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FitnessU: 7 ab exercises that aren’t crunches

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Did you know that working your core adds a lot more to your well-being than washboard abs? Our core is made up of many different muscles, including our obliques (the muscles covering our ribs) and diaphragm (our primary breathing muscle). These muscles work together to do two main things: 1) help stabilize our spine, and 2) transfer energy throughout our bodies.

Spinal stability is important because of the vast network of neural connections that run through our spine. These nerves are responsible for transmitting the signals throughout our bodies that allow us to move in a coordinated manner. In order for these signals to be communicated properly, our spine needs to be stable and erect. Poor posture and movement can compress the spine, causing pain and eventual injury.

To train your abs’ ability to stabilize the spine, it’s important to practice exerted stable movements, such as a plank. These types of movements teach your body to resist the tendency to collapse into poor posture. For example, in a plank, you’re holding tension in your abs to prevent your hips from rising up or falling down.

Your core is also responsible for transmitting energy throughout your body. To understand how this works, think of a boxer: When a boxer goes to throw a punch, they gather their strength by using their legs to generate force against the ground. This force is then transmitted up through their core and into their punching arm as they exert it into their target.

A weak core can negatively affect our ability to pick up, carry, or put down objects; throw things; or even do something as simple as carry your backpack without straining your lower back. To train your abs to better transmit force, you need to practice movement-based exercises that require you to contract and release your abs.

Let’s recap:

  • Abs help you accomplish things in your daily life—much more than just your appearance.
  • The core helps you stabilize your spine and effectively transmit force.
  • Stabilization and movement-based exercises are the best ways to strengthen your abs.

Easy crunch-free moves for a stronger core

Below is an easy-to-follow abdominal circuit consisting of seven different movements that are completely crunch-free (because—let’s be honest—we’re pretty over crunches). Each movement increases in difficulty to help you create a strong, functional core.

To build these exercises into a full workout, perform each movement for a minimum of 15 seconds. As you get stronger and better at the exercises, work your way up to 45 seconds per movement. Repeat each movement for two to four sets. Focus on keeping your hips as steady as possible while also controlling your breathing.

Dead bugs



Variation one

Lying on your back with your hands raised, lift your knees up to a tabletop position toward your core, and back down again.

Variation two

Perform variation one, but as you lift your knees up and down, move your arms along with them.

Variation three

Perform variation two, but instead of moving both your knees and arms, move one arm at a time, opposite your knees, one after the other.

Beasts



Variation one

Facedown, place your palms on the floor with your knees hovering a few inches above the ground. Lift one foot and then the other, switching each time.

Variation two

Facedown, place your palms on the floor with your knees hovering. Instead of lifting your feet, lift your palms off the ground, one at a time, tapping your opposite shoulder each time.

Variation three

Facedown, place your palms on the ground with your knees hovering. Lift your opposite foot and hand at the same time, switching sides each time.

Planks



Front plank to side plank

Start in a plank position on your forearms. Then, rotate your body to the left and lift your right arm. Then place the arm back down and turn toward your right, lifting the left arm.

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Apps and podcasts we love: Timely

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Dany C., second-year graduate student, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

 

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 starsStudents time everything: when to wake up, when to empty the washing machine, when to start the next lap at the gym…you get my drift. Our alarm clock on our smartphones makes it pretty easy—so it’s hard to think there could be a better way to do it. But it turns out there is! Timely is basically a replacement for your phone’s default alarm clock app, but it does everything so much better. You might want to add it to your list of “Always install, forever!” apps.

The app includes a set of alarm sounds that have been handcrafted and engineered with one purpose: waking you up in a pleasant way. The “smart rise” feature can start playing your (now angelic) alarm 30 minutes before you want to wake, with slowly increasing volume. Chances are you’ll wake up before your alarm is on full volume—which will make your roommates grateful too (they hate your rooster sound at 6 a.m. and you know it).

To turn off the alarm, this app requires you to do all sorts of things that will ensure you actually wake up. For instance, you might have to shake your phone or solve different kinds of puzzles. You can tap the screen while asleep, but mustering the strength to shake your phone is surprisingly difficult—so it really gets you up and going effectively.

Timely also includes a timer, stopwatch, and a beautiful screen clock you can set up as your phone background. Now you can safely drag your old alarm app to the trash and check the time with style.

I highly recommend this app for anyone who has trouble getting going in the morning or, really, just anyone who’s sick of the conventional alarm clock.

Similar app for iOS:

Student spotlight: Dany C.

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Dany C. is a second-year graduate student at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

For this issue, Dany reviewed the app Timely.

How do you chill out when you’re stressed?

I go to this amazing Asian restaurant (my favorite) and treat myself to a meal. Food solves all my life problems; being upset about school is far worse than being worried about my budget.


What bands are you listening to right now?

I recently broke up with my ex, so I listen to uplifting songs that keep me on track with my goals, like Hadouken’s “Levitate” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”


What’s the quirkiest or most unusual thing about you?

