A strong core is essential for all aspects of life and health, and at all ages. The biggest problem is we tend to work on what we think is the core and miss the mark, both where the core actually is and how best to work it. This doesn't stop with our abs or even the muscles around our stomach. It is throughout the trunk of our body into our legs. The following will help you locate and engage your core, help you to work it to it's potential, and then some example of the most effective exercises.
Where is it?
Some might say that the core is all the deep trunk and stabilizing muscles in the body. These are the abdominals, the pelvic floor, and any muscles that work to stabilise your spine. We can even include in here your legs and hip muscles to a degree. For you to achieve your goal to run faster, lift stronger, stand taller or move without restriction you need to remember not to neglect all these areas. With this in mind, working the core needs to be more than thousands of ab crunches or the dreaded sit up. The challenge is if you want to work your core correctly you need to know how to use these muscles while doing the exercises.
Engage your core!
Somewhere along the line an instructor has asked you to activate your core and you've wondered how you do this and it has no doubt frustrated you. Here's a little trick that works for me and my clients; Imagine that you're taking a pair of jeans out of the dryer and they are now super tight when you slide them on. You'll need to squeeze your hip bones together like your trying to get that top button done up. While doing this you then need to do that tight zip up squeezing all the muscles behind it as you go. Some guys tend to struggle with this so to help, imagine someone's missed the footy ball and gone straight for your family jewels and you need to brace for impact… Graphic but effective
The best exercises to do the trick:
Now that we have the position clear and the correct muscles engaged, here's three exercises that will assist with strengthening your core and having you lifting heavier, walking taller and recovering faster in other aspects of your health.
Upright man - Draw the core in (activate) and take deep breaths while narrowing the waist. Keep the posture up straight with shoulder pulled back. This is an easy but effective way of learning to engage the core for everyday life. Walking, standing and siting throughout the day. An easy starting point would be to consciously activate for intervals of 30 seconds, at least 5 times daily.
Plank (on hands and toes) - Holding your back in a neutral spine (taking on the natural curve of your back) plant your hands directly under your shoulders like you're about to do a push up. Bend the elbows slightly and squeeze your muscles from your legs all the way through your trunk. Breathe in through your chest and then as you exhale draw your belly button up towards your spine. Ensure all parts of your spine through to your head are neutral and not strained. Aim to build to 60 seconds intervals, repeat at least 3 times per day.
Leg lowers - Lie on your back with your feet in the air and your knees and hips creating 90 degrees. Your back should be flat imprinted into the mat with your core engaged as per the above explanation. Inhale to set your position and core and exhale to lower legs to flat and just above horizontal. Inhale and return legs to 90 degrees before repeating. Continue for at least 10 each side, completed 4 times. Remember if there's any lower back issues or pain regress this exercise to single legs or static holding the core position with breathing.
Whether your goal is strength, fitness, weight loss, or just a better quality of life, whether you are twenty, forty, or eighty, knowing how to work your core and strengthen the muscles around your trunk will help you. Finding the core is the first hurdle, once you've done that the key is doing exercises that work it. So, pass on the thousands of sit-ups and give this a go!
*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.