Fusion Workouts: Fitness, Yoga, Pilates, and Barre - Helen Vanderburg (2016)

Part II. Fusion Exercises

Chapter 6. Floor Strength, Balance, and Flexibility Exercises

The fusion floor exercises build strength, balance, and flexibility in the upper and lower body while integrating core training. The floor exercises define the muscles of the arms, legs, buttocks, back, and abdominals by focusing on proper alignment and posture.

The exercises in this section are grouped according to movement patterns and build from a foundational movement. As you learned in the previous chapter, a foundational movement uses a body position or exercise that is common in other exercises. For example, a plank is a foundational exercise for push-ups and many Pilates-based exercises. Once you learn the position, execution, and technique required in the foundational exercise, you can apply that information to the other exercises that use a similar movement pattern. Grouping the exercises this way makes it easy to move from one exercise to the next with minimal adjustments in body position during a fusion workout. Not only is this more efficient, but it also helps you master the exercise technique. A variety of exercise options are available from the foundational exercise. Using the fusion method, you will be able to easily mix and match the exercises within each group to flow from one exercise to another, to change the intensity, and to bring novelty to your workouts.

Foundational Exercise

Plank Position

Starting Position

Kneeling with the hands under the shoulders, stabilize the shoulders and contract the core muscles. Extend one leg back, curling the toes under to balance on the ball of the foot with the heel aligned directly over the toes. Step the opposite leg back so the feet are hip-width apart. With the core strong and the torso in a neutral alignment, keep the leg straight to form a straight line through the body. The spine is in a neutral alignment, with a slight lumbar curve and the hips and head aligned with the spine. The arms are vertical under the shoulders. The shoulder blades are drawn back and in to open the chest. Spread the hands into the floor, pointing the middle finger directly forward with the thumb reaching toward the center.

Action

Press into the hands to draw energy up the arms to the shoulder girdle. Widen the chest and bring the shoulder blades toward the midline of the back. Keep the upper body working and gently pull the deep abdominal muscles up toward the spine. Firm the muscles of the legs and lift the pelvic floor and lower-abdominal muscles to engage the deep core muscles (see figure).

Alignment

The spine maintains a neutral alignment, with the head in line with the spine, creating a straight line through the entire body.

Breath

To activate the muscles of the core, use the 3D breathing technique. Exhale to lift the abdominal muscles in and up while creating internal tension within the abdominals. Inhale to stay strong in the exercise. Hold for 5 to 15 breaths.

Technique Tips

·        Slightly tuck the chin to draw the head back in line with the spine.

·        Keep the arms in a vertical line and avoid rounding the upper back.

·        Maintain the alignment of the spine, hips, and head.

·        Avoid lifting the hips up or dropping the hips down to create an excessive curve in the low back.

·        Spread the fingers wide to disperse the weight through the hand.

·        Engage the muscles of the upper back and core to decrease the pressure on the wrists.

·        Keep the muscles of the legs firm to support the weight of the pelvis.

·        Lift the abdominal muscles toward the spine without changing the position of the spine.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To decrease the intensity, bend the knees to bring them the floor.

·        To decrease discomfort in the wrists, bring the forearms to the floor.

Mindfulness

Focus your attention on working the core muscles through the use of strong breath work to gain strength and endurance.

Plank With Leg Lift

Starting Position

Assume a plank position. The spine is in a neutral alignment with a slight lumbar curve, and the hips and head are in line with the spine. The arms are vertical under the shoulders, and the shoulder blades are drawn back and in to open the chest. Spread the hands into the floor, pointing the middle finger directly forward with the thumb reaching toward the center (see figure a).

Action

Maintain perfect plank alignment and lift one leg straight up to hip height with a flexed ankle (see figure b). Point the toe then flex the ankle while the foot is lifted and lower to repeat on the other leg.

Alignment

The spine maintains a neutral alignment, with the head in line with the spine, creating a straight line through the body.

Breath

Inhale to lift the leg. Exhale to flex the ankle. Inhale to point the toe, and exhale to lower the foot. Repeat 5 to10 times per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To add intensity, bend the knee to a 90-degree angle, keeping the inner thighs together. Inhale to curl the knee in, lift the knee on an exhalation, and lower the knee on an inhalation. Extend the leg out to plank and repeat on the other side.

·        To decrease discomfort in the wrists, place the forearms on the floor.

Mindfulness

Imagine you are balancing a plate of glass on the back of the pelvis, and you want to keep it from falling as you move from one leg to the other.

Knee-Tuck Series

Starting Position

Assume a plank position. The spine is in a neutral alignment, with a slight lumbar curve and the hips and head are in line with the spine. The arms are vertical under the shoulders, and the shoulder blades are drawn back and in to open the chest. Spread the hands into the floor, pointing the middle finger directly forward and the thumb reaching toward the center (see figure a).

Action

While in the plank, lift one leg to hip height. Bend the knee and bring the knee toward the chest while keeping the spine in a neutral alignment (see figure b). Extend the leg back out to plank. Repeat and bring the knee to the opposite shoulder (see figure c) and return to plank. Finally, lift the leg and bring the knee to the elbow on the same side of the body (see figure d) and return to plank. Repeat the sequence with the other leg.