I’m a better-than-average dancer, at least regarding Latin music. I was raised in a culture where being a good dancer is a must, and that’s what people remember about me after get-togethers.


What was your last Halloween costume?

A millennia ago, I made a full set of Pegasus armor (Saint Seiya) out of cardboard and aluminum foil; for a 13-year old, I was very proud of my work (even sold a couple “armors”). My friends didn’t look that proud, though.


What advice would you give to your younger self?

Girls are very picky at your age, but that will change.

3 ways exercise can set you up for a successful school year

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Chances are, if you’ve ever set foot in a gym, it was to build muscle or get fit—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But working out can have way more of an impact on your body than just physically.

“Exercise can help improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and help you sleep better,” says Alissa Rumsey, a strength and conditioning specialist in New York. That brainpower boost can set you up for academic success all year long.

Here are 3 ways exercise can upgrade your life (that aren’t just physical):

1. Brain power

“Exercise increases your heart rate, which helps supply your brain cells with plenty of oxygen for brain power and growth,” says Rumsey. With that boost, regular exercise can improve your memory, focus, and ability to process information. Translation: It can help you perform better in school.

Memory

Scientists at the University of Illinois have found that moderate exercise, performed three days a week, improves memory by literally growing your brain volume. The hippocampus, the part of the brain primarily associated with memory, naturally shrinks as we age. But the researchers found that regular exercise actually boosts the volume of the hippocampus, thereby improving memory.

Focus

A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that students who started running just 30 minutes a week reported improved concentration in class (in addition to better mood and better-quality sleep).

“Physical activity helps me when I’m stuck on homework or can’t get started,” says Jill, a junior in Bloomington, Minnesota. “I can go exercise for a little bit, and then I’m able to focus so much better when I go back to it.”

Information processing

Regular cycling and stretching exercises can improve your test skills, according to a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology. The researchers also found those who were physically active on a regular basis had better motor skills (i.e., all the actions that involve muscle movement) compared to people with a sedentary lifestyle.

yoga class holding mats

2. Stress

Exercise stimulates the release of a chemical in the body called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is associated with decreases in anxiety and depression, according to a 2016 study. BDNF supports neuron growth and survival, the capacity to learn, and memory function. It has also been shown to positively affect our body’s ability to keep blood sugar levels consistent, which is important for maintaining energy, concentration, and overall health, as well as stabilizing our emotions and stress levels.

“I run every day after school as a way to vent out my anger from the day and to get out of the house. It definitely relieves my stress, which helps motivate me to achieve more things after that. It clears my head and helps me to be productive and study,” says Geoffrey*, a senior in Raleigh, North Carolina.

3. Energy

It seems logical that exercising would sap your energy—but several studies show the opposite is actually true. One study from the University of Georgia’s Exercise Psychology Laboratory found that regular exercise increased the energy of sedentary participants by 65 percent. According to its findings, low-intensity exercise is actually a better energy booster than working out harder (though both low- and moderate-intensity exercise increased participants’ energy).

“When I’m doing more physical activities, I have more energy and more motivation to do my school work,” says Makayla, a junior in Hondo, Texas.

How does it work? Another study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that physical exercise stimulates the development of mitochondria—your cells’ internal power plants—in brain cells. That stimulation ups your body’s energy and can help boost your productivity.

How to make time for fitness

climbing stairs

Here’s the thing: Any movement is good for your brain. “A lot of studies [on the benefits of exercise] look at walking, so it doesn’t have to be anything really intense,” explains Rumsey. In other words, you don’t need to sign up for a weight-lifting competition to feel the effects.

Find ways to integrate exercise into your daily routine
Grab your friends for a basketball game, take a walk around the neighborhood, or go dancing.

Take small steps
Add activity by doing things like parking farther from buildings, walking instead of taking buses, and using stairs.

Find an exercise you enjoy
“There’s no need to do exercise that you hate,” says Rumsey. “Try different classes like boxing, swimming, yoga, Pilates, and biking.”

Buddy up
Rather than catch up via text, go for a walk with a friend.

Join a school or intramural team or sports club.
Get involved in a way that’s social but also boosts your activity levels.

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Article sources

Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CSCS, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, New York.

Erickson, K. I., Voss, M., Prakash, R., Basak, C., et al. (2011). Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(7), 3017–3022. doi:10.1073/pnas.1015950108

Garber, M. (2017). Exercise as a stress coping mechanism in a pharmacy student population. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 81(3).

Hötting, K., Reich, B., Holzschneider, K., Kauschke, K., et al. (2012). Differential cognitive effects of cycling versus stretching/coordination training in middle-aged adults. Health Psychology, 31(2), 145–155.

Kalak, N., Gerber, M., Kirov, R., Mikoteit, T., et al. (2012). Daily morning running for three weeks improved sleep and psychological functioning in healthy adolescents compared with controls. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51(6), 615–622. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.02.020

Nofuji, Y., Suwa, M., Sasaki, H., Ichimiya, A., et al. (2012). Different circulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor responses to acute exercise between physically active and sedentary subjects. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 11(1), 83–88.

