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Core Strength: What’s the Big Deal?

Reason numero uno for doing Pilates is always….”amazing core strength!” Pilates is a method built around strengthening the core and just about everyone out there tells you to increase your core strength. But why? What does increased core strength give you?  First let’s talk about what the core actually is…

Yes, the core includes your abdominal muscles.  That means not just your six pack muscles (the rectus abdominis), but also your internal and external obliques, and your transverse abdominis. Pilates works all of these abdominal muscles, thank goodness, because they are all integral to having strong and flat abs. But your core goes beyond your abs. Also included (and worked in Pilates) are the pelvic floor, glutes, multifidi, diaphragm, psoas, lats, and quite a few other muscles of the back and hips that stabilize your pelvis, spine, and shoulder girdle. The important thing to know here is that a strong core means more than six pack abs.

Pilates is such a great workout because it works all of those muscles listed above in every exercise. Each and every Pilates exercise is designed to work your core and train your body to stabilize your limbs with those support muscles. Pilates devotees all have super strong and efficient core muscles. When I say efficient I mean they’re quick to engage and support you when the body needs to move and do all the crazy things your life asks you to do.

So let’s talk about why that’s so important…the core muscles, especially the deep ones like the pelvic floor, transverse abdominis, and psoas, are the muscles that turn on just before your mover muscles (quads, pecs, etc.) start performing. The deep core should work intuitively to protect your spine and support your pelvis while your limbs are moving freely. That’s another thing about core strength: when you have it, your other muscles don’t have to try to compensate so they’re free to do their own job easily and effectively. Movement efficiency means you work less to get the same thing done, which is so amazingly important for athletes but also for everyone else too.

As I mentioned before, core strength supports your pelvis and protects your spine. Which will, in turn, protect your from injury and keep you free of back issues and pain. Injuries can occur to anyone, not just athletes and weekend warriors. You can hurt yourself twisting to get a bag in the car, bending over to pick up your toddler, walking down your driveway. Also, core strength will improve your balance and coordination, meaning you won’t fall as easily or you’ll be able to recover from a stumble without spraining your ankle.

Beyond all of these benefits that will make you move better and feel better, core strength will help you look better too! Not only will focusing on your core muscles give you a flatter belly, slimmer thighs, and a toned behind, core strength also helps improve your posture and make it easier for you to sit up and stand tall without having to work too hard at all.  A strong core will give you the ability to maintain great posture without even having to think about it. Woohoo!

Are you convinced that having a strong core is well worth it? Great! Now come do Pilates with Long + Lean and start strengthening that core!!

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Favorite Food: Artichokes

Hey Long + Lean Pilates fans, and happy 2015 to you! One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to try a new recipe every week, including foods that I may not be very familiar with in the kitchen! As part of this journey, the Long + Lean Wellness Blog will feature one awesomely healthy food as our Favorite Food of the Month. We will then share a new recipe for that Favorite Food each week to help you incorporate it in to your diet.

Artichokes

Photo via artichokes.org.

Starting off the Favorite Food of the Month series is the humble artichoke! The artichoke is definitely underrated, and since it’s often dipped in butter or aioli, people tend to forget that it has some awesome nutritional benefits. Keep reading to find out what’s so fabulous about artichokes and how to prepare them easily TODAY!

Why we love artichokes:

  • Low in calories and fat! There’s just 60 calories for one medium artichoke, and less than 1 gram of fat and yet….
  • Artichokes are full of dietary fiber, giving you 14% of your daily recommended fiber intake
  • Great source of folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin K, and B-complex vitamins
  • Artichokes provide you with a healthy dose of the antioxidants and minerals your body needs such as potassium, copper, iron, and calcium
  • They’re so fun to eat!
Easy Artichoke Preparation:
Start eating artichokes with a super simple preparation like boiling them! Here’s how…
  1. Cut off any nasty thorns from the outer leaves (optional)
  2. Cut off the end of the stem, leaving about 1 inch remaining. Some people do eat the whole stem but it tends to be bitter. If you want to try the stem, just cut off the very end of it and peel the tough skin off before cooking.
  3. Rinse under cold water.
  4. Fill a pot with water. You can add whole garlic, lemon slices, and/or a bay leaf to the water for additional flavor if desired.
  5. Place the artichokes in the pot in one single layer.
  6. Bring the pot to a boil and continue cooking for about 35 minutes. When they’re done, you should be able to peel the leaves off easily.
  7. Remove the artichokes and allow to cool slightly then go ahead and enjoy!!
Artichoke Tips:
  • Don’t eat the whole leaf! Once cooked, peel one leaf off at a time and use your teeth to scrape off the soft flesh at the base of the leaf. You can also eat the heart of the artichoke that becomes exposed once all the leafs have been peeled off (Artichoke hearts, YUM!)
  • When you get to the heart, make sure to scrape away and discard the fuzzy stuff, that’s not so great to eat.
  • For optimal healthy eating, try eating these with just a touch of salt, like you would with edamame  or some extra lemon instead of dipping in butter. Or maybe just dip every other leaf in butter. 😉
Did you know?
“Artichokes can also be made into an herbal tea. “Artichoke tea” is produced as a commercial product in the Da Lat region of Vietnam. The flower portion is put into water and consumed as an herbal tea, called alcachofa in Mexico. It has a slightly bitter woody taste.” – Wikepedia
Check in to the blog next week for a fun and delicious artichoke recipe!!