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Series of 5: The Best Quick Strengthening

5 Mar

Dearest Readers,

If you aren’t already a Pilates lover thanks to my undying adoration in previous blog posts … you will be now. My best friend, the dancer scientist, is in intermediate pilates and according to her instructor the best quick strengthening exercise from Pilates is the series of 5. It’ll make your powerhouse (your core muscles) cry, which is always the goal with exercising on the go. Sorry these pictures are blurry….hahaha….and I promise I am wearing shorts as opposed to just tights.

For the entire Series of 5 try to keep your shoulders and neck off of the ground. It kills. Do it!

Single Leg Stretch: This is a pleasant beginning that doesn’t kill your abs. With Pilates, you always put your chin to your chest (as opposed to a tennis ball sized space between your chin and your chest). So lay on the ground (preferably a carpet), bring your chin to your chest and your shoulders off the ground and pull one leg into your chest. Then alternate. Hand position is critical: put your outside arm on your ankle and your inside arm on your knee. Do 8 to 10 sets.

Single leg stretchin'

Double Leg Stretch: Remember to keep your shoulders and neck off the ground. Bring your hands and both knees into your chest then extend your legs and arms so that you are stretching from one side of the room to the other. Then circle your arms around as you pull your legs back into the original ball position. Do 8-10 of these.

double leg stretch start

double leg stretch middle

double leg stretch end

Straight Leg Stretch: Keep your shoulders and neck off the ground. Keep your legs off the ground by about 6 inches. Keeping your leg straight pull one leg into your chest and pulse twice. Then lower that one as you bring the other to your chest and pulse twice. Remember when you lower your legs, only lower them to 6 inches above the ground. 8 to 10 sets.

straight leg stretch

Leg Lowers: I covered this in another blog post, but in a different way, so but put both legs up straight towards the ceiling. Lower in 3 seconds and then raise in 1. Do 8 to 10 sets.

leg lower

Bicycles: These are called the criss-cross in Pilates speak. Remember, put your elbows behind your head and bring your opposite elbow to your opposite knee. As opposed to normal bicycles, in pilates you have to make sure that when you extend your leg, you extend them to the same point (about a foot off the ground). Emphasize the twist and bringing your back elbow really far behind you.

bicycles/criss cross

Do not stop during the series of 5 and your abs will cry. CRY. So that means you are doing it right. I hope this helps your ab strength!! I only have a few posts left, so let me know what you would like to see!


The Toned Toothpick Teacher (T3)


Walk The Plank! (and the side plank too)

19 Feb

Dearest Readers,

The plank is infamous for working the abs, the back, the hips … for being the worst ever. It’s not the plank itself, it’s the endurance involved to actually keep yourself in the upright and locked position that kills. The only problem with plank is that you need the right form to execute it correctly, so tonight’s post gives you the skills to perform the proper plank and to give you some variations on the devilish classic.

The Plank: There are three ways to do the plank, and for each you should try to hold for 60 seconds. To vary it up (60 second is like a million plank years), try rocking yourself back and forth on your toes. It works the calves too!

The easier way: Put your forearms on the ground , and your knees out so that your body creates a line from your shoulders to your knees. KEEP YOUR BUTT DOWN and DON’T CURVE YOUR BACK. I know it feels good to raise it up, and let that donk fly so the world may admire it, but then you won’t get the ab workout you deserve.

it was hard to get into this position before the flash!

The forearm way: Stay on your forearms but this time go up on your toes. With the plank, the closer your toes are the harder the workout. Remember to keep your body in a line. When you are by yourself it’s hard to tell when you are in line, so here is my secret: lower your butt until you feel your abs start to scream…then stop you are in exactly the right place.  This form is my favorite way to do planks.

forearm plank

The palm-ing way: This time instead of being on your forearms, you are on your palms. Still on your toes. It’s hard to keep alignment in this form of plank, that is why I don’t like it as much.

palm plank....and weird bulge in my shirt....planks do that to ya'

The Side Plank: Side planks really work those obliques, but they are hard to hold. The key is to play with your arms. Raise them up, put them on your hip, raise them up then curl them under. Just make it work for you. There are two main forms of the sideplank:

Feet Spread: Turn on your side with your foot on the bottom going back, and your foot on top going forward. Lift your hips into the air creating a straight line from your shoulders to your toes.

feet spread for the plank!

Feet Stacked: Do the same as the feet spread plank, but stack your feet (tough, right?)

you're looking stacked!

I hope these have met all of your plank needs! Post a comment about a plank variation that you like!!!