Puetz, T., Flowers, S., & O’Conner, P. (2008). A randomized controlled trial of the effect of aerobic exercise training on feelings of energy and fatigue in sedentary young adults with persistent fatigue. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 77(3), 167–174. doi:10.1159/000116610

Sleiman, S. F., Henry, J., Al-Haddad, R., & El Hayek, et al. (2016). Exercise promotes the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) through the action of the ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate. Elife5.

Steiner, J., Murphy, E. A., McClellan, J., Carmichael, M., et al. (2011). Exercise training increases mitochondrial biogenesis in the brain. Journal of Applied Physiology, 1066–1071. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00343.2011

Apps and podcasts we love: MyFitnessPal

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Augustine is a senior in Boston, Massachusetts.

 

Overall rating: 3 starsMyFitnessPal is designed to keep track of your daily intake of food and amount of exercise in order to ultimately reach a goal you’ve made for yourself. It requires you to input your meals each day as well as any workouts performed. Each week, the app analyzes your progress so you can see a visual representation of where you’re at in your goals.

Besides personal goals, MyFitnessPal also has easily accessible links to websites and videos that provide motivation to eat well and exercise. I personally love this feature of the app the most because it’s engaging and fun to use and provides lots of reputable information to help me pursue my health goals.

It was helpful to know where most of my calories came from and how many calories I consume on a daily basis, yet on the other hand, I personally don’t think simply counting calories will contribute greatly to leading a healthier life. I think the app was helpful in promoting health and wellness videos to users, but I wish it went beyond counting calories to provide incentive to help users maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Overall, I would recommend this app to someone interested in seeing how what they eat and how much they move affects them each day.”

Get it on iTunes StoreGet it on Google Play

How to encourage students to get the sleep they need

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The value of sufficient sleep can’t be overestimated, especially for busy college students. Researchers consistently find that not getting enough sleep can significantly affect how students function.

Lack of sleep has a negative effect on the regulation of hormones and other physiological processes, such as motor skills. Sleep deprivation is also linked to an increase in cortisol, more commonly known as the body’s “stress hormone.” And stress levels have an impact on weight, mood, energy level, immunity, and concentration—so sleep is a key factor in students’ academic success.

Acute sleep deprivation is often associated with episodes of “microsleep,” or brief, uncontrollable periods of sleep lasting three to six seconds. “[They can] intrude upon wake at inopportune times, such as during a lecture,” says Dr. Michel Bornemann, a sleep medicine specialist and former codirector of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis.

It can also be more serious. Dr. Bornemann points out that research shows driving after pulling an all-nighter is “very similar to the impairment experienced when driving while intoxicated with alcohol.”

How to help students get proper sleep

  • Emphasize the essential role of sleep in physical and emotional well-being. Reiterate that sleep can help them in more ways than just feeling refreshed; their stress, concentration levels, immunity, and overall health will all improve.
  • Help students find ways to prioritize getting sufficient sleep. If they can prioritize what needs to be done immediately and what can wait, they’ll likely get a bit more sleep.
  • Teach them about good sleep hygiene. Winding down in a dimly lit room, avoiding screens an hour before bed, and going to bed and waking around the same time each day will help them regulate their sleep cycle.
  • Encourage your student to avoid driving and similar activities when drowsy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy drivers cause 100,000 crashes every year.
GET HELP OR FIND OUT MOREArticle sources

Dr. Michel Bornemann, lead investigator, Sleep Forensics Associates and physician at Olmsted Medical Center, Rochester, Minnesota.

American Psychological Association. (2013). Stress and sleep. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx
Harvard School of Public Health. (n.d.). Waking up to sleep’s role in weight control. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/sleep-and- obesity/

Leproult, R., Copinschi, G., Buxton, O., & Van Cauter, E. (1997). Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening. Sleep20(10), 865–870. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/20/10/865/2725962

National Sleep Foundation. (2012, November 9). Young people more likely to drive drowsy. Retrieved from https://drowsydriving.org/2012/11/young-people-more-likely-to-drive-drowsy/

Watson, N. F., Buchwald, D., Delrow, J. J., Altemeier, W. A., et al. (2017). Transcriptional signatures of sleep duration discordance in monozygotic twins. Sleep, 40(1). doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsw019

Wright Jr., K. P., Drake, A. L., Frey, D. J., Fleshner, M., et al. (2015). Influence of sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment on cortisol, inflammatory markers, and cytokine balance. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity47, 24–34.

Ask the counselor: “How do I know if I found the right psychologist for my mental health needs?”

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—Andrew P.*, The College of New Jersey

Congratulations on taking the first step in caring for your mental health. It’s great that you’ve committed to seeking help from a professional who can guide you through the healing process.