Alignment

In the plank position, the spine maintains a neutral alignment. The head is in line with the spine, creating a straight line through the body.

Breath

Inhale to lift the leg. Exhale to tuck the leg in. Inhale to return the leg to the start position. Perform one to six repetitions per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To decrease intensity, lower the knees to the floor and come to a tabletop position in which you are on all fours. Bring one leg in to a tuck position and then extend it directly back as you lift the leg, straight and long.

·        To decrease the intensity, perform one tuck at a time and take breaks between each variation of the exercise.

·        To increase the challenge, keep the leg lifted between the three knee-tuck variations.

Mindfulness

This exercise requires determination. Believe in yourself and you will do this.

Plank With Hip Drive

Starting Position

Assume a plank position. The spine is in a neutral alignment with a slight lumbar curve, and the hips and head are in line with the spine. The arms are vertical under the shoulders, and the shoulder blades are drawn back and in to open the chest. Spread the hands into the floor, pointing the middle finger directly forward and the thumb reaching toward the center (see figure a).

Action

From the plank position, drive the hips upward to a pike, keeping the heels lifted (see figure b). Keep the core engaged as you return to plank position.

Alignment

In the plank position, the spine maintains a neutral alignment and the head is in line with the spine, creating a straight line through the body.

Breath

Inhale to pike the hips upward. Exhale to lower to plank. Breathing should be strong, slow, and purposeful. Repeat 8 to12 times.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To add challenge, lift one arm up and swing it back toward the hips in the pike position and forward in the plank.

·        To reduce wrist discomfort, perform the exercise from the forearms.

Mindfulness

Create a flow between your breath and movement.

Plank to Hip Drop

Starting Position

Assume a plank position. The spine is in a neutral alignment with a slight lumbar curve, and the hips and head are in line with the spine. The arms are vertical under the shoulders, and the shoulder blades are drawn back and in to open the chest. Spread the hands into the floor, pointing the middle finger directly forward and the thumb reaching toward the center (see figure a).

Action

From the plank position, lower one hip toward the floor (see figure b). Lift the hip to return to plank and repeat on the other side.

Alignment

In the plank position, the spine maintains a neutral alignment. The head is in line with the spine, creating a straight line through the body.

Breath

Exhale to lower the hip, inhale to lift the hip, and exhale to the other side. Repeat 5 to 10 times per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To decrease intensity, lower the knees to the floor.

·        To add intensity, increase the range of motion of the exercise by lifting the hips higher and lowering the hips to touch the floor.

·        To decrease discomfort in the wrists, place the forearms on the floor.

Mindfulness

Allow your body to move through a comfortable range of motion. Increase your range as you gain confidence and strength.

Narrow Push-Up

Starting Position

Assume a plank position. The spine is in a neutral alignment with a slight lumbar curve, and the hips and head are in line with the spine. The arms are vertical under the shoulders, and the shoulder blades are drawn back and in to open the chest. Spread the hands into the floor, pointing the middle finger directly forward and the thumb reaching toward the center (see figure a).

Action

From the plank position, shift the body weight forward onto the arms and hug the upper arms into the side of the ribs to lower into a push-up (see figure b). Keep the core working as you lower your body. Push down through the hands and press back up to plank.

Alignment

The spine maintains a neutral alignment. The head is in line with the spine, creating a straight line through the body.

Breath

Inhale and exhale to set the core using a fusion 3D breath. Inhale to lower into the push-up, and exhale to return to the start. Complete 5 to 10 repetitions.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To decrease the intensity, lower the knees to the floor.

·        Lower to the depth you can hold ideal alignment. To increase intensity, go lower into the push-up.

·        To add intensity, lift one leg.

Mindfulness

Focus on being strong. In your mind, celebrate your personal strength.

Wide Push-Up

Starting Position

Assume a plank position. The spine is in a neutral alignment with a slight lumbar curve, and the hips and head are in line with the spine (see figure a). Place the hands wider than shoulder-width apart. The shoulder blades are drawn back and in to open the chest. Spread the hands into the floor.

Action

Slightly rotate the fingers inward to comfortably allow the elbows to bend outward as you lower into the push-up (see figure b). Keeping the core muscles engaged, press down into the hands to return to the start position, maintaining neutral alignment of the spine.

Alignment

The spine maintains a neutral alignment. The head is in line with the spine, creating a straight line through the body.

Breath

Inhale and exhale to set the core using a fusion 3D breath. Inhale to lower in the push-up, and exhale to return to the start. Complete 5 to 10 repetitions.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To decrease the intensity, lower the knees to the floor.

·        Lower to the depth you can hold ideal alignment. As you progress go lower into the push-up.

·        To add intensity, lift one leg.

Mindfulness

Focus on your breath to give you strength.

