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At some point on our fitness journey we’ve read or heard, “suck in your gut!” or “brace or engage your core”, but were unclear on what muscles to engage, the purpose of core engagement or perhaps the impact it has on daily activities and exercise.

The core is the group of muscles surrounding the abdomen area of the physique to help stabilize the spine and support the spinal movement. Collectively, primary muscles as the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transverse, erector spinae, and multifidi are identified as the abs or core. Although aerobic activity and nutrition help burn fat and make the abs more visible, it is core training that helps sculpt and strengthen the core as well as reduce chances of injury.

Using body-weight or little equipment, core exercises can be performed to support the spine, pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen. The level of difficulty may vary according to conditioning. The abdominal brace or core engagement is a technique that should be considered when performing any movement. At the point of progression, multiplanar movements can be incorporated. The more advanced a core exercise becomes, the more the body is fully integrated. External weight can also be added to progress the movement. As fatigue sets in, sometimes it is necessary to regress to progress to fully benefit.

Here are a few movements that can be used to strengthen the core and progress.

Classic Core Strengthening Techniques

Abdominal brace (Standing or supine):

From the standing position, depress the shoulders down and back without arching the back. Inhale and draw the navel towards the spine. As this movement is performed, the chest should raise. Exhale the chest lowers, keep the navel drawn in as tight as possible. Repeat 10 times. The movement should be modified if the lower back is engaged. Once the abdominal brace has been accomplished, multi-planar movements can be incorporated. * When performing this movement depress the shoulders downward in the back and contract the abdomen to avoid flexing or extending the back. This movement can also be performed in the supine position.

Difficulty with floor movements

Standing knee/leg raise to leg raise w/ twist:

A core strengthening exercise that can put less stress on the back and neck and help improve posture, balance, and reduce back pain. From the standing position with braced abs, rotate the torso towards the right side of the body and lift the left knee towards the right elbow without rounding the back. If the leg is raised, lift the leg up. Return to the standing position, then repeat with the same or other knee. Do not be concerned with the height of the knee/leg. The more the posterior muscles are stretched and the abs and hip flexors are strengthened, the greater height will be achieved. Form is more important than height and speed.


From the split-stance position, raise arms with a slight bend in the elbow to the upper left side of the body. Lift the chest and depress the shoulders downward towards the back without arching the back. Contract the abdomen, slowly move both arms diagonally downward across the body until the hands are at the hip of the right side. The back foot can also be pivoted to increase range of motion. Return the arms to the top of the movement to repeat. Pause at the bottom of the movement. A progression of this exercise can also be performed without a bend in the elbow or with a medicine ball.

Supine floor movements

Deadbugs: In the supine position with the arms and legs raised, lower one leg until a few inches off the floor.

Return the leg to the upright position, and repeat the move with the opposite leg. 2nd progression: As one leg is lowered, simultaneously lower the opposing arm behind the head.

3rd progression: An external weight (weighted ball, dumbbell) can be held. Simultaneously lower the legs and arms to a few inches from the ground. Then return to the start position.

* Throughout the movement, press the shoulders into the floor and engage the abs so the lower back does not raise from the floor. This will avoid straining the lower back and neck.


Begin in the quadruped position with the hands directly beneath the shoulders and the knees beneath the hips.

Contract the core muscles and lift the left arm straight out until shoulder height, and drive the right leg straight back. The raised arm and leg should be to the point where the shoulders and hips are parallel to the floor.

Plank: The plank requires no equipment and helps improve core stabilization. The low plank is where the Elbow or low plank is performed from the prone position with the elbow beneath the shoulders and the toes beneath the heels. Contract the core and align the spine with the neck and tailbone. Hold the position as long as possible. The movement can be progressed to the high plank aligning the hands to the shoulder, reaching the hand straight out, and/or lifting the leg up from the floor.

Glute Bridge: The plank requires no equipment and helps improve core stabilization. The low plank is where the Elbow or low plank is performed from the prone position with the elbow beneath the shoulders and the toes beneath the heels. Contract the core and align the spine with the neck and tailbone. Hold the position as long possible. The movement can be progressed to the high plank aligning the hands to the shoulder, reaching hand straight out, and/or lifting the leg up from the floor.