There are many psychologists and therapists out there, and it’s all about finding the one that’s right for you. Here are four steps to help you determine if you’ve found a good fit:

1. Confirm that the psychologist is licensed.

You can use the American Board of Professional Psychology website to look them up by name or location.

2. Check out their specialties.

Consider what types of issues you’re looking to address in your sessions. While a well-trained psychologist or therapist will know how to assist with a range of topics, most have specialty areas. For example, some psychologists focus on family issues, such as divorce, or work with specific traumas, such as child abuse.

3. Find out how they conduct their sessions.

There are various approaches to therapy. Some focus more on helping you create more healthy thoughts and behaviors. You’ll often complete exercises and practices to learn how to make helpful changes in your life. Another approach is focusing on your past and getting a better understanding of how the past is affecting your present. There are also approaches that include art, music, spirituality, aromatherapy, and more.

Most psychologists and therapists use a combination of approaches. Think about what you’d be most comfortable with and try to find someone who matches that.

4. Do you vibe with them?

Lastly, but also very important, is figuring out if the match between you and the psychologist or therapist is a good one. Do you feel you’re able to share freely and honestly with them? Do you feel a connection with them? Research shows that if it’s a good fit, you’re more likely to stay in therapy and have better outcomes.

Don’t feel badly if you start seeing a therapist and don’t feel like they’re a good match; they won’t take it personally if you speak up about it, and may even be able to recommend someone else more able to suit your needs.

*Name changed

Article source

Martin, D. J., Garske, J. P., & Davis, M. K. (2000). Relation of the therapeutic alliance with outcome and other variables: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(3), 438–450.

How to set your students up for studying success

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The majority of students retain information most effectively when blending a few different study methods. But setting students up for studying success begins before they get to the library.

Be up front

“Complete transparency about what it takes to study and retain the material is key,” says Amy Baldwin, director of the Department of Student Transitions at the University of Central Arkansas. “Letting students know that up front can be really impactful.”

  • When you announce tests or exams, consider including an estimate of how far in advance students should start studying to do well.
  • Have a successful former student talk to the class about how much time they dedicated to studying and what study tools they used.

Emphasize the “why”

Many students get a boost from knowing the “why,” or purpose, of material they’re being taught. “It’s very easy to dismiss something that doesn’t feel interesting or relevant,” Baldwin says. When material might not be directly relevant for their major, emphasize how the problem-solving or creative thinking skills they’re developing will help them later in life. “Learning to learn is a useful skill everyone can walk away with,” says Baldwin.

Champion study resources

Finally, do your part to normalize the use of outside help such as tutors and campus study centers. “Smart students go to tutoring—it’s not just for students who are struggling,” says Baldwin.

Here are some helpful tips

  • Provide practice tests: These are a tangible way to help students stay on track.
  • Encourage students to color-code materials to aid memorization.
  • Come up with acronyms for lists students need to memorize.
  • Create a concept sheet with key words, diagrams, and charts to summarize the material for each unit.
  • Assign/encourage study groups.
  • Record lectures and post them online for students to review.
  • Break any study materials down into small sections to help students space out their studying.
  • Encourage students to review lecture notes and add their own reflections or questions after class.

With some creativity, your students’ studying can be more effective and even enjoyable.

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Article sources

Amy Baldwin, director of the Department of Student Transitions, University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas.

Dr. Damien Clement, assistant professor of sport and exercise psychology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.

Carlson, S. (2005). The net generation goes to college. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(1), 1–7. Retrieved from https://chronicle.com/article/The-Net-Generation-Goes-to/12307

Gurung, R. A. (2005). How do students really study (and does it matter)? Education, 39, 323–340. Retrieved from https://02c44f4.netsolhost.com/ebooks/tips2011/I-05-04Gurung2005.pdf

Komarraju, M., Karau, S. J., Schmeck, R. R., & Avdic, A. (2011). The big five personality traits, learning styles, and academic achievement. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(4), 472–477. Retrieved from https://ac.els-cdn.com/S0191886911002194/1-s2.0-S0191886911002194-main.pdf?_tid=1cc52fea-0920-11e3-8138-00000aab0f01&acdnat=1376952107_d8d9f6534a777cd4b523196c3175c933

Karpicke, J. D. (2012). Retrieval-based learning: Active retrieval promotes meaningful learning. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(3), 157–163. Retrieved from https://learninglab.psych.purdue.edu/downloads/2012_Karpicke_CDPS.pdf

Kornell, N. (2009). Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 1297–1317. Retrieved from https://web.williams.edu/Psychology/Faculty/Kornell/Publications/Kornell.2009b.pdf

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. Random House: New York.

4 ways to practice consent and self-empowerment in everyday life

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Have you hesitated to tell a friend, family member, romantic partner, or even a waiter what you want? Maybe you’ve even hesitated to tell yourself. Most of us have suppressed our gut instincts at some point, which can get in the way of developing our voice and individuality. But learning to explore and honor our own needs, instincts, and desires is a crucial life skill. It’s the key to setting boundaries in platonic and intimate relationships, and in all other areas of our lives. Plus, it’ll make you better able to recognize other people’s needs and boundaries.

