body as resistance —or easy-to-use balls, free weights, bands, and even chairs.
The classic examples of body weight exercises are pull-ups, standard sit-ups and push-ups, although those three exercises are not necessarily recommended options for core strengthening. Better examples of exercises for using body weight for core strengthening are modified sit-ups, wall push-ups, and semi-sits.
Stability balls, also referred to as physioballs and gymnastic balls, have become a mainstream piece of equipment for stretching and strengthening core-related muscles. They can be used instead of a bench for traditional strength exercises. Sitting on a stability ball and gently bouncing engages muscles of the legs, abdomen, and back. The instability of the ball forces a person to use his or her core muscles to keep the body level.
Stability balls come in different sizes. When sitting on the ball, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. (UHN’s Core Fitness report gives general guidelines for the appropriate size of the ball according to an individual’s height.)
A highly inflated ball makes it unstable and thus requires more effort; less air is better and safer for beginners and intermediates. Maintain a wide leg spread when doing stability ball exercises and always have a spotter to help prevent loss of balance and falls.
Stability balls also can be used along with other equipment to enhance the exercise. For instance, sitting on a stability ball while using a free weight is an example of combining one type of exercise (free weights) with another (stability ball). Together, they engage core muscles to a higher degree than doing the same exercise on a stable surface.
Hand-held free weights, or dumbbells, are thought of as weights for the arms or legs. For beginning exercisers and older adults, two-to-three pounds in each hand is enough to lift, but many seniors quickly move up to those that weigh between five and eight pounds. Very light weights require more repetitions to gain strength. Heavier dumbbells require fewer repetitions to achieve the same goals but be careful about too much weight too soon.
A free weight doesn’t have to be a purchased either. A filled, plastic water bottle weighs between one and two pounds, can be held easily, and can substitute for a dumbbell. A one-gallon milk carton filled (or partially filled) that has a handle serves the same purpose, and you may have other household objects that can substitute for free weights.
Chair-based exercises can be just the right choice for those who need extra support because of lack of strength or mobility. A secure comfortable chair can be used as a substitute for almost any exercise that requires standing or sitting on a stability ball and can help you safely and effectively perform many core-building movements until your strength and endurance improves. This concept was recently confirmed by researchers in the United Kingdom and published in BMC Geriatrics.
Resistance bands and tubes offer a versatile, inexpensive, and space-saving option. They provide an appealing convenience factor. A wide range of movements can be performed at home, at work, or in a hotel room. Exercises include curls, shrugs, partial squats, and leg swings.
Pharmacies and medical supply stores sell resistance bands in rolls that can be cut to desired lengths, as well as in pre-determined lengths. Some have handle attachments; with others you can simply wrap the ends around your hands. The bands are also color-coded to correspond with light, medium, and heavy resistance. Prices range from $7 to $25.
However, resistance bands have their limitations. They wear out with age and use. The amount of resistance is hard to measure, there is a lack of uniform resistance throughout the range of movement, and the color codes differ from company to company. Check them often for nicks and tears and avoid storing them in extremely hot or cold temperatures. Remove your rings before an exercise session and avoid objects or surfaces that could cause a tear. Depending on use, resistance bands should be replaced every three to four months.
Medicine balls (med-balls) are versatile workout equipment that can be incorporated into other many forms of training. They can help develop speed, power, and balance. Traditional med-ball workouts consisted primarily of abdominal exercises, but now they include exercises for the arms, shoulders, back, chest, and legs.
Medicine balls are available in weights that range from two to 30 pounds. The goal is to use a weight that is challenging for the number of repetitions a person attempts to complete. Having several balls of varying weights allows for a variety of exercises and differences in exercise intensity.
Medicine balls are not designed to focus on developing strength. Instead, they are used to convert strength into dynamic movement. They might be helpful in increasing power for hitting a golf ball or swinging a tennis racket, but not so much for increasing muscle size or strength.
For more core strengthening exercises and tips, purchase Easy Exercises for Core Fitness at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.
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