The cat cow movement is performed from the prone position that can also be used as a stretch. Stiffen the core while in the neutral prone position. Ensure the arms are aligned to the shoulder and the knees to the hips. Raise the back and allow the head to round forward stretching the posterior muscles of the neck. Hold this position for a few seconds. Release the back until the glutes are raised and lift the head upward.

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by Tina Jones, ACE Certified Fitness Trainer


When I was 13, my mother had a debilitating hemorrhagic stroke caused by an aneurysm. She immediately told me she had a severe headache. As the symptoms progressed she told me her vision was blurry and she became dizzy. At this point I called 911. The final symptoms that occurred before the ambulance arrived were slurred speech, the inability to respond, and unconsciousness. I had no clue what a stroke was, but I thank God the ambulance responded quickly and stabilized my mother.


Strokes occur when a blood clot develops in an artery preventing the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain (Ischemic Stroke) or when blood has ruptured onto the brain damaging brain cells (Hemorrhagic Stroke). A mini stroke, Transit Ischemic Attack (TIA) occurs when insufficient oxygen cannot access the brain. A TIA is also viewed as a warning of a possible more severe stroke in the future. According to the Center for Disease Control, of over 795,000 that are stricken with strokes, approximately 140,000 are fatal or obtain prolonged physical challenges. Once a stroke victim has a stroke, the chances of another can increase or decrease depending on the lifestyle changes made to reduce the probability.

A few reasons strokes occur are prior health risks such as high blood pressure or atherosclerosis and/or lifestyle decisions such as poor nutrition habits, lack of physical activity, and stress. When a stroke occurs it is important to recognize the symptoms and BE FAST to call 911.

Below are the symptoms.

Balance may become unstable.

Eyes can become weak and impair vision in one or both eyes.

Face drooping on one side

Arm weakness on one side and/or numb

Speech slurred or difficulty executing thoughts to speech

Time to call 911. The time between detection and action will impact the severity of damage or could end in fatality.

Depending on which part of the brain is impacted by the stroke, will determine the symptom. Additional symptoms are sudden severe headache, dizziness, confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness.


After the stroke, my mothers' left side was severely weak and her face drooped on the left side. Upon the direction of her physician to begin rehabilitation, my mother took physical, occupational, and speech therapy to regain balance, cognition, and the ability to perform activities of daily living. Thereafter, she began a recovery fitness program.

The severity of the stroke will determine how an effective recovery fitness program can aide in rehabilitation. A few areas of concentration within the program will include strength, cardio, flexibility, and postural training. Strength training may focus on the improvement of muscle quality to strengthen grip and regain balance. Cardio training would aim to improve mobility and endurance. Flexibility would be incorporated to improve range of motion muscles or maintain joint movement. Postural training is important as it encompass strength, flexibility, and core straining to rectify.


Lifestyle changes that can be implemented to help reduce the chances of a stroke are to exercise more, monitor nutrition, and consult a physician.

Exercise activity can be increased by performing 30 minutes of moderate cardio activity and engaging in strength training to improve the muscular physiology. According to the National Institute of Health, exercise is an effective mechanism to reduce stress and enhance health. A certified personal trainer ( can help develop and coach the execution of an effective exercise program. A physician should be consulted before engaging in physical activity.

Diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes often come from poor nutrition and increase stroke risk. Review Macro nutrient and micro nutrient labels on food. Be cognizant of food and beverage choices and your body type as it is critical to the development of diseases that can cause a stroke. As exercise activity (cardio and strength training) is increased and nutrient intake monitored, together, these lifestyle changes can improve fat to muscle body composition ratio, reduce stress, and decrease the probability of stroke. If there is uncertainty regarding nutrition intake and meal preparation, a nutritionist or registered dietitian should be consulted.

Physicians are also available to aide with stroke prevention. A physician is authorized to identify the existence of diseases and diagnose internal risk factors that can cause stroke. As previously mentioned, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, lack of exercise, poor nutrition habits, and stress are all factors that can increase the probability of a stroke. BE FAST to identify the symptoms and call 911. Stroke prevention is not guaranteed, but lifestyle changes to include regular cardio and strength training, improved nutrition habits, and physician counsel can help reduce the likelihood of a stroke and improve overall health.


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