The Toned Toothpick Teacher (weird that it’s a post about planks…and my name’s toothpick….wood-n’t you know it….tee hee hee)

A Not Bleak Outlook on Obliques!!

12 Feb

Dearest Readers,

I’m so sorry I made a bleak/oblique joke in the headline, but how could I not? Seriously? As a girl who loves to work the abs, I think it’s important to know that your abs are multi-faceted (much like last post’s arm workouts), and the obliques (the side ab muscles) are just as important to work as the lower and upper abs. You need a strong powerhouse (ab region) to have better posture and overall strength. Here are some different oblique workouts, because I think we are all familiar with the bicycle.

The Figure 4: Cross your right leg over your left, so that your right foot is resting on your left knee. You are creating a literal 4 with your legs if you stuck out your left leg (this is hard to explain in words so look at the picture). Start in normal crunch position with your chin off of your chest, but instead of having both hands behind your head use only your left hand behind your head and put your right arm down. (Opposite hand to opposite knee) Now crunch diagonally so your left elbow touches your right knee. Do 15 of these on each side. PS. in the picture, I am bringing my right elbow to my left knee. Make sure the space between your chin and your chest is the size of a baseball, and that you exhale as you crunch up/inhale when you go down. PPS. Look at my awesome striped socks!



Toe Touching: All oblique exercises normally involve twisting a bit. This exercise is just a lil’ bitty twist. For this one, extend your legs straight up to the ceiling (i can barely do this, because I lack any semblance of flexibility). Now, you will do lil’ baby crunches where you take your right hand and crunch so that you bring it up to your left pinky toe, then alternate by taking your left hand to your right pinky toe. (always take the opposite hand to the opposite pinky toe.) If, like me, you can’t quite reach your toes than just make sure your are moving your hand past your leg (TWIST IT). As a challenge, try to stay in crunched at all times and just move from side to side that way you work all parts of your abs and you target your obliques. Touch each side 25-30 times.

to the left

to the right

Twist and Shout: This is a really twisty exercise. There are two levels. You can keep your feet on the floor shoulder width apart with your knees bent, or you can bring your legs to table top position. Now lean back, so that your back is at a 45 degree angle (you’ll know your far enough back when your abs begin to shake). Then twist from side to side. For an added challenge you can do this while holding a tide bottle in your hands (that way you are twisting with more weight). You can also vary up this exercise by holding yourself twisted one direction, then hold yourself while twisted the other. Do the whole twist (both left and right) at least 25 times. Make sure that you’re not moving your legs away from you if they are in table top position, keep them steady and only move your upper half.

twist it to the right (don't I look like I'm having such fun with my obliques?!)

twist it to the left

You don’t have to repeat all of these again (yay!), but if you want killer obliques, go for it!

Leave a comment with your favorite obliques workout!


The Toned Toothpick Teacher

An Ab a Day Keeps the … Fat Away?

22 Jan

Dearest Readers,

Killer Abs. We all want them. For a guy, it’s always nice to aim for a six pack, and for a girl, it’s a confidence boost when there’s no “donut” around the top of the pants.

In order to keep my abs in shape, I took about a zillion and a half pilates classes. They are beautiful things, but the most important part about ab workouts is to do them regularly to maintain them. You heard me right kids, constant vigilance (in the word’s of Professor Moody of course.)

Every night before I go to sleep, I do 50 crunches and then do a set of one hundreds. The hundred is demonstrated below. You put your legs in the table top position and put your arms out parallel to the ground. Pull your chin to your chest (some people argue that you should keep a tennis ball sized space between your chin and your chest, but in my pilates class, I learned it this way so I’m going with what I know) Try to keep your shoulder blades off of the ground for the whole exercise, so your abs are always contracted. You then pat your arms and count to 100. (Each pat is like a beat). It’s easy to forget to breath, so make sure you breath in for 5 seconds then release for 5 seconds. (In through your nose and out through your mouth.) Note: do this on a carpeted surface!!! (your back will thank you)


This picture is super low res and is taken in non exercise clothes, but I am home for the weekend so I had to make do.

The moral of the story is that unlike weights, which can only be done every other day (obviously you can do some sort of weight every day, but they have to be different kinds of weights…we’ll get to that later), the abs can and should be worked daily. It just feels nice to end the day on a workout note. Like even if I just ate some greasy food, I still worked out. That way, even if one week you can only get the gym once, you maintain your fab abs.

Abdominally Yours,

The Toned Toothpick Teacher (T3)