Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Core Sequence, Introduction to Isolating Movement

There is a common misconception related to any kind of abdominal articulations (hula, bellydance, etc.).  People think that you work your abdominals because you're using them to initiate movement.  This is false.  If you see someone trying to move their hips, for example dancing salsa, and it looks awkward and wrong, this is probably why.  The lower body (hip/abdominal) movements always start with the legs.  The core muscles are used to isolate the movement.  That's worth repeating because it is the core concept (you like that little pun?).  Your legs will initiate all lower body movements.  You will use the muscles in your core to counter those movements.  If you use your legs only, your whole body will move.  Add the muscles of the torso to keep everything else still and only the hips will move.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  You will find that the upper body movements pretty much match up with the lower body movements. If you find that you are either very uncoordinated in the hips, or just nervous about looking goofy, upper body movements may be a good place for you to start.
Don't be afraid to bend your knees and get low in your center of gravity.  Take off your shoes and feel the floor if you have to.  These should all be very solid, grounded, strong movements.  Try not to get too high up on your toes or on straight legs.  There should be no jerking or straining.  Everything should be very fluid and controlled.

You will need:
1 mirror, that's it.

It is really important that you can see what you're doing.  When you first start, it feels completely unnatural, so you will have to train the motions by the way it looks and as your body gets used to it, you will get a feel for when you're doing it correctly.  I have been doing these kinds of movements for near twenty years and I still prefer to practice in front of a mirror.  That's another thing worth mentioning.  I have been doing this for a really long time.  For me, most of it is pretty easy.  If this is new to you, you must have patience.  It will probably take you quite awhile to get it right.  For some of you, it will take a long while.  I will do my best to explain and demonstrate, but it's really a matter of you practicing a little each day.  Do the movements every time you pass a certain mirror in your house or every time you've been sitting at the computer too long and the practice will add up without having to sit down for long sessions that can become frustrating.

I will be writing and later demonstrating related movements grouped together.  These movements will be thoroughly explained, so I will have to do a series of posts, one group per post.  Within each group, certain moves will be more basic and probably easier for you.  Start with those and they will hopefully help you build up to the more difficult ones.  Also, some movements may require more strength than you yet have.  Work into these slowly so as to avoid injury.  Learn one entire group, then another.  It doesn't really matter which group you do first, so just choose one you think will be easiest for you and have at it.

Posture, posture, posture!  Before you start.  Take a look at yourself in the mirror.  All movements start from one specific posture.  That posture is called "good" posture.  Check out the Good Posture Checklist on this page in blue.  If you do not work from good posture, you are training yourself to have bad posture.  If you already have poor posture, training from that position will not help you fix it.  It will also have you engaging the wrong muscles and possibly hurting yourself.

As with any kind of exercise program, use good judgement.  If something makes you sore, no big deal.  If something causes you pain, check your technique.  If that doesn't help, stop.  Be mindful of any pre-existing injuries that you may have.  Take your time.  New movements may be using underdeveloped muscles or use muscles in new ways.  Give your body a chance to adapt and develop.

My Core Sequence, Part 1: Lower Body Circles

Monday, November 29, 2010

Core Strength and Me

I'll just say it outright, I have a pretty strong core.  I tend to do pretty well on sit-up tests and planks and bridges and other core related things, especially for one who rarely practices these things.  Somewhere down the line of being a teenager, I decided that these things were boring (which I still maintain), and I didn't plan to do them unless I was told to or if I had little else to do in the way of exercise.  So why am I good at them, you ask?  I grew up dancing.  Not ballet.  Not jazz.  Not modern.  I grew up with homegrown salsa dancing from the womb.  My mom is awesome.  By the age of eight I started bellydancing, thanks to the talented mother of my childhood friend.  In retrospect, this was such a wonderful start to my life for so many reasons.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Not so much a problem for my female readers, but many of the men will get scared when they read "dance" or "hips".  Bare with me.  I also mention "striking" and "grappling" if it makes you feel better.  No one ever has to see you do my core sequence if you don't want them to.  I typically do it in front of the mirror before I get in the shower either in my room or in the bathroom.  Few people have ever seen it.  Just keep it discreet and only impress the people you want to impress, like your wife or girlfriend.  You will thank me later when you discover new things you are capable of...

Over time, I developed a changeable sequence of core articulations to make it easy for me to practice.  It's a nice way to get warm in the morning or get a little physical activity in before a shower.  It keeps me strong in some really important places, which does wonders for my back and posture, while making me feel like I'm actually digesting my food.  I have a balanced muscle tone in the torso, which creates a natural-looking waist line.  I feel that doing a lot of (boring) exercises tends to give people a square look or just a funny, overdeveloped "six pack" area and a really weak back with big "love handles".

I realize that there are special workouts like pilates and certain yoga sequences that are meant to deal with this, but I think mine is better.  The reason I think this is that, in addition to making the muscles strong and evenly developed, my sequence also encourages flexibility, full range of motion, and the kind of coordination that helps you on the dance floor and in the bedroom (be you a man or woman).  Also, instead of holding poses or doing small articulations, you are really moving the torso in all different directions, which according to me just feels really good.  Plus, this kind of functional core strength helped me a lot in martial arts, both striking and grappling.  I'm not a big girl and my arms and legs are not super strong, but I can pull my own weight because of my core strength and flexibility.  I may gain or lose fat, but the muscle and strength are always there.  By the way, if you have a weak core, increasing strength in that area will likely cause you to gain weight (muscle weight) with little to no change in size, so don't be alarmed if you put on a couple pounds and don't know where they are.

So what is this, "Core Sequence"?  Essentially, I took all the basic bellydance/latin hip and torso movements and strung them together in a way that incorporates various articulation points, ranges of motion, and types of motion including some movements that are not as practical for this type of dancing but very practical for training for this type of dancing.  That said, you can do them to music if you want, but I tend to just pop out the sequence in sets.  I like to do the whole thing together in sets of 30 reps per movement.  If I haven't done them for awhile, I will do 20.  If I am doing them frequently and have the time, I will do 40 of each.  I would recommend 10 for anyone just starting.  It is important to keep the same number all the way through so that the body stays balanced.  No fair doing more of the ones that are easier or the ones that you think will tone one specific area the prettiest.  That would be ridiculous.  This takes me anywhere between 30-45 minutes, depending on how quickly I do it, so it's a pretty good core workout.

I will be posting videos to demonstrate the movements via my YouTube channel.  These will accompany written explanations (see below) and be grouped by movement area and type.  Eventually, I may put together some more dance related combinations to practice (once you adventurous types master the movements) so you can dance like Shakira and impress your friends.

Disclaimer:  I am in the process of getting back into shape myself, which is very difficult during the good food season, so just ignore the little belly you will most likely see in my videos.  I have recently dropped 25lbs of fat, so please don't think that that little belly means my methods don't work.  They do.  It's really just a matter of time before I have my old body back.  And before you all ask, no, I wasn't pregnant.  I put on weight largely due to stress and a couple of other factors that made me unresponsive to things like good food and exercise for quite awhile.  I've sorted that out.

My Core Sequence, Introduction to Isolating Movement
My Core Sequence, Part 1: Lower Body Circles
My Core Sequence, Part 2: Lower Body Linear Movements

Finally Updating Again!

Hello, Awesome Readers!  As you know, it has been quite some time since I've updated my blog.  My apologies, but I have had some important personal things to attend.  It appears that everything is now back on track and I can spare some time and attention to produce more information to share with the world...

Please check back soon as I plan to have new articles up within the next couple of days.