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One of the first things you realize when you start spinning is that this is SO not a lower-body-only workout. While it's true that you will certainly call on those quads, hamstrings, and glutes to help you power up and get those pedals moving, it’s actually your core—specifically those inner stabilization muscles—that helps you do it with efficiency. (Spin smarter with these 9 ways to maximize your ride.)
A tight core can prevent you from slouching over the handlebars or hyperextending your back. A stable core will allow you to pop up to third position with ease and fluidity and avoid all that unnecessary bouncing while in second position. And in the saddle, maintaining a strong core can actually give your legs and hip flexors a much-deserved break. The lower body doesn't need to, and frankly, shouldn't do all the work. Activating your core muscles can ensure you have the stamina to make it through those grueling, sweaty 45 minutes of class. (Spin instructors are sharing their tips and secrets on how to power through their workouts.)
Daniela Iannone, lead instructor at Prime Cycle in Hoboken, NJ, knows a thing or two about abs and arguably even more so about spinning. She even offers a class called AbLab that incorporates an intense 45-minute ride with 15 minutes of core work off the bike that, you guessed it, will make you a better spinner. But besides all that, just take one look at that six-pack and you know she means business.
Iannone created this workout that will burn out your core and make you stronger, so you'll see those power output numbers start to creep up before you know it. And hey, if you happen to build a ripped, flat stomach along the way, even better!
How it works: Perform these abs exercises on your days spent off the bike, or tack them on to the end of a spinning workout for an added bonus.
Total Time: up to 30 minutes
1. Stability Ball Fly Crunch
Lie on a stability ball so that the middle of your back is placed comfortably on the ball. Knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle, feet flat and firmly rooted on the ground. Bring hands behind your head and elbows out to the side.
Lift shoulder blades off the ball to engage core and start sequence. Instead of crunching directly up and forward, roll up in clockwise half-circle motion. Follow same path down to starting position. That's one rep.
10 per side
2. Walk the Plank
Start in forearm plank position with shoulders directly over elbows and torso parallel to the ground. From here, push through right arm, then left, to come to high plank position.
Reverse the move and lower right arm, then left, back to forearm plank position. That's one rep. (Lead with left arm for second set.)
3. Pendulum Leg Sweep
Start in high plank position with arms slightly closer together.
Inhale, drawing navel to spine, externally rotate at right hip, and bring straight right leg out to the side in a sweeping motion. Return to plank position. That's one rep. Switch sides, swinging left leg out.
10 per side
4. Sit-Up to Spiral
Lie flat on your back, knees bent, and feet planted on floor. Extend right leg straight, keeping knees in line.
Peel upper body up and off the mat, as you simultaneously lift and twist, reaching left hand to the outside of right knee and right arm wide open to the other side. Follow the same path back down to the floor, keeping leg lifted.
5 per side
5. Side Plank Series
Begin in side plank position on right side, with palm of top arm behind your head; elbow open.
Dip right hip down to ground and quickly bring it back up to side plank position.
Rotate torso toward stabilizing base hand on the floor. Return to side plank position.
Crunch top leg up to meet outside elbow and return to side plank position. That's one rep.
8 per side
6. 45-Degree Crunch
Start lying down with your low back imprinted into the ground, straight legs extended up to 90 degrees.
Keeping low back firmly on ground, lower legs to 45 degrees and squeeze inner thighs together. Lift shoulder blades up off the ground, and reach hands to shins. Pulse.
7. Stability Ball Pike
Start in push-up position with hands directly below shoulders, tops of feet and shins resting on stability ball.
Using your core, lift hips up to the ceiling into a V position. Hold for one breath, and then slowly lower down to starting position.
8. Dancing Crab
From reverse tabletop position (hands and feet planted on ground with butt lifted into a bridge-like pose), reach left arm up and around to meet lifted straight right leg.
Return to starting position and quickly switch sides, reaching right hand to left leg.
9. Power Crunch
Start lying on your back with low back planted on floor, hands behind head and legs bent and lifted to tabletop position.
Next, lower right heel to tap the floor, return to tabletop, and then tap left heel to floor.
Next, with legs still in tabletop, perform reverse crunch by peeling butt off floor, lifting straight up. Return to tabletop.
Lastly, perform a basic crunch with legs remaining to tabletop. That's one rep. Repeat the four-move sequence.
Take a Breath
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Powering through a tough workout is hard; breathing is easy. And good news: if you focus a little, the second can help you get through the first (and even improve your performance). But many exercise modalities come with their own rules and recommendations for how to breathe correctly—from noisy nose inhales in yoga to holding in a big belly breath during weight training. So we asked experts in fitness specialities from boxing and rowing to Pilates and more for their guidelines on how to use your breath effectively while you sweat.
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In fact, the most popular form of yoga, vinyasa, means "breath for movement," and ideally you're syncing the two at all times. If you're totally new to it, Kristoffer says focusing on inhales and exhales will keep you grounded and give you something to focus on. "At the beginning, you look to breathing to be present," she explains.