This process can be transformative. “I had been a meek person and had trouble setting my own boundaries,” says Diana Adams, an attorney based in New York City. After being sexually assaulted in college, she embarked on her own journey of empowerment. “I went from being one of the last kids picked in gym class to a national champion at a martial art. That was a personal revelation to me about my own strengths and finding my own voice and agency.”

Finding your own self-empowerment and voice will help you in all sorts of ways. It can help you get the sandwich the way you ordered it, help your friends and partners have your back, help you speak up when something’s not working for you, and feel confident in walking away from things when you have to.

The opportunities to communicate what you want and what to push back against are around us every day, not just during hookups or in intimate relationships.

1. Stand up for yourself and set boundaries

teen reading menu

☀︎ In everyday life

Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean being impolite or aggressive, but it does mean being assertive and honoring your own feelings and desires. Being explicit with yourself is crucial. With others, you might be tactfully indirect. But if they don’t pick up on your cues, by all means, be direct.

For example, if you’re talking with someone who’s making you uncomfortable, you can just excuse yourself to get a snack or go to the bathroom. They should get the point and leave you alone. If they ignore your polite signals, feel free to be blunt: “I’m heading back to my friends now.” If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, it’s always OK to just walk away.

✖️ Practice setting boundaries and respectfully saying “no”

  • With service people: “Actually, this isn’t the sandwich that I ordered.”
  • With your sibling: “It’s not OK to borrow my things without asking.”
  • With the senior who’s pushing a drink on you: “Thanks, but not tonight.”

❤︎ In romantic encounters

“Sometimes, when someone leans in to kiss me for the first time, I stop them just to see if they’re cool with me setting a boundary,” says Jaclyn Friedman, a sexual assault survivor, speaker, author, and consent activist. This kind of boundary setting—and making sure that your partner is listening—can happen explicitly or implicitly. An implicit way to do this would be taking a step back if you feel someone is getting too close.

Practicing boundary setting can help with stopping things when you start to feel uncomfortable, whether in a hookup situation or not. Be wary of any situation where you feel like you’re being pressured, and take that red flag seriously. However, there are times when pressure escalates into assault, and it’s not always possible to stop that. A victim is never at fault for someone else’s choice to assault. Trusting our instincts, though, can make it easier to spot red flags early on, when it can be easier to get out of a potentially dangerous situation.

2. Stand up for your friends

group of happy friends

☀︎ In everyday life

As we become more attuned to our own boundaries and desires, it’s easier to spot other people’s. Pay attention to what’s going on. If you’re out with a friend and they’re stuck in an uncomfortable conversation, help them out. For example, if someone’s pressuring them to have a drink or do something they don’t want to do, give them an exit strategy.

Try subtle: “Hey, I need to talk to you.”

Or explicit: “Not feeling this. Let’s get out of here.”

“Setting up a code word with a friend is also an easy way to let each other know what’s up. Mine and my BFF’s is ‘pumpernickel’—it’s not something we would normally say in conversation and people around us laugh, thinking it’s an inside joke,” says Macenna, a student in San Diego, California.

❤︎ In romantic encounters

The stakes can feel high—especially at the beginning of the year, when everyone’s getting to know each other and they’re excited to try new things. But it’s vital to check in with your friends who are in relationships or who are hanging out with someone new. For example, ask things like:

  • How are things going?
  • Do you feel like being with your partner makes you happy?
  • Do they listen to you?

Pay attention if your friend seems uncomfortable or isn’t sure how their romantic encounters are making them feel. If something seems off, suggest they talk to a counselor or a trusted adult about how they’re feeling.

3. Think and talk about what you want

confident male with sunglasses

☀︎ In everyday life

One thing I’ve always loved about some of my best friends is that they know what they like to do—whether that’s going to a party on a Friday night or camping and hiking alone. They don’t get there by just going with the flow—these friends have thought about what they want and what types of people they like to hang out with.

Thinking and talking about what you want doesn’t always mean you’ll get it, but it’s a giant step in that direction! Even when your desires or boundaries are different from your friends’ or partners’, you’ll likely find some areas of overlap—and you’ll get there more easily if you can notice those differences and engage in open conversation.

“When someone says, ‘No, I’d rather not,’ respond in ways that support them,” says Adams. “When your friend says she can’t come to dinner because she needs to study, try saying, ‘Thank you for taking care of yourself; I’m glad you said that.’” You could also ask if there’s another time you two can get together, once her workload lightens up.

❤︎ In romantic encounters

Ask yourself these questions about the person you like, are in a relationship with, or are hooking up with:

  • Am I feeling happy, comfortable, and rewarded when I’m with them?
  • Does this person listen to me and respect my signals?
  • Are my boundaries being pushed or violated?
  • Do I feel safe?
  • Do I feel conflicted? Why?
  • Am I pushing myself to do something I don’t really want to do?

