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Fit to Function

Do these exercises anywhere for improved strength, balance and posture

By Lanier Norville

Tired of the aches and pains that accompany a 12-hour shift in the OR? These functional exercises will strengthen your core and stretch key muscle groups to help you feel strong, even when fatigue sets in. This quick, no-frills workout requires no equipment and can be performed virtually anywhere. Fitness and body mechanics expert Marisa Antolino specifically designed the workout to alleviate the back pain that can often result from long hours standing up.

“Through improved flexibility, you will increase your ease of motion,” Antolino says. “By strengthening your core, you will improve your posture and prevent back pain.” The workout includes strengthening exercises and stretches for both your abdominals and back. “Remember: Your core is not just your abdominals. It also includes the multifidus, the muscles that run up and down your spine, so it’s important to focus on those muscles too.” It’s possible to reap the benefits of these exercises even if you’re new to fitness. Below, Antolino demonstrates each move.

Step 1: Strengthen

The Plank

The Plank

Works: Core, quads, hamstrings

Directions: Start with the balls of both feet on the ground, hip-width apart. Place your hands shoulder-width apart, with your fingers spread wide to create a strong base. Keep your gaze on the floor so your neck stays in line with your spine. Hold for as long as you can, working up to a full minute.

Tips: Think about pulling your belly button into your spine, so you’re working from your core and engaging your abs.

Variation: Lift one leg and hold for five seconds, then switch legs. Keep your pelvis stable and don’t let your hip of your lifted leg drop toward the floor. Don’t let your pelvis shift. Both these exercises focus on strengthening your core.



Works: Obliques

Directions: From single-leg stretch position, bring your hands behind your head, curl up high to bring your opposite shoulder toward the opposite knee. Hold for a moment and repeat on the opposite side for one set. Repeat for 12 sets.

Tips: Keep your elbows wide. Remember your hands are there to gently support your head, not to pull on it.



Works: Abdominals, Hip flexors

Directions: Lying on your back, reach one leg as straight as you can toward the ceiling, while the other leg hovers over the floor. Hold onto the raised leg and pull it towards you. Hold for a moment, and switch legs. Repeat for 12 sets.

Tips: Keep your lower back on the floor and do not let your hips shift when switching legs.

Variation: For more of a challenge, instead of holding onto your leg, bring your hands to hover at your sides, just off the ground.



Works: Pelvic and core muscles, glutes, hamstrings

Directions: Start lying on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip width apart. Pull your belly button toward your spine, squeeze your glutes and lift your hips off the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.

Tips: Keep your ribs closed and abs tight. Think of keeping your spine in one straight, diagonal line.

Variation: For more of a challenge, straighten one leg and lift it toward the ceiling without letting your hips shift. Repeat several times with each leg. For a stretch, with both feet on the ground, lace your fingers underneath you, press you’re your triceps squeeze your glutes to press your hips toward the sky, and let your chest open to stretch your thoracic spine.


Works: Whole core

Directions: Start lying flat with your legs together, feet flexed. Reach your arms up over your head, but only back as far as you can reach without your ribs opening. Exhale to help pull your abs in as you lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Continue to slowly roll up, reaching towards your toes at the top of the stretch. Roll back down the same way.

Tips: the less momentum, the better. Try to roll slowly. Think about rolling sequentially through the spine.



Works: Abs

Directions: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat, hip width apart. Palms rest at your sides. Curl off the mat, as your palms reach forward, hovering just above the ground. Inhale, lower down halfway; exhale, lift up.

Tips: think about taking the weight out of your head and into the lower abs, pulling in from the abs to lift, rather than from your head. Keep your chin off your chest but slightly tucked so your neck is elongated and in line with your spine.

Variation: For more support, place your hands behind your head with elbows wide to support your neck, as shown. Remember, your hands are there for support, not to pull on the neck. This modification adds a challenge to your abs because it adds weight to the lever.



Works: Abs

Directions: Sit tall, start with your feet flat in front of you. Reach arms straight out in front of your chest, palms facing in. Exhale as you round back off your tailbone, scooping with your lower abs so your lumbar spine is rounded. Stay rounded as you pick your right leg off the floor, keeping your knee bent and shin parallel to the floor. Bring your left leg up to meet it. Turn palms to face the ceiling and bring them down to the floor as you inhale; exhale as you bring them back up to shoulder height.

Tip: Think about working from the scoop in the lower abs to keep your balance as you move your arms through the range of motion.

Variation: For more of a challenge, reach your arms up and toes toward the sky to create a V shape with your body.


Step 2: Strengthen

Forward Fold


Stretches: Hamstrings, multifidus

Directions: Keep your knees straight and legs together with stretched feet as you reach toward your toes with a straight back. When you’ve reached your limit, let your upper body relax into the position, as shown here.

Tips: Think about reaching out, through the crown of the head, towards your toes.

The Twist


Stretches: Hip flexor

Directions: Sit up tall, bend your right knee so your foot is flat on the floor, and hold onto your knee with your left hand and your right palm directly behind you. Twist towards the right, looking over your right shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat three times, each time reaching further. Repeat the succession on the other side.

Tips: Inhale as you twist; exhale as you release

Hip Opener


Stretches: Hip adductor

Directions: Sit tall, bend your knees out and pull your feet together. Gently push your knees toward the floor, opening your hips. Hold for 30 seconds.

Variation: For more of a stretch, bend your upper body towards the floor and walk your palms out on the floor in front of you.

Lumbar Spine Stretch


Stretches: Lower back

Directions: Lie flat on your back, bring your knees to your chest and hold onto your shins. Keeping the knees together, make small circles with your knees. Your tailbone will lift slightly off the floor. Repeat three times then reverse the direction of the circles.

Single-Leg Stretch


Stretches: Hamstrings

Directions: Lie flat on your back. Bring your knees one at a time up into the air with bent knees. Curl head and shoulders off the floor and bring one knee into your chest. Keep your lower back on the mat and hips in line, pulling in the lower abs, then switch to the opposite knee. Repeat 12 times.

Tip: Keep the chin slightly tucked so the back of the neck is lengthened.

Marisa Antolino is a certified Pilates Academy International instructor, an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer, and a Yoga Alliance registered yoga instructor. She teaches fitness and Pilates classes at studios around Atlanta, Ga. Visit for more information.



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