Ab-tastic!

Many moons ago, a friend of mine asked me to post an abdominal workout video. I decided it's about time I post a little something to work the "somethin'-somethin'" area. The video is taken on Hyperlapse, so it's sped up 6 times its regular speed. Due to the high-speed, I'll break down the exercises I'm doing below. Keep checking back for more videos/how-tos/general thoughts -- and follow me on Instagram (@yogigoup).

High-Speed Ab Workout
  • cat/cow stretches X 5 (inhale chest up, tailbone up; exhale round back, tailbone down).
  • plank hold to stabilize core (check out my "Do This! Not This! ~ Plank Pose" on my blog for a refresher. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
  • plank to hovering tabletop walk-ins (begin with the right leg) X 10 
  • hold hovering tabletop and work scapular protraction/retraction. Yes, this is now shoulder work, but the belly will fire up as you hold your hovering table top. Protracting the shoulders means to take the shoulder blades apart; retracting the shoulders means to draw the shoulder blades together. Do 10 times.
  • downward-facing dog for one breath cycle
  • on belly -- alternate backbends (cactus arms lift, while legs lift) with push-ups to plank and back to belly. The push-up to plank can be done with knees down. Do 5 times.
  • repeat above steps starting with the plank hold. (You might notice I didn't do another round of the backbends/plank lifts, but this is due to tendonitis in my elbow, so I was hesitant to do more pushups. If you're feeling well, go for it!) When you get to the plank to hovering tabletop walk-ins, make sure to begin with the other leg.
  • single-leg "broken boat" (the name I gave this exercise) - start seated with heels digging into the ground; lean back until you feel your abs engage; lift one leg to 45 degrees; lower the leg and upper body and then lift everything back up, bending your lifted knee at the top of the movement. Repeat 5-10 times.
  • single-leg "broken boat" - do the other side.
  • toe taps - lean back, place elbows on the ground, and lift your knees above your hips so knees are at a 90 degree angle; keep the knees at this angle and lower the knees forward as the toes reach to the front of the mat. Do NOT just bend the knees so the heels tap the butt! Note: a less challenging version is to alternate legs. Do 10 times.
  • Pilates knee pull-ins (30-60 seconds)
  • Pilates single leg pull-ins (30-60 seconds).
  • *Repeat the entire sequence for more sweat OR rest!* 

Do This! Not This! ~ Chair Pose ~

Be honest, when your yoga teacher calls "chair pose" or "utkatasana" in class, your heart doesn't leap for joy. It's one of those banal poses with no fancy tricks to it. But it's quite often practiced, and can be quite challenging. In fact, its translation from Sanskrit is "intense" or "powerful" pose.

I must point out that this pose can be done in various ways depending on the type of yoga you practice. Chair pose in Ashtanga Yoga, for example, asks for less knee flexion (standing much taller than the pose I'm doing in the photo), with hands in prayer overhead and the gaze upward. Various vinyasa yoga styles encourage students to stand with feet hip-width distance apart, and a medium amount of flexion in the hips and knees. Power Yoga (like Baptiste Yoga) teaches students to squat lower, with knees and big toes together, and fingers spread wide. This is MY kind of chair pose, so I will outline the how-tos and how-to-nots with this specific type of pose in mind.

  • Bring your knees and big toes together. Leave a little space between your heels. 
  • Sit back into the pose by putting more weight into your heels, and therefore most of the body weight into your hips.
  • Do NOT simply bend your knees forward toward the toes as you'll end up putting too much weight into the knees (specifically compromising the ACL). Make sure you can see your toes to ensure the work is in the glutes and leg muscles.
  • If you have knee issues, do not flex the knees as deeply. Work toward aligning your knees over heels, rather than your knees forward of your toes.
  • Draw your tailbone down toward the heels, creating length in your spine. Slightly lift your pubic bone and contract your abs.
  • Do NOT stick out your butt and your chest. This will put pressure on your lumbar spine.
  • Depress (relax) your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Turn the pinkies to face each other to help externally rotate the shoulders. Pull the biceps by the ears.
  • Your gaze can be forward or upward, depending on you cervical spine health. Note: if you are taking your gaze upward, pull your chin back (jalandhara bandha) before lifting your eyes skyward.
  • Hold the pose and the gaze steady. Breathe!

Do This! Not This! ~ Crescent Lunge ~

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Crescent Lunge, or High Lunge, seems like a no-brainer easy-to-do pose. But it is very often incorrectly done. This is especially true if you are flexible in the spine. Take a look at the bottom right photo. Notice how the lumbar spine (low back) is curved and the hips are in an aggressive anterior tilt (tailbone lifting upward). This will put a ton of pressure on the lumbar spine, and will end in long- or short-term discomfort. In fact, in doing the "Not This!" pose for the sake of this post, I could feel the undue stress on my low back during and after stepping into the pose.

So here's the rundown on how-to safely (and how-to-not) do crescent lunge.

  • Set up your feet in a wide stance front to back. Both feet are on 12 o'clock. Press all corners of your front foot down equally. Lift your back heel high over your toes.
  • Bend your front knee. If your knee is healthy, flex it deeply, possibly toward a 90 degree angle; if you have an injury or experience pain in the knee, flex only partially (45 degrees).
  • Lift arms overhead, and aim to line your upper arms near your ears to create shoulder flexion. Lifting the arms forward of the head ("Not This!" photo) is a way to cheat your shoulders from improving their range of motion. Turn pinkies to face each other to help externally rotate the shoulders.
  • Now let's talk about spinal health. We are on the hunt for a neutral spine here. The spine has a nice, natural S-curve, but we must be careful to not overdo this curve. So, lengthen the spine by lifting the pubic bone slightly and softening the tailbone toward the mat. Do NOT stick the butt upward nor allow the pelvis to tilt forward.
  • In creating healthy spinal extension, you may notice that you need to soften/bend your back knee slightly. Do it! I'd rather see my students bend their back knee and find proper spinal alignment than try to have a straight leg, resulting in an over-extended spine.
  • What's going on in the frontal ribs? Notice if you are puffing out the front body. If you are, it's a good indication your spine is being compromised. Draw the frontal ribs in toward the spine. Contract your abdominals to protect the low back.
  • Your gaze can be forward or lifted. If it is lifted, keep the chin lock (jalandhara band) to properly lengthen the cervical spine.
  • Breathe!