4. Take your feelings seriously and make sure others do too

friends outside chatting and smiling

☀︎ In everyday life

Think about what matters to you; talk to your friends about what matters to them. High school is full of decisions and life changes—thinking about college, taking on more responsibility at home, finding new connections, and beginning to figure out what you want to do with your life. Sometimes it will feel like one major issue after another.

☆ Surround yourself with people who support your decisions

Good friends and partners:

  • Ask you questions that don’t make you feel pressured.
  • Make it safe for you to change your mind.
  • Encourage you to assert yourself and communicate.

“Students should respect each other without forcing or [making] their peers [feel afraid],” says Ariana, a recent graduate in Concord, Massachusetts.

❤︎ In romantic encounters

It’s especially important to make sure that hookups or romantic partners care about what you want and desire out of your interaction or relationship. Are they paying attention to the cues you give them? Do they ask you what you want to do and care how you answer? And when you set boundaries, do they respect and observe them? Do your needs and desires basically align with theirs? That’s how you’ll find a good partner—whether for the long term or just a few hours.

“Imagine you’re at a party dancing with someone, and they’re getting right up to you and you’re feeling uncomfortable. Now switch places with that person and imagine you’re making them uncomfortable and they never told you. You’d feel terrible because you’re a decent person. Telling someone you’re uncomfortable is showing them respect, assuming they would want to know.”
—Jaclyn Friedman, sexual assault survivor, speaker, author, and consent activist

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Article sources

Diana Adams, JD, Esq., managing partner, Diana Adams Law & Mediation PLLC, New York City.

Jaclyn Friedman, author of What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety (Seal Press, 2011).

1in6. (n.d.). Sorting it out for himself. Retrieved from https://1in6.org/family-and-friends/sorting-it-out-for-himself/

Anderson, N., & Clement, S. (2015, June 12). Poll shows that 20 percent of women are sexually assaulted in college. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/local/2015/06/12/1-in-5-women-say-they-were-violated/

Anderson, S. S., Steve Hendrix, N., & Brown, E. (2015, June 12). Male survivors of sex assaults often fear they won’t be taken seriously. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/male-victims-often-fear-they-wont-be-taken-seriously/2015/06/12/e780794a-f8fe-11e4-9030-b4732caefe81_story.html

Bazelon, E. (2014, October 21). Hooking up at an affirmative-consent campus? It’s complicated. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/magazine/hooking-up-at-an-affirmative-consent-campus-its-complicated.html

Beres, M. A. (2014). Rethinking the concept of consent for anti-sexual violence activism and education. Feminism & Psychology, 24(3), 373–389.

Beres, M. A., Herold, E., & Maitland, S. B. (2004). Sexual consent behaviors in same-sex relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33(5), 475–486.

Berrington, L. (2015). Finding yourself: 7 steps to self-empowerment. Student Health 101, 10(8).

Blue Seat Studios. (2015). Tea consent. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQbei5JGiT8

Boyd, M. (2015, December 17). The case for affirmative consent [blog post]. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/melanie-boyd/the-case-for-affirmative-consent_b_6312476.html

Carmody, M. (2003). Sexual ethics and violence prevention. Social & Legal Studies, 12(2), 199–216. https://doi.org/10.1177/0964663903012002003

Catalano, S. (2013). Intimate partner violence: Attributes of victimization, 1993–2011. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4801

Crome, S. (2006). Male survivors of sexual assault and rape. Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/publications/male-survivors-sexual-assault-and-rape

Culp-Ressler, T. (n.d.). What “affirmative consent” actually means. Retrieved from https://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/06/25/3453041/affirmative-consent-really-means/

Davies, M., Gilston, J., & Rogers, P. (2012). Examining the relationship between male rape myth acceptance, female rape myth acceptance, victim blame, homophobia, gender roles, and ambivalent sexism. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27(14), 2807–2823.

Davies, M., & Rogers, P. (2006). Perceptions of male victims in depicted sexual assaults: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 11(4), 367–377.

Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Whitfield, C. L., Brown, D. W., et al. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28(5), 430–438. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2005.01.015

Friedman, J., & Valenti, J. (2008). Yes means yes: Visions of female sexual power and a world without rape. Seal Press.

Gavey, N., & Schmidt, J. (2011). “Trauma of rape” discourse: A double-edged template for everyday understandings of the impact of rape? Violence Against Women, 17(4), 433–456.

Gavey, N., Schmidt, J., Braun, V., Fenaughty, J., et al. (2009). Unsafe, unwanted: Sexual coercion as a barrier to safer sex among men who have sex with men. Journal of Health Psychology, 14(7), 1021–1026.

Graham, R. (2006). Male rape and the careful construction of the male victim. Social & Legal Studies, 15(2), 187–208.

Harrell, M. C., Castaneda, L. W., Adelson, M., Gaillot, S., et al. (2009). A compendium of sexual assault research. RAND Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2009/RAND_TR617.pdf

Kann, L., McManus, T., Harris, W. A., Shanklin, S. L., et al. (2016, June 10). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2015. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 65(6).