Side Plank

Starting Position

Assume a plank position. The spine is in a neutral alignment with a slight lumbar curve, and the hips and head are in line with the spine. The arms are vertical under the shoulders, with the shoulder blades drawn back and in to open the chest. Spread the hands into the floor, pointing the middle finger directly forward and the thumb reaching toward the center (see figure a).

Action

From the plank position, bring one hand in line with the center of the chest. Open the body to the side as you lift the opposite arm to reach toward the ceiling (see figure b).

Alignment

The body creates a long line from head to toe.

Breath

Inhale to set the hand and engage the core. Exhale to rotate into the side plank. Breathe deeply to hold the position for three to five breaths per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To decrease discomfort in the wrists, place the forearms on the floor.

·        To add a balance challenge, stack the feet on top of each other.

·        To add a strength challenge, lift the top leg to hip height.

·        To decrease the intensity, lower the bottom knee to the floor to a bent-knee position.

Mindfulness

Imagine that your body is between two panes of glass.

Foundational Exercise

Tabletop

Starting Position

Assume a kneeling position, place the hands directly under the shoulders, and spread the fingers wide. Place the knees directly under the hips, creating a vertical line with the thighs. The spine and pelvis are in a neutral alignment from head to hips.

Action

Stabilize the shoulder girdle and contract the core muscles to brace the spine and maintain neutral spinal alignment. Avoid tucking the pelvis under. Press the shoulders down and away from the ears and slightly back to open the front of the chest (see figure).

Alignment

Align the head with the spine and slightly tuck the chin to point the crown of the head forward.

Breath

Inhale to set the hands and knee position. Exhale to engage the core muscles to brace the spine in this position. Hold for three to five breaths.

Technique Tips

·        Spread the hands wide for a better base of support.

·        Keep the arms straight and move the shoulder blades toward the middle of the back.

·        Lift the navel upward toward the spine by engaging the deep inner-core muscles.

·        Maintain the alignment of the knees with the feet and keep the knees from falling inward or outward.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To increase the intensity, lift the knees a few inches off the floor.

·        Place a rolled mat under the knees for comfort.

Mindfulness

This position creates a balanced and stable foundation for more challenging exercises. Focus on how the muscles of the core work three dimensionally and how different exercises work the core to achieve the movement.

Two-Point Tabletop

Starting Position

Assume a kneeling position, place the hands directly under the shoulders, and spread the fingers wide. The knees are directly under the hips, creating a vertical line with the thighs (see figure a). The spine and pelvis are in a neutral alignment from head to hips.

Action

From the tabletop position, lift one arm and reach it directly out in front. Lift the opposite leg and reach it directly back in the opposing direction (see figure b). The body should remain centered as the leg and arm lift.

Alignment

Keep the spine in a neutral alignment and avoid rolling the hips to one side. The lifted arm and leg should make a straight line from the heel of the foot to the finger tips.

Breath

Inhale to set the core muscles. Exhale to reach the arm and leg out. Hold for three to five breaths per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To challenge the core differently, move the lifted arm and leg to the side at a diagonal.

·        To decrease the intensity, lift only the arm or the leg at one time.

·        To add variety and increase intensity, bend the knee of the lifted leg and bring it under you as you bring the opposite elbow in to touch the knee to the elbow.

·        To focus on the hip and legs, lift one leg and cross it over the supporting leg to touch the toes to the floor. Arch the leg up and over and touch out to the side without rotating the spine and losing alignment.

Mindfulness

Focus internally to sense how the inner core is working to maintain stability against the forces of gravity.

Foundational Exercise

Front-Lying Position

Starting Position

Lie in a prone position with the chest on the floor and the legs extended straight out from the hips and the tops of the feet on the floor so that the body creates a straight line from the head to the toes. Place the forearms comfortably on the floor with the palms of the hands facing down (see figure a).

Action

Contract the muscles of the legs to lift the knees off the floor and reach the legs out long from the hips. Lift the navel upward to the spine by engaging the deep abdominal muscles while pressing the pubic bone gently into the floor. Tuck the chin slightly and lift the head to align the head with the upper back. The tip of the nose points toward the floor (see figure b).

Alignment

The spine maintains a neutral alignment, with the head in line with the spine, creating a straight line through the body.

Breath

Inhale to lift the knees, and exhale to lift the abdominal muscles. Breathe naturally and hold for three to five breaths.

Technique Tips

·        Press down lightly onto the tops of the feet in the start position.

·        Keep the lifted sensation in the abdominal wall as you move into more advanced exercises.

Progressions and Modifications

·        Place a towel under the forehead if it is difficult to maintain a neutral head alignment in the start position.

·        To increase the intensity, place your hands on top of each other under the forehead in the start position.

Mindfulness

In this position, you will strengthen all of the muscles along the posterior (back) line of the body. Commonly, the gluteals and upper back muscles are weak causing the work to shift to the low back. Focus on keeping the abdominal muscles engaged to stabilize the low back.

Back Extension

Starting Position

Begin in the front-lying position with the hands to the forehead (see figure a).

Action

Pull the navel up and in toward the spine and extend the upper back to lift the chest off the floor (see figure b). Press the tops of the feet into the floor as you lift up. Keep the abdominal muscles lifted to support the back.

