Core Considerations

Lately I have been considering core strength…

and gingerbread houses…

and kittens…

but for the purposes of this blog post, lets stick to core strength shall we 🙂

ok just one kitten..but it is participating in a core strength exercise so it is allowable..

ok just one kitten..but it is participating in a core strength exercise so it is allowable..

although kittens are awesome…

no, sorry core strength it is…

Specifically I have been thinking about how to get really good core strength without hurting your back.

This is a challenge I faced when working on my portfolio for my level 3 assessment, I needed to find core exercises which would not damage the lower back. Lets face it, this is important for everyone, but it was particularly so in this case.

It made me think back to when I first started this quest (and before), with posture problems brought on by too much sitting and a lower back that was often achy, what did I do to get my now strong core?

(by the way I didn’t know I had a strong core until people on my PT training courses kept telling my that I did, I think it was the plank on a bosu/medicine ball that made them think it…)

So what did I do?

You know this was a harder question to answer than I thought it would be…

How did I get a strong core…I haven’t spent a long time doing crunches or really any traditional core exercises

Well almost none, they do have their uses sometimes...

Well almost none, they do have their uses sometimes…

I suppose the first an most logical answer to this question is Pilates, I have done Pilates (almost) every week for over a year and Pilates is all about core strength.

Or to put it another way core is the core of pilates…

OK, I shouldn’t have put it that way…shhh!

So to get a strong core, go to pilates, well yes, but there was more to it than that otherwise this would be a slightly pointless post as there are a lot of things out there that will tell you how good pilates is for your core!

What you should do, is go to pilates, and do some of these awesome things I am about to suggest while taking the core engagement techniques pilates as taught you and applying them to everything…

Or…read what I am going to tell you about core engagement, practice it, and do it all the time during every exercise you do, and when walking and such like, then your core will get a little bit of a work out all the time!

Start with this:

Core bracing / engagement…

this is really hard to explain, and quite tricky to get the hang of but once you do it makes all core (and other exercises) a lot more effective.

The first thing you need to do is make sure you have a level pelvis, which for most people involves tucking your bottom under a little and making sure your sit bones are pointing down at the floor not backwards.

when you have done this, you need to pull in through all of your abdominal muscles (front and back) as if you were trying to do up a tight pair of trouser or hollow your tummy out. At the same time, pull up through your pelvic floor which is a little like when you walk into cold water and everything pulls upwards…

You don’t need to maintain this at full hold but about 30 – 50% of maximum.

the other key thing to remember is you need to do this without holding your breath! you breath into you lungs not your tummy so with practice you should be able to do both 🙂

There is a much better description here

Then do some of these things…


of course I jumped that high :-S

of course I jumped that high :-S

Well we all know that burpees are pretty awesome, and are well known as whole body exercises, but if you concentrate on  form over speed the are an excellent core workout 🙂
Just remember to keep your core engages through out and try to use it to pull your legs in on the squat thrust bit ;-). Adding a tuck jump on will give you an extra core boost too 🙂

Mountain climbers

Mountain climbers (as well as mountain climbing) are excellent cardio exercises, we know that… but if you concentrate on your core and really draw your knees up towards your chest while you do them, they will also give you a core work out at the same time 🙂

 Press-Up Jacks


Yes, I know it says push up jacks…but I am British and insist on saying press ups…so in my mind, these are press up jacks…

These are hard…and awesome!

They are the product of an unholy union between a press-up and a jumping jack!

You start in press-up position with your feet together. As you bend your arms to go down into the press-up, you jump your feet out wide, as you press back up you jump your feet in again. things to remember with this is (apart from obviously maintaining core engagement_, are to keep you bottom down and your back straight. DO not lift up into pike, and do not let your bottom drop too far so your  back hyperextends. Just maintaining this good form while moving your feet and press-uping requires a great deal of core stability!
(yes…press-uping is the technical term!!)