Maine Coalition Against Sexual Violence. (n.d.). Sexual violence against LGBTQQI populations. Retrieved from https://www.mecasa.org/index.php/special-projects/lgbtqqi

McDonough, K. (2014, September 5). Gloria Steinem on consent and sexual assault: “Since when is hearing ‘yes’ a turnoff?” Retrieved December 21, 2015, from https://www.salon.com/2014/09/05/gloria_steinem_on_consent_and_sexual_assault_since_when_is_hearing_yes_a_turnoff/

Paulk, L. (2014, April 30). Sexual assault in the LGBT community. National Center for Lesbian Rights. Retrieved from https://www.nclrights.org/sexual-assault-in-the-lgbt-community/

Rothman, E. F., Exner, D., & Baughman, A. L. (2011). The prevalence of sexual assault against people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in the United States: A systematic review. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 12(2), 55–66.

Savage, D. (2013). Dan Savage: Gay advice for straight couples. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/68863993

US Department of Justice. (2016, April 1). Sexual assault. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/ovw/sexual-assault

Walters, M. L., Chen, J., & Breiding, M. J. (2013). The national intimate partner and sexual violence survey (NISVS): 2010 findings on victimization by sexual orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_sofindings.pdf

Wild, C. (2011, December 13). Dan Savage talks sex, love and clear communication. Retrieved from https://tulane.edu/news/newwave/121311_dan_savage.cfm

Yale CCEs. (n.d.). Myth of miscommunication workshops | Yale CCE Program. Retrieved from https://cce.yalecollege.yale.edu/myth-miscommunication-workshops

Encouraging students to practice consent and self-empowerment

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According to 2017 data from the CDC, 7 percent of high school students in the US had been physically forced to have sexual intercourse at some time in their lives when they didn’t want to—and that’s only one type of sexual assault. In a recent Student Health 101 poll, one in three high school students surveyed said they were aware of sexual assaults happening among their peers.

So what can we do about it? Part of the problem is recognizing that most sexual assault doesn’t look how we might expect it to. The US Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” That can include:

  • Forcing or coercing someone to have sex or do any sexual act
  • Penetrating a person’s body with any object without their consent
  • Unwanted sexual touching
  • Unwanted sexual comments
  • Anything that forces someone to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention

“Changing the culture around consent and communication is one of the best ways to prevent sexual assault,” says Evan Walker-Wells, a former communication and consent educator at Yale University and the cofounder of Scalawag, a magazine and website covering Southern politics and culture.

Cultural norms around sexual assault

Sexual assault among teens and young adults is often associated with:

  • Social norms that make it harder to speak up in defense of oneself or others (e.g., a double standard that judges people differently for sexual activity).
  • A party culture that links alcohol with expectations of sex or hooking up.

How do we change the culture? Start with self-empowerment

Self-empowerment means identifying and learning to honor our own needs and desires. Helping students become self-empowered will benefit them in all sorts of ways. It can help them get the sandwich the way they ordered it, help their friends and partners have their back, help them speak up when something’s not working, and help them feel confident in walking away from things when they need to. That might sound blasé, but it’s not. A key to satisfying relationships and interactions is being aware of and honoring our own feelings—which also helps us appreciate and honor others’ feelings.

4 ways for school staff to support self-empowerment

teach and student walking

1. Work with students to normalize conversations about sex and sexuality

Faculty and staff can model thoughtful decision making, provide space for reflection, and introduce new ideas and norms. You can encourage dialogue, help find guest speakers, and incorporate these conversations and concepts into the classroom.

2. Encourage student leaders who are building a more positive culture

Student leaders help facilitate the environments in which their peers hang out, flirt, and sometimes hook up. By providing students with relevant training and resources on things like bystander intervention, sexual culture, and self-empowerment, you can help create an environment that’s less conducive to sexual assault and more conducive to thoughtful choices.

3. Help spread positive and diverse narratives

School administration plays a vital role in shaping narratives that students see and hear. You’re well positioned to introduce positive examples of self-empowerment and mindful decision making (e.g., when teachers select reading material for class).

4. Model empowerment

Students learn from their teachers and school staff. Find everyday situations in which you can model polite boundary setting, make non-coercive requests, and affirm other people’s decision to say “no.”

Keep in mind that there are times when sexual pressure escalates into assault. No matter how good a person is at setting boundaries, it’s not always possible to stop that. A victim is never at fault for someone else’s choice to assault. When students learn to trust their instincts, though, it can make it easier to spot red flags early on.

GET HELP OR FIND OUT MOREArticle sources

Diana Adams, JD, Esq., managing partner, Diana Adams Law & Mediation PLLC, New York City.

Jaclyn Friedman, author of What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety (Seal Press, 2011).

