Caroline Shannon-Karasik’s AfterGlo

Full body moves for a healthy core

By: Caroline Shannon-Karasik’s

Trends come and go in the fitness industry, but one of the key terms you will consistently hear trainers and sweat enthusiasts alike saying is “core.”

Tone your core.

Use your core.

Find your core.

Why aren’t you engaging your core?!

Still, there are a number of us who still aren’t quite sure what our “core” entails. Sure, it includes our abdominal muscles, but our midsections are only one part of what comprises our core muscles. Instead, our back, arms and legs all go into deciding the strength of our core muscles.

Think of it like this: If your shoulders are weak, then you will be more likely to roll them forward, leading to decreased core strength (i.e. stomach pooch) and, inevitably, poor posture. The same goes for wobbly legs – lift something heavy and you’ll strain your back – and a less than healthy lower back. It doesn’t matter how sleek your six-pack is, if its supporting muscles are not strong, its power is significantly decreased.

My favorite go-to solution for improving overall core strength is Pilates. Designed to work all of the intricate muscles in our bodies, Pilates helps balance and tone our bodies, resulting in solid core strength. The following are four basic Pilates exercises for you to try. Notice while they are core-focused, they take a full body approach!

– The Hundred: Lie on your back with your knees bent and in a chair position. Inhale, and as you exhale feel your ribcage and belly sink into the floor. Stretch your arms out beside you and lift up and forward until you can just feel your shoulder blades touching the floor. Your head and neck should remain in a neutral position, as if there were a small tennis ball between your chin and chest bone. Begin pumping your arms straight up and down, keeping hands in a controlled motion just above the mat. Maintain this position, breathing five breaths in and five breaths out for a total of 10 breaths; continue until you have completed 10 sets of 10, totaling 100 breaths. If you want even more of a workout, extend legs to a 90 degree angle.

– The Roll-Up: Lie on your back with knees bent and legs hip-width apart. Make sure the soles of your feet are planted into the ground. Extend your arms behind your head, keeping shoulders away from ears. Inhale, then exhale to roll up by bringing your chin to chest and rolling forward. You may slide hands along the sides of your legs for support. Exhale and straighten your legs, stretching forward. Continue to pull your navel toward your spine and begin to roll down, completely reversing the motion.

– Single Leg Circles: Lie on your back with knees together and bent. Make sure the soles of your feet are planted into the ground. Again, your arms should be at your sides, shoulders away from your ears. Feel your entire spine pressing into the mat as you straighten one leg up toward the ceiling. Begin to circle by moving your leg across your body and then circle it down, around and back to the beginning. Do this five times and then reverse directions. Repeat on opposite leg.

– Spine Stretch Forward: Sit up tall with legs extended in from of you, open slightly wider than the width of your hips. Knees may be slightly bent if necessary. Straighten arms out in front of you, keeping them at shoulder height. Bring your chin to your chest and begin to roll down. Exhale as your upper body stretches forward, continue to pull your navel to your spine as if you are rolling over at beach ball. Hands extend toward the toes, eyes are focused the navel. Reverse the exercise, inhaling up and sitting tall. Repeat four times.

No time for a workout? Try this: The next time you are sitting in your chair at work (waiting in a traffic jam, walking to pick up lunch, etc.), inhale through your nose and take a deep exhale while pulling your belly button back toward your spine. Don’t suck it in! Just engage your core. Do it several times throughout the day and you will notice decreased back pain and a stronger feeling in your center.

I’m curious: What’s your favorite core exercise?

Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the upcoming author of a gluten-free healthy lifestyle book, set to be released in January 2014. She is the author of the popular gluten-free blog, and is currently training to become a certified health coach. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at


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