Alignment

Keep the head in a neutral alignment with the upper back. Think of creating length rather than height.

Breath

Exhale to draw the abdominal muscles in. Inhale to lift the upper body. Exhale to lower. Repeat five to eight times.

Progressions and Modifications

·        Hold the top of the extension for a few breaths before lowering.

·        Reach the arms out straight to challenge strength.

·        Place the forearms on the floor to support the back extension.

Mindfulness

Imagine you are creating a gentle continuous curve from the head to the hips.

Swimmer

Starting Position

Begin in the front-lying position. The arms are extended overhead, about shoulder-width apart and the palms down (see figure a).

Action

Lift the upper body to a back extension and the legs in a low hip extension. Raise one arm and the opposing leg (see figure b). Switch and lift the other arm and leg while keeping the hips and low back stable. Move from one side to the other in a swimming motion.

Alignment

Create length through the body by extending the top of the head and the feet in opposite directions. Keep the abdominal muscles lifted toward the spine.

Breath

Inhale to raise one arm and the opposite leg. Exhale to switch. Continue the movement from side to side for 6 to 12 repetitions per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To focus on the upper back and upper core strength, perform the arm actions only.

·        To focus on lower body and lower core strength, perform the leg actions only.

·        Vary the tempo of the movement to challenge core stability

Mindfulness

Bring awareness to the core by pressing the front of the hips into the mat to maintain stability against the movement of the arms and legs.

Breaststroke

Starting Position

Begin in the front-lying position, with the tops of the feet pressed into the floor. Place the forearms on the floor beside the chest and ribs (see figure a). Extend the upper back into a low back extension and lift the hands off the floor by the shoulders (see figure b).

Action

Set the core by lifting the abdominal muscles. Keep the legs muscles active with the knees lifted off the floor and feet pressed down. Reach the arms forward with the palms facing down. (see figure c). Then pull the arms down to the side of the body as you lift higher in the upper back and open the front of the chest (see figure d). Return to the starting position.

Alignment

Create length through the body by extending the top of the head and the feet in opposite directions. Keep the abdominal muscles lifted toward the spine.

Breath

Inhale to lift the chest up. Exhale to reach the arms out straight in front. Inhale to pull the arms back to the side of the body. Exhale to return to the low back extension. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

Progressions and Modifications

·        Vary the tempo by slowing the movement or increasing the speed.

·        To decrease the intensity, rest between each repetition.

Mindfulness

Imagine that you are swimming and create the same fluidity with your movement and breath.

Hip Extension

Starting Position

Begin in the front-lying position with the hands under the forehead and the legs approximately hip or shoulder width apart in a parallel rotated position (see figure a).

Action

Keeping the upper body in contact with the floor, lift the legs from the hips with the legs straight (see figure b). Think of lengthening the legs from the hips to lower them to the start position.

Alignment

Create length through the body by extending the top of the head and the feet in opposite directions. Lift the abdominal muscles toward the spine without putting tension on the neck and shoulders. Support the head in a neutral position.

Breath

Exhale to set the core muscles. Inhale to lift the legs. Exhale to lower. Repeat five to eight times.

Progressions and Modifications

·        For variation and to change how the core works, lift one leg at a time.

·        To add intensity, bend the knees to bring the heels to the hips and straighten keeping the fronts of the legs off the floor. Repeat the bend-and-straightening movement for several repetitions before resting.

Mindfulness

Focus on lifting the abdominal muscles to create a sensation of space in the low back.

Dynamic Bow

Starting Position

Begin in a front-lying position, with the knees bent and arms reaching behind to take hold of the outside of the ankles (see figure a).

Action

Lift the thighs off the floor by contracting the gluteal muscles and hamstrings. Press the feet into the hands and the shins back to lift the chest off the floor (see figure b).

Alignment

Keep the hands on the ankles as you lower to the start position. Create length through the upper body by extending the top of the head forward as you open the shoulders and chest to reach the arms back for the ankles. Lift the abdominal muscles toward the spine to support the low back.

Breath

Inhale to lift up into the bow. Hold the bow for 2 to 4 seconds. Exhale to lower. Repeat three to five times.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To make the exercise easier, perform a half-bow exercise by lifting one arm and leg on the same side. Repeat on the other side.

·        Lift one leg and reach back with the hand to the ankle, alternating each side dynamically in a controlled tempo.

Mindfulness

Use the legs to lift the chest and allow the low back to relax in the pose.

Upward-Facing Dog

Starting Position

Begin in a front-lying position with the hands beside the rib cage and the elbows pulled in and lifted up (see figure a).

Action

Contract the muscles of the legs to lift the knees off the floor. Keeping the legs active, lift the chest into an upper-back extension. Maintain the extension in your back as you press into the hands and straighten the arms to lift the body and legs off the floor (see figure b).

Alignment

Create length through the body by extending the top of the head and the feet in opposite directions. Lift the abdominal muscles toward the spine and firm the legs. The body should create a gentle extension from the head to the hips. The arms are in a vertical line from the shoulder to the wrist.

