Plant-Powered Core Fitness

Veganism, overcoming obstacles, and a killer core workout

Plant-Powered Core Fitness

Vegan fitness and nutrition coach Karina Inkster tells us what inspires her to lead a vegan lifestyle while also inspiring others to reach their fitness and nutrition goals. Here, she gives us a “friendly kick in the butt” with her killer core workout.

In 1998, at the age of 11, I became a vegetarian to avoid supporting the inhumane treatment of animals. It wasn’t until 2003 that I realized the meat, dairy, and egg industries are one and the same: morally indistinguishable from each other. That’s when I committed to veganism—and I’ve never looked back!

My transition to veganism felt very straightforward. Being vegan is easy when you understand the negative effects of animal agriculture (it’s even easier with the amazing vegan grocery and restaurant options available now!) and there’s no more powerful feeling than knowing my actions align with my values. But veganism wasn’t without its challenges for me.

In 2003, the same year I became a vegan, I also started lifting weights. What am I training for? Life! And it’s still a work in progress!

Challenges I met on the way

Staying well fuelled

One particular challenge I faced after making the transition to veganism and committing to weight training was—and still is—eating enough to fuel my daily energy needs. Healthy vegan foods are generally very nutrient dense, rather than calorie dense. I need a lot of fuel (between 3,000 and 3,300 calories per day), so I make food prep a priority in my schedule.

Conquering allergies

Another unique—and very inconvenient—challenge: an allergy to tree nuts and raw fruit and severe seasonal allergies and asthma that limit my outdoor activity for half the year, as well as a serious allergic condition called food-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis, which prohibits me from training within eight hours of eating allergenic food triggers.

Planning and consistency

However, with careful and consistent planning, I make healthy, active vegan living work for me. In working to overcome my obstacles (and helping clients to overcome theirs), I’ve learned that there’s power in consistency; small actions add up over time. Real, lasting results generally take a long time to achieve, which is extra incentive for me to make healthy, active living a lifelong endeavour.

Over the past 14 years I’ve focused on building habits I can be consistent with, all of which I intend to keep for life. I’ve realized that my training and my nutrition need to be a part of my life, not something I do in order to have the life I want later.

Maintaining a strong core

Another life lesson—and lifelong pursuit—is the maintenance of a strong core. Our core muscles are more than just abdominals, and training the core should be more than just achieving a chiselled midsection!

The core includes our low- and mid-back, hips, pelvis, and glutes. It acts as the link between our upper body and lower body, providing stability for the spine and pelvis, preventing and reducing back pain, and controlling our balance.

Here are five of my favourite core exercises that are part of my regular weightlifting workouts. To bulletproof your body against injury, improve posture, and increase athletic performance, perform these exercises two to three times per week.

Killer Core Workout

Aim for three sets of the prescribed number of reps for each exercise.

Hanging Knee Raise

Reps: 10 to 15

Target: Rectus abdominis, hip flexors, forearms, shoulders, back

This exercise is an effective lower abdominal strengthener. It’ll also help you get better at performing pull-ups: it increases your upper body and grip strength, and the start position mimics your body’s position during a well-executed pull-up.

  • Hang from a chin-up bar with legs straight. Activate your lats to pull your shoulder blades down and back. Posteriorly tilt your pelvis and keep your feet slightly in front of your body, so that your entire core is engaged.
  • Exhale and slowly bring your knees toward your chest. Lower to the start position, and repeat for reps.
  • Maintain the posterior tilt and engaged back muscles throughout the exercise, and keep the entire motion under control. No swinging!

Loaded Carry

Reps: Aim to walk at least 20 metres. Work your way up to carrying 75 percent of your body weight.

Target: Entire core musculature, shoulders, back

This simple movement builds muscle, torches fat, and increases athletic performance. It’s also very practical. We carry heavy things, such as grocery bags full of veggies, on a daily basis, after all!

  • Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells or kettlebells. If you’re lifting them off the floor, make sure you lift with your legs.
  • Brace your core and the muscles in your upper body, and slowly walk.
  • Maintain perfect posture throughout, with your shoulders back and all the muscles of your core, upper body, and arms engaged.

Stability Ball Stir the Pot

Reps: 10 circles in each direction

Target: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, low back, shoulders

Popularized by spinal researcher Dr. Stuart McGill, this exercise activates the deep core muscles without putting the spine into unnecessary flexion.

  • In a plank position with your forearms on a stability ball, brace your core (as if you’re about to get punched in the stomach).
  • In a clockwise motion, slowly roll the ball in circles with your arms. The rest of your body should stay completely stationary.

Stability Ball Mountain Climber

Reps: 10 on each side

Target: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, hip flexors, low back, shoulders

Here’s a unique mountain climber variation that challenges your balance and stability, and works your entire core at once.

  • Start with your hands on the floor and the tops of your feet on a stability ball.
  • Lift one leg off the ball, tucking your knee toward your chest. Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds, then return to the start position and repeat with your other leg.
  • Maintain a rigid plank and flat back throughout this exercise.

Side Plank

Reps: Hold for 30 to 45 seconds.

Target: Obliques, quadratus lumborum, glutes, shoulders

This move is a must-do for those with back pain. In addition to working your abs, it strengthens the quadratus lumborum (the side of your low back), which is often weak in people with back pain.

  • Prop yourself up with your right forearm on the ground. Stack your left foot onto your right, and ensure your right elbow is directly under your right shoulder.
  • Lift up your body off the floor. Keep your core engaged and your entire body in a straight line.

Vegan nutrition tips for a killer core

Good nutrition is essential if you want to support a strong midsection. Body composition is the name of the game: increase muscle and decrease fat (body weight doesn’t differentiate between the two, so ditch the scale).

Focus on a protein source at every meal

Enjoy plenty of tofu, tempeh, beans, quinoa, seeds, and nuts. Protein is the building block of muscle and prevents muscle loss after strenuous workouts. Each day, over the course of the day, active people and athletes should consume at least 1.5 g of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.7 g of protein per pound)—and more if you’re doing strenuous workouts.

Eat mostly whole foods

Eat plants in their most natural state (whole grains, fresh produce), prepared in your own kitchen. This is the best way to get your foods intact—with all the fibre, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need for a strong, healthy body—including a killer core. It’s also important to eat a variety of foods to ensure you get all the nutrients you need.

Drink plenty of water

Water keeps our muscles firing at full speed and carries out the metabolic waste generated when we’re working out. Being properly hydrated is so important, our athletic performance immediately plummets if we sweat out just 1 to 2 percent of our body weight and don’t replenish it. Aim to drink water throughout the day—before you feel thirsty and well before your workout.

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