How to do it: Vinyasa yoga generally calls for ujjayi breathing, in which you breathe in and out smoothly and deeply through the nose while constricting the back of your throat, so that it makes a slight sound. "It's not meant to sound like Darth Vader, but if you're exaggerating, it might," she says. As you flow through class, those inhales and exhales should match your movements.
Example: Exhale to lower in chaturanga, inhale into upward dog, exhale to downward dog. There are many other forms of breathing in yoga, like sitali, the cooling breath, and kapalbhati, often called "breath of fire." But if you get that far along in your practice, someone will teach you, we promise.
Photo: Robert Caplin for Well+Good
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Like yoga, "proper breathing is the most important principle of the Pilates method," says Erika Bloom, creator of the renowned Erika Bloom Pilates. "When we breathe correctly, we access our deep core muscles." And you know Pilates folks love to focus on core.
The technique is mainly about breathing as deeply as possible, with each inhale engaging the diaphragm so that it pushes down and expands the torso in every direction, and the diaphragm relaxing and moving up during exhales.
"To simplify, we say 'breathe into your low back ribs and exhale by connecting the back of your low belly and the front of your sacrum,'" Bloom explains. Some instructors will want you to execute that breath while inhaling through the nose and out through the mouth, others will say to do what feels natural.
Bonus: Bloom says Pilates can help you breathe more efficiently outside of your workouts, too. "As we age, feeling the effects of stress and our environment, we lose our natural breath patterning," she explains. "Pilates is designed to restore correct biomechanics of breath."
Photo: Erika Bloom Pilates
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Breathing is most important when you're hoisting serious weight, says Beth Lewis, a trainer at Soho Strength Lab and heavy lifter. "In the bench press for example, anytime you're exerting, you absolutely have to exhale because it creates rigidity in the trunk," she says. "Anytime you're pressing, you need fully body tension to make the lift happen. When you exhale sharply, it makes the lift more successful."
In general, she recommends taking a big deep breath to help tighten your entire midsection before lifting, and then exhaling on the exertion, but if the movement doesn't involve a press, this is the one time actually stopping your breath may help. "A compound movement like a deadlift or big squat, you might opt to hold your breath," she says. "It creates tension in a different way, putting pressure on the abdominal wall."
Photo: @bethlewisfit on Instagram
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"Before class, I typically cue riders to take a big deep breath, relax their shoulders, and clear their minds," says Swerve Fitness star trainer Jason Tran. While there isn't a specific "technique" for breathing on a spin bike, Tran says the most important thing is to remember to breathe smoothly throughout and to use deep breaths as a tool to get you through the hardest songs. "Keeping a good cadence of breath is key to getting through tough intervals," he says. "If you prematurely breathe and don't allow yourself to fully exhale, your heart rate will elevate."
His expert tips to keep that breath big: "Relaxing your face while riding prevents your jaw from clenching, which will allow your diaphragm to easily expand and contract," he says. "Also, lengthening your torso by straightening your spine will allow your lungs to fully expand."
Photo: Swerve Fitness
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During a rowing class, Lewis, who's also a star instructor at CityRow, says the most important thing is to remember to breathe at all. "In a group exercise class, you should never hold your breath for any reason," she says.
The most natural way to breathe is to exhale as you push out (on the exertion) and then inhale as you slide back in, which may help you maintain a steady rhythm, too, she explains. But if you're new to the rower, don't drive yourself crazy making sure you're matching those up with your strokes, since there's a lot of other cues you'll need to think about in terms of maintaining good form. "As long as you're not holding your breath, it's all good."
Photo: Robert Caplin for Well+Good
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Since running is cardio-centric, you may find your breath getting fast and shallow, which isn't helpful for a couple of reasons. "Rapid, short breathing can elevate the heart rate making the runner work harder than they actually have to at a given pace," says run coach and Race Pace Run Club founder Jess Underhill." And breathing properly allows more oxygen to the muscles, therefore allowing you to go faster and longer."
While there isn't one specific technique Underhill says works for every runner, her advice is to think slow and deep. "Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth is a great place to start, but if nose breathing doesn't work well for you, then focus on slow controlled breathing in and out through the mouth. Take in full inhales and exhales as much as possible. You can even say to yourself 'inhale, exhale' and make breathing while running a chance to meditate and slow down."
Photo: Tim Gibson for Well+Good
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Breathing during boxing is insanely crucial says Work Train Fight founder Alberto Ortiz, since the sport (or workout) combines endurance, power, and adrenaline spikes, which means you need a lot of oxygen. "Imagine running a marathon and every few seconds you have to all out sprint and then back to jogging—that's what boxing is like," he says.
Ortiz says there are two correct ways to breathe. If you're throwing low-volume, slow punches, you want to take deep breaths and exhale fully on each punch. But if you're punching at a fast rate, you should inhale and exhale at a slow, continuous rate. "Let's say you're performing 100 punches in a row—you would breathe in and out 3-5 punches at a time.
The breaths are long and complete, and usually through your nose," he explains. "Why breathe through your nose? Because you want to keep your jaw locked the whole time for your protection. Getting hit with your mouth open is bad for business." Duly noted.
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Photo: @WorkTrainFight on Instagram
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