Garfield's Challenge: Core Exercises

Garfield's son 6-year-old son Jude demonstrating a plank. And with a smile too!

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Garfield Wilson is the owner of a personal training company called Forward Fitness and one of the trainers from CBC's Village on a Diet. He's challenged Canadians to a weekly National Endurance Test. Or go straight to the challenge - Take An Endurance Test!

Last week Garfield asked us to take a look at the food we eat

This week Garfield says adding some weight to your life doesn't have to be daunting!

My Top Five Strength Exercises
What are the best exercises? What will make you stronger, faster AND look better in your new designer jeans? These are some of the most common questions I've been asked over the years. There are so many different exercises you can do and equipment you can buy, that it can be hard to discern what is the latest fad and what will be the most beneficial.

Personally, I love all of the tried-but-true exercises! They often require nothing more than your own body weight, and give you the most bang for your buck. Here are my top five classic exercises that get you results, and that you can do almost anywhere:

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1. Squats: Think of all the things we do in our day that require you to squat. Getting out of bed, sitting down and getting up from your chair, and getting into your car are just a few examples. 

Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Start to bend at the knees and lower your body as you reach back with your bum, as though you are going to sit on a chair. Keeping your weight on your heels, with your lower back in its natural arch, lower yourself until your knees are at a 90 degree angle (or just shy of it), and then come back up (try 12 to 20 reps). You can modify this exercise by spotting yourself with an actual chair to ensure you are using good form and lower the risk of injury.

2. Plank: This is an outstanding exercise to tighten up the mid-section and build a stronger lower back by strengthening your core muscles. 

For this exercise, you will simply be holding a pushup position while on your toes and your elbows, rather than your hands, with your body in a strong plank position. Make sure that your shoulders are directly over your elbows and that your hips are at the same height as your shoulders (or slightly higher, for those with a weak lower back). Tighten your abdominal muscles to support your lower back and ensure that your hips don't drop. If this is too difficult, you can modify by performing the exercise from your knees instead of your toes. (Hold this position for 30 sec to 1 minute).

3. Pushups: My personal favorite! This exercise has stood the test of time and continues to be one of the best exercises for building a strong upper body (chest, back and arms) and a strong core. There's a reason why the line "Drop and give me 20!" exists - you should be able to drop and do 20 pushups any time of the day!

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Start with your hands a bit wider than your shoulders and be sure to tighten your abdominal muscles. Make sure your hands are at the same position as your chest (not above or too far back) and away you go! To simplify, you can perform the exercise from your knees, or put your hands on a higher surface such as a bench or a table. (10 to 20 to start)

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4. Chinups or Pull-ups: This one is not a fan favorite with my clients, and if I'm being honest it is THE toughest exercise I incorporate into my workouts. But look at the benefits and the muscles worked; upper and lower back, shoulders, arms, chest and abs!

Place your hands on the chin-up bar, shoulder width apart, with your palms facing you. Make sure your abs are tight and legs are straight, and pull up until your chin is level or above the bar. Release with control, and repeat. As needed, use your legs to spot you on the up phase (by lowering the bar, or placing a chair below you), or with you legs straight with heels on the floor, body at a slight incline (6 to 12 reps should do the trick). There are endless modifications to this exercise, and once you get stronger you can test your strength by changing your grip width, or grip direction.

TIP: if you don't have a chin-up bar at home, use the monkey bars at your local playground.

5. Deadlift: This is an excellent exercise to incorporate into your workouts. Think of all the time we spend doing some type of deadlift in our daily routine (picking up the laundry, our kids, the paper off the front porch... the list goes on). Now think about the limited range of motion some of us have doing these same things because of tightness in our hips, lower back, hamstrings, or all the above. This exercise strengthens every muscle on your backside (hamstrings, glutes, lower back, upper back and core), benefit your posterior and reduce the risk of injury.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes facing straight ahead, with a weight positioned on the floor between your feet (Start with 15-20lb and set a goal to progress to 35lb. As you get stronger, increase the weight by 5lb. TIP: you can use a can of paint, barbell or a kettlebell). Keeping your back straight with the natural arch in your lower back, and a slight bend in your legs, bend at the waist sending your hips/bum backwards, and grab the weight. Again, making sure your lower back is in its natural arch, drive your heels into the ground and your hips forward as you lift the weight until it's in front of your thighs. Slowly lower the weight back to the floor the same way. (Repeat 10 - 15 times)

Overall, you can keep it really simple and still see results, such as increased energy, endurance, core strength and body awareness- these are all direct benefits of incorporating regular exercise with a balanced diet. So get started.

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