Cable machine core press

your feet should be closer than this really...

your feet should be closer than this really…

This is the thing you do where you stand with feet shoulder width or narrower, side on to the cable machine with the cable coming out level with your waist. The goal is to hold the handle out in front of you with straight arms while resisting the cable machine trying to make you twist towards it. (do this on both sides)

It sounds simple…

It is not simple… and it will strengthen your core so do it! 🙂

Cable Machine Wood Chop

you are allowed to wear a shirt....

you are allowed to wear a shirt….

set the cable machine to about head height, stand side on and hold the handle with both hands. with straight arms pull the cable diagonally down, trying to control the motion with your core not your arms. When you get to knee level, stop and return the cable to where you started slowly and under control. (do this on both sides!)

Plank Pikes

TRX Pike

TRX Pike

On the trx or on a swiss ball. THis one is easy to describe…but that is where the easy ends…it is another hard but awesome one!

Start in the plank with your feet on a thing that will move… pull your feet towards you and your bottom up into pike position. then lower back down slowly an under control! You can do it on your elbows too…you end up doing a kind of headstand at the pike-est bit of the move!


Deadlifting is awesome!


look…all those muscles… and no, you don’t have to end up looking like this guy 😉

Just doing it makes you much more awesome! and on top of that it works a whole lot of muscles including your core! all round your core too…not just the front bit!!

Heavy deadlifts will give you an extremely efficient whole body work out, do these regularly and you will end up with a very strong core!

Having said that, make sure you know how to do them properly before you attempt them, and start off lighter than you think you can manage to get your technique right! You may hear of gyms that have banned them and people telling you about how they are dangerous, but they are not really, not if done with proper form and some common sense 😉

Information on how to do them can be found in these places:

among other places, better yet, ask one of your gym instructors to show you… they hang out in the gym for a reason after all!!

This is also an exercise that will stand you in good stead should you want to lift stuff up from the floor, such as furniture… It does, however, leave you with no excuse when asked to help move furniture…

Walk Out Press Up  

Yes press up…I am still British :-p


click on this picture for the reference 🙂

this one is a good one 🙂 it shoehorns in upper body and core as well as kitting your hamstrings a bit too 🙂

the other good thing is it is almost endlessly adaptable!

As the picture says…start standing, bend forward until your hands touch the floor. Walk your hands forwards until you are in plank position, do a press up then walk your hands back towards your feet, using your core strength to lift your middle up, then return to standing.

Repeat 🙂

for variations:
if you can’t do a full pres sup, you can drop to your knees, but make sure you keep your core engaged!
to extend you can add in almost any plank variation before and/or after the press up! examples include, Cross body knees, slow mountain climber knees, multiple press ups, plank with one leg or arm or lifted (that is both one leg and one arm not both legs or arms and make sure they are on opposite sides, any variation from this is likely to make you fall down). the possibilities are endless!

You're all Brilliant!

These are all Brilliant!

As the man says these are all brilliant alternatives to crunches and will provide you with a strong core. There are many many more (Kettlebells for example…) and I can’t possibly list them all here. I just wanted to give you some idea of the possibilities out there and examine how I got myself a strong core while not doing very many crunches 🙂

All of the above are things I have at one time or another incorporated into my work outs so I know they work 😀

Just because it has been this way for centuries…

doesn’t mean it has to carry on this way!


In the Victorian era, the ideal body shape for women was so impossible that corsets were worn that some times broke ribs and always squeezed so tightly that women’s internal organs were displaced.


In the 1920s the ideal body type for women was so “boy-like” that they bound their breasts and wore ling line girdles to disguise their hips.

neck rings

In some parts of burma (and many other places around the world at times) beauty was considered to involve a long neck such that brass rings are worn around the neck which gradually deform the clavicle and compress the ribs to give the illusion of a longer neck.


In ancient china (right up until 1911) small feet were so desirable in women that their feet were bound to prevent them growing large. Such a process was intensely painful as id didn’t stop the feet growing, they just deformed and bones broke as they grew.


IN 2014 we are being told that we have to be strong, not skinny, but not strong with any fat, only strong in an unrealistic athletic way. But also that we have to have curves and that real women have curves which is what men like. But as well as that we have to be on every diet known to man and apparently be slimmer by morning. Strong is beautiful, so presumably not strong is not beautiful, so I can have curves…but only strong ones?