1in6. (n.d.). Sorting it out for himself. Retrieved from https://1in6.org/family-and-friends/sorting-it-out-for-himself/

Anderson, N., & Clement, S. (2015, June 12). Poll shows that 20 percent of women are sexually assaulted in college. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/local/2015/06/12/1-in-5-women-say-they-were-violated/

Anderson, S. S., Steve Hendrix, N., & Brown, E. (2015, June 12). Male survivors of sex assaults often fear they won’t be taken seriously. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/male-victims-often-fear-they-wont-be-taken-seriously/2015/06/12/e780794a-f8fe-11e4-9030-b4732caefe81_story.html

Bazelon, E. (2014, October 21). Hooking up at an affirmative-consent campus? It’s complicated. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/magazine/hooking-up-at-an-affirmative-consent-campus-its-complicated.html

Beres, M. A. (2014). Rethinking the concept of consent for anti-sexual violence activism and education. Feminism & Psychology, 24(3), 373–389.

Beres, M. A., Herold, E., & Maitland, S. B. (2004). Sexual consent behaviors in same-sex relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33(5), 475–486.

Berrington, L. (2015). Finding yourself: 7 steps to self-empowerment. Student Health 101, 10(8).

Blue Seat Studios. (2015). Tea consent. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQbei5JGiT8

Boyd, M. (2015, December 17). The case for affirmative consent [blog post]. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/melanie-boyd/the-case-for-affirmative-consent_b_6312476.html

Carmody, M. (2003). Sexual ethics and violence prevention. Social & Legal Studies, 12(2), 199–216. https://doi.org/10.1177/0964663903012002003

Catalano, S. (2013). Intimate partner violence: Attributes of victimization, 1993–2011. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4801

Crome, S. (2006). Male survivors of sexual assault and rape. Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/publications/male-survivors-sexual-assault-and-rape

Culp-Ressler, T. (n.d.). What “affirmative consent” actually means. Retrieved from https://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/06/25/3453041/affirmative-consent-really-means/

Davies, M., Gilston, J., & Rogers, P. (2012). Examining the relationship between male rape myth acceptance, female rape myth acceptance, victim blame, homophobia, gender roles, and ambivalent sexism. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27(14), 2807–2823.

Davies, M., & Rogers, P. (2006). Perceptions of male victims in depicted sexual assaults: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 11(4), 367–377.

Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Whitfield, C. L., Brown, D. W., et al. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28(5), 430–438. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2005.01.015

Friedman, J., & Valenti, J. (2008). Yes means yes: Visions of female sexual power and a world without rape. Seal Press.

Gavey, N., & Schmidt, J. (2011). “Trauma of rape” discourse: A double-edged template for everyday understandings of the impact of rape? Violence Against Women, 17(4), 433–456.

Gavey, N., Schmidt, J., Braun, V., Fenaughty, J., et al. (2009). Unsafe, unwanted: Sexual coercion as a barrier to safer sex among men who have sex with men. Journal of Health Psychology, 14(7), 1021–1026.

Graham, R. (2006). Male rape and the careful construction of the male victim. Social & Legal Studies, 15(2), 187–208.

Harrell, M. C., Castaneda, L. W., Adelson, M., Gaillot, S., et al. (2009). A compendium of sexual assault research. RAND Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2009/RAND_TR617.pdf

Kann, L., McManus, T., Harris, W. A., Shanklin, S. L., et al. (2016, June 10). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2015. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 65(6).

Maine Coalition Against Sexual Violence. (n.d.). Sexual violence against LGBTQQI populations. Retrieved from https://www.mecasa.org/index.php/special-projects/lgbtqqi

McDonough, K. (2014, September 5). Gloria Steinem on consent and sexual assault: “Since when is hearing ‘yes’ a turnoff?” Retrieved December 21, 2015, from https://www.salon.com/2014/09/05/gloria_steinem_on_consent_and_sexual_assault_since_when_is_hearing_yes_a_turnoff/

Paulk, L. (2014, April 30). Sexual assault in the LGBT community. National Center for Lesbian Rights. Retrieved from https://www.nclrights.org/sexual-assault-in-the-lgbt-community/

Rothman, E. F., Exner, D., & Baughman, A. L. (2011). The prevalence of sexual assault against people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in the United States: A systematic review. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 12(2), 55–66.

Savage, D. (2013). Dan Savage: Gay advice for straight couples. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/68863993

US Department of Justice. (2016, April 1). Sexual assault. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/ovw/sexual-assault

Walters, M. L., Chen, J., & Breiding, M. J. (2013). The national intimate partner and sexual violence survey (NISVS): 2010 findings on victimization by sexual orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_sofindings.pdf

Wild, C. (2011, December 13). Dan Savage talks sex, love and clear communication. Retrieved from https://tulane.edu/news/newwave/121311_dan_savage.cfm

Yale CCEs. (n.d.). Myth of miscommunication workshops | Yale CCE Program. Retrieved from https://cce.yalecollege.yale.edu/myth-miscommunication-workshops