So, what exactly is your "core?" Most people mistakenly think that their core is just the abdominal muscles; but it actually includes all of the muscles surrounding your lumbar spine and pelvis and is incredibly important for a healthy workout. Core stability provides a solid base from which to perform your daily movements. If you're looking for tight, toned abs, and to increase strength and flexibility, doing core exercises daily is key.
A strong core will allow you to maintain proper body alignment in whatever exercise or sport you are doing, as well as in your day-to-day activities. Whether it’s for injury prevention or increasing strength, there are no downsides to core exercises.
Increasing flexibility throughout your body can help keep your muscles at their peak, as well as help prevent injuries. Everyone and anyone can benefit from increasing core stability and increases in flexibility.
Your core involves several muscle groups:
- Transverse abdominus
- Rectus abdominus
- Pelvic Floor
Muscles Benefits of Core Strength
Occasional exercisers and serious athletes alike use core training to prevent injuries through the lower back and other large muscle group areas. In addition, strong core muscles will help other muscle groups work more efficiently, including the pectorals, hamstrings, and gluteals.
Core stability is also an essential component of injury rehabilitation, not only for low back pain, but also for other injuries such as hamstring strain and shoulder pain. It provides stability through the underlying muscles that support movement. It is commonly used by physical and sports therapists.
Other benefits of core strengthening include:
- Improved balance
- Improved strength; twisting movements can aid in sport-specific training, such as throwing a ball, swinging a racket, or swimming
- Reduced back pain
- Improved athletic performance
- Improved posture
Core Strengthening Exercises
The following exercises will strengthen and tone your core. While each exercise is suitable for beginners, this guide includes some variations for the more experienced exerciser or athlete.
This Pilates move works your core muscles, as well as your chest, arms, and thighs.
- Lie on your stomach, placing your hands directly under your shoulders.
- Lift yourself up into a push-up position, keeping your back flat. Pull your belly button up toward the spine to complete the plank position.
- Begin by holding the plank for 15 seconds. As you become more comfortable with the exercise, you can work toward holding the plank for one minute.
2. Side Plank
This variation of the tradition plank also targets the shoulders and glutes.
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- Lie on your right side, propped up on your elbow, with your legs extended. Your right elbow should be bent and placed directly under your shoulder with your fingertips pointing to the left.
- Keeping your hips and feet stacked one on top of the other, slowly lift your hips up off the floor. Beginners can keep their left hand on their hip, while more advanced exercisers can fully extend the left arm straight up. In addition, beginners may further modify the side plank by placing their bottom knee on the floor for added support.
- Keep your abdominals pulled in tight as you hold the side plank position for 15-20 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side. Over time, you can work up to holding the side plank for one minute per side.
This core exercise works the rectus abdominus and obliques, while also engaging the hip flexor muscles.
- Begin by lying on your back with your legs extended and your arms relaxed at your sides. This is your starting position.
- Contract your abdominal muscles, and lift your legs up to a 45-degree angle. As you do this, slowly lift your shoulders off the floor and extend your arms straight up toward your shins, or as far as you can reach.
- Hold this "V" position for 10-15 seconds to start. As you get stronger, work up to holding the position for 20-30 seconds.
- Return to your starting position by slowly rolling back down to the floor.
- Repeat this exercise two to three times.
Push-ups work your core, chest, and back. Beginners can decrease the intensity of the push-ups by placing their knees on the floor.
- On the floor, bring yourself into the push-up position with your hands placed directly under your shoulders and your palms on the floor, your back flat, and your toes curled on the floor. This is your starting position.
- Slowly lower yourself by bending your elbows and bringing them out to the side until you are hovering just above the ground. It’s important to keep your back flat and your abdominals pulled in.
- Then extend your arms and return to your starting position.
- Complete two sets of 10 push-ups. You can work up to three sets as you get more comfortable with this exercise.
This Pilates exercise targets the entire core, as well as the hip flexors.
- Lie down on your back, keeping the small of your back pressed down into the floor, your abdominals in tight, your legs extended, and your arms at your sides.
- Lift your legs straight up and then lower them to a 45-degree angle.
- Inhale deeply and as you exhale, lift through your shoulder blades and extend your arms forward, keeping them parallel to the floor.
- Quickly pulse your arms 100 times, remembering to inhale and exhale at approximately every 5 pulses.
- Lower your shoulders, and then pull your knees into your chest to stretch.
Another Pilates exercise, the bridge engages the core while also working the hamstrings and glutes.
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms along your sides with your palms on the floor to support the lift. This is your starting position.
- Slowly press down with your heels and lift your hips, rolling up one vertebra at a time until your upper body is in a diagonal position from your shoulders (which should remain on the floor) to your knees. Make sure you rest your weight on your shoulders, rather than on your neck.
- Hold this position, squeezing the glutes for 30 seconds, and then slowly roll back down to your starting position.
- Complete this move three times.
Hot Tip: Add weights to increase intensity. You can add intensity to this move by holding free weights and placing your hands on your hip bones as you lift into the bridge. The added weight will intensify the work that the gluteals muscles have to do to maintain the bridge position.
7. Opposite Arm & Leg Lift
This exercise not only strengthens the core, but also stretches the low back.
- Begin by getting on your hands and knees, keeping your back flat.
- Holding your abdominals in tight, raise your right arm and left leg to approximately shoulder- and hip-height. If you can’t raise your arm and leg that high, start by lifting as high as you can and slowly work up to the complete lift.
- Extend through the fingertips and toes as you hold the position for 5-10 seconds.
- Release your arm and leg back down to the floor, and then repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
- Repeat this move three times on each side.
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