You’ve heard about it on TV, from your friends and maybe even your personal trainer, but do you really know the benefits and importance of having a strong core? Now, everyone knows that proper nutrition and exercise are key components for having a strong and fit body, but do you know how to have your body perform at its optimum best?
The answer is to develop, add and implement core training into your workouts. As a personal trainer, almost every person I’ve met in the last few years always says they want to strengthen, tone or tighten their core muscles. But for more than 90% of the people who want a stronger core, they are not really sure where their core is actually located and they do not know what having a strong core foundation really means.
Your core links the movements of your upper and lower body, as well as maintains the functions of your internal organs. Your core muscles are your stabilizers as you move or prepare to move your body. All of your movements originate at your core and this is your first source of body stability. Regardless of your physical activity or inactivity, your core keeps your body balanced and stable.
When you train your core you’re exercising the muscles, tendons and ligaments that connect your spine and pelvic area around the center of your body. You must always stretch and strengthen your core, otherwise you can develop weaker muscles which results in poor posture and other issues.
Health and Fitness Benefits of Training Your Core:
- The muscles of the core make it possible to stand upright and move on both feet.
- Assist you to move in any direction.
- Helps to control movements.
- Increases your overall body strength.
- Decreases your chances of injury.
- Helps to achieve and maintain your optimum weight.
- Improves your sex life.
- Helps you sleep better.
- Helps correct imbalances and weaknesses that can cause wear and tear on your body.
- Builds and increases lean muscle.
- Slows down the effects of aging.
- Keeps your body functioning at a higher level as you get older.
Are you currently in Alignment? If Not, Now is the Time!
- Stand upright, feet hip width apart, roll your hips under (light pelvic tilt).
- Stretch up from the top of your head (this will help elongate your spine).
- Keep your chin relaxed and slightly tuck your back.
- Press your shoulders down to further stretch and elongate your ribcage and spine.
- Pull in your navel (don’t stick your stomach out), and….Breathe!
- Breathing: exhale while contracting your core and breathe in as you release, relax and return to your original position. To increase your lung capacity, inhale and exhale through your nose. Remember to breathe deeply (not shallow) while fully expelling all the air.
Important Note: Full exhalation cleanses the body of toxins that need to be released. Shallow breathing can cause stagnant air to remain in the bottom of your lunges (like stagnant water in the bottom of the pool).
Let’s Get Started With The Basics
Note: If you’re new to exercising or just getting started with core training, I would strongly suggests hiring a fitness professional to assist you in getting started so they can make sure your form is correct and that all movements are modified (if necessary) for your body type and goals.
Beginner Core Workout (no need for weights or any equipment)
Always keep your core engaged (contracting your abs), roll your hips (this will help keep your spine neutral), and when your hands are not supporting your head, keep your chin tucked in for neck support. Make sure to warm up for 5-10 minutes before starting this workout.
- Supine Crunch: (hands crossed over your chest), engage your abs, keep back flat and crunch up, holding for 2 seconds (keeping chin tucked in), lower and repeat 8-10 reps.
- Supine Oblique Crunch: (hands extended, palms down) at your sides, engage your core. Reach with your right hand toward your right foot in your obliques (sides of your waist), squeeze and return to starting position and repeat with your left side.
- Supine Bridge: Engage your core, keeping your spine in contact with the floor. Feet flat and shoulder width apart. Roll (tuck) your hips, relax your upper body and gently lift your hips toward the ceiling keeping your scapulae (upper back) in contact with the floor the entire time.
- Supine Bridge with Extension: (same as Supine Bridge), but at the top of your lift, extend your right leg straight. Lower leg back to the floor. Extend left leg straight. Lower leg back to the floor. Repeat 8-10 repetitions, alternating accordingly. Upon completion, lower your body back to the floor.
- Supine Crossed-Legged Oblique Crunch: Lie on the floor, spine neutral and in contact with the floor. Knees up, feet flat. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, tuck your hips to elongate your spine. Tuck your chin in, contract your abs and lift your shoulder blades off the floor, keeping your lower back flat. Twist up, using your obliques, until your shoulder is aimed towards your left knee. Hold for a second while squeezing. Lower down and repeat 8-10 times. Change sides (left ankle over right knee).
- Plank: Lie in a prone position (face down). Elongate your spine and tuck your chin in. Elbows under your shoulders. Inhale as you set up, exhale and lift your entire body into a “plank” position and hold for 30-60 seconds, breathing deeply and slowly in a relaxed manner. Do not arch or lift your glutes, push your stomach out (this can cause lower back discomfort). Lower down to starting position. Note: If just beginning, you can start on your knees (modified), lift and hold.
- Prone Superman Lifts: Lie in a prone (face down) position, your face in contact with a mat or floor, tucking in your chin, and tucking in your hips (don’t arch your spine or lift your hips). Inhale and exhale, lifting your arms, and your upper body off the floor for a 2-3 count hold, keeping your back and glutes contracted. Slowly release and repeat 8-10 times. Note: If you have a strong core, you can also lift your legs off the mat during your lift.
Remember, it’s never to late to strengthen your core muscles but make sure to always train smart. If you have any pre-existing lower back problems or injuries, some of the above movements may not be suitable for you. You can always sign up for a yoga or core conditioning class or even hire a certified personal trainer who has core training experience with a variety of clients and needs. Until next time, keep your core engaged and keep moving!