FIT FOR SUMMER

BY MARGO GRAF

Although summer officially began on June 21st, we can all agree summer arrived in May. I for one was surprised by how quickly the heat set in. And to be honest, I am not primed for days at the pool or beach. Usually there is a grace period where everyone can mentally prepare for the oncoming heat and get in shape for days spent at the lake, beach, or park. 

If you, like myself, were not fully ready to hop into your swimmies, join me in a quick and easy “Beach Body” crash course. I found several exercises that I have been doing every morning for no longer than 10 minutes. (My motivation here is that I did not want to spend money for a gym membership, nor did I wish to devote hours of my week in one.)

TIGHTENING THE TVA
These particular exercises promote tightening the deepest stomach muscles. By working the Transverse Abdominis (TVA), the abdomen gets pulled in tight. Even people with low body fat can have a pushed-out potbelly look. This can be from a weak TVA. So by training the TVA, you will pull those muscles tight across your belly. 

All you need for this exercise is yourself. Get on all fours in a neutral spine position, do not arch your back or strain your neck. Keep a straight back that would line up if a ruler were placed on it. Gazing slightly in front of you, breathe deeply. After a few breaths, forcefully exhale through your mouth while sucking in your stomach. Your abs should be contracted. As if you were pulling your bellybutton into your spine. Make sure all the air is gone from your lungs. All you are really doing is tightening your stomach as much as possible and holding your breath for 10 seconds. Then breathe deeply and repeat this ten times every morning before breakfast. 

You may be surprised at how challenging this exercise is, and you may not be able to suck in your stomach much at all. It can take several weeks before you can see a drastic difference in your ability to forcefully tighten your stomach through these breaths. If you have ever seen a video about people who free dive, then you know they are the absolute champions at controlling their breath in this way. For further demonstrations, search YouTube for “Stomach Vacuum.”  

PLANKING
The next exercise to harden your core is a simple plank. Planks work several muscle groups simultaneously, including the Gluteus Medius (GM) and hamstrings. Planks also support proper posture, improve balance, and reduce the bloated look mentioned previously. For women who would like to maintain an hourglass shape, it is important to do exercises that strengthen your glutes. Certain exercises result in square-shaped obliques, instead, focus on ones that promote GM development. One set per workout is all it takes. 

Starting in a push-up like position, lower onto your forearms and hold your body in a straight line. Make sure your hips are not flexed backwards, but that you are angling them forward towards your belly. Form is everything, and an arched back can result in serious lower back pain. Again, pull your bellybutton into your spine and take long deep breaths. Hold this plank for as long as you are comfortable with but aim for a 90-second hold. You may need to work up to 90 seconds, but you can get there if you stick with it. 

After you have completed the elbow plank, switch to side planks. Using your right elbow, forearm, and hand for balance, rotate to your left side and open with your left arm to the sky, or just place it on your hip. Stack your feet and pull the stomach tight. Keep your body in a straight line with your neck in a neutral position. For an extra burn, raise your hip as high as you can. If you are really feeling those pool days, throw in a set of 10 hip dips. Lowering the hip to the floor and then raising it back up–slow and controlled. This plank set can be completed in the time it takes to brew a pot of coffee. In fact, you may not need the coffee as planks gets your blood pumping and helps wake up the body. I would highly recommend stretching your hip flexors and taking a minute in the yogic pose Upward Dog to stretch the abs after the mini workout is complete.

Feel free to add other exercises and lift weights to continue to develop a healthier body. For a long-term regimen, lifting weights a few times a week will give you stronger bones. Especially if you are getting into your 50s and up–you can build bone density by adding a little positive stress to your workout. 

Depending on your goals, these simple exercises may be enough to bring the desired results. They are safe, affordable, and can be done quickly on the go. Plus, exercising will boost confidence and make summer that much sweeter. So no excuses, right? Summer is here, jump in! 

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