Train It to the CORE!
“Core” is one of those buzz words of the new millennia. The core refers to your midsection located between the pelvic floor and the diaphragm. The core’s main job is to hold and protect your spine.
Core exercises train the muscles in your abs, lower back, hips, and pelvis to work together in harmony. This leads to better balance and stability throughout the body. Most physical activities and sports rely on strong core muscles.
In a previous edition of Letters, I wrote about posture and how the core works to help us stand tall as well as increase stability and balance. This synergistic connection of the core and our functional movement is crucial to help us move through everyday activities. I like to think of our core as our center. If we have a strong core, we are preparing the body for most of our movements throughout the day.
A large percentage of Americans live with lower back pain. There is a correlation with weak core muscles and back pain. The goal of this article is to help you to be proactive in training your body to create a stronger core, which in return will help you perform functional movements throughout the day.
Most people train their abs by doing crunches and sit-ups, neglecting the back portion of the core. The back and front need to be trained together to create a strong mid-section.
Here I’ll share with you a couple of my favorite core strengthening exercises. But before you try any of these exercises, I would like for you to first practice using the mind/body connection. Think about what you are about to do before each exercise and what the body is going through to execute each particular movement. Doing this will help you focus on the movement and perform it more effectively. Always take your time and do not rush through any exercises.
Before I describe to you my favorite core exercises, I would like to share with you a prep movement that my friend Jodie, who owns a Pilates studio in Baltimore, taught me. She calls it “Zip it Up.” What she refers to is engaging your transverse abdominals (the deep ab muscles). Women should contract the pelvic floor muscles by drawing them in and up. Men may accomplish this by contracting the muscles used to help control the flow of urine. Another good descriptor is to suck your core in tightly by pretending that someone is about to punch you in the stomach. Zipping it up takes practice—but you will get it!
My all-time two favorite core exercises are the Bridge followed by the Basic Ab Crunch with a butt squeeze (Posterior Pelvic Tilt). Begin these exercises by laying on the floor on your back.
To perform the Bridge, start with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. Raise your hips in the air and squeeze your buttocks. This movement trains the posterior chain of the core including the back, buttocks, glutes, and hamstrings. This is a great movement to improve back health. Hold the contraction for a couple of seconds and then lower the butt back to the floor. Repeat five times.
Immediately go into the Basic Ab Crunch. Lie on your back, placing both legs out in front of you while keeping your heels together. Your knees and toes should be turned out. First, squeeze your buttocks. When you do the squeeze you will feel your pelvis shift and back lower to the floor. Once you master this movement, place your fingertips behind your ears and support the head. Keeping the spine lengthened, lift the head and shoulder blades off the floor so you can really feel the abdominals contract. Hold this contraction for a second or two before you lower the upper body back to the floor and release the butt squeeze.
You may do a variation of the Basic Ab Crunch with alternating knee lifts to work more of the side abdominals (obliques). I am also a fan of Forearm Planks, Side Planks, and Hanging Knee Lifts.
Whatever core exercise you pick for your routine, please make sure to take your time and feel the contractions. With the mind/body connection, you will get more out of your workouts and be happier with the results. Remember, shoulders back and down, head up and back, and engage your core. Stand tall, strong, and proud! ▼
Jon Adler Kaplan is a Health Coach and Fitness Trainer both virtually and at Rise Fitness and Adventure. Email Jon with any fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.