Breath

Inhale to lift into upward-facing dog. Hold for one to five breaths. Exhale to lower to the start position.

Progressions and Modifications

·        Keep the hips and legs on the floor and lift the chest in a low-back extension to decrease intensity.

·        To make it easier, place the forearms on the floor and lift the chest for less spine extension.

·        To take pressure off of the low back, curl the toes under and perform the exercise from the balls of the feet.

Mindfulness

Imagine the sensation of opening your chest as if you are lifting your heart forward in this powerful yoga posture.

Foundational Exercise

Seated Position

Starting Position

Sit on the center of the sitting bones. The legs are straight out in front and the torso is upright. The pelvis is neutral, with the rib cage over the hips and the head balanced over the spine, which is in neutral alignment.

Action

Place the hands on the floor beside the hips and gently press the hands down to lift through the spine. Lift the pelvic floor, bringing the navel inward and upward toward the spine (see figure). Open the chest and draw the shoulder blades back. Tuck the chin slightly and reach the crown of the head upward. Contract the quadriceps muscles and press the back of the legs down.

Alignment

Create a tall posture and long line from the sitting bones to the crown of the head.

Breath

Exhale to gently contract the inner-core muscles and stabilize a tall seated position. Breathe naturally for five breaths.

Technique Tips

·        Press the legs down to create a sensation of lifting upward.

·        Keep the lifted sensation of the abdominal wall as you move into more advanced exercises.

Progressions and Modifications

·        Sit on a rolled yoga mat or yoga block to move the pelvis into a neutral alignment.

·        Bend the knees if the hamstrings or low back are tight or in discomfort.

Mindfulness

This body position works the postural muscles of the core in a seated position. Be aware of the subtleness of the inner core working to bring you into a tall seated posture. Notice how your breath feels when you sit tall versus sinking into slouched posture.

Half Rollback

Starting Position

Begin in a tall seated position, with the knees bent and the feet on the floor about hip-width apart. Reach the arms out in front of the shoulders, with the palms of the hands facing down (see figure a). Relax the shoulders down and away from the ears.

Action

Roll back by rotating the pelvis under, contracting the abdominal muscles inward and the front of the rib cage downward. Slightly tuck the chin, leaving a fist distance between the chin and the chest and create a gentle curve through the spine from the pelvis to the middle of the back on the rollback. Continue to roll back until the low back just touches the floor (see figure b). To come up, begin by pulling the front of the rib cage down and curling up to a tall seated position.

Alignment

The spine is in a gentle curve from the hips to the head. Avoid tucking the chin too tightly or lifting the shoulders to the ears.

Breath

Inhale to sit tall. Exhale to roll back. Inhale and hold. Exhale to roll up to a tall seated position. Repeat 6 to 12 times.

Progressions and Modifications

·        Place the hands behind the thighs to support the rollback and assist the curl-up to seated.

·        For the oblique rollback, sweep one arm back, turning the palm of the hand up, slightly rotating to the side and looking toward the hand. Roll up and repeat on the other side.

Mindfulness

Focus on the movement of the pelvis and the spine as it flexes and extends without creating tension in the shoulders and neck.

Full Roll-Up

Starting Position

Begin in a tall seated position, with the legs straight and the arms reaching out in front of the shoulders and the palms facing toward each other (see figure a). Relax the shoulders down and away from the ears.

Action

Roll back by rotating the pelvis under, contracting the abdominal muscles inward and the front of the rib cage downward. Slightly tuck the chin, leaving a fist width between the chin and the chest and create a gentle curve through the spine from the pelvis to the middle of the back on the rollback. Continue to roll back, placing the back of the torso gently on the floor and reaching the arms overhead (see figure b). To come up, reach the arms over the chest, tuck the chin, and pull the front of the rib cage down. Continue to move the ribs to the hips to roll up to a tall seated position.

Alignment

Begin the curve of the spine from the hips to the head as you roll back. On the roll-up, begin by tucking the chin and rolling from the upper back to the hips.

Breath

Inhale to sit tall. Exhale to roll back. Inhale to reach the arms over the chest. Exhale to roll up to a tall seated position. Repeat four to eight times.

Progressions and Modifications

·        Bend the knees and place the hands behind the thighs to support the rollback and assist in the curl-up to the seated position.

·        For variation and to change how the core muscles work, circle the arms out to the side and overhead as you roll back.

Mindfulness

Imagine the legs are anchored to the floor to allow the torso to roll through this movement.

V-Sit

Starting Position

Begin in a tall seated position, with the knees bent and the hands behind the thighs (see figure a).

Action

Lean back to balance on the back of your sitting bones, keeping the back straight and forming a V-shape. Lift the feet off the floor and remove the hands from behind the legs to reach straight out from the shoulders (see figure b).

Alignment

Maintain a straight back. Avoid letting the hips roll back.

Breath

Inhale to sit tall. Exhale to lean back. Inhale and hold. Hold for four to eight breaths.

Progressions and Modifications

·        Place the hands behind the thighs to support the back.

