When you think about having a toned core, you probably have in mind abdominal muscles—the much coveted and admired “six pack.” While washboard abs certainly look good and are nice to have, from a physical health standpoint you don’t need them—what you really need to be healthy is to moderately strengthen not just your abs but your whole core, from the tops of your shoulders to the bottom of your “glutes” (gluteus maximus—the three muscles that make up your butt). If you’re thinking that’s a nice goal but you don’t have hours to devote to working out, you’ll be happy to hear that you can tone your whole core in one single move!
One core-strengthening exercise you may already have heard of is the plank, a common pose in yoga. But to get the most bang for your exercise buck, my favorite single exercise is the squat chop.
Why I like the squat chop: To pull off the coordinated movement of the squat chop, nearly every muscle in the body has to work synergistically. (Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as that sounds!) The exercise can be adjusted for just about any fitness level—do an easy version without weights…use a light weight (five to eight pounds) for a moderate workout…or challenge yourself with a heavier weight as you get stronger. Even better: Traditional weights, such as a dumbbell, kettlebell or medicine ball, work fine, but household items can be just as good. A bag of flour or rice makes a good five-pound weight…a gallon jug filled with water works as an eight-pound weight. Note: It’s best to master the movement before adding a weight.
Ready to get started? Here’s how to do the squat chop…
• Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel or slightly turned out and your knees very slightly flexed. Clasp your hands and raise them straight up above your head, elbows slightly bent.
• Maintaining control throughout the movement, lower into a squat by sticking your butt back as if you were sitting into a chair while at the same time bringing your arms straight down in front of you (the “chop” part of this exercise) and between your legs. When you’re in the deepest squat you can hold with your arms between your knees, you’ve reached the bottom of the move. Your back should be straight and angled slightly forward, but be sure to not let your shoulders drop forward—keep them up and square.
• Next, stand up from the squat while at the same time raising your clasped hands back above your head to return to the start position.
• Aim for three or four sets of 10 to 15 reps daily.
• Once you’ve mastered the basic movement without a weight, instead of clasping your hands, hold a weight while doing the exercise.
• Timed squat chops. When doing the movement without a weight or with a light weight, repeat the exercise in a smooth, unbroken movement for 30 seconds to one minute.