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by Sue Bologna * photos by Erica McClain


The Basic Crunch.

As a barrel horse jockey, I’d always assumed that the exercises involved with training and caring for horses were enough to keep me physically fit. However, I was proven wrong when I joined the local gym. Since then, my balance, strength and overall riding skills have greatly improved.

While upper and lower body strength is important, it is our core that affects our balance the most. The core consists of the abdominal muscles—where all of our movement originates. By strengthening our core, we decrease our chances of back injury and enhance our balance in the saddle.

I’ve teamed up with Ellwood City Athletic Club owner and trainer Jeff Smiley to demonstrate some basic core strengthening with the use of a stability ball and a medicine ball. These exercises can be done anywhere.  

reverse crunch

The Reverse Crunch.

Warm-Up Exercise #1
Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Grasp the stability ball with both hands and, while holding it out away from your body, rotate your trunk left to right and back for approximately 30 seconds. 

Warm-Up Exercise #2
Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Grasp the stability ball with both hands, extend your arms out in front of you and raise the ball over your head and down to the floor on the opposite side. Repeat for 30 seconds. Repeat movement on the opposite side.

Basic Crunch
Lay with the middle of your back on the stability ball and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle with arms folded in front of your chest or behind your head. Contract your abs by lifting your upper body. Repeat for 30 seconds.

Reverse Crunch
Lay with your back on the floor and your arms out to the side with palms down for stability. Squeeze the stability ball with your heels and hamstrings and roll your knees into your chest, engaging the lower abdominal muscles. Repeat for 30 seconds. This will activate your core and stretch your lower back.


The Hip Crossover.

Hip Crossover
Lay with your back on the floor and the ball resting on the ground between your knees. Keep your shoulders flat and arms straight out to the side with palms down for stability. Tucking your heels toward your body, roll the ball to one side until your knee touches the floor, then return to the opposite side. Keep the ball on the floor at all times.

Floor Bridge
The goal of the Floor Bridge is to activate and strengthen the glutes and lower back. Lay with your back on the floor and heels placed on the top center of the ball, pointing your toes toward you with your arms extended to the side and palms down for stability. Fire your glutes and raise your hips, so that only your head, shoulders and arms are touching the floor. Your body should be a straight line between your ankles and shoulders.

floor bridge 2

The Floor Bridge.

Medicine Ball Floor to Shelf
With feet shoulder-width apart, grasp the ball with both hands and, bending at the waist, take the ball to one side of your feet on the floor. Then, diagonally lift the ball as if you are placing it on a shelf in the opposite corner. Repeat for 30 seconds.

Single Leg V-Ups
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and grasp the ball with arms fully extended behind your head.  Your head should be in a neutral position with space between your chin and chest. Leading with the chin, contract your abs and raise your shoulders off the floor. Extend your arms and raise one leg. Bending at the knee, touch the ball to your toe. Return to the starting position and alternate.

Russian Twists
Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold the ball and extend your arms out in front, reclining back so that your body is angled at about 45 degrees. Keeping your lower body still, twist to the right, and then to the left. The more you lean back, the more challenging this exercise becomes. Use an angle that is comfortable, yet still gives your abdominal muscles a challenge. To make this exercise more challenging, you can lift your feet 1- to 2-inches off the floor, keeping your feet elevated during the entire set. Repeat for 30 seconds.

toe touch 2

The Toe Touch.

Toe Touch
Lie on your back with your feet off the floor and your legs straight up in the air. Keep your arms straight while holding the medicine ball with both hands. Exhale as you lift your shoulder blades off the floor, attempting to touch your toes with the medicine ball. Hold at the top for one second then slowly lower to the starting position. If your hamstrings are really tight, it’s okay to slightly bend your knees. Repeat for 30 seconds.

Stability and medicine balls like those shown can be purchased at most sporting good stores.

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