·        To increase the challenge, reach the arms to the ceiling.

·        To advance the exercise, straighten the legs.

·        For variation and to challenge the core differently, in a straight-leg position cross the legs.

·        Bring the forearms to the floor to support the back.

Mindfulness

Lift the chest as if the sternum were being pulled up by a string.

Reverse Table

Starting Position

Begin in a tall seated position with the hands on the floor approximately 6 inches (15 cm) behind you and the fingers turned toward the hips (see figure a).

Action

Firm the legs and bring the inner thighs together. Press down into the hands and lift the hips and legs, creating a reverse plank position from head to toe (see figure b). The arms are vertical under the shoulders.

Alignment

The body creates a long line from the feet to the shoulders. Tuck the chin slightly to support the weight of your head. The arms are in a vertical line in the lifted reverse-plank position.

Breath

Inhale to sit tall. Exhale to lift into the plank. Inhale and hold. Exhale to lower. Repeat 6 to 10 times.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To decrease the intensity, bend the knees and form a tabletop.

·        To increase flexibility in the front of the shoulder and chest, keep the hips on the floor and practice the arm movement.

Mindfulness

Be patient with yourself. Through practice and determination, this exercise will get easier.

Foundational Exercise

Side-Lying Position

Starting Position

Lie on your side with your head, ribs, spine, and hips in a neutral position and the legs straight. Support your head with the lower arm and place the other hand on the floor in front of the chest to support you.

Action

Lift the waist off the floor to align the ribs and hips on top of each other (see figure). This will work the muscles of the front, side, and back of the core.

Alignment

The spine is in a neutral position, and the hips and ribs are stacked directly on top of each other.

Breath

Exhale to contract the muscles of the core and lift the waist. Breathe naturally for five breaths.

Technique Tips

·        Slide the rib cage toward the bottom hip.

·        Support the head by placing it on the bottom arm or a rolled towel to prevent neck fatigue.

Progressions and Modifications

·        Bend the knees to decrease discomfort in the hips.

·        Bend the bottom knee and keep the top leg straight to decrease intensity.

Mindfulness

This body position works the core muscles that support the low back. In doing the exercises in this position, focus your attention on the muscles along the side of the torso from the hips to shoulders and on how they work in unison to create stability and movement.

Side Leg Lift

Starting Position

Begin in a side-lying position (see figure a).

Action

Keeping the waist lifted and the body in a straight line, lift the top leg slightly higher than hip height (see figure b).

Alignment

With the body in a straight line from head to toe, roll back slightly as you lift the leg to take pressure off the bones of the bottom of the hip.

Breath

Inhale to lift the leg. Exhale to lower the leg. Repeat 8 to 12 times per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To increase the intensity, lift both legs.

·        Bend the bottom knee for comfort.

Mindfulness

Let the movement occur without great force. Be soft and strong.

Side Leg Circle

Starting Position

Begin in a side-lying position (see figure a).

Action

Lift the top leg to hip height and circle the leg in one direction without moving the hip or torso and keeping the body in a straight line (see figure b). Repeat the circle in the opposite direction. Repeat this sequence with the other leg.

Alignment

With the body in a straight line from head to toe, roll back slightly as you lift the legs to take pressure off of the hip.

Breath

Lift one leg; inhale on the first half of the circle. Exhale on the second half of the circle. Repeat 10 times in both directions per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To increase the challenge, bring yourself to a side plank on your forearm.

·        For the most advanced options, bring yourself to a side plank on your hand.

Mindfulness

Imagine drawing a perfect circle in the air with the toes.

Side Bend

Starting Position

Begin in a seated position with the ankles crossed and the top knee pointed to the ceiling. Place one hand on the floor with the fingers pointed out and the arm straight at a slight angle forward from the shoulder. The other hand is placed with the palm facing up and the wrist extended across the top knee (see figure a).

Action

Lift from the bottom hip to laterally flex over the supporting arm and reach the opposite arm overhead in an arch as the legs straighten and squeeze together creating a side bend with the body (see figure b). Lower to the start position.

Alignment

At the top of the side bend, the supporting arm is vertical and the body creates an arch with the bottom hip and waist lifted. The hips and ribs are stacked on top of each other.

Breath

Inhale to initiate the lift. Exhale to finish the side bend. Inhale to hold the side bend. Exhale to lower to the start position. Repeat three to five times per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To decrease intensity, keep the bottom knee bent on the floor.

·        To decrease wrist discomfort, place the forearm on the floor.

Mindfulness

Imagine the body movement as similar to the arching of water in a fountain.

Side Twist

Starting Position

Begin in a seated position with the ankles crossed and the top knee pointed to the ceiling. Place one hand on the floor with the fingers pointed out and the arm straight at a slight angle forward from the shoulder. The other hand is placed with the palm facing up and the wrist extended across the top knee (see figure a).

Action

Lift from the bottom hip to laterally flex over the supporting arm and reach the opposite arm overhead in an arch as the legs straighten and squeeze together creating a side bend with the body (see figure b). Reach the top arm upward into a side plank (see figure c), then bend the elbow to reach the arm under the torso toward the opposite leg as you lift the hips into a pike (see figure d). The twist comes from the upper torso moving the rib cage toward the opposite hip. Return to the arm reaching up in a side plank. Lower to the starting position.