What I am trying to say is through out the history of the world there have been unrealistic damaging and unnecessary ideals set out for women’s beauty.

(As I write this, I am aware that it is not just a womens issue. Men go through similar issues too, I realise that, but that may have to be a different blog post. my not being a man makes them harder to write about…)

Isn’t it about time we stopped defining what is beautiful according to made up ideals? The very fact that there is a fashionable body type is frankly ludicrous and leads to bone breaking corsets and radical crazy butt implant surgery (albeit not at the same time).

Isn’t it time we realised and accepted that people have different body types and one is not better than another. Excessive measures to attempt to change body type is not only damaging physically but mentally.

I am not against working to improve your own body within the bounds of its type and (and this is the important bit) to achieve a healthier fitter lifestyle.

I am against attempting to change your body beyond its capacity just because the fashion industry or the movie industry or any industry tells you to!

Accepting all body types is not a slogan.

Accepting all body types is not telling a skinny person that they need to eat a cake. Really, accepting that some people are larger means also accepting that some people are naturally skinny.

Slogans such as “strong is the new skinny” and “strong is beautiful” are not really helpful. They idealise another mythical out of reach body type which really just makes you feel that your body doesn’t live up to the ideal.

If strong is beautiful, doesn’t that mean that if you don’t pick up heavy things you are ugly?

If real women have curves, are skinny women not real…because I have met some, they do exist!

While we are on the subject of “strong is the new skinny”, I need to ask…what does that really mean?

Pre lift :-)

this is me…I am strong

dark rachel

This is my friend Rachel…she is skinny..

Does this mean I am the new Rachel?

Because that make no sense at all!

I use these pictures deliberately.

I am not yet at a size I consider to be the right one for me but I am strong and fit and getting stronger. I am not by any means striving to be Rachel sized or Rachel shaped.

Rachel is naturally tall and skinny and has narrow shoulders and hips. She is this way because that is how she is built. (she is also addicted to pringles and freely admits she is skinny but not as healthy as she could be)
I have broad shoulders and broad hips and that is how I am built.

I strive to be a slimmer version of me, but I am doing that to acheive a healthier life and I am doing it for me. Noone out there is making me!
(I believe this 85% of the time…the other 15% is when my irrational head turns on and makes me feel like a fat lump but shhh…noone is perfect and it is a much healthier percentage than it was!)

It is time to stop finding ways to denigrate other women.

It is time to focus on health, true health whatever size. It is time to accept that there will be people larger than you and people smaller than you and constantly comparing yourself to them is damaging.

It is time to take responsibility for yourselves rather than concentrating all your energies on finding new and inventive ways to bring a sector of the population down. If you are truly happy and healthy in your own skin then believe that it is also possible for other people to be.

If you aren’t, then no amount of shaming of  others will change you. Work on yourself to acheive the physical and mental health you need to allow you to go through life without finding fault with everyone else you see.

As I pointed out at the very start, this sort of body shape fashion has been going on since long before we remember, but there is no need to perpetuate it. I don’t pretend to have the solution. a large scale societal change is probably slightly ambitions for my little blog, but it is still worth saying!

Day 365 (and 366…technically): On the First Day I Danced…

As an introduction to the Real Fitness blog I thought I would reblog this post from my other blog, the one that tells the story of my lifestyle change.
This is the post from the end of my 365 days of exercise and lets you in on a little bit of my back story.
If I can do this, anyone can 🙂

Project Warrior Goddess

and on the last day I danced 😀

and danced and danced!

I decided I would do a new thing (new thing for June number 6) and actually video these days and tell you what was going on rather than trying to remember it afterwards 😀

I will do a round up of the year and a what comes next post later, but for now here is a record of days 365 and 366 (I decided to do both as 366 was back at the Weald and Downland museum, same place as day 2!)

please excuse the shaky camership and the times when I ran out of things to say…

We performed the Green Man story both days over the weekend, and I danced all of the story dances on both occasions 😀

that is 5 dances, in a row with minimal breaks 😀

In addition to that, I danced…

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