Core strength is the foundation to your physical strength and performance. Without it, it is difficult to maintain proper posture or balance and almost impossible to gain access to explosive power. Just ask any gymnast. No core, no power.
Yet most of us do not know how to engage the core, despite many encouragements to do so. Learning how to activate your core muscles properly will build this most important aspect of your physical body and will increase your athletic performance at the same time.
I can attest to this. Having been a long time physique competitor, I knew how to create a 6-pak and even occasionally owned one (haha). However what I discovered was, I didn’t have core strength.
I learned this when my current personal trainer, Sue McHardy, and I, noticed that every time I planked or did ab work, I had a bulge in my upper abdominals, an indication that I had a possible diastasis and a weakness in my abdomen. This was confirmed by the gals at Bellies Inc.
The core of your body is typically described as a group of muscles including the transversus abdominus, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominus, erector spinae and the diaphragm. The glutes are often involved, as well as many lesser muscle groups. Interesting to think that breathing is central to core strength!
It helps to imagine these muscles doing the actual work while you put your body through the paces of, for example, Dead Bugs or planks. What are they doing for you as you work? Are they firing? Can you feel them?
This workout, focused solely on activating the deep core muscles, is designed to help you “locate” these tissues as you train and help you deliberately “fire” them as you perform a particular exercise.
Put your mind into the muscle as you work, feeling deeply, the muscles lifting, contracting, extending, lowering, holding and so on. Muscular work is greatly enhanced by imagining the muscles as they work.
Once I learned how to engage my core properly, I found increased strength and stability and I developed a more defined 6-pack, assisted, of course by Eating Clean! My goal for life however, is to create the strong core stability I need to remain standing upright with good posture and balance, all while being flexible. Now that’s a goal I want for you too!
I am always listening.
PS. What is your favorite core challenging exercise. Share here please. One lucky friend will win a complimentary copy of Pregnancy and Fitness, the newly released book written by Kim, Samantha and Julia, the ladies at Bellies Inc.
PSS. What does it mean to engage your core? Here is my super easy trick to learn what it really means to “engage” your core.
Lay on the floor on your back.
Put your legs in tabletop position. Your lower legs are parallel to the floor.
Lift your head, neck and shoulders and place your hands against your upper legs.
Resist back with your upper legs as you push with your hands.
You should be feeling a deep core engagement in your transverse abdominus muscles – that’s your core!!
Repeat for 3 sets of 10 second holds.
What a great tip!!
PSSS. Don’t forget to stretch afterwards!! A good cobra always comes in handy!!
CORE STRENGTH WORKOUT
Do this 3 times per week for best results.
Equipment needed: none
Lay flat on your back, on a mat, with your hands extended above you toward the ceiling.
Put your legs in table-top position. Lower legs are parallel to the floor.
Engage your core by pressing it deeply against the floor and exhaling.
Exhale and fully engage your abs to bring your ribcage down and flatten your back into the floor.
Maintain this position for the duration of the exercise.
Check your position as you do the movement, particularly around rep 8, where we begin to lose form.
Slowly lower the right arm and the left leg down to the floor at the same time.
Lower them slowly and with control so that there is no movement in your abdomen.
Push the air out of your lungs forcefully as you lower.
Hold for a count of three.
Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. Control is the key here.
Alternate sides and perform 10 reps per side.
The lower you drop your legs and arms, the harder the movement becomes.
Sit on the floor on your sit bones.
Legs are straight out in front of you.
Arms are resting on the floor on either side of you.
Raise your arms up to shoulder height, palms down.
Engage your core by inhaling deeply and activating your deep core muscles.
Slowly recline your upper body, keeping core engaged throughout the movement and feet on the floor.
Go as far back as you can go without losing your form.
You may feel your abs shaking as they work to stabilize you. This is the sign to return to the start position.
From there, “row” or lean forward with core engaged, exhaling.
Then repeat the reclining movement.
Let your inhales and exhales direct the tempo of your movement.
Perform 5 – 10 reps.
This is a challenging exercise. I would rather you only do 3 or 4 good ones than 20 poor ones.
Start in a plank position with your hips tucked, your glutes and abs engaged and your back straight.
Rest on your forearms with palms facing up for better external rotation in the shoulders.
Imagine you are in a straight line from head to toes.
While maintaining the plank, extend one arm and raise the opposite leg at the same time.
Return your arm and leg to the starting position, alternate sides and repeat the action.
This too is a challenging exercise. I would rather you only do 3 or 4 good ones than 20 poor ones.
Lay on your back with your legs in table-top position (hips and knees at right angles).
Engage your deep abs and press your lower spine into the floor.
Exhale and lift your upper back off the floor, until the bottom tips of your shoulder blades are just off the floor.
Reach your arms toward your feet. Your arms will be about two inches off the floor.
Pump your arms up and down with a small range of motion, keeping your elbows straight.
Coordinate your breathing so that you inhale for five arm pumps and exhale for five pumps. That is one set or cycle.
Repeat cycle nine more times for a total of 100 pumps.
ABDOMINAL BRIDGE WITH FEET ON MEDICINE BALL
Lie on your back with hips and knees bent to a 45 degree angle and your feet flat on a medicine ball
Engage your core by firing your deep abdominal muscles.
Hold without moving, for 3-5 seconds.
Repeat 10 – 20 times.
Make it harder: Repeat the entire exercise but now raise your hips and butt off the floor and hold for 3-5 seconds.
Bring butt back to floor and repeat 10-20 times.
PLANK “around the world”
Get into plank position on the floor.
You should be resting on your forearms, palms up, and on your toes.
Engage your deep abdominals as you maintain plank position.
Keep your back straight.
In plank position, step stepping to the left with your left leg, followed
by right leg/toe, left arm/hand, and right arm/hand.
sequence 3-5 times.