Alignment

At the top of the side bend, the supporting arm is vertical and the body creates an arch with the bottom hip lifted and the waist contracted. The hips and ribs are stacked on top of each other.

Breath

Inhale to initiate the lift. Exhale to finish the side bend. Inhale to reach the arm up. Exhale to twist and reach to the opposite hip. Inhale to reach up. Exhale to lower to the start position. Repeat three to five times per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To decrease intensity, keep the bottom knee bent on the floor.

·        To decrease wrist discomfort, place the forearms on the floor.

Mindfulness

Create a flow between breath and movement.

Foundational Exercise

Abdominal Brace Position

Starting Position

Lie on your back. The spine and pelvis are in a neutral alignment, the knees bent, and the feet on the floor and in line with the sitting bones. Place your arms on the floor at the side of the body, palms down (see figure a).

Action

Lengthen the back of the neck and bring the shoulder blades against the back of the rib cage. Keep the shoulder blades down as you flex the thoracic spine by moving the front of the rib cage toward the pelvis, reaching the arms out. Draw the navel toward the spine as you contract the deep inner-core muscles (see figure b).

Alignment

The hips are anchored to the floor as the ribs move toward the hips and the shoulders lift slightly off the floor.

Breath

Inhale to prepare. Exhale to contract the muscles of the core to slide the front of the ribs to the hips. Inhale and hold. Exhale to lower. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

Technique Tips

·        Slide the bottom of the rib cage toward the hips.

·        Slightly tuck the chin.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To practice the action of abdominal bracing, keep your head on the floor and practice the breathing rhythm with the muscle contraction.

·        Place the hands behind the head to support the neck.

Mindfulness

Abdominal bracing is initiated by contracting the deep inner core to create an internal tension that builds strength and stability of the core. Stay focused on maintaining the feeling of bracing the core from the inside as you move into more advanced exercises.

Leg Lift Tabletop

Starting Position

Begin in the abdominal brace position (see figure a).

Action

Curl up by bringing the ribs toward the hips to increase tension in the abdominal muscles. The shoulders are lifted off the floor and down and away from the ears. The hips are anchored to the floor as the ribs move toward the hips. Lift one leg at a time to bring both legs to a 90-degree angle in the hip and knee. Lower one leg to touch the toes to the floor (see figure b). Raise the leg back to the start position, and then repeat on the other leg. Brace the abdominal muscles as you lower the legs.

Alignment

Be aware of the tendency for the abdominal muscles to pop out and the low back to hyperextend as you lift and lower the legs.

Breath

Inhale to prepare. Exhale to contract the abdominal muscles and slide the ribs toward the hips. Inhale to lower the leg and exhale to lift. Repeat 6 to 12 times per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To make this exercise easier, begin the leg lifts with the feet on the floor.

·        To increase the challenge, lower both legs at one time.

·        Vary the tempo by alternating the leg lifts, for greater challenge.

Mindfulness

Brace the core without pushing the low back down. Become aware of just how much the abdominal muscles can work without compromising the low back.

Bend and Stretch

Starting Position

Begin in the abdominal brace position. Lift the legs to a 90-degree angle at the hip and knee and curl up, bringing the front of the ribs toward the hips (see figure a).

Action

Curl the upper body up, moving the front of the ribs toward the hips while keeping the hips anchored to the floor. Reach the arms to the knees with the palms turned in toward each other (see figure b). Reach the arms overhead as the legs extend out at a diagonal (see figure c). Circle the arms around to curl in to the start position.

Alignment

Maintain the abdominal brace position throughout the exercise by keeping the head lifted and the abdominal muscles pulled in and down.

Breath

Inhale to reach the arms and legs out. Exhale to contract the muscles of the core and bring the arms and legs to tabletop. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To make this exercise easier, perform the arm or leg action independently.

·        To increase the challenge, lower the legs farther on the leg extension.

·        Lower the head to the floor if there is discomfort in the neck.

·        For variety, change the tempo by slowing the movement and taking slower and deeper breaths.

Mindfulness

Maintain the shape of your torso throughout the movement.

Single-Leg Stretch

Starting Position

Begin in the abdominal brace position. Lift the legs to a 90-degree angle at the hip and knee and curl up, bringing the front of the ribs toward the hips. The hips are anchored to the floor as the ribs move toward the hips (see figure a).

Action

Curl up and reach the arms straight alongside the body and tuck the chin slightly. Extend one leg out straight (see figure b). Switch and stretch the opposite leg out straight.

Alignment

Maintain the abdominal brace position throughout the exercise. Avoid rocking the hips side to side.

Breath

Inhale to brace the core. Exhale to extend one leg out. Inhale to switch. Repeat 8 to 12 times per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To make this exercise easier, keep the knee bent and touch the toe to the floor.

·        To increase the challenge, place the hands behind the head.

·        For variety, change the tempo by moving slower or quicker through the leg switches.

Mindfulness

Focus on the changes that occur in the muscles of the core that keep the movement graceful.

Crisscross

Starting Position

Begin in the abdominal brace position with the hands behind the head and the chin slightly tucked. Lift the legs to a 90-degree angle at the hip and knee and curl up, bringing the ribs toward the hips. The hips are anchored to the floor as the front of the ribs move toward the hips (see figure a).

Action

The shoulders lift slightly off the floor and press down and away from the ears as you curl up. Extend one leg out straight; at the same time, rotate the upper body toward the bent knee by moving the front ribcage to the opposite hip (see figure b). Switch to the opposite side.

Alignment

Maintain the abdominal brace position throughout the exercise. Avoid rocking the hips side to side.

Breath

Inhale to brace the core. Exhale to extend one leg out and rotate. Inhale to the center. Exhale to switch. Repeat 8 to 12 times per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To make this exercise easier, keep the knee bent and touch the toe to the floor.

·        For variety, change the tempo by moving slower or quicker through the leg switches.

Mindfulness

This exercise focuses on core connection rather than rotation. Imagine a crisscrossing of core muscle fiber like elastic strings reaching from the bottoms of the ribs to the opposite hip.

Foundational Exercise

Shoulder Bridge Position

Starting Position

Lie on your back. The spine and pelvis are in a neutral alignment, the knees are bent, the feet are in line with the sitting bones, and the shins are in a vertical line. Place the arms on the floor at the side of the body (see figure a).

Action

Lengthen the back of the neck and bring the shoulder blades toward the center of the back. Press down into the feet to lift the hips and come onto the shoulder blades while maintaining a neutral spinal alignment (see figure b). Exert equal effort in the hamstrings, gluteals, and spinal muscles.

Alignment

Maintain neutral alignment of the spine from the shoulder blades to the knees as you lift and lower the hips.

Breath

Inhale to prepare. Exhale to lift to the shoulder bridge. Inhale and hold. Exhale to lower. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Technique Tips

·        Slide the bottom of the rib cage toward the hips to maintain a neutral back position.

·        Slightly tuck the chin.

·        Press into the inside edge of the feet to keep the knees aligned with the feet and hips.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To increase intensity, reach the arms up toward the ceiling.

·        Move the feet and legs together and squeeze the legs in as you lift up for more inner thigh work.

·        For variety, hold the shoulder bridge in the lifted position for several breaths.

Mindfulness

Shoulder bridging is an excellent exercise for strengthening the muscles of the back of the body, particularly the gluteals and hamstrings. When performing this exercise, focus on the gluteal muscles initiating the movement. Be sure to keep them active throughout the exercise.

Shoulder Bridge With Leg Lift

Starting Position

Begin in a shoulder bridge position. The spine and pelvis are in a neutral alignment, the knees are bent, the feet are in line with the sitting bones, and the shins are in a vertical line. Place the arms on the floor at the side of the body (see figure a).

Action

Lengthen the back of the neck and bring the shoulder blades toward the center of the back. Lift one leg in a bent-knee position (see figure b). Press down into the supporting foot to lift the hips, coming onto the shoulder blades while maintaining a neutral spinal alignment. Exert equal effort in the hamstrings, gluteals, and spinal muscles. Lower the hips down keeping the leg lifted.

Alignment

Maintain neutral alignment of the spine from the shoulder blades to the knees as you lift and lower the hips. Avoid tilting the hips to one side.

Breath

Inhale to prepare. With one leg lifted, exhale to lift into the shoulder bridge. Inhale and hold. Exhale to lower. Repeat on one leg for 8 to 12 times per side.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To increase the intensity, keep the lifted leg straight (see figure c).

·        To increase the core challenge, in the shoulder bridge position, lift the leg with either a bent or straight knee, hold the shoulder bridge, and then lower and lift the leg three to five times before lowering out of the shoulder bridge.

Mindfulness

Place your hands on your hips to bring awareness to the shifting of the hips when one leg is lifted. Focus on keeping the hips level throughout the entire movement.

Shoulder Bridge in External Rotation

Starting Position

Begin in a shoulder bridge position. The spine and pelvis are in a neutral alignment, the knees are bent and the feet together, and the shins are in a vertical line. Place the arms on the floor at the side of the body (see figure a).

Action

Open the knees out to the side so that the outer edges of the feet are in contact with the floor. Keep tension in the legs and press down into the feet to lift the hips into a shoulder bridge (see figure b).

Alignment

Maintain neutral alignment of the spine. Exert equal effort in the hamstrings, gluteals, and spinal muscles.

Breath

Inhale to open the knee to the side. Exhale to lift the hips to the shoulder bridge. Inhale and hold. Exhale to lower. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Progressions and Modifications

·        To add more inner-thigh work, squeeze the inner thighs together as you lift and open as you lower.

·        For variety, change the tempo and add a hold at the top.

Mindfulness

Slide the tailbone gently down toward the heels to create a sense of space in the low back. Keep the work equal in all of the muscles running up the back of the body.